House of Shimmy is coming back to the Bazaar of the Bizarre once again –this time for the circus side show edition. This Sunday, don’t miss it! There is no other artisan fair quite like it!
From the event fb page:
Listen up and come and see this marvel!
Toronto-based House of Shimmy has a flare for animating spaces and stages with their unique flavour of fusion bellydance. Bound by no genre, House of Shimmy has cooked up some circusy weirdness for this Sunday! Performing at 2pm and 5pm
Shimmies seem to be universal, a movement that spans across time and space to express music. I recently taught a bellydance workshop to a women’s group at a local community agency and once we moved into shimmy territory, a few women stepped into the circle to show off their shimmies…women from Uganda, from Somalia, from Ghana. As I left the workshop reflecting on the experience, I pondered the humble shimmy.
shimmy – to move or shake your body from side to side: to vibrate or move very quickly from side to side (Miriam-Webster Dictionary)
In belly dance we practice many a shimmy, adopted and often adapted from various regional dances throughout Africa. Whether shimmying the legs, hips, chest, shoulders or head, its a super relatable move. Even if people are all like, “I can’t dance”, once a shimmy enters the room, everyone is at least tempted to join in. Maybe even in jest they attempt a shimmy and find the naturalness of the movement. Shaking, it seems , is an innate human response to music.
It appears the ‘shimmy’ as a name for a dance move was first used in 1919 to describe a shaking type dance from the jazz era of the 1920’s. Like many dances from that era, the puritans that advocated prohibition had nothing good to say about such free and natural movements in public. In fact the shimmy was prohibited in many establishments in those days –a sentiment not unrelated to discourse of racialized bodies.
Though the term was coined in the jazz clubs of America, with roots in black culture(s) , the movement it refers to is something that pours out of the body and is seen cross culturally in social dancing, ritualistic dancing (ie: a trance inducing repetitive movement), and internal arts such as tai chi and qigong. Shaking is even being used as a therapeutic tool as science begins to get a better grasp on what disrupts and regulates our nervous systems. Yes, it turns out that shaking is as natural as breathing and we are beginning to uncover its physiological functions in humans!
David Berceli pioneered the science around this after working with people in refugee camps in various places around the world affected by war. Researching the role of shaking in animals post fight or flight and the part this plays in the discharge the hormones involved in the fear response, revealed some new terrain for helping people work through traumatic experiences. There are ancient martial arts practices such as Waidangong and Qigong’s ‘Shaking the Tree,’ both of which facilitate shaking for health and vitality. Of course, there is more to it than simply shimmying your troubles away, but there is a growing body of evidence around the therapeutic value of shaking. No wonder it feels so great!
When I am feeling stuck either physically, mentally or emotionally, I shimmy. True story. The times that a flow of practice isn’t coming –either in dance or yoga–, or I am feeling maybe like I’m gripping somewhere in my body or can’t see past my ego or anger in situation, the most common tools I use to break through stagnation, are breath and shaking/bouncing (the shaking part usually needs to be somewhere solitary though!). And they are available to you too! No need to take my word for it, just try and see what happens in your body and the mind.
The only year this century we can quote the sound of music as an ode to the transition into a new year. So revel in it people. Revel in that unforgettably terrible song that you will always know the words to. Having recently experienced a Sound of Music Sing-a-long, this is fresh in my mind.
This being the first entry of 2017, I suppose a year in review is in order. Growing further into teaching yoga and dance has been the theme of my movement life this year. I have had the opportunity to teach yoga at Karma Teachers Toronto, offering free and by donation yoga, as well as co-teaching closed group of trauma-sensitive yoga to LGBTQ youth through a mental health agency in collaboration with a psychotherapist/yoga teacher. This pilot program began a couple of years ago and I have been involved for over a year now. My training continues in this area, recently having completed a two day training on clinical applications of yoga in efforts to build on my 200-hour yoga teacher certification.
Some highlights of the past year:
Serpentina North Ensemble’s annual trip to Seattle for Cues & Tattoos –this time the whole troupe made it! We performed in both Portland and Seattle,
taking my first ever Odissi class! An eight week series with Supriya Nayak introduced me to some basics of this classical Indian dance. It was super fun and challenging!
This year most of my regular practice was intentionally and organically, solo. Whether in a studio or home, I have increased my hours of weekly practice to work on all of the material I have learned –and forgotten! — from all the workshops and intensives. And hey practice makes more practice, right?
The most important question I (re) asked myself this year as a dancer is: Why? Why do I dance? Why do I perform? The answer is ever-evolving, but after some new insights and realization, my why –for now –is clear. There is a certain vitality that only dance brings, after which the fatigue is just like no other tiredness. Aside from the community and catharsis of a social dance floor, there is something incredibly satisfying, so emotionally and mentally balancing about practicing, drilling, teaching and yes even at times, performing dance. I dance to embody some of the beauty I see in this world, to taste the pleasure and pain of physical discipline and a freedom of movement. To chase fleeting moments and stretch out time, to sit in the pocket of a memory or imagine a future yet unknown. Maybe tomorrow there will be more or less reasons…
Moving into 2017, I will be offering karma yoga classes each Thursday at 6pm through Jai Yoga and Ayurveda – Centre for Wellness and Education. Jai shares in my vision to make yoga accessible through free/PWYC classes and I am excited to begin classes on January 10th. 688 Richmond Street West (lower level).
As for 2017: may your shimmies be juicy, and your footwork be fancy!
