Thursday, 21 August 2014

Belly Dance DVDs - What To Look For, What to Avoid

While riffling through my classes folder and updating my list of the classes, workshops etc that I've taken as part of my continuing professional development (CPD), I came across a handout I'd prepared for my classes five years ago (!) on belly dance DVDs. As I was reading through it, a promotional post advertising a set of belly dance DVDs popped up on the Facebook newsfeed.  What a coincidence!  But ... one glance at the advert told me it was time to update that handout via this blog!

Although not a substitute for classes with a good teacher, however occasionally, in order to correct any incipient bad habits, nevertheless DVDs and streamed video can play an important and useful role in the belly dance journey. Unless you have a bit of self-discipline and experience, it can be difficult to work through drills, combinations and choreography consistently without some sort of prompting, so DVDs and streamed video make good practice companions. You can learn new moves, broaden your knowledge and do as little or as much as you want - even 10 minutes a few times a week can make a difference. As a beginner, it can be difficult to know where to start ....

What To Look For
Firstly, you need to know what you want.
  • An emphasis on dance or on fitness?
  • Instruction and practice in the form of drills and combinations?
  • To learn about a particular style or working with a prop?
  • To learn a choreography?
  • Watch performances for inspiration?
  • Everything! (Or, I don't know what I want/I want it all and I want it now!)

What does it cover? On the better DVDs, it's obvious from the title, but still it's a good idea to check the level that it's aimed at, and whether it covers the sort of thing you want to do. There are lots of cheap DVDs (or even VCDs) on eBay which are essentially copies of other video instruction in the public domain.  They are easy to recognise, as they often have no box, stock photos on the label, and tag lines which contain everything ('learn to belly dance easy lose weight fitness workout sexy beginners to advanced ...'). You could hazard a couple of quid on one if you want, but it's probably best not to encourage this sort of thing.

Look for reviews and trailers. You can usually find trailers for DVDs on YouTube and it's a good idea to watch the trailers, and anything else that takes your fancy.  Yes, there is a lot of rubbish on YouTube, but there is also some great stuff, and it will help you to start to learn what's what. Depending on your computer set up at home and broadband speed, working with YouTube content could replace the need for a DVD for quite a while. Just remember the safe practice rules - don't get carried away or push yourself hard and keep a check on your posture and alignment. Only perfect practice makes perfect!

How long is it? Someone commented to me once that they did not like long DVDs, but I would not recommend short ones. Some of them just scratch the surface, so that you can go from the content being beyond you to behind you in a matter of weeks, without feeling like you’ve had value for money. The first belly dance video tape I bought was quite expensive, only 50-ish minutes long, and contained a lot of repeated content in different settings, leaving me feeling cheated. You don't have to watch or work with DVDs from start to finish.  Most are divided into chapters so you can pick and choose, stop and start, as you like.

Which region is it? I have to say that some of the best DVDs come from the USA. Look for titles by IAMED (expensive, but good), World Dance New York and Cheeky Girls Productions. You need to check that the format and region are compatible with your DVD player. In Europe, this is generally PAL format and Region 2, but many DVDs are now 'Region Free'.

Where to buy it? Having decided on a DVD, shop around. Check and compare prices on Amazon, eBay (you might be lucky and get it cheaply, second hand) and Aladdin's Cave, whom I can recommend, having bought from them a few times.  Also, chat to your teacher and classmates, who may recommend something, or even have DVDs to sell.

'So, what about that advert?', I hear you ask.
I followed the link to the website and found a few things which rang alarm bells straight away.
  • The title 'BellyDancingCourse' has a trademark symbol. The rules for trademark in the USA are different to the UK, which is probably how a name formed from common words with the spaces removed can be trademarked. But a generic-sounding name with a trademark immediately triggers my cynical response circuits.
  • The tag line on the video box set: 'Learn how to belly dance like a pro in 2 hours!' 2 hours to dance like a professional, oh, please! Further on, it states that all the basic moves are covered in 2 hours. I wonder if their idea of basic moves is the same as mine.
  • 'Comprehensive course ... everything you need to know ... covers everything ... (in only 8 hours? Really?)
  • '3 different teachers'. Okay, WHO?
  • 5 different dance styles, including Turkish Didem? Didem is a famous Turkish dancer, and I suppose she could be said to have her own style, but it's not a distinct and recognised dance style.  And if you want to quibble, then Gothic and Tribal fusion could be counted as two styles.
  • The video examples on the site are available elsewhere through YouTube.  The first (on Camels) is Nuala, a teacher from London, and I doubt very much if she gave her permission for this. The second (on head slides) is one of the ExpertVillage series.
  • Along with 'borrowed' videos, the site pictures include several stock images, rather than, for example, stills from the videos, or pictures of the dancers/teachers involved.
  • If you look for excerpts from this course on YouTube, you see that there are a lot of 'reviews' under different names, posted at roughly the same time, and the 'reviewers' often only have this video upload to their name.
  • In the reviews, there is one from someone in London stating that they can't find a belly dancing class in their area. London is pretty much belly dance central in the UK with lots of teachers and classes, so I find that claim unbelievable!
  • Who is Mariella Monroe? Apparently she has been dancing professionally for 18 years, but there is no website to advertise her dance business, whether for her Sacramento classes or herself as a performance artist. (lots of other teachers in Sacramento, though!). I would expect YouTube footage and a website, possibly also articles on belly dance magazine sites such as the Gilded Serpent, for such an apparently well-known, working dancer and dance writer, but all search results lead back to this 'belly dance course'. So, a strong web presence for this course is completely at odds with no web presence for the teacher/dancer.
  • What a coincidence (ha!); the introductory blurb 'from the desk of Mariella Monroe' has today's date and the order page suggests that the offer of the bundle for $47 expires in a few day's time. This is just a marketing ploy in the hope that you'll rush into buying something without thinking it through properly.
  • There are a number of Facebook pages relating to the course as well, generally full of spam and the same stock photos, but I found one of Sadie's promotional pics on there (and I bet she didn't give permission for that!). There are few comments, but some complain of non-receipt of the DVDs or denounce this as a scam, and there are no replies to counter the accusations.
Everything about this shouts SCAM! despite reassurances of the 'Love it or Shove it!' money back guarantee and statements of the seller's experience and trustworthiness on the FAQs page (the DVD set is marketed and sold through ClickBank).

I thought I would search some of the belly dance social media to find out if anyone in the real belly dance world has bought it, used it, or even knows who Mariella Monroe is.  There were very few results, but I found the following:

  • There were comments stating that dancers had had their picture used without approval.
  • Apparently Mariella Monroe's 'popular dance studio' was and is completely unknown to other professional belly dancers in the same city.
  • There was a belief that Mariella Monroe is a name made up for marketing, and so are all the YouTube reviewers and those endorsing the DVDs/course.

I wish I could justify splashing out on this, just to see if it arrives and what it contains.  If anyone reading this blog actually bought this, I would love to know whether my suspicions are justified or not. Please go ahead and comment.

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