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.
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!
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.