DVD Review: “Chinese Silk Fan Fusion with Mirabai”
I recently received a copy of the “Chinese Silk Fan Fusion” DVD by Mirabai. I’ve never done any fan dancing before so I thought I’d review this DVD from a beginner perspective on this style. One of the things I love most about bellydance is that there seems to be a never-ending stream of new things to learn, both old styles and new. I adore my silk veils, so it shouldn’t take much to tempt me with fluttering silk fans, right?
The video starts with Mirabai giving a little background on Chinese fan dance and shows different hand grips for manipulating the fan. She also talks about the elements of Chinese fan technique she has drawn on in this fusion style, then a little about prepping fans for a performance. The general context of the video is teaching a choreography. This is done by breaking it into 6 combinations. She demonstrates each combination twice, giving a full breakdown the first time facing the camera as the audience. On the second demonstration, she gives verbal cues and faces away from the camera. This is particularly useful because the set does not have mirrors. She then dances the combination to music without any instruction or cues. After all the combinations have been presented, the video concludes with two performances – one of the choreography taught, plus a second, different choreography. The entire video runs about 1 hour.
Through the six combinations, you can learn a nice variety of ways to incorporate the fans into bellydance through poses, spins, turns and arm paths that draw the veil tail through the air in interesting and beautiful shapes. She uses a lot of imagery from Chinese fan tradition in the instruction. In the introduction, Mirabai states that this video assumes knowledge of basic bellydance moves. She does not break down any of them, but there really aren’t many true bellydance moves in the combinations. This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism though – I picked up the video to learn about fans and I’d guess most dancers would be doing the same. There’s just enough hint of bellydance moves to suggest how I could incorporate this into my personal style.
As a total newbie to fans, I would have like to see more time spent on the hand grips, flashing open and changing grip, perhaps with close-ups of her hands. I had trouble with snapping the fans open because my hand was getting in my way (imagine that!) and it took some trial and error to figure out how to fix it and still get the fan open. I think that could have been avoided with clearer instructions on finger positions up front and what was supposed to grip where. Another issue I had – this one totally unrelated to the video content – was the quality of my fans. I borrowed a set of cheap, imported fans from another dancer to test the video and they did not open smoothly or stay open when I wanted them too. For some things, quality really counts and I think that’s worth a mention if you’d like to lessen frustration, hand cramps and splinters!
As I mentioned, the video is not shot in a mirrored setting, but I didn’t find that to be problematic. The space is uncluttered and well lit and the sound quality was quite clear. This DVD does not have any menu navigation however, so it’s not so easy to go directly to say, combination #3 or a performance. I’ve read reviews of dance DVDs that have criticized “boring” sets or other frivolous things and I have to say I’m a pragmatist. I’m all about the content – give it to me straight up with no frills and I’m just as happy.
Stepping out of my dance shoes and putting on my Exercise Science major hat, I do have to address the warm-up issue. Another criticism I often hear of videos is that they didn’t include a warm-up segment. In general, I don’t think that’s a valid complaint. Dancers should know to warm-up before they dance and it’s responsible for the instructor to remind the DVD users of that. I don’t think it’s necessary to include one on every DVD – its general dancer knowledge that I feel can be assumed. In this case because of the specialized nature of the movement, I would have liked to see some warm-up and stretches for the fingers, wrists and shoulders. If you’re not used to handling fans, it really does tire the hands. It would have been an asset to the video to include such a warm up or at least inform the users that they should pay special attention to warming up and stretching these areas.
So what’s the bottom line? I like this video and found it to be a very good introduction to fan veils with a nice, useful mix of skills that can easily be worked into your own bellydance style. As an exercise professional, I would, however, recommend that you pay special attention to your hands, wrists and shoulders when warming up to practice with your fans.
Silk has always had a magical “life of its own” kind of quality for me, and this is just one more way to enjoy it. The skills themselves aren’t terribly difficult so there’s a great “instant gratification” factor adding this to your dance. If you love the look of these fans, I’d recommend this DVD to get acquainted and get your moving.