Art of Belly Dance for Beginners:
Desert Dreams

A Video Review By Shira

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Overall Rating: StarStarStarStar (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars)

In this video release from the International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (IAMED), Paulina teaches some introductory belly dance moves and puts them together with a practice session. Jindra leads a workout based on those moves. Paulina and Anaheed each do a performance.


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What Users Think

Have you actually watched this video yourself? If so, offer your own opinion in the poll below! Otherwise, click the "View Results" button to see what worldwide users of think of it.

1) How would you rate Art of Belly Dance for Beginners: Desert Dreams, by Paulina?
Absolutely fantastic!
Definitely would recommend it.
Good enough to be worth the money, but not special.
Disappointing, but had at least a little value.
Nothing good about it at all.

The above poll includes responses submitted since March 2, 2005.

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The Chart

Recommended Level Total Novice
Formats Available NTSC
Overall Rating StarStarStarStar
Production Quality StarStarStarStarStar
Content Value StarStarStarStar
Packaging StarStarStar
Total Video Length 1:40:46 minutes (i.e., 100:46 minutes)
Performance Time 10:32 minutes (10%)
Teaching Time 54:07 minutes (54%)
Workout Time  31:29 minutes (31%)
Amount Of "Other" 4:38 minutes (5%)
Choreography No
Cultural Information No
Music Education No
Health Issues No
Number Of Models 1 for instruction, 3 for workout
List Price $29.99
Cost Per Minute Of Teaching, Workout, & Performing Time 31 cents
Cost For "Other" $1.38

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This video consists of three major sections: an instructional section taught by Paulina, a practice/workout section led by Jindra, and a performance section with performances by Paulina and Anaheed. Like its companion videos, Art of Belly Dance - Arabian Sands and Art of Belly Dance - Enchanted Nile, this video teaches elementary moves, offering a level of explanation suitable for someone who has never belly danced before. It doesn't really matter which of the three videos is used first - each can stand on its own, without needing any prior knowledge of material taught on the other, and both are taught at the level of a complete beginner.

Paulina has designed the instructional section for the needs of people who have never before set foot in a belly dance class or worked with a belly dance video. Her pace would be particularly well suited for someone who has never before studied any kind of dance. Each segment begins with a brief 30-60 demonstration of the move(s) that will be taught in that section. Paulina then patiently explains in great detail how to do the move, demonstrating each from both the front and from the side. She lingers and drills it before proceeding to the next.

After drilling it a bit, she then warns against common errors, which viewers can use to check their own technique. In some cases, she includes variations in the section, not just the base move. At the end of each section, a screen of text lists the key points for doing the move just taught, which could be a helpful guide for someone who wants to take written notes. The instruction is divided into 9 major sections, as follows:

  • Dance Posture. 1 minute. Covers all of the important points that I want to see instructors cover.
  • Upward Figure 8. 6 minutes. Shows how to do them entirely in the vertical plane, then how to vary them by adding a slight forward twist.
  • Small Hip Circle. 10 minutes. First teaches how to do them in place, then how to do them while traveling side to side, then in own circle.
  • Tick-Tock Shimmy. 7 minutes. This is the slow shimmy that consists of a series of single hip bumps.
  • Camel. 8 minutes. Paulina uses this term to refer to the American-style forward full-body undulation done in place.
  • Chest Lifts. 3 ½ minutes. In addition to rib cage lifts this segment covers how to do drops, and also how to do a rib cage V of lift, drop, lift.
  • Arm Movements. 9 minutes. Teaches arm movements that can be used with the dance moves taught earlier.
  • Wrist Circles. 4 minutes. These are the helicopter-hand style of wrist circles rather than the Persian style.
  • Let's Belly Dance! (Follow Along.) This section pulls everything together. Paulina leads a 4 ½ minute run-through of the moves that have been taught, accompanying them with the arm positions. Only music accompanies this, there is no spoken or onscreen cueing. It doesn't really need cueing, though, because it moves slowly enough and contains enough repetition that anyone who has mastered the previous sections should be able to figure it out.

