Review of Jennifer Jiménes' Let's Dance Together - Prenatal Dance Fitness

While it's been a lot of fun trying different prenatal workouts -- and a lifesaver in terms of how I feel -- the analytical side of my brain also enjoys seeing how many different kinds of programs are out there. I've already reviewed several prenatal prep DVDs with dance components. In fact, Naia, Sera Solstice, and Amira's programs all use bellydance, which I'm increasingly convinced is just perfect for both pregnancy and labour movement itself. Earlier today I took a Lamaze class on natural comfort measures near Dallas, and almost all the moves the instructor suggested women do in labour -- hip bumps, pelvic tilts, hip circles -- are basic components of bellydance. She even suggested a kind of shimmy for helping with back labour, or with a baby that is malpositioned!

This is a long intro to Jennifer Jiménes' Let's Dance Together - Prenatal Dance Fitness, but that's because I want to explain what makes this program different. I received a review copy of the program, and Jennifer included a note in which she explained that it's more about developing "inner trust" in your body than typical dance fitness. The difference begins with the staging. Instead of a single instructor facing the camera, or, say, three different practitioners modeling trimester variations, this video has a group of pregnant women, dressed brightly, sitting, standing, and dancing in a circle. Already doing the video feels less like instruction and more like participation. In fact, this is one of the few videos I've done which I felt encouraged me not even to look at the screen -- and this is a good thing. It's hard to relax and turn inward when you're looking up at a screen.

The program begins with a gentle warmup that stretches out every bit of your body, with some really nice seated exercises for the legs and a variety of flowing movements done on all fours to relax the lower back and pelvis. The latter chapters include a labour prep section, including an exercise to help you maintain stamina through pain, and a meditative cool down. But what I really want to talk about is the dance segment.

Now, when I go to a dance class or watch a dance instructional, I want to be taught something. When I've been to dance classes where students were asked to free dance at the end of class, I was invariably stressed out by the experience -- not because I don't like to improvise, but because I feel too self-conscious, especially when others are there. If you'd told me that this video had a significant portion devoted to free dance, I would not have been excited. But in truth, I wound up loving it.

Why? Well, first of all, it's not totally free dance. You're invited to explore movement, but Jennifer calls out different parts of your body to focus on, as in "dance with your shoulders!" Both times I did this video, I was amazed at how creative I could be with that amount of prompting -- I found my body performing moves I'd learned formally in dance classes, moves I'd seen other dancers do, or just totally new motions I invented because they felt good. It was, cheesy as it sounds, liberating.

The bright colours strike a Merce Cunningham vibe...
It feels wonderful to be heavily pregnant and realise that your body still can do things that feel so lovely. But I think this kind of exercise could be great beyond pregnancy too -- how much better would those stressful improv moments in dance class have been if the teachers had guided the movement like this? A lot of dancers love choreography but are scared of improv, and I think a gentle practice like the one in Let's Dance Together is a perfect way of breaking out of the choreography box. I wasn't as enthusiastic about the second dance segment, which was a kind of circle dance with scarves, but the "Free Dance" portion was enchanting and made me want to do it again and again.

Did the program lead me to trust my body more, or to feel better prepared for labour? I think it's hard to answer that question before actually giving birth. I will say this: I think the workout, and especially the free dance section, are excellent at giving you practice at figure out what kinds of movement make your body feel good. The fact that you're not following someone else's count or precise movements, but taking each of the exercises and doing them in a way that stretches and strengthens your muscles in the best way for you, is, I suspect, good practice for labour, when you have to set your own pace and figure out what works in easing the pain. And if labour is a dance, as I've sometimes heard it described, it has to be improvised.

Jennifer Jiménes' Let's Dance Together - Prenatal Dance Fitness is available on Amazon via the link, or from Jennifer's website, Let's Dance Together.

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