Community art for pandemic times.

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From the beginning of 2020,  I have had the pleasure of being part of a small and mighty social circus called TTYL. Created by aerial powerhouse Angola Murdoch of Lookup Theatre, the social circus addresses issues around mental health and wellness through the circus arts. Over their decade in action, I have worked with them in passing over the years: once for a bellydance workshop and the next donating a performance to their fundraising event. I’ve also worked with Angola on another show she produced years back at Second City where I may have been the only performer with my feet on the ground!

Fast forward to early 2020 and I joined the team as co-facilitator with  Zita Nyarady, a multi-skilled theatre and circus artist. My role there is more about the social part than the circus part (though the group did teach me some new skills too!). Supporting the mental health of the artists as they learn new skills, crafts, co-create in community and build shows, has been a wonderful merging of my worlds. As both a movement artist and community mental health worker, I highly value the role of art in individual and community wellness and healing, and am so delighted to help facilitate that with TTYL.

In pre-COVID times, the group meets weekly to work together learning new circus arts and practicing on their chosen apparatus. The group is small and close, conversations around mental health and daily challenges are the norm and the amount of compassion and encouragement held collectively within the group is inspiring. The group had been building their next show and excited about all of the co-creations happening!

Once the pandemic hit, the group continued to meet remotely each week, and decided to move forward on a remote show –their first ever distance circus arts show! Of course there were some concessions to make without the access to all of their aerial apparatus!

But tonight we are SO excited to present the artists of TTYL in their first ever quarantine show,  Covisions.  See you at the circus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honouring śavāsana

One day last week in my daily practice, I settled into the breath and movement without time restriction. I felt in the groove. Moving through a more active series of postures, I knew my body was up for a little sweat. In more recent months, I have been focused poses that offer an antidote to an escalated nervous system, seeking decompression rather than physical challenge. But that day I felt the time and space around me as I challenged myself *gently* to exert more energy.

Each day, as with any discipline, you don’t always feel that flow –and that’s ok. But this post isn’t really about doing more active yoga, its about the dance between activity and stillness.

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Enter śavāsana, the sanskrit word meaning “corpse pose.” Normally a closing posture at in a yoga class, this can be one of the most challenging spaces to maintain awareness and focus because well we are just laying there. The body is presumably relaxed, supported by the ground and working on the inside to integrate the movements from the last hour of practice.

As far as I know, yoga is the only physical practice (though its part of a larger philosophical system of balancing the mind) that has a codified relaxation period built into its structure. But in this stillness, the the mind is challenged to not problem-solve or fall asleep. Often a teacher may cue the breath to help us stay anchored to the body in an alert way or suggest a visualization when thoughts or feelings arise (which they will), to acknowledge and let it pass.

So back to this experience of having time and space to practice, because this was the day I realized I’d been cheating myself of a proper śavāsana for at least a few months. It was a slow process, that started with shortening the time. My mind justified this in a whole lot of ways: I’m busy, I’m bored, I already meditated today. Sound familiar to anyone? In further reflecting on this, I came to understand the loss of savasana correlated with my experience of time as a 1000 tonne beast sitting on my shoulders. And I saw that clearly during this particular practice because I allowed myself to be a proper corpse at the end, stayed in awareness and non-doing, mind chatter on low. Not that it always feels so seamless.

We all have full lives of which time for practice can feel scarce. And I’m certainly of the mind that some corpse is better than no corpse. But particularly with self-directed practice, it can be easy for an important element of yoga like savasana to slide. Because its so passive (but not easy!), it may get cut in favour of the more active asana. Definitely for me, during times that feel hectic in life, that “dont just do something, sit there” is an apt sign post along the path of the contemplative practices.

So the next step, now that I have an awareness that I’d unconsciously relegated savasana to a second class pose, is to reintegrate it, bring it back to its rightful place.

I spend a lot of time alone doing yoga alone, in a daily home practice. For those of you who also practice solo, have you faced anything similar? What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of home/solo yoga practice?

Like reading about bodies and how to be nicer to them? You might like this post, too:

We Are (not) The Robots

Wintertime Wellness Workshops

I’m pleased to be a part of this fundraiser on Sat Dec 7th. All of the teachers/facilitators are volunteering and all proceeds will go directly to the family of a young woman whose life ended after a long struggle with alcohol addiction.

featured artistsI will be leading a gentle yoga classes suitable for all levels and I welcome all bodies to come practice (please let the organizers know if you require accommodations).

As December approaches, so to do the pressures of consumerism tighten. Perhaps there are family pressures or loneliness. Moving your body in a welcoming environment can be a way to move through these kinds of challenging emotions. These workshops are a great way to prepare your inner resources for the wintertime, would you like to join us?

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Waves! Spirals! Shimmies…oh my!

Join me at Boomerang Pilates on October 21st for an exploration of deliciously wavy movement –aka Bellydance!
In this workshop you will learn some of the fundamental movements of bellydance –including the illusive SHIMMY –and learn how to string them together so it feels like you’re dancing. But don’t worry, this workshop is for everyone so no dance experience required, just curiousity and a desire to flow through some juicy new movements! *All genders welcome*
When: Sunday October 21st 12:30-2:30pm

Where: Boomerang Pilates

240 Roncesvalles Ave.

Cost: $40 in advance, $45 at the door (cash, check or etransfer)

Coupe de couer at Tribal Momentum

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The momentum is real in Montreal. It it was pretty awesome to have a little taste of the delicious fusion happenings in this city last weekend. I hadn’t been in years and the last bellydance-related thing i went to there was (Mardi Love) close to ten years ago!

