The universal shimmy

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.

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Diana Ross, 1979

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are ’16 going on ’17

 

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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.

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House of Shimmy at the Bazaar of the Bizarre!

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,
  • dancing at the Aziza gala show, during the intensive hosted by Dragonfly Bellydance Studio
  • studying therapeutic applications of yoga and meditation through Life Force Yoga
  • completion of the Lavender – Stage 2 intensive of the Dark Side Dance Program
  • 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?

photo-edit-in-progressThe 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!

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Lovely bloodflow: moontime movement

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[Artist unknown]

Moontime, menses, Aunt Flo. Once a month (give or take) all our movements feel different as we bleed. Women with movement/dance/yoga practices often modify our practices during these times, whether we realize it or not.  Depending on each woman’s particular experience –pre, during and post– there are usually movements or stretches that feel so right and others  that just aren’t happening.

Have you ever tried a headstand during moontime? When I do, its like my hips beg to be closer to the earth and most they definitely want to remain right side up. Hip opening movements bring release and relief, but going upside down feels somehow just wrong to me. Sure, I can will my way through most of my usual movements when I’m practicing yoga or dance drills. Yet, if I take the time to tune into the language of the body, before allowing the mind to command it into motion –into what I think ‘should’ happen today –I will hear what it needs to feel rejuvenated, balanced and respected. In yoga we hear that we are not just our bodies, not just our minds. During our periods, we can feel particularly  embodied in our experiences and that is not anything to run from –that body wisdom communicates important things through sensation, vibration, flow, tension and rhythm. Speaking of listening the primal language of the body, bellydance can be so satisfying during moontime! The weight of the hips can be set in motion to stretch  out the lower back. Exploring shapes through space, connecting with the juiciness of slow intentional ryhythmic movement, can transform some of the less pleasant bodily sensations we sometimes associate with menstruation. The spirals, waves and figure eights that create the foundation of bellydance, were designed by and for the female form, after all! And as such, they might even feel and look extra luscious, when the red rivers a flowin’.

imageIn modern times, with renewed interest in menstrual rites and the revisiting concepts and practices like the’ red tent’ (sacred spaces for women during menstruation), there is still a blaring absence of traditions that honour the sacred blood and the wonders of the female body. Rather than seeing our periods as some strange passenger to be endured through our regular routines, we can choose to reframe and reclaim our experiences of menstruation by developing our very own period practice. Might I suggest a theme song…

Our moontime practice could include modifying routines before we bleed, to prepare the body by focusing more on hips and legs, as well as during to address issues that arise throughout the body –whether physical or emotional. Maybe there’s a particular song, asana, mantra or dance move that feels particularly delicious…well, that could lead  be part of the ritual. Sure, you may still need to to bust through rehearsal or class but the power of ritual is strong (The word ‘ritual’ comes from ‘rtu’ which is Sanskrit for menses, in honour of the beauty of this life nourishing blood). When the body is heard and respected rather than repressed and belittled, it might just reciprocate with greater ease of movement, whatever that is for each of us. Try some of this and this for the body and a little of that for the soul.

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Do you modify your dance or yoga practice during moontime? Here is another bloggers perspective on mentruation and yoga. Feel free to post some comments, it’s never really a class topic, you know?

 

Music and Movement: January’s brew of wellness

imageIts been three months since I posted. Although my intention is to post monthly, sometimes life is too full and the words to capture it get pushed aside –sometimes like these times, life takes longer to percolate into documentation. Ponderings pass through day dreams, face to face conversations and journals, before ever making it out into the world. The darkness of December was filled with gatherings with the people I love. From winter solstice, to Christmas, Yule and New Year, the month was made up of the best kind of winter medicine: community. (Photo credit: Ken Dobb)

I don’t confine resolutions to new year but it’s a good time for intention-setting, goals, hopes and reflections. 2015 was a year of new material in movement, integrating elements of yoga, bellydance and overall functional movement.I have yet to digest it all, but certainly a foundation was added upon toward a dream I have of bridging a few different worlds I live in!

