This a great article. Full of lots of food for thought an
my dearest friends in dance are all journeying to the west coast this week to give one of my favorite performances: Green Tara, ensemble. It is a piece about the soul's journey from death to life through the Bardo.i have a particular attachment to this piece.in the manifestation of the group staging, i was cast as a peacock. i had the immense privilege of being involved in the creative process for considering movements which, as a new-to-dance dancer, was the catalyst that encouraged me to approach the art form with the goal excellence. it is a goal i have nourished with dedication to three specific things: sincerity, generosity, and accountability. i feel this approach has served me with absolute satisfaction in my artistic experience.Green Tara is set to beautiful music, full of windows and story and breath. the journey of the music inspires the journey of the story, which brings the characters and the audience through cycles of meditation, humanity, self confrontation, and divine compassion. as we worked on the details in rehearsals i saw them revealed to me in a ritualistic manner; each step required the previous and subsequent steps in order to be performed with meaning. we rarely rehearsed the piece without starting from the beginning and, once it was fully staged, finishing to the very end. it was during this process that every execution of the piece--even in rehearsal--became a mantra that was being learned to completion by my body and mind.i otherwise remember the very emotional ebbs cycling through my body as the piece tells its story. there are moments for each performer where they are not "seen" in which one must disappear while in full sight. there are moments for each performer where they are the soloist bravely bearing the weight of the ritual. there are moments for each performer where unison veils their individuality. ultimately, every performer experiences life, death and rebirth, save the immortal goddess playing in and out of the shadows, offering succor and protection and understanding.today, every time i perform this piece or see this piece performed, i experience it as a sacred ceremony.all the best to my friends performing this lovely ritual for eyes and ears this weekend.xomel
~ Compassionate Action
The Dalai Lama has said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
Compassionate action is considered one of the highest of virtues in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Islam, and is one of MANY common threads between them.
In the practice of yoga the moral conduct referred to as Ahimsa (Sanskrit: अहिंसा), or non-violence toward one's self and others, is key to the cultivation of compassion in action. We are advised to come to our mats minus the motivation of ego. We are urged to embrace gentleness and mindfulness in our relationship with the body -- our temple and anchor in this world.
There is a story in which the Buddha was asked "Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice?"
The Buddha replied, "No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice."
A Meditation or Prayer:
Visualize and feel one who is beloved to you. Address and connect with your loved one by saying: "May you be free of pain and sorrow. May you be well, happy, and at ease." Take the time to see the ones who are dear to you in this light.
It is important to affirm to yourself:
"May I be free of pain and sorrow. May I be well, happy, and at ease." See and feel a sense of well-being manifesting in your life.
Dedicate the same level of loving kindness to one with whom you've had conflict, an enemy, or individual you feel has caused you pain or harm (not so easy).
In your mind's eye see the image of someone you do not really know, such as a clerk or delivery person. Project your compassion, your loving kindness toward this individual: "May you be free of pain and sorrow, well, happy, and at ease."
Conclude your meditation or prayer with the offering of compassion to all sentient beings everywhere, to all life forms, without limit & without exception: "May all beings be free of pain and sorrow. May all beings be well, happy, and at ease."
A Sanskrit Chant: Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu:
May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
Happy Birthday, Mecca!
I always remember Mecca’s birthday (April 10th), because it is the day after my own birthday. I often take my birthday as a reflective point in my life’s journey. A personal rather than universal New Year’s Day, if you will. I would like to share some of my reflections this year with the folks at Mecca, because I believe that they are probably applicable to most, if not all, practitioners of movement arts.
I spent the weekend studying with Zoe Jakes here in D.C. Her classes are high-energy and challenging. She has grown as a teacher so that her ADD style of practice now translates to a purposeful and well-balanced class that makes sense to everyone, not just other ADD-ish people (me). I was struck by this class in particular—in the 15 years I’ve been bellydancing, I have never had a class taught by someone that challenged us all so much. She emphasized endurance which is something few teachers do. But more than that was how challenging her layering drills felt. I am used to isolating body parts and layering those isolations, one on top of the other, and I feel like this is one of my fortes. But I’m used to doing 2 or 3 layers at a time. Zoe pushed us to layer 4-6 isolations at a time.
“Put your piston hips on autopilot,” she’d say. I’m good at this. Done.
“Add these arm patterns,” and I’m following along, no problem.
“Here’s some footwork to work in there,” -- and now it’s tricky. Still do-able, but tricky. She adds, “If you think I’m crazy, just do the hip work and the arm patterns, but to challenge yourself, here’s a head slide, shoulder pop, chest pop, roll down, roll up, chest pop combo to layer on all of that.” And, *poof*, all of a sudden I’m in a place I’ve never been before. I can’t feel my hips. What!? Yeah, those up-down hips I put on autopilot at the beginning?—I can’t feel them, I can’t tell without looking in the mirror whether they are still moving or not. This is crazy. I look in the mirror, and they are still moving, up, down, up, down, just like I programmed them to do. They are so on autopilot, that I can’t even check in with them to see how they’re doing without an external crutch (mirror). Checking the mirror means everything else falls apart, though, and I have to start at the beginning.
