About Shira's Reviews Of Instructional Videos

By Shira

The cost of buying a video is not trivial. You want to make sure you'll get your money's worth. You want the content to be worthwhile, and the production quality to be acceptable. But how do you make a choice? You don't always have the opportunity to actually watch a video before buying a copy of your own. With the reviews here on my web site, I'll attempt to help you make an informed choice.

Belly Dance Bellydance Belly Dancing Bellydancing Bauchtanzen Belly Dancers Bellydancers

Table Of Contents

  • About Biases And Agendas In Reviews. Reviews are opinions, and can be influenced by many factors. This section talks about those factors and how they apply to the reviews on this web site.
  • My Rating System. This explains my system for reviewing: categories I consider, etc. I try to provide not just my opinion, but also quantifiable fact.
  • How To Make A Choice? My reviews contain both a lot of facts and a lot of opinions. Here are some suggestions for digesting all that and making your decision of which to buy.
  • Access The Reviews Themselves. This will link you to a different page on this web site.

Belly Dance Bellydance Belly Dancing Bellydancing Bauchtanzen Belly Dancers Bellydancers

First, A Few Words....

First, please support the artists who have worked hard and invested their own personal money to produce videos for you. Don't make your own bootleg copies of videos that you borrow from other people, and don't accept copies that your friends offer to make for you. Making your own copies of tapes is a Bad Thing. It hurts people by denying them income they sorely need and deserve. Ethics would say that people who make their own copies are Bad People. The law would say they are Thieves. Please be a Good Person and purchase legitimate copies of the videos you want.

Belly Dance Bellydance Belly Dancing Bellydancing Bauchtanzen Belly Dancers Bellydancers

About Biases And Agendas In Reviews

Sometimes you feel you can't trust the reviews in the belly dance magazines--how can you, as a reader, be sure the reviews you read aren't written by friends of the video producers? The contents of belly dance magazines are often written primarily by people who voluntarily send in whatever they feel like writing, rather than using paid staff members to generate content. That makes them more vulnerable to bias than mainstream news media who do employ salaried reviewers, unless the editor somehow looks into the writer's possible agenda before running the review. And of course, the magazines accept paid advertisements from many video producers--how can you know that doesn't bias them into publishing reviews that say only kind things about their biggest advertisers?

Here on this site, I'll try to give you a fair opinion of what I think of the instructional videos I have seen. If I am personally acquainted with the dancer(s) featured on a video, I'll disclose that. I don't accept paid advertising on my web site, so I don't have to be concerned about the financial consequences of alienating a video producer. I'll feature only reviews I have written myself, so there won't be any question of whether I have checked out a contributor's hidden agenda. My agenda is simple--I've received a lot of e-mails from people who have visited my web site asking for advice on which instructional videos to purchase, so I'm attempting to provide the type of information on my site that people are looking for. Period.

Back when I was getting my college degree in journalism, one of my professors said something that has stuck with me all these years: There is no such thing as objectivity in reporters. Every journalist must make some judgments: which facts to include in a story and which to omit. Which to feature at the beginning of the story, and which to place at the end. Whom to interview, and whom not to interview. Which angle to take on a story -- the local angle versus the global impact angle, the dry facts angle versus the human interest angle, etc. As a reporter, I can strive for fairness, accuracy, and balance, but objectivity is an unattainable goal.

So, as a reviewer, I promise you I will strive for fairness, accuracy, and balance. Even if I really dislike a video I've seen, I'll try to acknowledge anything I see in it that I think was done well. In the cases where I do know the video producer personally, I'll reveal that to you but still try to give an honest assessment of whether this is a good video to learn from.

Sometimes I don't care for the video due to a personal bias. For example, I personally don't like to use instructional videos that teach a set choreography designed for a very specific piece of music. When reviewing such a video, I'll try to set that bias aside and ask myself, "Well, it's not my type of video, but were movements explained well? Were demonstrations clear and easy to see? Does it offer good value for the money for people who don't happen to share my particular bias?" So even though I probably wouldn't buy a video that teaches a set choreography myself, I'll still give it a good rating if it presents it well. I'll respond to the fact that it teaches a choreography by simplying putting a "Yes" in my chart on the "Choreography?" line.

I've created a rating system that evaluates each video on multiple criteria, so you can make your buying decision based on which criteria are important to you.