Some dance/movement highlights:

  • House of Shimmy – new choreography, new creative direction, some sweet costume pieces and a whole lot more to come! (Photo credit: PDV Photography)

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  • bellydance performance with Adham Shaikh at the Royal Ontario Museum

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  • Dancing to Nomadica live at their annual Yule party
  • teaching some workshops: vintage solo jazz and flapper bellydance fusion
  • Karma Teachers 200 hour certification
  • Daily yoga movement and meditation practice
  • joining a term of Om Laila’s vocal and percussion class

 

These are just some of the many many wonderful human beings I have met through dance over the years and continued to dance with in 2015…

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I am both immensely proud and humbled to have completed the Karma teachers 200 hour vinyasa yoga teacher certification this year (more on that in previous posts). Upon completion, as new graduates we were encouraged to work on 40 days of practice in order to maintain the momentum, and to support our growth as both teacher and practitioner. Setting some milestones for myself, I completed the 40 days of practice and went for more with what I called 40 days: the sequel. With the goal of 108 days of practice, I continued on past the sequel, aiming to complete the 108 before 2016. On December 29th I had my 108th day of practice and received a beautiful custom mala from one of my teachers at Karma Teachers. Below is my post to fellow karma teachers on day 108:

“Day 108 of 108 days of practice! Emerson says go for 1000, then 10 000. Thank you Emerson, Michael and the karma teacher community for the ever unfolding gift of guidance and transmission of lineage. This has been a memorable year in yoga and dance –which is, to say, self-discovery and unconditional love. Namaste”.

Part of me was worried that once I stopped counting, I might stop practicing. I fought the urge to continue counting, after all the point is to integrate a practice into daily living not keep a tally of days. I went through periods of feeling empowered by my new level of discipline, impressed with some improved strength and flexibility to feeling the pang of loneliness in solo contemplation and practice. Delving into mantra, meditation and asana, I felt the ache of sadness inseparable from heart-centered work and even boredom on some days. Uncertainty rears its head, as it inevitably will in any truly soul searching experience. Moving into a deeper devotion to movement, connecting with others through being more connected to myself and giving love and attention to the parts that need to be healed have created fertile ground ready for further cultivation. May 2016 be filled with authentic movement and expression for all of us.

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Spring is fast approaching, stay tuned for upcoming shows and events!

 

Fierce as Equinox

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imageI don’t have many pictures from what had been one of the most significant months of my life in recent times. The significance will no doubt continue to unfold beyond the current meaning it holds for me. The few pictures I have gathered from others, mean a whole lot to me. At the end of August, I graduated from the 200 hour yoga teacher training with Karma Teachers. We worked hard physically and emotionally together, under the guidance of two beautiful and skilled teachers. But the end of that month is just the beginning of a new chapter, that begins with planning ways to integrate this training into all aspects of my life. I have a few ideas: first and foremost, my own personal practice went through a major growth spurt this summer. Each day began with 20-30 mins of meditation and about a two hour asana practice. Currently I practice an hour of asana a day, as well as meditation (sitting, chanting, walking, mindfulness, etc.). I had been practicing solo for so many years and starting to practice with others was really quite powerful. It propelled me into discomfort zones both emotionally and physically, and I have come to know this group that ventured on this journey of self-discovery together, as my karma family.

Second, I am currently offering free and by donation yoga classes on request. It can be at a park, a community centre, a livingroom…I dont have a space but I will teach anyone who wants to practice. ESPECIALLY if you think you can’t, we will modify and show you that anyone can practice yoga.

Third, this experience will only enrich my dance, it cant be any other way. When somoene knows how to move with grace, intention and precision, this shows in dance and I strive for this in my movement. I love pushing the bodies limits incrementally and seeing where that leads. Daily consistent practice does amazing things.

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Once September arrived, I was back in action with the troupe, and we had some super fun shows lined up for FanExpo in Rue Morgue’s horror section, the Toronto Veg Food Fair and the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exhibition.  See more pics and follow the adventures of the Serpentina North Ensemble on our instagram page.

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Curiouser and Curiouser.

