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.

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



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.

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!


The deep freeze. But still, music. Still, dance.


Although I told myself this winter would be low key and I would mostly be spent in a nourishing cocoon of books, ideas and ginger tea, 2014 has been filled with new collaborations, focused planning and steady practice. Also trudging through snow, sleet and last week several inches of rain to get to shows. Doing it for the love, if not always for the comfort!

In January, I began rehearsals with Inanna, a production created and directed by Joanne Camilleri. Dancing, film, live music, gorgeous costumes…I’m excited to be a part of this. Stay tuned, promo to come.

Another project House of Shimmy, kicked into high gear in January, with long time dance conspirator and friend Victoria. Although we have been doing shows together in some capacity for several years, we are finally have a name that reflects our love of bellydance, our inspiration from various dance cultures, and willingness to break traditions. House of Shimmy was so pleased to work with Random Order for their Black Lipstick Kiss album release at the Mod Club. (photo credit: Alexandra Gelis)

by Alexandra Gellis

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1004961_10152175030270668_2014004765_n 1013271_10152175029745668_1157577600_n 1176365_10152175029870668_2114762852_n 1185170_10152175030310668_964542460_n 1610046_10152175029865668_1167751463_n 1779700_10152175029790668_1718373226_nJust this past week, House of Shimmy performed at Steers and Queers, along with local drag queen/king, burlesque talents. It was a country western/honky tonk theme, as the name suggests and everyone was dressed to the nine.

The end of February kickstarted a whirlwind of rehearsals and shows for Serpentina: Winter Mirage, The 4th Annual Dragonfly Majlis (an ‘East Meets West’ theme included variety of bellydance genres and some cultural/historical talks), and today the much anticipated TedX at York University today.


Moonlight Mirage Feb 2014

Somehow Serpentina also managed to get to the ‘Kathak for Bellydancers’ workshop last weekend with Joanna DeSouza. All the dancers were hungry for more…her engaging style of transmitting the traditions of kathak with such skill and grace was really a wonderful experience. Rumour has it, there will be a part 2 of this workshop.

In only a few short weeks I will be in Seattle at Cues and Tattoos, until then some ‘downtime’ relatively speaking, of regular rehearsals. May we all keep the spirit nourished through this deep freeze. Perhaps some thoughtful and music for the deep contemplation and hibernation of this arctic vortex. Maybe you will enjoy these selections as much as I do…if not, go find something that makes your ears happy.

Alice Russel covering Cee-Lo’s Crazy

Yuna covering Nirvana’s Come As You Are