DVD Review: Improvisation Toolkit by Nadira Jamal


New member
Some time ago I ordered this toolkit after watching several of Nadira's Taktaba podcasts, and after a bit of a wait I got not only the one I ordered (Movement Recall), but also Volume 2: Structure, and a fabulous extra 'Expression in Improv'. So it was well worth the wait!!

Onto the review.

Nadira's toolkit is designed to help dancers move from choreography to improvisation by breaking down the process and helping stop that critical mind chatter that so often whispers critical comments while you're dancing. She points out, quite wisely, that dancers don't have trouble because they don't have enough movements - they have trouble because they have too many to choose from and can't remember them! She also makes the point that the difference between choreography and improvisation is only in the timing of the creative process - in one it happens before the performance, and in the other it happens during the performance.

In Volume 1 - Movement recall, she leads you through a series of exercises that she describes, demonstrates and then coaches you through. The exercises involve both movement to music as well as written exercises - and it's the latter that I found surprisingly useful, so much so that I'm going to be using a notebook more often in my dance practice!
The first steps are to just move, not necessarily with dance vocabulary, just moving to music - and if your critical voice gets in the way, Nadira's demonstration of how to deal with it will at the very least make you laugh!
Then she takes you through simply moving within your current bellydance vocab, in order to notice some of the themes you already use. Thereafter she asks you to identify several 'safety movements' that can form your 'home base' while dancing an improvised piece.
Once the safety movements are firmly in your muscle memory, it's time for more themes and variations of moving in and out of these safety movements, adding new movements before and after them, and then dancing a 'plug and play' choreography where the improvisation is limited to several points within a simple framework that is already choreographed.

There's more - but you need to get the DVD yourself to really appreciate the thought and planning that has gone into developing what is a well-structured instructional DVD.

Points I liked above Volume 1: fabulous production values, clear graphics, nice pace and no unnecessary frills. The structure of learning is excellent, and I enjoyed Nadira's no-nonsense straight-up approach. I also liked the listing of all the movements, the use of journalling and the instructions to the critical voice! I really enjoyed the advice at the end of the DVD about adding new movements or movement combinations to your improv practice: add the new movement into your diary under one or more of the movement vocab headings, then practice moving from one 'safety movement' to the new movement, then onto another 'safety movement' etc until the movement transitions become easy and you don't have to think as hard.

Points I'd like done differently: maybe a nice overview or index so it's easier to flick through each section, because you have to scroll down the entire list to get to the section you're currently working on. Some of the music could be a little longer especially in the 'transitions' section to have a bit longer practicing moving from one movement to another - although nothing is stopping me from putting some of my own music to 'noodle' to!

Volume 2: This DVD extends and adds to the improvisation by looking at how to structure your improvisation so the audience can follow your train of thought. Now at this juncture I have to lay my cards on the table: I do prefer a less symmetrical dance from the style Nadira discusses, but at the same time I really appreciate some of the information that she provides. Nadira is quite clear that her style of dance is American Cabaret, or Vintage Orientate, and her movement patterns and the structure of her dance shows this heritage. By this I mean she uses symmetry, floor patterns and repetitions that I don't think I see as much in Egyptian dancing. This isn't to detract from the DVD at all - but if you're unfamiliar with the differences between the styles, you may be caught out.
Back to this DVD. Nadira takes you through 'physical continuity' where your movements link from physical points eg hip slides to hip circles to horizontal figure 8s' - all connect through the hip extended to the side. This makes it easy for your audience to follow the movements without having to think too hard! Once again she uses journalling, and really clear demonstrations to help your learning.
Repetition is another category of structure - either straight repetition, or variations such as A, A, A, B or A, B, A, B where one movement is A and one is B. Nadira takes you through many variations along this line which both drills the movements into your muscle memory, but also helps you develop nice transitions between each one.
She also takes you through strcutured observations - asking you to watch YouTube or other DVD's to identify how the dances are structured, which not only helps you to see how a dancer achieves a 'look', but also adds to your dancing vocabulary (& who needs an excuse to watch YouTube anyway?!).

Once again, things I liked were the use of journalling, great examples danced by Nadira, clear and explicit instructions and graphics without any silly video effects, and lots of examples. And again I'd have liked an overview menu so I could skip to the section I want without having to run through a whole lot to get there. Or maybe I just need to learn to operate my DVD player better!

Would I buy these again? You bet - they're probably in the same league as Ranya Renee's Baladi instructional but quite different. And now that I have a dancing journal, I think there will be a whole lot of reflective writing going on.
Oh and did I add that if you get bored with the exercises on the DVD's, you can down load some more from the website? And if you video yourself, she'll give you a video critique.

Nadira Jamal - Taktaba


New member
I agree with you on all the major points. I absolutely love both of these DVD's and plan to order the other three when they are issued. Since I have to do most of my learning via DVD, this is perfect for my situation and it definately frees me to dance to music. Sometimes I put on something and just noodle to it exploring space, moves and chasing away that little voice in my head that sabatages my creativity. I've gone back to Volume one to put alot of the ideas and movement into my head and body before I venture to volume two.