Belly Dance Bellydance Belly Dancing Bellydancing Bauchtanzen Belly Dancers Bellydancers

My Rating System

I decided to use a consistent format across all of my reviews, to make it easier for you to compare different videos you are considering against each other when making your buying decision. If you've never met me, and you've never seen the videos I'm reviewing, it may be hard for you to determine whether my opinions are consistent with how you would react to the same video. That's why I've also included hard facts like how many minutes of teaching time appear on the tape. Whether or not you trust my opinion, you'll still have some factual information that may be useful in making your decision on what to buy.


This is a brief comment that sums up my overall impressions of the video.

The Chart

Some of these issues will be important to you. Some won't. Don't insist on looking for videos that say "Yes" to every yes/no question and have higher numbers than all the others on the numeric metrics--I suspect there's not a single video out there that would get such a "perfect" score on everything. Instead, ask yourself which of these issues are the most important to you, then look for ones that score well on the criteria you care about.

Recommended Level What Level Of Dancer Would Get The Most Value From This Video (Total Novice, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced)
Formats Available  NTSC, PAL, SECAM, etc.
Overall Rating Scale Of StarTo StarStarStarStarStar
Production Quality Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Content Value Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Packaging Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Total Video Length Number Of Minutes Total
Performance Time Number Of Minutes Of Performances (Plus Percentage)
Teaching Time Number Of Minutes Of Teaching (Plus Percentage)
Amount Of "Other" Number Of Minutes Of "Other" (Plus Percentage)
Choreography Yes Or No
Cultural Information Yes Or No
Music Education Yes Or No
Health Issues Yes Or No
Number Of Models Number Of Dancers Illustrating Moves
List Price Producer's Suggested Retail Price In The U.S.A.
Cost Per Minute Of Teaching & Performing Time Price Divided By The Sum Of Performance Time + Teaching Time
Cost Per Minute Of Full Video Price Divided By The Total Video Time, Including Credits And "Other"
Cost For "Other" Number Of Minutes Of "Other" Divided By Total Video Time, Then Multiplied By Cost

Recommended Level

You'll be disappointed if the video you purchase is either too easy or too hard. So, to help you decide whether a given video would be a good choice for you, I've suggested what level of dancer I believe is likely to get the most benefit from it, as follows:

What My Chart Says What It Means
Total Novice Less than 2 months of belly dancing classroom instruction
Beginner Less than 18 months of belly dancing classroom instruction
Intermediate 18 months to 4 years of belly dancing classroom instruction
Advanced More than 4 years of belly dancing classroom instruction

Formats Available

For those of you old enough to remember the music industry of the 1960's and 1970's, you may recall that at that time people could choose between two sizes and shapes of tapes when purchasing music: they could get either 8-track or cassette.

Today, there are 3 different types of digital disks (that I know of): the classic CD-ROM, DVD, and mini-disk (similar to CD-ROM, but smaller). They have different technical specifications with respect to how they store data and what type of disk player is required to play them.

Similarly, the video industry supports several different ways of storing video on tape. I'll try not to bore you with too much technology detail, but it relates to things like how many frames per second are stored on the video. If you have NTSC-compatible equipment for playing back your videos, you can't use it to watch PAL or SECAM tapes, and vice versa. So what does this mean to you?

  • If you're in the United States, Japan, Canada, and parts of South America, you probably have equipment that plays NTSC format. That's the standard for the U.S. If you're in North America and you don't know for sure which video formats your equipment can play, assume it's NTSC. Trust me, if you were in North America and your equipment required PAL or SECAM videos, you would be tech-savvy enough to know it without reading this information!
  • If you're in Australia, Scandinavia, India, or Europe (except France), then your equipment almost certainly plays PAL. You might have equipment that can do both PAL and SECAM. Many VCR's are now available in the market that can play both.
  • If you're in Eastern Europe or France, then your equipment almost certainly plays SECAM. It might also play PAL.

Because people worldwide read my web site, and many of the vendors who sell videos make them available worldwide, I identify in my reviews which tape formats each video vendor offers.

Overall Rating

Factoring in all the issues of production quality, content value, and presentation, what is the overall rating for this video?

Star Don't Waste Your Money!
StarStar Disappointing
StarStarStar Adequate
StarStarStarStar Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar Excellent

Production Quality

There are several issues that I consider when assigning a production quality rating. Was there enough light to enable you to see the dance movements, and was it coming from an appropriate angle so the dancer wasn't obscured by shadows? Was the background simple and free of distractions? Did the camera angles make it easy to see how to do the movements? Did the instructor wear clothing that made it easy to see the movements? Was the image in focus and free of distortions?