In the one-minute introduction to each segment, as Paulina demonstrates the move to music, she uses the arm movements with it that will be taught later. This makes it possible for the viewer to see how the move will look when fully put together. I like this better than how the demonstrations are done in the companion volume Arabian Sands, because in Arabian Sands all the demos involve awkwardly holding the arms out to each side.

The instruction doesn't follow the customary "warm up", "teach", then "cool down" format that most instructional belly dance videos use, because it assumes you will warm up and cool down on your own.

Throughout this instructional section, Paulina wears a matched set of bra top and leggings with a hip scarf. Her body contrasts well against the background behind her, and it is always easy to see what she is doing.

Following the instruction, Jindra Payne leads a 31 ½-minute workout with the help of two fitness models, Laura Peterson and Sayaka Aral. Their attire matches Paulina's, which provides continuity with the instructional section and makes it easy to see the moves. The warm-up section consists of 5 ½ minutes of stretches, so I'd advise warming up on your own before beginning to follow along unless you do the workout immediately after following the instruction. (Current fitness "wisdom" is that stretches shouldn't be used for warm-ups, because stretching a cold body can cause injury.) The 22 ½-minute main body of the workout consists of belly dance moves. It ends with a 3 ½ minute cool-down that includes some stretches. The workout uses the moves that Paulina taught, plus adds rib cage slides, side-to-side spins, large hip circles, snake arms, and step-hip traveling steps. The packaging says the emphasis of the workout is on strength, but I would expect a strength-oriented workout to consist largely of weight resistance training, and I don't really see that in this routine.

Jindra re-teaches the moves that Paulina taught. This interrupts the pace of the workout and makes it more tedious to use repeatedly. It also seems rather unnecessary after Paulina's thorough descriptions, though I concede that if someone found it difficult to master a move based on Paulina's style of explaining, Jindra's review of it using her own style of explanation might fill in a gap. She structures the workout in the style of teaching the first combination, rehearsing it, then teaching the second combination, rehearsing it, then doing the first followed by the second, then adding and rehearsing the third, then taking it from the top and doing all three, etc. It is easy for beginners to follow along, but by the end you might be tired of the first couple of combinations, so it just depends on what style of workout structure you prefer.

Generally speaking, the character of the workout seems to have the flavor of a gym group workout class rather than drilling/review of dance moves. The choreography itself is dance-oriented and provides a structure to drill on the moves that Paulina teaches and put them together into a dance. However, the workout leaders move like gym aerobics instructors rather than like dancers. Jindra and her assistants tend to splay their feet far apart on their side-to-side steps, exaggerate moves, and bob their heads up and down as they do hip lifts. It lacks the fluidity and graceful quality of "dance" as opposed to "exercise". For this reason I could recommend it for people looking for a workout video but not for people looking for a dance practice companion.

The video ends with two performance segments featuring solos by Anaheed and Paulina, both wearing professional dance costumes, as follows:

  • Anaheed dances to a 6-minute improvised instrumental solo performed on oud by John Bilezikjian. The music begins with no rhythm, just a free-form improvisation. For this segment, Anaheed's interpretation is introspective, which matches the mood of the music. After a couple of minutes, a chiftetelli rhythm begins to pulse under the melody line, and Anaheed's mood correspondingly becomes more openly expressive, more aware of the audience.
  • Paulina dances with a sword to an arghul improvised solo performed by the band Sirocco. The music begins slowly, then builds in speed and energy until it reaches a dramatic climax. Paulina's performance includes some floor work and some standing moves. She balances the sword on her head with confidence.

The DVD edition also has three slides shows as "Special Features." The "Dance Tips" choice leads to a series of 11 slides with advice on warming up, where/how to practice, how to express the music, etc. The "About IAMED" choice leads to a series of 15 slides with background information about its founder Suzy Evans and the organization. The "About Belly Dance" choice leads to a series of 12 slides that provide a bit of historical information about belly dance, including its rise in the U.S. in the 20th century and its place in America today.

