Once again the highly anticipated, impeccably-curated Bazaar of the Bizarre runs this long weekend, on Sunday in the Parkdale area. Serpentina North Ensemble will be providing some dancing entertainment for bazaar-goers. We always enjoy performing at this event, animating the space alongside stilt-walkers, DJ’s and an array of ultra creative and skilled artisans from in and around Toronto. Have you seen the vendor list yet? You can follow the bazaar on Instagram and facebook to prepare your wallet for all the amazing things you’ll want to buy!
In learning of her death, my mind jumped to the one and only time in 2009, that I had an opportunity to learn from her at the Salimpour School in Oakland. It was an adjunct workshop to the annual San Fransisco Mecca Immersion, a tribal fusion intensive in San Fransisco, taught by both Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour. It was a zyll workshop and she played her giant saucer-sized zylls effortlessly, leading us through complex patterns. I had been playing zylls a couple of years and enjoyed the challenge, savoured the experience knowing I had a hell of a lot more work to do to feel comfortable with this instrument.
I became interested in tribal fusion bellydance around 2008 after dancing for a few years learning Arabic as well as cabaret styles from my teachers. While learning from Roula Said (the Salimpours were among her teachers in her travels to San Fransisco) at Om Laila for a few years, I had joined the student troupe under the direction of Megan Shields. Here I was exposed me to what she used to refer to as ‘tribalesque’ –the elements of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion that she brought into a more classical bellydance foundation. Once I discovered some more about this style of dance as well as what it means to fuse dance styles, I started to get more curious about its origins. That led me to a study trip to my first SF Mecca Immersion in 2008, where I learned that tribal fusion is a branch off of American Tribal Style group improv, the codified group dance created by Caroleena Nericcio-Bolhman of Fat Chance Bellydance. I stumbled my way through her workshop, trying to wrap my head around the cueing system, but noticing all of the common ground of vocabulary that shaped tribal fusion: elements of bellydance, flamenco and classical Indian dances. The raised strong arms, floreos, rhythmic isolations and fluid hips swaying to music from traditional to electronic. I was in love and fell hard. I went back for more in 2009, this time for the extended intermediate track of SF Mecca Immersion.
Its coming up on ten years since I first set foot in San Fransisco to explore dance roots. Some of that journey has been shared through this blog. I am fortunate to have teachers in Toronto who have learned and continue to learn from the pioneers of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion. I have now been in Serpentina North Ensemble for six years and have none other than the green haired forever goth, Orkideh to thank for the opportunity to delve so much deeper into group improv as well as fusion bellydance. Workshops, intensives, and performance has been a large focus of mine over the past decade I suppose. And we all live in the legacy of our teachers and our teachers’ teachers. So whether or not you got a chance to directly learn from Jamila Salimpour, she is an iconic figure who created the foundation of what we know as tribal fusion.
To other dancers, I love to hear about peoples influences! Please feel free to share in comments, your experiences learning directly or indirectly from the work of Jamila Salimour.
Spring brings the return of PS (Pedestrian Sundays) Kensington and the Serpentina North Ensemble is delighted to be back again dancing in the streets. Its been a couple of summers since we’ve graced the pavement of this event, so come on out and check out our FOUR sets over the afternoon! Event page here.
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.
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?
I started writing this post just after my trip, but April turned to May and so here it is now. Enjoy!
The first leg of my west coast adventure has come and gone in a beautiful whirlwind. The troupe arrived in Portland and hit some vintage shops, Powell’s bookstore, vegan sundae’s at Maple Parlour, and jewelry-ogling at Robot Piercing. We took a private session with one of our dance mom’s Paulette of Gypsy Caravan, to refine some of the combos we had been working with and learn some new orbits for formation changes. We had a show at the middle eastern restaurant Huda’s, where we danced to live music by a band called Arabesque. An intimate two level venue was packed with people and we barely had room to spin in front of the band. But the music was great and we were well received within the lineup of local dancers.
Cues & Tattoos had an excellent lineup of teachers, as they do every year. I took two workshops with Mardi Love, one zylls-based, and the other on super slow sinewy movement. This was the second chance I’ve had to take classes with her –the first being a few years back in Montreal. I saw her perform live in San Francisco maybe 7 years ago and I was mes.mer.ized. More so than the usual trance inducing qualities of bellydance, Ms. Love was a dance muse like nothing I’d ever seen. She is a great teacher and a beautiful sunny person to learn from!
The other instructor I was really looking forward to and who delivered the goods was Elizabeth Strong –also a performer I saw live in San Fran that same show (she performed in a duet with Mira Betz). Her knowledge, skill, technique, presence is a lot of what I work toward in my dance and I had waited a long time to learn something directly from her. I did her Upper Egypt Survey workshop, and we learned a short choreography that combined moves from various regional dances and technique from her teacher Katarina Burda (who Zoe Jakes also learned from and acknowledged in her workshop). Using finger cymbals as the percussive instruments they are in this choreography was so much fun. As I later told my troupe mates, that workshop was one of two over the weekend that made me sweat through to my underwear –something I of course welcome in a workshop. I mean I came to work hard, right?
The other sweat session happened during the last workshop of the weekend. After drilling, performing, walking all the places for days, I attended Zoe Jakes ‘Balkan Party.’ And that it was! Three hours of learning and running a short Balkan choreography on carpet and without mirrors. The upbeat energy of the music and choreo kept us moving and we ended with a nice cool down and a talk on knowing your dance lineage.
After our performance at the Serpents Muse, see VIDEO section for footage.
The whole troupe went to the Luciterra workshop where we learned some of their unique signature combos. I had previously taken a workshop in Toronto with Laura Jane of Luciterra and was super into it and excited to learn more. Their energy, creativity and synergy onstage (at the performer showcase), really took the festival by storm and as I headed to Vancouver from Seattle I was hoping to squeeze in another class. In the end I wasn’t able to, but have some really interesting material to work with!
There are many more stories from this trip, but the last one that has nothing to do with the festival, but must be told is this: I wanted a photo with the Monorail Man at the entrance of the monorail in Seattle Centre where the festival was held. So I asked Elana to get a photo, like the robot was looming over me, the damsel in distress…So as I’m posing and directing how I want the photo, the robot lets out this super loud terrifying buzz. In flight mode, I leap over the red velvet ropes away from the robot predator. And thanks to Elana’s quick photographic reflexes, its all captured. Later I found out the robot buzzes like that –loud –when the next monorail is approaching. No comfort in that knowledge.
Its 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)
bellydance performance with Adham Shaikh at the Royal Ontario Museum
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…
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.
Spring is fast approaching, stay tuned for upcoming shows and events!