Review of Samra's Shimmyrobics

There's a bit of a story to this review. A long time ago, in a bookstore far, far away, I found a DVD in the discount section called Belly Dance - Total Workout For Body Shaping (don't buy from this link, but do read the comments!) It was three bucks, it didn't look too promising, but I am a bellydance DVD addict and can not let anything go by. There's always something to be learned.

When I got home and popped it in, however, I realised that the woman in the video had nothing to do with the woman on the cover of the case. In fact, even weirder was the fact that the video itself was a rhythm instructional, not a workout at all!

Part of the situation is explained on the Amazon page by Samra herself. The video is basically a copy of her video "101 Shimmies Volume 2," sold under a deceiving cover and title by an unethical distributor. It's not a workout, and in fact her attention was for the video material to be combined with instruction from her other DVDs. Someone just using this will be rather surprised by the lack of any basic teaching of moves. What's more, she doesn't receive any royalties from sales of the video. From our correspondence, it seemed she was even more upset that a confusing, poorly-branded video was out under her name.

I thought part of what I could do is work with the actual videos, and see what they have to offer. Now, these are old school videos. Samra herself told me that the production company was a small town affair, and this is true. The editing, production, music cueing, is all far from glossy or smooth. But what is actually in the content?

I've worked with Shimmyrobics twice so far, and in two rather different ways. The first time, I did the video all the way through, albeit in pieces. It's almost two hours of material, beginning with a one-hour instructional section. What follows is a short, but pretty thorough warmup, five workout combinations, a cool down, and an advanced workout which is the five combinations strung together. When I first worked with the video, I was a bit annoyed that the warmup came after the instruction, although the chaptering certainly allows you to click on the warmup first. However, the second time I did the video, I just did the workout, and in that case, it was easy just to click on warmup and stay with the program until the end.

The instructional section has a ton of material. Even though I've seen a lot of it taught in other places, there were some new moves or combinations of moves for me, and also certain moves where the description was particularly enlightening. I still have to work on my choo-choo shimmy, for example, but Samra's explanation of it is one of the most helpful that I've found so far. She also includes some moves from her other dance influences, like a backwards African shimmy and an African stylization of the chest shimmy. (In fact, these were some of my favourites in the workout!) Samra's descriptions are detailed, and often include pointers on safety. The full run-down:

Head: forward and back; side-circle tilt.
Shoulders: lifts and drops; rolls; thrusts; quiver and shimmy.
Ribcage: slide, shimmy, circle.
Abdomen: pops - in, out.
Knees: side, flex, moderately straight, circle.
Feet: point/flex, circle.
Hands: close/open, shimmy, palms up or down.
Hip slide shimmy
Muscle shimmy
Freezes and Vibration
Knee Shimmy
Walking Shimmy
Hip Patterns (various hip bumps, lifts, and drops)
Hip Circles
Hip Bumps
Walking Hip Lifts and Drops (the latter a little like the Soheir Zaki step)
Running Choo-Choo
African Choo-Choo
Omi Circle

The workout has five combinations. For each combo, Samra does the steps individually and drills them for a while, then strings them together and repeats them in four directions. Rinse, repeat. After the first teaching of a combo, on-screen text lists the moves. I liked some of the combinations more than others, but taken together, they really did get my heart rate up, and even gave me a bit of next-day burn!

Two things I wasn't as excited about were the repetition of combos in the four directions, and the fact that the music accompanying the workout is just a basic rhythm, without a real connection to the moves. I later read on Samra's website that the latter was intentional, and that she expects students to use the moves with their own music. Accordingly, the second time I did the workout, I had my trusty mp3 player ready with my iPod in. I started pausing the video between the combos, putting on some really danceable pop (Natacha Atlas, if you must know), and practiced the combos to the music. And I did not stick to the four cardinal directions. Instead, I took the moves from the combo, changed up the number of times, the order, and did the traveling moves in a variety of directions and floor shapes. It became really fun, and a chance for a bit of structured improvisation!

The verdict? If you want something really smoothly produced, this is not the video for you. However, there is so much info on it, that beginning dancers especially are likely to find something new or useful. And the workout really is a workout. If you're willing to play with the video creatively to make it part of your own practice, you will enjoy it.

You can get Shimmyrobics at Samra's website, (Don't buy it from Amazon under the fake name!)

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