Star Horrible
StarStar Disappointing
StarStarStar Adequate
StarStarStarStar Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar Excellent

Content Value

Did the instructor select movements appropriate to the level of dancer that the video claims to be designed for? Were movements explained clearly and demonstrated effectively? Did the instructor include information about how to make transitions from one movement to another? Was there enough content on the video to give you your money's worth? Did the content touch on all the subjects it needed to, such as what to do with your arms while performing a certain hip movement or step?

Star Useless
StarStar Disappointing
StarStarStar Adequate
StarStarStarStar Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar Excellent


Did the labeling on the videotape itself and the wrapper it came in provide useful information, such as a table of contents of the topics covered, names of songs used on the tape and what CD/album/cassette tape they came from, etc? Was it professionally done or did it come across as cheap? Was it appealing to look at?

Star Poor
StarStar Disappointing
StarStarStar Adequate
StarStarStarStar Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar Excellent

Total Video Length

Quite simply, this is how long the video lasts, from the opening credits through the closing credits. Sometimes a dancer is disappointed because the new video she just bought is shorter than she had expected. I'll tell you how long it is and let you decide whether that's enough time to make the video a good choice for you.

Performance Time

The best instructional videos include a section in which the teacher does a performance that illustrates the moves that were taught in the context of a real dance. The best instructional videos do include this section, complete with appropriate music and costuming. I report how many minutes are devoted to such performances, and in parentheses following that I indicate the percentage of total video time devoted to these performances.

Teaching Time

This identifies how many minutes of actual video time were spent in instruction. By my definition, "Instruction" would include cultural insights and music education as well as information on how to move. I report how many minutes are devoted to teaching, and in parentheses following that I indicate the percentage of total video time devoted to teaching.

Number Of Minutes Of "Other"

"Other" is what's left over after you take away the teaching and performing content. This would include the credits, biographical information about the teacher, philosophizing by the teacher, advertisements for the video producer's other projects, etc. Things I do not consider "Other": telling you something about the music used in the video and where you can find the tape/CD it appears on, telling you the history or cultural context of the dance, comments on how to do a movement correctly to avoid injury, comments about what sort of costume might be appropriate for the dance--those all get counted in the "Teaching Time".

It's important to have a certain amount of "Other"--for example, the credits are usually a necessity. Some "Other" is actually very interesting, and enhances the overall value of the video, so it isn't always a bad thing. But when I've asked other people about what things have disappointed them in videos they have purchased, excess "Other" is one of the primary complaints. That's why I've tried to measure it.

To calculate how many minutes of "Other" are on a video, I subtracted teaching and performing times from the total video length. So, suppose a 35-minute video had 25 minutes of teaching and 5 minutes of performing. That leaves 5 minutes of "Other". I then add, enclosed in parentheses, the percentage of the total video time that is devoted to it.


This will say "Yes" if the video presents a series of steps arranged into a particular choreography done to a particular piece of music. It will say "No" if the video either presents isolated steps or step combinations that are not specific to one particular piece of music. Some people like learning choreography to specific music, and others prefer not to. Choose a video that fits the way you like to learn.

Cultural Information

Most instructional videos do not include any cultural background about the Middle East and where the dance fits in. If a video does include such information, I'll indicate "Yes" in the chart.

Music Education

Most instructional videos do not attempt to teach you anything about Middle Eastern music. If a video actually does include music education, I'll indicate "Yes" in the chart.

Health Issues

Does this video address health issues related to the dance? For example, does it discuss proper posture and tell you how bad posture can cause you injury? If it teaches a risky move such as a Turkish drop that can cause injury, does it warn you of that potential for injury so you can make your own decision on whether to take the risk? If the video does talk about proper form and how to avoid injury, then I'll indicate "Yes" in the chart.

Number Of Models

Some videos feature only the instructor, and therefore have only one model showing you what the moves look like. Other videos may feature multiple dancers demonstrating the moves in unison so you can see how the moves look on different body types. Some video buyers really like this approach, and others don't really care. I report it so you have the information if it's important to you.


Most videos are sold two ways: you can buy them directly from the producers, or you can buy them from vendors who purchase large quantities from producers at wholesale price and then resell them. Sometimes the producer offers the lowest available price, and sometimes one of the resellers offers the lowest available price. If cost is important to you, you'll need to shop around.

In my reviews, I have indicated what the price would be if you were to purchase directly from the producer. I then apply some metrics to that price to help you evaluate whether this video is a good value for the money. However, please don't assume that "cheapest is always best". Sometimes great quality is worth paying extra.

