by Mala Bhargava
Mala's blog has DVD reviews, profiles of famous dancers and more www.malabhargava.com
most discussions on learning to dance from instruction on DVD get into a
DVD-vs-live classes deadlock. In reality
though, few people deliberately make a choice to choose videos over experience
with an actual teacher. There will invariably be a lot of other factors at
Does the learner have access to live classes?
Is the dancer so constrained for time that she
can’t get to classes without compromising something important?
Is the dancer keen on supplementing classes with
what she can learn on video?
Is the learner not getting what she wants from
the classes she goes to?
Are there any special reasons – disability, self
esteem, illness, etc – why it isn’t comfortable to go to classes?
Is there stuff on DVD that’s just way too
attractive to miss out on?
many of these overlap. But you know what I mean. It’s not just a matter of
choosing one over the other.
of these apply to me! I didn’t have access to classes and by the time the
classes came around, I didn’t want to get into that intensely competitive
atmosphere of classes in my part of the world. The favoritism by instructors,
the inconvenience of getting back from work only to rush off to a class, the
lack of proper attention to safety during classes, etc.
So when I
discovered belly dance videos, quite by chance, I ended up really loving the
medium. Very slowly and very carefully, I was able to work my way up the
isolations and end up, many years later, as an amateur dancer who can perform
passably and informally for a small group and get gasps of admiration and many
complements for all the effort.
I cannot –and
I know that well- be a professional dancer.
So, it also
depends a lot on how far you want to take that dancing. If your aim is to
create a troupe,perform as a job,
teach, or compete – it obviously makes sense to learn from everything that
comes your way, whether it’s classes or videos or reading or watching others or
learning from other dances.
who want to keep it to the level of a hobby, DVD instruction is a total
godsend. When I began belly dancing, I wasn’t thinking of how much I’d want to
dance in the future. I was actually borrowing isolations to do better at salsa.
Look how that turned out. I dumped the salsa class and never looked back.
But after a
year or two of really working hard at the isolations (think tribal drills) I
needed to know whether I was on the right track at all. I video’d myself, but
went into shock at the results. Ouch. Bouncy movements, un-sharp isolations, no
difference between a maya and a taksim eight, floppy arms… oh my god. And the
worst was the stone cold look on my face. You see, I really wasn’t thinking
audience because I was always alone in my dance room. That’s another thing to
think about if you don’t go to classes or dance with anyone else around. You’ll
need to actively imagine an audience. I learnt to do that and one time, after
finally getting a choreography right, I even left the “stage” and came back for
applause. Good thing my neighbors can’t see me from any cracks in the window!
story could be a little different from others’ because I can’t see too well.
Classes may just not have worked. I think I wasn’t doing that great at salsa
because I was missing many visual cues and sometimes startling my partners by
doing something they hadn’t cued me to do. No wonder they didn’t line up to
dance with me. One of my instructors would yell at me often and say: you are
dancing for yourself! You are dancing for yourself! It was a frustrating and
often upsetting experience which I put a stop to when a close friend of mine
(whom I’d dragged into the class for a few months) asked me if this wasn’t,
after all, supposed to be fun. We both quit the class.
years into the belly dance journey, I finally had validation for all the hard
work when a dear dancer friend of mine saw my entire repertoire of performances
and said –wow, these DVDs really work. She even urged me to teach. I said no
way, I’ve never even had a live class myself. I did however end up conducting a
few workshops on request, and obviously had no trouble teaching a round of the
those hesitating to work with videos, I would say look at your overall
dance-circumstances. If you can’t get to a class, videos can be an alternative
provided you’re ever so careful about following instructions to the letter so
you can avoid long term or short term injuries and avoid picking up sloppy
dance habits. Following instructions carefully will also help you make progress
faster – and that will only make you happier and get you to dance more.
Some tips on
more than one DVD. The age of working with one or two videos has totally
gone. The choices are many and each producer and dancer gives you a wealth of
bogged down by styles and authenticity: Egyptian dancing isn’t the only
belly dancing there is. Get a good sampling of many styles without worrying
about how close to traditional Egyptian it is, and enrich your learning
instruction in line with how hard you like to work There are “crash course”
videos and there are videos that painstakingly give you detailed explanations
and take it slow and easy so that you learn the technique deeply. Knowing yourself, choose something appropriate.
Ask around or read reviews to get an idea of the depth of instruction.
performance DVDs. Include lots of performance videos on your list of things
to watch because you take in a lot from doing so. You won’t know it
immediately, but this will impact your dancing.
your classes If you’re taking classes, choose something that complements
your instructor’s style. Or choose drill DVDs that will help you make progress
faster. Ot, get videos on hands and arms because this will always help in class
than which DVDs you select, it’s how you work with them that matters. Some more
1.Warm up. Never
ever skip the warm up part. If the video you’re working with doesn’t have a
warm up, find one that does and make sure your muscles are ready to go. Don’t
go from cold muscles to straight exercise – even stretches – because you will
cause long term damage
video a few times. You’ll always be able to dance along or practice along
with the instructor if you don’t have to spend time peering at what she does or
wondering what she’s taking about. Everyone uses different terms, as you’ll
discover, so it’s a good idea to have a pretty good idea of what the program is
about. This will also prevent having to stop and start too frequently.
and video:Watch yourself carefully.
This will pay off in the long run. Also tape yourself, but not too soon.
listen: Most injuries are prevented from becoming a good listener of your
own body. Develop an awareness of how each move feels, of comfort and
discomfort so that you know when to stop, when to adjust, and when to correct.
skip the safety tips: At one time, instructors would gloss over the safety
tips. But learners demanded them and today the best DVDs will spend a good amount
of time on posture, reminders, safety instructions. It’s these that make it at
all possible to rely on DVDs when you can’t or won’t go to a class.
get ahead of yourself: In belly dancing, it’s all about the isolations and
the isolations take a good long time. You just have to be real patient and do
the moves slowly rather than rush and decide that one or two repetitions is all
you can take.