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DVD Review: Hemalayaa: Bollywood Dance Workouts

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The colorful, exotic aspects of Indian culture continue to fascinate those of us here in the West, and I’m no exception. Having bought my first full sari over ten years ago, and possessing an admitted penchant for large, Bollywood-style dance scenes that came to the attention of the general public through films such as 2005’s Bride and Prejudice, I couldn’t resist trying out Vancouver-born Hemalayaa’s Bollywood Dance Workouts DVD box set.

What most of us in the West have experienced of Bollywood (India’s version of Hollywood) is miniscule compared to the exposure that Hemalayaa received growing up in a home that devoured Bollywood films. This three-volume DVD set is an economical and comprehensive introduction to the high-energy body of work that this vivacious performer has produced in recent years.

This three-disc box set includes Hemalayaa: Bollywood Booty, Hemalayaa: Bollywood Burn, and The Bollywood Dance Workout with Hemalayaa. Each offers an up beat, heart-pumping dance workout with a slightly different thrust.

Bollywood Booty is focused on toning the hips and backside. The four 15-minute workouts are preceded by a warm up and followed by a cool down. These are definitely exercise workouts that include standard low-impact aerobic techniques that are accented by Indian influenced arm movements – you don’t really want to whip out these moves and try to pass them off as dancing at the club.

Disc bonus features include a seven-minute classical Indian dance performance and commentary (solo by Hemalayaa) which is quite restrained and subtle though technically demanding, an on-screen text biographical sketch of Hemalayaa. Sample instructional dance sequences are also included from Yoga Trance Dance – think wild thrashing to trance beats with New Age commentary, and Dance and Be Fit: Brazilian Body – Brazillian inspired low-impact aerobic moves.

Bollywood Burn actually gives Hemalayaa fans to work through three 15-minute exercise/dance routines by teaching a series of moves that are eventually combined together. Arranged in order of ascending difficulty, each is a stand-alone experience; including both a warm-up and cool-down in each workout. While the first is fairly tame, the third works up to a fast pace. Hemalayaa’s penchant to pop stretching sequences into the middle of her workouts is a bit different than what I’m used to, but it certainly provides a welcome break! A brief, rapid-paced freestyle dance performance by Hemalayaa and both her male and female assistant are included as a bonus.

The Bollywood Dance Workout is the most fun of the three discs. This fifty-minute workout teaches an eclectic assortment of Eastern dance moves in a familiar repetitive, pattern-based aerobic format. Opening with a warm-up and closing with a cool-down. Along with the dance-inspired cardio moves, a challenging, active groundwork session is included in the center of the workout for the hips and abs.

With some of these moves being much more dance-like, some of the combinations or traveling steps can be harder to pick up. While the simple movements are well explained, sometimes less than adequate instruction is provided (for walking in a turning circle for example) and you’re left to piece things together through repeated viewings. In most cases Hemalayaa does start slow and effectively instruct before pumping up the pace and adding arm movements and other elements. The bonus on this disc is a joy-filled dance performance featuring Hemalayaa and her two workout assistants, and a solo dance performance, edited to play like a music video.

Each of the DVDs offer a choice of music and instruction or music only (for when you’ve perfected your moves). Like all of Acacia’s titles the discs include splendid navigation options that allow viewers to watch the introduction independently, and all of the dances and workouts are easy to access one by one or with the play all option. The workout stages are also gorgeous – intricate carpets, draping fabric, and props all contribute to the Eastern aura. The exception is Bollywood Burn where the stage is essentially…a stage.

The music in the box set isn’t the vibrant, Indian-inspired music you might imagine based on your own experiences with Indian film. It’s generally toned down with more of an emphasis on the repetitive rhythm (which is pretty much par for the course with all exercise videos). Full-bodied, living music is provided for the bonus dance performances on the discs that only give you a frustrating glimpse of what could be! At worst the music comes across as an inane DJ with a scratch table.

One aspect of Hemalayaa’s approach that I found refreshing is that while she does exude a playful sensuality (Bollywood Booty is particularly full of hip-shimmies and struts), she’s never lewd as some other dance exercise hosts are (she even has more clothing on than most). Her smiles are fresh and innocent, and she really has an incredibly charming screen presence. Still, I don’t feel comfortable doing the workout around my husband as the DVD does offer enough of an eyeful to be titillating. If you can sneak the workouts in when he’s not home, private performances of your new moves are always an option!

Those of us who love Indian-style dancing but don’t adhere to the mystical, quasi-Indian/New Age language that surrounds some of the marketing around Hemalayaa’s work might be surprised by the generally New-Age free approach that Hemalayaa actually uses during the dance segments and workout sessions themselves. It shows up mostly in the intro sequences, two of the bonuses on Bollywood Beauty, and some move names. The workouts on Bollywood Burn also wincingly open with touching the ground to ask “Mother Earth” for her blessing.

There’s a lot of sweat built into each of the DVDs, it’s surprising how much shoulder burn is worked up during those extended shoulder shimmying sequences. The head and neck movements also require a lot of control but add so much flavor to the routines. If you’re looking for something fresh and new in your cardio workouts, Hemalayaa’s infectiously fun spirit and Indian inspired exercise moves will add good times and a change of pace to any workout schedule.

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