Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees is happy to discover a form of exercise that actually embraces poochy stomachs.
"As a system of movement, belly dance is the ideal, natural method for abs toning and shaping."
While the Charge above (excerpted from the DVD case copy) is probably true, what it doesn't say is that belly dance is not the way to flatten the abs. Anyone who's ever seen an experienced belly dancer, even one as willow-slender as Neon, the accomplished Russian belly dancer who leads this program, will know that they come with that distinctive belly dancer pooch. While their upper abs may be breathtakingly taut and defined, the lower abs are not going to be the perfectly flat plane so desired by most Westerners. Thus, despite the many merits of this DVD, I feel I should begin this review by warning that it neither promises nor conduces to the flattening of the abs.
What it does, however, is provide a dance-based toning program that will almost certainly strengthen the abs, the group of muscles so crucial—as we are reminded by Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Andy Troy—in stabilizing and strengthening our entire bodies throughout everyday activities, and also in preventing back pain and injury. Doing these belly dance moves may not give you the tiny tummy you want to show off in your low-rise jeans, but it will very likely create a stronger, healthier body.
Before starting the program, it's a good idea to view Andy Troy's introduction, "About This Program." In just over three minutes, Troy provides a useful anatomy lesson in the various muscles that belly dancing targets and explains how these muscles, predominantly those that make up the abdominal area, contribute to everyday functioning. Graphics illustrate the different muscle groups as Neon demonstrates moves that target them.
The body-shaping program itself is divided into three 15-minute workouts, each starting with a brief (approximately three minutes) warmup. After Neon leads us through the moves in the main instructional segment, she weaves them together into a relatively short (two to three minutes) dance sequence, which is then followed by a quick cooldown (about one minute). Many of the moves will be familiar to viewers of Neon's Belly Dance Party workout and will be appropriate for dance clubs if you want to show them off outside your living room. Throughout the program Neon teaches solo against a black background (which makes the widescreen presentation less evident), and from time to time Andy Troy will appear to the side of the screen with tips on movement, form, and posture. Neon's cueing is soft and sometimes difficult to hear over the accompanying music, and sometimes she doesn't fully prepare us for a move, so it's particularly nice that the program offers the innovative visualization feature of graphics that accompany each move and show how the hips and rib cage are moving. The graphics portray each of these two body areas as a globe, and sometimes the notation showing a certain move is a little counterintuitive, but overall these graphics are very helpful; they are a standout feature of this disc, as the use of similar graphics was in another of Neon's instructional programs, Belly Dance Party. The entire program is accompanied by an eclectic selection of music (some of which was also featured on Belly Dance Party), ranging from exotic solo drum numbers to New Agey interludes, most of which makes use of a pop beat. The audio mix is immersive, with great clarity and depth of field, and the effective presentation of the music enhances the disc.
The choreography demands a certain degree of core and lower-body strength, especially in moves that are done from a tilt position—sitting deep in the knees, with the upper body canted backward—and the rapid pace and tricky layering of some movements may also be frustrating to the beginner. For these reasons, I believe this workout is best for those with some previous belly dance experience, whether from courses or from similar DVDs. Neon's predilection for launching into double-time without warning also necessitates some patience and persistence on the part of the viewer: This is a workout that you will probably not be able to follow in its entirety on the first go. At the same time, the variety of movements, and the fact that they challenge both mind and body, will make this a good program to grow with: Its challenging qualities will ensure that most viewers won't grow bored, and the difficulty of some moves will provide a bar for exercisers to aim for.
At the same time, I do feel that some areas of the workout should have been designed with the viewer's needs more prominently in mind. None of the cooldown segments, for example, feature any stretches, and at the very least some stretches for the abs and back would seem to be called for after working these muscles so intensely. The first routine's warmup—which features a front-and-back view of Neon instead of the graphics featured in all other segments—is difficult to follow, due to its minimal cueing and dancy choreography. The screen can sometimes become pretty busy, between the illustrative graphics, Neon herself, Troy's appearances, and the numbers that visually count down repetitions of a move (an excellent idea in itself, since Neon almost never indicates how many repetitions of a move the viewer should be prepared for).
Overall, this is a challenging, interesting workout, and for those with experience of other belly dance workout DVDs, it should be a welcome addition to their fitness library. Those who want a workout that will flatten their lower abdominal area, however, or who have no belly dance experience, will probably find that a different workout will better suit their needs.
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