This goes on for hours. I’m following along just fine, enjoying Zoe’s ass-kicking, and then all of a sudden losing contact with part of the dance, checking in the mirror, seeing that things are going as planned, and instantaneously having all my layers of isolation collapse because I’ve become too mentally bothered with the process.
This is both frustrating and exciting. It’s frustrating because I’m not used to being bad at bellydance any more. This is a beginner’s mental and physical space to inhabit. Luckily, being a beginner at something means you have more to explore. This is exciting! I continue to study and learn new things in bellydance, but it’s been many years since bellydance has been truly difficult. I usually find this sort of challenge when I study a new/different form of dance that my body has not yet internalized. How brilliant that there’s still more in this genre to keep me going! The other exciting part about this occurrence is that it feels like “leveling up,” like in a video game. I may be a beginner at this new level, but that means I’ve mastered the last level, and I can be proud of that accomplishment. (Yay, hips on autopilot!)
I found this graph of Marc Dalessio’s learning curve as it relates to his painting career. I think it translates perfectly to dance, and probably to any skill.
[see graph below]
I am sharing this whole story as a reminder that to become good at anything involves a lot of time and a lot of practice. I am sharing this whole story as a reminder that, no matter how long or short your time in any genre has been, everything is relative, and there will always be things you’re good at, and things that you need to work on. Keep showing up and putting in your time. If you’re frustrated, chances are you are near or even inside a growth spurt—just don’t quit now! It’s an exciting time!
Much love to all of you at Mecca,
Thinking about my progression as a dancer…I started belly dance classes last year as a shiny, new, wide-eyed beginner. At the end of the year, I was dancing in front of actual people for events like the Woodland Art Fair and the pre-show for Smoke and Mirrors..not just my animal friends and other dancers. This year I attend intermediate classes although I still think of myself as a beginner with a whole bunch of dumb luck! I love the community and unspoken communication of dancers as we instinctively jut out our chesticles and shimmy! Shimmies are absolutely great, if you didn’t already know. It is hard not to absorb the energy of such an expressive and lovely dance family especially when you have specialty class like “belly”wood. Fusion of dance influences and personalities make for a healthy love of life. Much love!
When I was 47, I took my first yoga class. My body said, "Thank you very much. What took you so long?"When I was 57, I bought a 10 class pass at Mecca because I was tired of hearing myself say, "someday, one day I'm going to take belly dance lessons". I wasn't getting any younger!
Five and a half years I ago, my heart suffered a mild attack and a stent was placed inside an artery. The very next week, I was performing the dancers prayer in a performance at the old Blue Moon.
Today as I turn 67, my body loves loves loves movement and dance and my response to "what do you do?" is,
"I do parades!". Now I'm into strength training and conditioning. A new approach for an old body!
I consider myself a trained belly dancer, a Five Tibetan Rite Yogi, and a senior hoop girl in the March Madness Marching Band. Without the support of Teresa and Mel all those first 7 years of my belly dancing life, I wouldn't have found the band life that has given me a new life.
Thank you to these extraordinary women and all the extraordinary women whom I have had the pleasure to accompany in dance performances all these years.
Each year I like to put this personal dancer's assessment out there for my dancers and students to consider. This is taken from an old discussion thread from tribe.net from a director of a dance troupe. I think it's a great set of questions to consider and answer for yourself. Enjoy.
Reassessing your personal dance goals:
1. "-Do I have a near spotless attendance record and am I on time almost always, with rare exceptions?
2. -Is my skill level where it should be in accordance to how long I have been dancing?
3. -Do I constantly seek out new mediums in dance to adjust my skill and ability?
4. -Have I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone in learning to do other dances or use props?
5. -Am I easy to work with requiring little time and effort on the parts of others?
6. Am I a self-starter? Or do I do better working in a group? *not that one is better than the other, it is just important to know which one you are*
7. -Am I flexible with regard to costuming and am I able to wear any of the troupe's costumes?
8. -If I were to get a call to do a show with little to no preparation or rehearsals, would I be able to confidently pull off a performance?
9. -Do I push myself to work with individual members of our group or do I tend to stay in my comfort zone with the same one or two people?
10.-Have I become stronger musically, either with finger cymbals or by learning hand drum rhythms?
11. -Do I maintain a positive attitude even if the group/class is working on something I am not particularly fond of?
12. -Do I encourage others in the troupe to help them feel their confidence?"
seeks to master the art of conversational movement, to find the dwelling of the selfless heart, to reflect the evolution of culture and its peoples, to explore the realm of living awareness, and to open the skies to shine on both the watching eyes and the story fabric unfurling before them.
The Dancers' Journal
Excerpts and words of experience from dancers about their personal practice, their physical well being, the things that inspire and more. If you'd like to contribute to this blog email us: email@example.com