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Welcome to the Freak Show.

In April, the Sugar Shakers added some flapper love to the festivities at the Circus Side Show edition of the Bazaar of the Bizarre. Checking out the handmade goods in between our sets, there are so many strange and wonderful makers of things at this bazaar.

In May, I had the pleasure of performing to a DJ set by Adham Shaikh at the Royal Ontario Museum for the Rock the Caravan edition of their regular Friday Night Live events. I wish I would have had time to check out some of the exhibits afterward, but by the time I finished they were herding people away from exhibits. It was a great concept, with international market place food, several floors of live music, drinks and access to some exhibits. My first time dancing with the dinosaurs was a blast and the crowd was atttentive and enthusiastic. I shared the stage with another Toronto-based dancer Ananda Franco, and considering we met only that night, I think we had some good chemistry on stage together. The show was truly a mulit-sensory experience, with live visuals mixed by Jax-a-Muse.

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In the charming coach house Om Laila studio, my studies with Roula continue. This term we have been working on big drama/intention/character with refined moves, intricate travelling hip work with layers of upper body movement. Jack and the bean stock spirals and ovary muscles, for those who speak the language of Roula Said. Digging deep into the foundational architecture of the movements that are bellydance. Lifetimes of material to learn, soaking in as much as I can…

A couple of events coming up, mostly of the flapper variety! Including a workshop at Dragonfly studio in July. I’m pretty excited to bring charleston to even more bellydancers…check the Upcoming Shows section for details.

And last but not least, the annual Great Gatsby Garden Party at the Spadina Museum, is less than two weeks away. This event has gained in popularity each summer and this year its exploded. The people demanded advance tickets and after an initial online scramble for the pocket-friendly admission fee, the event is SOLD OUT. In response, there will be another Gatsby themed event, guerilla styles, for those who didn’t get a ticket but still want to get down with a 20’s garden jam.

As summer solstice approaches Toronto is in full summertime mode. The city is vibrant this time of year, see you around town.

Day 5 and still we dance at Cues & Tattoos. Til next time, Seattle!

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Although I intended to post each day from Cues & Tattoos, the days were super full, not so much downtime at all. And now its my last night here, and I left the air bnb we stayed in and moved along to City Hostel in Belltown. Laura and I went to the Highline Pub, as tradition dictates, and ate vegan pubfare (luckily there was a very special night called VHS Uber Alles and we watched terrible 1980’s infomercials and a budget horror movie). Laura left for the airport and as I stay another night, ruminating on all the new movements and combos. I’m sure a few new neural pathways were forged in the past five days.

This (!) was my schedule from Wed to Sun

Zoe Jakes Tribal Fusion Intensive – Framework for a Beautiful Spine (Wed & Thurs)

Zoe Jakes – Fleet Foxes: Strange Layers and Sleek Extension

Sam Riggs – Portico Style Bollywood Fusion

Rachel Brice – Datura Vocabulary (Stellar Alchemy, intermediate)

Carouselle – Juice Joint Improv

Rachel Brice – How to be a Zillionaire

Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman of Fat Chance Bellydance – Trick to Turns and Spins. (Here’s some video)

Between the workshops, the Serpents Muse stage, the instructors showcase, the afterparty, the vending area and sleep, the days flew by. I meant to take more pics but here’s what I’ve got so far between what I took and what I’ve found on the festival facebook page.

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Zoe Jakes intensive
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Space needle through the trees at sunset? Or giant sky bunny staring down sky mushroom? You decide.

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Zoe Jakes workshop
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My new septum jewellery from Aprils Blissed –maker of beautiful things. I’m in love with the geometric pieces!
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I’m happier than I look in this photo, to be around flowers in full bloom.

I have left the festival with a lot of new material to explore, its always such a whirlwind of information and tonight I will spend some time organizing the material so I can go over it on the trip home. I’m already looking forward to next year and Serpentina North plans to apply to perform at the Serpents Muse stage –it was nice to be remembered from our performance last year! So bellydancer friends, who’s in for the Toronto contingent next year?