Tuesday 3 June 2014

Jean Butler's Irish Dance Masterclass DVD Review

Price: £15/ $13 (can be found cheaper elsewhere)
Length: 12+ 1-4 minute sections
Workouts: Cardio, Legs, Core
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating: ★★★★☆
Based on 4 weeks of use.

   Jean Butler's Irish Dance Masterclass is an excellent DVD. I have no dance training beyond what I've picked up from ordinary dance workout DVDs, but I've developed core strength from yoga and strength training which has certainly helped. I have always loved the Lord of the Dance, it's a guilty pleasure of mine, and when I found this DVD I absolutely had to try it.

   It's stated by Jean Butler herself at the beginning of the DVD before you even reach the menu that the DVD has been put together for people of any age, and for people with dance experience and people without. First of all, there's no doubt about it: it's hard. You would be foolish to think you could buy this DVD, play it through once and be able to do everything, let alone do everything well. The dancers in the DVD are well-practised performers, not beginners, and you can't expect to meet their level very fast. You must also realise that nothing can substitute a real teacher, but this DVD is great for teaching the basics and maybe getting ahead of a class or two, but you'll never become Jean Butler or Michael Flatley from this alone.

   The DVD doesn't offer a routine to learn and practise, instead it teaches you movements - basic soft-shoe and basic hard-shoe moves, but just because they're basic it doesn't mean they're easy. Most chapters of the DVD are between 1-4 minutes long - not long at all - and cover between 1 and 4 moves. What I did when I used this DVD this month was select a section and repeat repeat repeat for half an hour a day as the first half hour of my daily workout. I spent one day on point pull-backs which are extremely simple once you get the hang of them. I then spent three days on the next section of hop backs and similar moves until I had grasped it, then moved on again. It took me two weeks before I moved onto hard-shoe, and I will also state that by that point I still hadn't completely gotten the hang of the jumps from the soft-shoe section, but I was getting tired and losing enthusiasm so I thought I'd move on before coming back. I spent two weeks on the first hard-shoe section which were basic taps, and even then I never got beyond the first three minutes of that chapter.
   So, in a nutshell, it really is difficult. But if you let yourself enjoy it rather than allow yourself to get frustrated (and you will get frustrated) you can have fun and learn it.

   There is a glossary section which sees a lot of the moves broken down and demonstrated by Jean with a bar, but unfortunately not all moves are present in the glossary - the first move encountered on the DVD that I still can't do and really could use tips on is the jump that follows the 'leg work' section. I can't even explain how the move looks let alone figure out how they do it. However, the glossary also shows moves that I haven't seen on the rest of the DVD (though, as I've said, I've not moved past the first hard-shoe chapter yet even after a month of use) such as rocks and cross keys, which are small but really fun moves.

   I really don't want to say anything bad about the DVD, because I honestly do love it, but if you buy it you genuinely have to expect it to be hard, expect it to go badly at first, and expect to spend days repeating tiny two-minute sections. The satisfaction that comes with getting a move down is amazing, mind you, so it's definitely worth keeping up.
   I do notice that some of the moves aren't explained very well, but if you watch their feet, practise and don't be afraid of getting it wrong first, you can pick it up. Another problem I had, personally, was that I was concentrating too hard on trying to keep up with the dancers rather than trying to get to grips with the moves, so I really do advise patience, and I also kept over-thinking the moves which also really didn't help. Keep your remote on hand and be ready to skip back to the beginning of the chapter, and also try some of the moves on your own without the DVD to give yourself the chance to learn it without the voice-over, because sometimes that's all it takes to distract you. There are some chapters that cover four different movements, which means you're literally going to be skipping back to the beginning every forty five seconds, but that's just how the DVD works and you can learn it.

   If you're a fan of Irish Stepdance and you want to have a little go at it, this DVD is amazing. If you want a career out of it then this is a good starting point but nothing substitutes a teacher. Lots of motivational speakers will tell you not to go into something expecting to fail, and that's a good point, but you shouldn't go in thinking failure isn't a possibility. You will struggle, you will get moves wrong, and you will end up repeating things every minute, but practise practise practise is how you will both learn and subsequently get good at things. Also don't try to move too fast or raise your leg too high, because practise is all a part of that, too. Start small, start slow, and gradually speed up in time.

   I got a surprisingly good sweat going from this, and my legs underwent a surprising transformation, seriously I couldn't (still can't) believe it. But I also got very, very tired calves. I've always felt, like many, that  warm-ups and cool-downs are important whatever you're doing, but this is the first time I've genuinely felt the value of it. It's an amazing DVD, and you can really learn from it if you give yourself the chance.

   There's also a documentary of her teaching children which I haven't watched, and a dance she put together for the DVD, which I also haven't watched, but I'm sure they're good. You also have the option to just 'play all' in the 'masterclass' section, play one of five pre-arranged sections put together by Jean, or put your own together by picking and arranging what you want to focus on. It's a brilliantly put together DVD, and, with patience and a desire to learn, you can grasp things. Don't be afraid of falling over, either. I think that's what is getting in my way with a lot of the jumps. I don't want a bruised bum.

   Anyway. Verdict? Buy it. It's so amazing, so unique and you really feel like a cleverclogs once you've got some of the moves.
   I used ordinary dance trainers (trainers with only a rubber toe and rubber heel, no rubber instep) which allow you to flex your foot with much more freedom, but without proper irish dancing shoes it's kind of hard to hear what you're doing so you kind of have to put your mind into when your foot is hitting the ground. Any dancer would tell you, of course, that you need the right shoes, so if you're looking at this DVD as an actual training product then buy the right shoes. If you're just looking for a fun workout like I was then dancing trainers will be fine, if slightly unsatisfying in some sections.


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