From Quarantine with Love

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Coming this Sunday May 17th, our beloved local bellydance school Dragonflywill be hosting From Quarantine with Love. I am excited to be a part of this show as someone who studies with Zahira the and has taught at the old Dragonfly headquarters. It was just around this time last year that I was invited to teach Flapper Fusion Performance series toward the Spring Showcase.

There is nothing like a pandemic to remind us of the communal nature of dance. While I always enjoy practicing alone, these past 6 weeks have felt so different. Usually my solo practice happens in addition to classes, studio time, collaborations and shows. Without those components, solo practice just feels… different. I’m reminded how dependent and invigorated I am with other bodies to dance with.

That being said, there are some absolutely fantastic online classes happening right now and while I am not that much less busy these pandemic days, I have had some time to take classes with locals Zahira, and Melissa Gamal, and the much further than local fusion inspiration Mardi Love.

I’ve also delighted in the amazingly diverse lineup of dancers in Kami Liddle’s Lockdown Dance Party

I’ll do up another post on some of the amazing offerings from the bellydance community both locally and internationally, but for now lets talk about this show on Sunday:From Quarantine with Love has a killer lineup of Dragonfly faculty, local guest teachers and international stars Aziza and Oscar Flores. I’m looking forward to being a part of this show and I can say this is my first remote pandemic performance! In the spirit of uncertainty and vulnerability of the times, I decided to throw caution to the wind and dance for you all freestyle/improv.  Its a sassy upbeat number and as I turned my dining room into my stage (thanks to my wonderful partner for helping with camera stuff then staying well out of my way while I practiced!), I couldn’t help but feel the intimacy of inviting the audience into my home space to watch me dance.

Won’t you be my guest this Sunday? Would love to see you there!

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Flapper Fusion @ Dragonfly!

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This Saturday, the Flapper Bellydance Fusion performance series started at Dragonfly Bellydance. The studio filled with flappers ready for action, I could feel the enthusiasm and focus of the group. I love connecting with other vintage dance lovers and am super looking forward to sharing this fusion choreography with this bunch. Oh there will be more reminders but for now just save the date: Sunday May 26th is the Dragonfly Spring Showcase where the flappers will be taking the stage alongside many other fabulous dancers from the studio. This event usually sells out, so get your tickets in advance. You’ve been warned.

 

 

Bazaar of the Bizarre –this Sunday!

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!

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Winter home practice

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We’re in the thick of it beautiful people, early March in Toronto. It will be ok, the seasons change –and we’re already in March! With the urge to hibernate strong, I have made sure my home practice is also  strong.

Morning is always meditation and asana. Usually I will do about half an hour of varied asana depending on my mood. Some days its more of a yoga like dance improv.

Once evening hits, I’ll do some yoga to work out the physical and mental kinks of the day. Then if I haven’t already gone to a class or rehearsal I will do some drills.

There are so many options for online classes and while I prefer in person any day, there are some really juicy teachings being offered up online with teachers in other areas. Datura Online, created by Rachel Brice is my favourite as anyone can learn from such an array of tribal fusion pioneers (many of whom I can say I’ve had the opportunity to learn from in person!). There is so much to wade through…lately I have been into drills and combos with Henna, cardio/strength training/drills with Ashley Lopez and of course Datura technique with Rachel Brice.

The other online resource I’ve been using is Integrative Anatomy for Dancers by Deb Rubin. This is a series of videos discussing fascia, anatomy and  injury prevention in yoga asana and tribal fusion bellydance. Deb is so knowledgeable about anatomy and movement, with the goal of wellness and longevity for dancers as part of her Dance Therapeutics program.

Bellydancers and yogi(nis), what online resources are getting YOU through this winter???

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We are [not] the robots

20664520_10159348228720455_8960342708194455563_n The body is not a robot (PS, I love robots). Most days, people treat their bodies like robots,  like a machine that needs fixing, like a series of parts that can be replaced, improved or ‘spot’ trained. The ways we talk about our bodies matters and changing language can have a profound effect on our experience of our bodies.

We all have days that it feels like our body is a hindrance and depending on our particular age, health and ability/mobility, we each have a unique range of movement that we’re working with. This is not an ‘anyone can do it if they really try’ type of sentiment that I’m talking about here.