All prices reflect the cost of purchasing the item within the United States. Prices in other countries may vary, depending on exchange rates, cost of importing/exporting videos from one country to another, local demand, etc. All prices are expressed in U.S. dollars, and include only the cost of the video itself. If you purchase it, you may incur additional charges in shipping costs and sales tax, depending on your vendor and the tax rates of your local area.

Cost Per Minute Of Teaching & Performing Time

I added together the teaching and performing times. Now, divide the cost by that number. Let's say a video costs $35. And suppose it has 25 minutes of teaching time and 5 minutes of performing. That's $35 / 30, or $1.17 per minute. I personally believe that the best videos include both teaching and performing time, with a good balance between them.

Please see the "Price" section above for comments on what factors influence the price that I used as the starting point for this Cost Per Minute calculation.

What You're Paying For "Other"

To find out what percentage of the video is "Other", I divided the number of minutes of "Other" by the total length of the video. Going back to the example of the 35-minute video that has five minutes of "Other", 14% is "Other" (5 / 35). Then I multiplied that result by the cost of the video to find out what you're paying for it. So, if that video costs $35, you're effectively paying $4.90 for the credits and other miscellany. (14 x $35, then divide by 100.)

Please see the "Price" section above for comments on what factors influence the price that I used as the starting point for this What You're Paying For "Other" calculation.


This is narrative to support the ratings that appear in the chart. For example, if I gave a video a low score on production quality, in the Description I'll explain why.

Movements Included

Different videos feature different topics, and of course you'll want to select a video whose subject matter best covers what you would like to learn. For example, if you're eager to learn floor work, you'll want to know which videos include a large number of floor work movements. I try to give some idea of what topics a certain video covers, so you can decide whether it includes the subjects you want to learn.


In my reviews I do try to give you an honest evaluation of the video, even if it features someone I consider to be a friend. In this section, I will disclose any relationship I may have with the dancer(s) featured on the video.

Contacting The Producer & Ordering The Video

You may want to contact the producer to ask further questions about the video, or to ask whether they have created any additional videos that you might like. Or, you may want to order it. In cases where I have information on how to contact the producer or order the video, I include that at the end of the review.

Belly Dance Bellydance Belly Dancing Bellydancing Bauchtanzen Belly Dancers Bellydancers

How To Make A Choice?

The cheapest video isn't always the best. Nor is the longest one, or the one that has the most "Yes" indications in my chart. So how do you consider all this information and distill it into a buying decision?

First, decide what you hope to learn from the video. Are you a brand-new beginner, hoping to get a clue before you enroll in your first class? Or are you an intermediate who is looking for a video that teaches beautiful veil work? Look at the "Movements Included" section of each review to see which videos cover the topics you want to learn.

Decide which factors are important to you in a video, and which are not. Eliminate the ones that are not important to you from consideration. For example, if you'd be content buying a video that comes in a cheap cardboard slipcover with almost no information on the label instead of a nice plastic box with a full-color label offering detailed information, then you'll probably want to ignore the "Packaging" category of my chart.

Ask around to your friends to find out whether anyone has a copy you can borrow of the videos you're interested in. Check whether your local library has copies you can check out. See if you can rent them from your local video store. Watch them to see whether you like it. (But if you decide you want to own one of the videos you've borrowed, please be ethical and don't make a copy for yourself. Please support the artists by buying an honest copy. How else can they afford to make additional videos for you?)

If you don't know anyone you can borrow or rent the videos from, then one good way to evaluate them is to go to a belly dancing event where vendors will be present. Vendors often bring a video monitor and VCR to show what the videos they're selling look like. You can use my reviews to decide on a short list of possible videos you may want to buy, then ask the vendors to let you see them in action.

If you are sensitive to price, evaluate the pricing metrics in my reviews that will help you quantify which videos offer the best value for your money.

Belly Dancing Bellydancing Dance Bellydance

General: | Home | Shira's Classes | E-Mail Shira | About Shira | Shira's Photo Gallery | Shira's Performances | Troupe |

Belly Dancing Information & How-To's: | About Belly Dancing | How-To's | Middle Eastern Culture | Belly Dancing Fun & Frolic | Belly Dancing Poetry & Art | Reviews: Books, Music, Videos | Find Belly Dancing Teachers/Performers | Tech Talk | Links |

Using This Site: | Table Of Contents (Site Map) | Search This Site | Behind The Screens |