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Reviews: Specialty videos

Zills, props, folkloric styles, etc.


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Killer Ziller with Michelle Joyce

5 stars Perfect if you're up for a challenge and want to work on DANCING while playing

The real strength of this instructional video is dancing and playing serious zills at the same time. The zill patterns Michelle teaches are relatively simple, compared to some of the complex rhythms that Mary Ellen Donald teaches, for instance. But mixing up the patterns while performing combinations of traveling steps, turns, and standing isolations almost made my brain explode!

I'm a pretty fair ziller (my issue is with dancing at the same time), so I skipped the 'tap the patterns on your belly' section and went straight to drilling the rhythms with Michelle's hands (which start to look like puppets talking to each other after you've stared at the screen too long.) I really like the way this section was filmed. Each pattern is repeated just long enough to let you get some practice and feel comfortable with it, and of course you can always repeat any sections that you find challenging.

Michelle uses mostly numeric notation. The patterns she uses are pretty standard -- EXCEPT the 'quadruplets', I'd never done those before. I found it really hard to make my hands go that fast, they just wanted to do 'triplets' out of habit. The Karsilama variations were new, too, simple to do but very fun!!

Once you've drilled all the patterns and feel comfortable playing them, it's time to get up and dance!

First, without zills, Michelle introduces a nice, simple combo: a few traveling steps, some hip drops, a 3-step turn. Michelle patiently drills that until you're feeling very confident. Then she maps out exactly which zill patterns go with each step very clearly. It all seems simple, until you try to do the two together. I guarantee, unless you're very accompllished at zilling and dancing at the same time, you will find her combinations very challenging!

Working this video for even a few minutes each day will rapidly improve your skills. Michelle's instructions are very clear and so are the screen notations of the rhythms, the camera work and videography. One of the strengths of Michelle's instructional videos is her exquisite use of chaptering, and this video is no different. It's easy to go directly to any section you want, or repeat a section as many times as necessary.

My *only* critique is that I wish the combo with finger cymbals had been drilled 1/2 time before going on to full blast. I paused the video and drilled it slowly on my own a few times, that helped a lot and wasn't so hard, but it would be nice to be led through it at that pace.

My advice to anyone working with the DVD is to turn it up so you can hear the drumbeat over your own random zill-clanking at first. Dampen the zill sounds (Michelle shows you how at the beginning of the video) or use mufflers/baby socks/small zills so you don't lose the beat in your own noise at first.

I love a challenging video that gives me many hours of practice and pushes my skills to new levels, and this video did just that. Bravo, Michelle!


Nourhan Sharif's Rakset Assaya: An Introduction to Egyptian Saidi Technique

4 stars Saidi moves and Assaya handling with a master instructor

(this is an abridged version of my full review on Gilded Serpent)

Nourhan Sharif is the wife, partner and student of Yousry Sharif, who is a Saidi Egyptian choreographer and master instructor currently living in New York. She told me they created Rakset Assaya: an Introduction to Egyptian Saidi Technique to bring the Sharif technique to a larger audience. Nourhan also told me why Rakset Assaya is so important to them both. "It is a wonderful, soulful dance of the Saidi peopleŠand as all of the inhabitants are moving towards urbanized living, this art form is in danger of being lost."

The production quality of this video is excellent. The setting is simple, the camera work clean and uncluttered. Slow motion and close-ups are used sparingly.

There is no mirror on the set, but Nourhan turns in all directions while demonstrating the more complex steps.

This video is best suited to the intermediate or advanced student, but cane experience is unnecessary. Nourhan assumes you know basic moves, from hip drops to 3/4 and choo-choo shimmies (a student who can't do traveling shimmies could do the steps without them). Nourhan refers to her beginner video for details of a few moves, but the only one you might have trouble with is a lock she demonstrates while wearing a galibeya. If you can't make out the lock, you could substitute another isolation. (Don't worry, she only wears the galibeya at the end of the tape.)

Frequent posture and breathing reminders are very valuable while you're practicing. ("I'm very lifted here...my spine is long").

The video covers wrist stretches, holding the cane with a relaxed open hand, framing the body with the cane, and several twirling variations before advancing to Saidi steps. Nourhan presents dozens of combinations (even the ones she describes as "exercises" I would call "darn cute moves") and teaches several whole phrases from Yousry's choreographies. Not only can you drop these bits of choreography into your own dances, but they give you a feel for how the combinations can be put together. Two improvisations by Nourhan at the end of the video give you a deeper sense of how the steps might be used to interpret music.

This video delivers enough combinations, steps and cane moves to build several completely different choreographies. It's rare for me to feel like I've gotten this much "bang" for my video buck!


Bellydance with Veil - Sarah Skinner


5stars Beatiful veil moves, thorough information AND a choreography!

Sarah Skinner clearly has a love affair with fabric, and her strong emotion is contagious. She's made me fall in love with veilwork again after years of thinking I was bored by it!

The first part of this video thoroughly covers fiber content, types and shapes of veils. I got antsy to get up and dance, but I was glad I watched it, because I did learn a few things.

Sarah teaches several 'American Cabaret' style veil wraps. I'm a little afraid of veil wraps, since I've heard of restaurant patrons who truly believed that they watched a dancer take her dress off! But there were several wraps here that didn't scare me at all. Sarah does a lovely job showing you how to artfully arrange the folds by fingerpleating the fabric before you tuck. For each wrap, she gives ingenious ideas for unwrapping while spinning, or using one free end to frame the body and movements.

There are sections on spins, including some I wasn't familiar with, "cascades" (tosses) and all manner of flicking, wrapping and whirling the veil for different effects. Throughout the video, although Sarah's language use is sometimes awkward (I'm a grammar geek, it may just sound spontaneous and unscripted to you!), the instruction is very clear and easy to follow. She makes complex movements very easy to learn.

Sarah then teaches an entire choreography, setting the veil moves you've just learned to music. Usually I like to see more dancing and fewer veil tricks in a choreography, but the toher way around seemed appropriate for this video. The chaptering of the choreography teaching section is brilliant. Sarah demonstrates the choreography, and onscreen text breaks it down into 10 combinations. Although the choreo plays through smoothly beginning to end, you can also use the chapters to skip to, or repeat, any combination you need to see again, or practice along with. Then each combination is broken down for you. I'm a little choreography-challenged, but I found these bite-sized pieces easy to memorize and put together! Loved it. I also loved the thorough music credits that included where to buy the music used throughout the video!

I already took some of my new veilwork into my restaurant gig and got lots of compliments on it. I can't wait to master more of Sarah's lovely techniques!

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