My word of the month: pandiculation. Do you know what it means? Its a truly delicious way to move. You’ve seen dogs and cats do it when they wake up and we do it too, often unconsciously as we arise. Its the most natural movement and to bring it consciously and overtly into the start of a movement practice can really contribute to an ease of movement for anything that follows.
In my training over the years with Roula Said we have done a lot of intentional yawning as a way to release tension in the face and jaw before and during our movement. So learning this word, as it were in a Tensegrity workshop with Trudy Austin, who was a recent guest teacher at Karma Teachers Toronto, peaked my interest even more in bringing this element to my yoga and dance practice. When we pandiculate, the brain and therefore the muscles reacts differently than in a static stretch, allowing more length with less effort. Lucky for Toronto, Trudy will be back in the spring with a Tensegrity series teacher training!
Serpentina North Ensemble enjoyed a flurry of shows this past fall, including the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exhibition and some Halloween shows. With no performances booked until the new year, we have some time to work on new combos in the studio, re-visiting some stuff we learned at Cues & Tattoos last spring to incorporate into our group improv.
A private corporate event I performed through Om Laila brought the opportunity to dance shamadan. We followed an incredible group of Chinese dragon dancers and we had quite a spectacle of a procession ourselves with drumming by Roula Said, dancers with sword, isis wings and of course the shamadan. It was a truly fun gig! Some other Halloween party and gig photos…favourite costume has to be Shaila’s DIY jellyfish, love it!
As 2016 comes toward its end, I am re-visiting some of the movement experiences I’ve had over the past year and thinking of ways I have –and have yet to– integrate the material that spoke to me. For the things that did not come to fruition, its a good time to re-evaluate if they still belong on the ‘to do’ for 2017 or if just no longer fits.
I would be remiss not to mention the music world recently lost a serious light with the passing of Sharon Jones. Even with her killer voice, this woman was told by the music labels initially that she was too old, too fat and too black. Imagine she had believed them, oh my goddess! The world may not have heard that timeless voice! Luckily she didn’t take that shit and started her own label. I saw her perform with the Dap Kings maybe 15 years ago at Lula Lounge and my partner got to get up on stage to dance with her (she was known to pull people out of the crowd). It was a truly special night of live music that went down in history as one of our favourite dates! I regret to say I haven’t seen her perform since but have continued to listen to and treasure the music she put out into the world. Rest in peace, Miss Sharon Jones.
While the Toronto edition of the Halloween Bazaar of the Bizarre has come and gone, you can catch this unique artisan fair again in Hamilton tomorrow.
Serpentina North Ensemble will be doing two sets over the day and have cooked up some special costumes for the occasion. Come by our merch booth and say hi! We have some new shirts printed up with our troupe image, designed by Marion Greene. You can check out more of her designs too, she’s also vending at the bazaar.
Starting tomorrow, I will be teaching weekly at Karma Teachers Toronto. Each Thursday you can catch me there, teaching the evening class at 5:30pm. You can expect hatha and some vinyasa with a focus always on mindfulness, meditation and embodied movement.
All classes at Karma Teachers are by donation (free & PWYC). All of us teaching at Karma Teachers do so in the name of selfless service/karma yoga and we run on donations for those who can afford to donate. No one is turned away for lack of funds.
Come as you are. You don’t need to be flexible, you don’t need to be happy, you don’t need fancy gear. YOU, — in all your complexity, all your life experience — are welcome at Karma Teachers.
The energy of equinox infuses everything right now. Dance, life, work. It’s all intense. Losing myself in the process is a beautiful thing. When the ego/identity dissolves in favour of a creative process, that’s when I know I’m in the flow, as they say. By the way, creativity isn’t limited to dance, its in every interaction with others, every message we tell ourselves and every way we learn to survive an adapt in a tumultuous world. What good is grace in dance if you lose your shit the minute things go awry in your personal life. What good is rhythm in a choreography if you don’t move with the rhythms of life each day, through the years?
I used to really struggle to dance on days I didn’t feel energetic and motivated, but for the past few years, the beauty of dance discipline has shown itself to me. In the same way I don’t need to be happy to meditate or motivated to do yoga. When you get out of your own way, the process happens. Cultivating a sense of discipline, repetition, acceptance and equanimity can help this process along.
The fall session has begun for the super beginner Intro to Bellydance classes, every Wednesday night. Summoning all the newbies, to come out and learn some fundamental movements that can be applied to all styles and on the dancefloor! Absolutely no dance experience necessary, this is for all of you who come out to shows or see videos and wonder if your hips can ever move like that. Yes, they can! I’ll show you how! Drop-ins welcome and all genders welcome in my classes.
In Serpentina news, we have a busy fall season coming up, and tomorrow we make the drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exposition. This is our troupes second year performing and we look forward to this unique event.
Serpentina North Ensemble welcomes some new dancers to Snakebite, our new student troupe. We look forward to working with these dancers on growing the improvisational tribal style bellydance community here in Toronto. Orkideh of Serpentina North Ensemble will be teaching a workshop Oct 1st in Scarborough. Hey East-enders, you asked for it and that green haired dame heard the call.
There’s more, this is a hard working crew! Troupe member Kelly has recently become the first certified teacher of Tribal Grooves –a fitness program developed by Paulette of Gypsy Caravan, that is based on the group improv bellydance. For people who want to experience the moves but don’t want to worry about sequences or choreography. Stay tuned for some upcoming classes.
On our YouTube channel is a new series of videos on tribal bellydance…here’s the first: What is Tribal Bellydance?