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"It's not just for the Irish dancer, though, anybody can give it a go."
DVD ReviewThe Irish dance crazy has slightly cooled since the enormous success of Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance and Riverdance. It's far from dead, though, as there are still Irish festivals and Irish dancing classes to be found across the United States and abroad. My hometown of Dayton, Ohio has an annual Celtic Festival, featuring Irish Dancers from around the world, who perform their amazing leg movements to the beat of various Irish musicians, including the band, Gaelic Storm, who has a rather large national following as well.
Jean Butler is the original star of Riverdance and an expert in its nuances and extreme techniques. Now, Jean brings her knowledge into the household of everyone who has ever even considered slipping on their clogs and soft shoes.
Jean Butler's Irish Dance Masterclass is as comprehensive a dance (let alone Irish dance) DVD as you'll ever see. Our red-headed dancer takes us through the ins and outs of Irish Dance, touching on skills and techniques that will be valuable for both novices and seasoned veterans alike.
This isn't a solo effort by Ms. Butler, as four of her best friends (also professional dancers) are stepping along with her. The music is top-notch as well, featuring the likes of Irish group Kíla, Rossa Ó Snodaigh, and U2, lending their tunes to a show-stopping group jam session.
Jean begins with the basics, taking you through a standard "Warm Up," that had me instantly intrigued and into the session. Then, I was doing things I never thought I could do with my toes, with Jean teaching me a balancing technique that I didn't think I had a prayer with. Surprisingly, it was easily performed (mind you, I'm not the most "in shape" of men), and it was onto "Point & Arch Work." After learning what a point and arch were in this section, the "point" was put to the test with the "Point Pull Back & Point Turns." It was at this moment that I really questioned my, or any novice's ability to perform these moves.
It then became clear that these are the kind of distinct moves that require practice, practice, and more practice. So, following the last segment, I turned the disc off and took a brief respite from the most grueling reviewing task I've ever undertaken. Ok, I exaggerating, but I was beat! A few minutes (30, to be exact) later, it was back to work, and onto a kick and hop exercise that put the bounce back in my rookie step. More fun was to be had in the "Leg Work" and "Jump Work" instructions, and my musical affluence was tested in "Balance Taps & Rhythm" which actually required me to be on beat with my moves, a daunting task, indeed.
Ok, I'm about half way through Jean Butler's Irish Dance boot camp, and things have been moving at a perfect pace, as she's slowly worked this dance illiterate through the beginning motions. The beginning of the "Click Work" segment separated the men from the boys, as we were definitely entering a territory that was not meant for those who couldn't breeze through the earlier segments without faltering, or, taking 30-minute breaks, for that matter.
The rest of the DVD, aside from the final segment, "Cool Down" (I really liked that part), really shouldn't even be tried if you haven't at least danced along with Riverdance or Mr. Flatley at some point of another. These pieces focus mostly on using your heels, and more with the toes, along with work on "Fast Trebles" and a part on "Core Stability."
So, now that I've discovered the wonderful world of Irish Dance, and, not to mention, had a few showers, it's easy to think of this as just another in a long line of workout-described-as-dance DVDs. Instead, we have a disc that could easily take the place of a beginner, weeks-long Irish Dancing class that could cost hundreds of dollars. For less than $20, not only is most of the same material covered, but you are also being taught by a master of her craft, and, more importantly (at least to me), you don't have to make a fool out of yourself in front of other, much more skilled dancers. My only critics were my cats, who only complained when I accidentally performed a "Kick Out" that they'll never forget.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Each of these lessons appears in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the image is crisp and clear for the most part, with a bit of softness appearing at times. The colors are bright and vivid, although the overall brightness level could have been toned down a bit during a few sequences. This is a natural-looking, solid overall transfer for an instructional program.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0, with the Irish music utilizing the surrounds to involve the prospective dancer as they are learning the steps. The instructional dialogue blends in nicely with the music, remaining crisp and clear throughout the instruction.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Next, is a Glossary that runs for 14 minutes, during which Butler defines 15 terms that are common to Irish dancers. There's also a Workshop Documentary, which is a 91/2-minute behind-the-scenes look at one of Butler's workshops, through the use of interview footage and clips from one of these instructional sessions.
Three dance sequences are up next, with Jam Session being a three-minute performance set to U2's song, "Elevation." Blue is a new, solo dance performed by Jean Butler, and Her Royal Waggeldy Toes is 31/2 minutes of Butler and friends performing a loose, fun dance.
A Photo Gallery is also available, as well as two unique ways to view the main program. Personal Programmes allows you to choose the sequence at which you view each of the lessons on this disc, and Jean's Programmes features a series of lesson combinations chosen by Jean Butler, herself.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsKind of an instructional Footloose for the new millennium, Jean Butler's Irish Dance Masterclass is sure to aid in the second-coming of the Irish Dance craze of the 1990s. This DVD is formatted to where you can pick and choose how you wish to learn these steps. Having the ability to turn different aspects of the instruction is good enough, but being able to program the order of the instructional segments is an even nicer touch. Decent audio and video presentations and a few more extras make this a heck of a package for anyone who's even briefly thought about learning the most difficult dancing style in the world.
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