The overall production quality of the video is excellent. There is plenty of lighting to see what the instructor, workout leaders, and performers are doing, and the sound is always perfectly synchronized with the on-screen activity. Spoken instruction can easily be heard over background music at all times. The DVD authoring includes chapter breaks everywhere I want them, and the menu system is easy to use.

You Will Probably Like This Video If

  • You have never previously taken a belly dance class.
  • You have never studied any type of dance at all before.
  • You like videos that repeat the move enough times that you don't need to rewind or pause very much.
  • You like instruction that provides a detailed explanation of exactly how to produce each move.
  • You like to take things slow and easy, completely mastering one skill before moving on to the next.
  • You like having two different instructors offer differing explanations of the same move so if you don't get it from the way one describes it, you have an alternative explanation.
  • You appreciate belly dance videos that use Middle Eastern music.

You Probably Won't Care for This Video If

  • You prefer videos that teach a large number of moves with minimal time on each.
  • You tend to become impatient with detailed explanations.
  • You feel that workouts based on dance should aim to demonstrate graceful dance technique.
  • You don't appreciate it when workouts have midstream interruptions to slow down and teach moves.

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked

  • The moves taught are appropriate to intended level of total novice.
  • Paulina is a skilled instructor.
  • All of the dancers have pleasant on-screen personalities.
  • Paulina offers plenty of explanation.
  • The camera angles show moves from both front and side.
  • Paulina identifies where to put the weight and when to bend/straighten the knees.
  • Paulina introduces arm moves that coordinate with the dance moves.
  • The workout provides structure for rehearsing the moves taught.
  • The production quality is excellent.
  • The credits identify the music used.
  • The credits identify all on-screen personalities.
  • There is ethnic diversity among the on-screen dancers.

What I Didn't Like

  • I don't care for a couple of the moves taught.
  • The workout leaders don't always demonstrate ideal dance technique.

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Movements Included

  • Hip Articulations: 1 move (tick-tock shimmy)
  • Hip Fluid Moves: 5 moves (upward figure 8, upward figure 8 with slight forward twist, small hip circle, hip circle traveling in own circle, large hip circle)
  • Traveling Steps: 3 moves (side-travel hip circle, step-hip, side-to-side spins)
  • Rib Cage Articulations: 3 moves (rib cage lift, rib cage drop, rib cage lift/drop V)
  • Rib Cage Fluid Moves: 1 move (rib cage slide)
  • Full-Body Moves: 1 move (camel)
  • Arms & Shoulders: 5 moves (presentation arms (2 styles), basic arms, snake arms, wrist circles)

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Reviews of Other Videos by this Artist/Instructor

If you'd like to read my reviews of other videos featuring Paulina, choose from the list below:

Reviews of other videos produced by IAMED with other instructors and performers include the list below.


Performance compilations:

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In Conclusion

I like several things about the beginner-level instruction in this video. Explanations are very clear, Paulina advises you on where to put your weight, she introduces variations for most of the moves taught, and she guides you in how to match arm movements to the dance moves. I don't think the workout segment is as strong as other belly dance workout videos on the market, but it's okay for exercise if you're not really aiming to drill yourself in graceful dance technique. If you're trying to choose between this video and its companions Arabian Sands and Enchanted Nile, I'd recommend starting with Desert Dreams because I like it the best of the three. All three are high quality instructional videos that teach well, though, and the moves each teaches are equally suitable for newcomers to belly dance.

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:I have never had any contact with Paulina or Jindra. I have reviewed other videos produced by IAMED, and I received a complimentary copy from IAMED of the video used for this review.

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Contacting The Producer & Ordering The Video

Contact IAMED as follows:

P.O. Box 7666
Van Nuys, CA 91409

Web Site:

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