This Sunday! House of Shimmy returns to Bazaar of the Bizarre

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!

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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

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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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Yawning on Purpose –and other adventures in movement.

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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!

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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.

 

 

 

Equinox

 

equinoxThe 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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intro to Bellydance classes start tomorrow!

 

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6 WEEKS OF BELLYDANCE for beginners! Sept 7 – Oct 12

Introductory bellydance with Sandy Watters, designed for the absolute beginner. You asked for it west side, and I’m delivering the goods! No dance experience necessary.

Over this six week session, we will cover some fundamental bellydance movements of hips, chest and arms. These foundational movements are used in all styles of bellydance, we’re starting with basics!

Downtown west side location: 360 Dufferin st, Suite 101

Wed evenings Sept 7 – Oct 12
6 weeks $108 + HST
Drop in rate $20 + HST
SAVE per class when you sign up for the entire session!
Payment: cash or etransfer (watters.sandy@gmail.com)

Summer

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This August heatwave encompasses every movement, makes sure I slow down, insists I drink buckets of water.The summertime vibe is in full effect, this city is live with art and music. Free stuff, waterfront stuff, dance floor stuff, all the stuff…!

Spring and summer have been more about practice than than performance. Lifetimes of stuff to learn and practice.

Reaching back a couple months, I completed the Lavender Intensive at the Darkside

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Thanks Audra!

Studio, a week of intensive study is always an inspiring challenge to body and mind. Not only was the week packed with content, but the feedback from Audra was from throughout the week as well as the testing day, was so detailed and informative, I just can’t recommend this enough for any belly dancer with a particular interest in or practice of tribal fusion for defining and refining technique and musicality. I’m a long way off from having the material from the intensive down but I have a ton of material to work with. These few months later, I am revisiting the course content, as I carve out more space in my life for studio time for solo goals and projects.

 

In June, I attended a day of workshops with the Magyar beauty Katalyn Schafer of Hungary, hosted by Toronto’s own Ya Amar. This woman is a powerhouse, of the most elegant variety.  The choreography she taught us (modern bellydance and some jazz fusion) were truly challenging between the floor work freezes, spins and strong extended legs. I was invigorated by the big movements, taking up a lot of space in every direction…we all agreed she must come back, we want more!

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I am on the tail end of the Bellydance Summer School course offered by Zahira at Dragonfly. A ten week long course on belly dance history, I have looked forward to this each and every week: learning of the Cengis and Kocek, Salome, Badia Masabni, the Golden Age of belly dance to Bal Anat and Reda troupe. So much to take in, tracing this history and  how this art form shimmied its way to North America. What we have learned in this class from Zahira –whose extensive knowledge on the subject is rather mind-blowing, I might add –is fascinating, enriching and essential to those of us studying any style of belly dance. Dancers, keep your fingers crossed that Dragonfly runs this class again one day!

 

 

Lovely bloodflow: moontime movement

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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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