Across all of these differences, we can embody our physicality in ways that are appreciative of the body as a process, as a complex ecosystem that remains forever in flux. The only constant is change, a zen concept that has a lot to offer us in our movement practice. Life will add and subtract things from our bodies, gravity will always be more reliable than willpower and time will not move backwards. Within these concepts are further subtleties as bodies oscillate along the continuum of sickness and wellness, stamina and fatigue.

IMG_8017Part of a healthy movement practice as  I see it, is allowing for the fluctuation of practice while still maintaining a discipline. Pay attention to the messages you tell yourself both when you ‘do well,’ ‘see results’ as well as when you fall behind on your practice or fall short of accomplishing something you had your heart set on. This is all food for thought, these reflections on the stories we tell ourselves and how its connected to our movement.

I love watching dancers whose movement flows so seemingly effortlessly from their bodies, with a flow that gives the perception they are being moved by something the audience can’t see. I know they worked their asses off for it but the ease of their movement weaves a compelling imaginary tale.

We’re not all going to be able to do the things we admire in others. I will not be able to perform the physical feats of a professional dancer but I am serious about practices that maintain an ease of movement in walking and dancing and sitting life. All of it, bring ease to all of it. Even the uncomfortable and painful things, cultivating grace will allow the body to move in ways that brute force just wont be able to.

Yes pushing ourselves physically and mentally is healthy and necessary, that’s how we grow. Trust the process, as they say.  And, we are not robots, not machines, not broken to be fixed. We are fleshy, bony, organ-y,  casings of shifting rhythms that house emotions and nervous systems and histories –be kind to yours no matter what.

So far this summer has been filled with delicious movement!

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Katalyn Schafer (Hungary) pop-up workshop hosted by Ya Amar.

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Serpentina North Ensemble

 

Home dance practice

 

 

 

 

108 Days of Dance: Insights from the almost halfway point

 

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108 Days of Dance

It’s day 47 of 108 Days of Dance, my own personal challenge to dance each day. For a few reasons: general enjoyment of dance and movement aka FUN!, also to up my practice game, to work on technique refinement as well as improvisation. I had intended to document at least once a week on my blog via video, and write my insights along the way. Yet here I am at almost halfway, having done the practice, foregoing the documentation. Begging the new cultural question, if it wasn’t posted online has it really happened?

This challenge for me has been a mostly solitary process, though much of my dancing is just the opposite: for and with other people. Filming oneself practicing is a strange thing. See, I practice to practice (and perform to perform)…I mean, I’m already looking at myself in the mirror which is in and of itself a type of performance. But enter the camera, recording for the purpose of sharing through social media, and another layer of awareness inserts itself into the process. Case in point: yesterday I posted a poorly-shot video of myself doing sun salutations to a favourite community radio show: Groove Concept Radio. Grainy and ill-framed, I wobbled sideways in my transition from downward dog to warrior…immediately my mind wandered to the edit, or maybe I should re-shoot that sequence? Instead, I left it as is. Yoga as any other form of dance/movement is imperfect, as we struggle through visceral experiences of this mortal coil (aka the meat suit) and the fluctuations of the mind. Not to mention the emotions that arise through movement, for better and worse!

So all of this is to say that I mostly prefer to be alone for my movement practice(s). Or at least with others who are focused internally yet also fully entrained in our collective experience (aka dance class).

In conclusion friends, I have in fact been dancing each and every day for this 108 Days of Dance. A few insights have been around the power of solitary practice, like the solitude of most creativity and innovation (at least the root of a new idea or creation, even if later collaborative, happens for most people in a solitary moment). During this time I have added a new class at Dragonfly to my schedule, tofu-ing (no beefing for this vegan!) up my home practice (mostly tribal fusion and cabaret styles) and weekly troupe rehearsals (shout out to my Serpentinis!). I guess what I’ve realized so far is that its not too far a stretch from my regular practice to dance each and every day. Though, it has created a new level of discipline, with the goal of maintaining a daily practice with this challenge, as I did with yoga in the wake of my teacher training a couple of years ago.

How about YOU? Do you prefer to practice movement alone or with others? How is it helpful (or not) to post your practice on social media?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

108 Days of Dance

IMG_5921On 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kensington Market Pedestrian Sundays

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.

Date: Sunday May 28th

Location: Lola, 40 Kensington Ave

Set times:  3:45, 4:50, 6:00, 6:45

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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.