Day 16 (earlier this week) was all about small isolations. Sharing dance drills footage is a little intimidating because, well, it just doesn’t look much like dance. But dance drills are a crucial element of well rounded practice and are not as free as dancing. Working with layering upper body movements over ongoing and well timed hip shimmy can make the lips purse and the brows furrow. Maybe a little angry dancer face happening in this clip…
How could you ever talk about dance without also talking about music?! The same day I filmed this little clip, I later on had the pleasure of seeing The Specials at the Danforth Music hall and though we were waaaaay in the back, we found room to dance in the aisles.
On this lucky 13th day of 108 Days of Dance, I’ve decided to share my personal practice challenge with you all: to make dance a daily practice for 108 days, with the intention of upping my dance game.
My experience of 108 days of yoga after completing my 200- hour yoga teacher training in 2015, was such a profound experience that I am giving it a whirl with dance!
Dance has been an important and regular part of my life for many years now, and often longer term practice needs a boost, whether its a new class, a new teacher, a new challenge of sorts. I’ve decided my new challenge is 108 days of dance –so yes, dance every single day! Ideally, as with the yoga challenge, it is to be at least an hour per day. But more important than the time is the consistency, and as with any physical practice there is an adjustment period.
The first week was fine, fueled by the excitement of the challenge and opting to keep it to myself in the beginning. The second week was a little less pleasant in my body as its also the week I returned to commuting by bike. From a winter of walking and transit, I began two hours of cycling per day, in addition to the usual yoga and now the daily dose of dance. Counting toward this daily practice of course are the regular classes, troupe rehearsals, performances and nights out on the dance floor. I hope to change the timing of some of my practice as well to be able to do more yoga and/or dance in the morning before work. As a not-so-morning person, this may prove the most difficult part.
Each day of dance brings a unique focus and challenge: lastnight’s practice was specific to arm and hand isolations, with a soundtrack of Bach, while today was all about tribal fusion drills including chest figure eights over hip locks and traveling hip work. Other times I freestyle to classical Arabic music, ragtime, downtempo world electronic music, broken beat, vintage reggae or classic house.
Stay tuned for more updates on my 108 Days of Dance!
Another great trip to Seattle for Cues and Tattoos has come and gone! This was my 5th year attending Cues and Tattoos in Seattle. And the event celebrated their 10 year anniversary. Ten years of providing a well curated lineup of instructors on improvisational fusion bellydance! Serpentina North Ensemble has performed three times at the Serpent’s Muse stage –this year an homage to Prince with our improv number to Raspberry Beret! This was the year of the intensive: Zoe Jakes, Amy Sigil and Caroleena Nerricio-Bohlman all had two day intensives before the weekend of workshops. I arrived on Thursday for the workshops starting on the Friday and as usual the weekend was a wonderful whirlwind of dance.
For the second year in a row, all of Serpentina North Ensemble attended and between us all, we have a whole lot of new material to work into our improv sets. This was my itinerary:
Rachel Brice – ‘Shake it up and break it down’
Zoe Jakes – ‘The Divine Muse’
Moria Chappell – ‘Odissi Fusion’
Ashley Lopez – ‘Oddity: Unconventional time signatures and an odd choreography’
Donna Mejia – ‘Core-ography’
Mardi Love – ‘New Choreography’
Over three days I got to study with some of the dancers I greatly admire: Mardi Love, Donna Mejia, Ashley Lopez, Rachel Brice, Moria Chappell and Zoe Jakes. Rachel is a generous and grounded teachers and I enjoyed working on a bunch of different shimmies and putting them into combos. Zoe led us through some basics of Odissi and Balinese dance. Moria taught an Odissi fusion choreography and lectured on some of the origins of Odissi dance before and after it was codified into a national dance of India. Ashley led us through a fast moving choreography with a 13 count time signature that was a lot of fun, rolling, jumping and partner interaction. Donna schooled us in anatomy, core strength, breath and creating longevity in a dance/movement practice.
The last , but certainly not least, workshop of the weekend was the three hour Mardi Love choreography to a sweet little vintage jazz song. Mardi is cream of the crop in terms of tribal fusion dance aesthetic, and continues to be humble in her influence on the art form. Since seeing her dance live in San Francisco in 2009, she remains one of my most significant dance role models. I’m pretty sure I smiled through the entire workshop, despite my end-of-weekend fatigue and missing a few of the quick time isolations in the number.
The troupe got a chance to visit the Bruce Lee exhibit at the Wing Museum. Below was the only photo op.
The Seattle weather was perfect, especially leaving the Toronto snowfall (though short-lived) behind. Parting ways after Cues and Tattoos, I made my way to San Francisco for a few days, where the temperature was higher.
Though it was a non-dance trip, I managed to squeeze in a conditioning class with the one and only Jill Parker at ODC studios after a long day of hiking the Muir Woods.
Til we meet again west coast, its always a pleasure.
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.
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?