Planning this trip with the troupe was exciting, particularly since this was the first year in a long while I didn’t go to Cues and Tattoos. We also hadn’t gone to a Canadian tribal festival and were excited to learn from the instructors and share what we do in the closing show. I was also in seventh heaven because BOTH Serpentina and House of Shimmy were all on a road trip together –half of my brain was eating up the info for group improv and the other half was focused on duet combos.

I’ve been following Cult of Yes online and love the dynamic of a creative duo that draws an audience into their individual characters and synergistic flow. So of course I signed up immediately for their Danger Zone workshop. It was a number that was to be performed a the closing show and I was feeling a little down that time didn’t allow me to get onstage for this. Serpentina North Ensemble was also in the show and it was cutting it too close getting ready between workshops and the show. Next time!

It’s always fun when the whole troupe travels together, we stayed at a great Air bnb, a short walk from the studio and show venue. We chilled on the balcony, talked dance, rehearsed and together digested the material from the workshops.

 

 

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We learned a Balkan inspired choreography from Inga Petermann the first day, and some new Unmata style ITS combos from Marina D. Ray. Day 2 was Layer Lasagna with Nawal Doucette and was so pleased with her organic organized teaching style with focus on clean technique and JUICE…I look forward to learning more from her at some point. Then we were onto the much anticipated Danger Zone with Cult of Yes! There was a strong Ontario contingent at the festival: Invoketress (Mary Wyga and Ishra), Stacie Noel, Revolve Bellydance and Heather Labonte and of course a few members of Serpentina’s student troupe, Snakebite!

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The weekend wrapped up with a closing show and Serpentina shared a newer kathak fusion choreography, which we’ve showcased at Glitter in Hamilton and two Dragonfly events in Toronto. Bringing worlds together through fusion is one of our troupe specialties! We learned a saying from an audience member after our show: coupe de couer. Our movement, our expression had touched her heart she told us, pondering the right words to properly transmit the meaning from French. If ever a dancer touches my heart, I do my best to let them know. When people move you, let them know you are moved!

Thank you to the whole Tribal Momentum crew, I’m already looking forward to next year!

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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Reflections on tribal fusion

The end of 2017, brought the passing of a pioneer of tribal fusion bellydance long before the term was coined –the one and only Jamila Salimour. There is a lot to say about Jamila and how she shaped American style, interpretation and presentation of bellydance over the past several decades in America.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking up with glitter

I’ve used my fair share of glitter. I’ve glittered and over glittered for holiday parties,  90’s late night rave adventures,  (after all, it had to last til the break of dawn at least), pride, concerts and in more recent years as an essential part of many dance performances. As a bellydancer, glitter is just part of the preparation –a sort of show girl must, if you will. After all, who doesn’t like to sparkle? Show folk of every gender joke about finding glitter days after shows often wedged into crevices they hadn’t intended. With December upon us, many people use glittered items as part of their festive decor. And kids love glitter, that added element of dazzle on any kindergarten craft project. I mean there’s scientific research on the evolutionary underpinnings to our love of sparkly  things.

Who doesn’t like glitter, you ask? Well for one, the ocean and all of the life in its watery depths. Also the birds who starve to death because their stomachs are filled with teeny plastic particles like glitter. Glitter is made up of particles so tiny that, like microbeads (ban in Canada set to take effect mid 2018),  in many cosmetic and body products, they pass through water systems into the digestive systems of plankton and up through the food chain as well as deeper into the ocean. This short National Geographic Video breaks down how this happens:

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As someone who strives to live by her politics, these facts are unnerving to say the least. I don’t use feathers or fur in my costuming (or daily life) and am now choosing to switch to non-synthetic glitter aka ‘bio-glitter’. While the science is not yet clear on how much of the plastics showing up in the digestive systems of marine life can be attributed to glitter, I anticipate more specific research come, as the discussion has now been open about a ban vs. pressure to change industry standards (Lush Ltd has made a statement on their changes in glitter products)

As a long time vegan, its not just about products containing animals that sits at the heart of the vegan ethic –but a dedication to uphold the value of all life. Over two decades ago I opted out of participating in the system of factory farming as well as fast fashion of the consumer machine. There is no point of ‘arriving’ in this ethic, only a continuous curiosity, learning and adjusting of habits and lifestyle that promotes dignity not destruction of living beings and our natural world.

Performers take people into another world of their choosing –often filled with fantasy, illusion and mystique. I obviously love all of these aspects of performance. And glitter adds to the otherworldly beauty of a performance –or just a night out. Still, we have to live with ourselves, we have to be able to sleep at night. Once you know the ‘underbelly’ of something as whimsical as glitter, it just can’t be business as usual.

Stay tuned for glitter that everyone can live with, coming up in the new year through House of Shimmy.

Share your thoughts and continue the conversation in the comments area!