Review: Alexis Southall’s License to Drill

I took this workshop a week or so ago, almost on a lark, after I found out about Shimmy in the City’s cancellation. I wanted my workshop, damnit, and I was going to have one! I’d seen Alexis dance at Tribal Café before, had been quite impressed by her precision and technique, and thought it would be a good idea to take this one.

The workshop was advertised as follows:

“This workshop focuses on conditioning and drills for Tribal Fusion Bellydance. Alexis will be sharing her favourite tried and tested methods of achieving strong and precise movement, as well as her latest discoveries. Come and learn how Alexis structures her personal practice sessions, what she practices and why. We will sweat, and you will work hard, and your dancing will be better for it! Some bellydance experience required. Please bring a yoga mat, lots of water and a notebook.
Level: improvers”

The workshop started with a very long conditioning session. Now, while I hate conditioning with the passion of a thousand blazing supernovas, I understand it is needed, and do it as much as I can, and not just in class, so anything new in this front comes handy. A lot of the conditioning exercises were not new to me, but there were a few extra twists and variations that made things more interesting. She offered a few exercises to work particular sections of your core, including one to work on the hip flexors and lower abs -an area that I find difficult at best of times- and that was different from the usual suspects. The one issue I had with the conditioning was personal. I do have problematic knees, and I need quite a bit of padding under them if I am going to put weight on them, otherwise they start aching. Alexis did request people with sensitive knees to roll the mats or add some clothes to give this padding if necessary. Problem is, some of the sequences, like the downwards dog into plank pushing into tabletop, didn’t really leave room for these adjustments to happen… you couldn’t stop to roll the mat under your knees as you were caught halfway through and the point of the sequence was to do these transitions smoothly, and if you were using the lighter versions, on your knees, then you had even longer time pressing on them. And some of the more intense conditioning, like side planks, were quite punishing, requiring you to support your weight on one hand and one foot. There were plenty of options to lighten up the load, and Alexis did give us all the possible variations, like doing low planks on knees instead of toes, or side planks on one knee instead of the foot, or forearm instead of hand, but while those variations do make the exercises lighter on the core, they can put additional weight on the joints. and sadly, if you’re carrying quite a bit of extra weight, these can be *killer*. I’m sure that if I’d had knee pads I probably wouldn’t have had much issue, but as it was, my knees were not happy at all. I also understand that whoever the workshop instructor is, unless you go through the whole lot of your possible “triggers”, they can’t know this. I should have been smarter and just take note of the conditioning exercises instead of actually trying to do them straight away, and sadly, I suffered the consequences later on.

And then we started drilling. First basic moves, then more complex ones. There was a *lot* of layering, which I think was far beyond the “improvers” level that was quoted. It was nice to see, nice to get an idea of how to work with, but if you’ve never done that sort of layering before, it can be daunting. And this goes WAY beyond the usual layering you see used more often, like a shimmy over a hip circle. This was more hardcore layering, of, say, a sidewinder over an omi, or a sharp “flag” on the chest over a soft omi, or a chest circle over sharp alternating hip lifts. There were lots of “sharp over soft” and “soft over sharp” layering for upper body/lower body. And afterwards even adding some footwork to that. The sharp jump in complexity was rather frustrating, and even more since we were adding moves like the flag and sidewinder that I’d never done before. Yes, most of these were drills to take home and practice, but for me, still an “improver”, it was quite difficult to do, as there’s not really much “explanation” that you can give to these, other than just trying them. And as this was my first time doing this, trying to grasp them in the 5-10 minutes of each drill did not give me great results, and expecting great results so quickly when the technique is new is totally unrealistic. But I expect it will be great once I put it into use during my normal practice.

About half an hour before the end of the workshop, the initial aching I’d noticed on my knees during the conditioning started mutating into sharp pain, so I had to step aside, take some painkillers and a long break. I missed doing half the drills on mayas, and the combos. The combos were not so intensely layered, thank goodness; they did look pretty, gave a better idea of how Alexis works on her style, and she did perform them at the end of the workshop for us to film (as long as it didn’t end up on YouTube, so sorry, no video).

We had a nice cool down and stretch at the end of it.

Overall impressions: Alexis has superb technique, and is lovely and engaging; her conditioning is *killer* but if you’re looking for new ways of punishingimproving your core, it is great. Just beware, if you carry quite a bit of extra weight, that your joints might not be too happy with some of the weight-bearing. The drills were a bit advanced for my skill, but I figure that was the whole point: start to push the boundaries to get those layers working. I took back home lots of ideas, and a LONG list of layering moves that I’d like to try, SLOWLY. And hopefully next time I won’t find it so difficult. I felt challenged and inspired, though, so it was useful for me overall, despite the small issues I had (and that have nothing to do with the instruction provided). My one and only real complaint is that I didn’t like her music choice, which was mostly within the hip-hop family. Yes, it did work well with the moves we were doing, but I just don’t find it engaging, and I find it very difficult to dance -even drill- to something that I don’t particularly like.

Would I take another workshop with Alexis: probably, although it is quite likely that I will wait until I can do some decent layering myself without issue, then check the subject matter, and if I am going, take along some knee pads, or be smart enough to stay out of the conditioning exercises that will trigger pain points all together.

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