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imagesThe year I was born, A Taste of Honey released this record. Twenty years later, I discovered it in a dusty music shop and sixteen years later it remains a loved part of my vinyl collection. The years keep going and now I am another age, something I never shy away from. How could I with all that the passage of time has allowed me, all of the hours and hours of learning and practicing of movement that only time will allow? And all of the refining and seasoning still to come. Dance and movement training can’t be rushed and rather than looking at time missed, I look forward to the learning, opening, and realizations that fluid movement will bring –not just in a studio, but in life. With people, on the dancefloor at 2am or waiting for a bus. The fluidity of movement is never to be taken for granted or confined only to the studio and stage. I’ve recently returned from Cues & Tattoos in Seattle, an improvisational bellydance (as in ATS and ITS) festival with Serpentina North Ensemble (minus two troupe mates who were greatly missed…next year ladies, next year!). After last year studying with Rachel Brice, Mira Betz and Carolena Nericcio, the expectations were high (see my post about last years festival here). My first workshop was with Amy Sigil of Unmata, a three hour primer on her signature super fast style of ITS. This was my first time learning from Amy and her teaching style is truly impressive, in its clarity, repetition and building on the fundamentals of ITS. Without a basic foundation in ATS, people may have been left tripping over their own feet. Fortunately most people there had ATS if not ITS in their repertoire, allowing us to pick it up with some level of ease. Not only did Amy teach us the fundamentals of her dialect of improv group dance but we were ‘tested’ when put into smaller groups to assume the lead position for all the moves we learned. My personal favourite is her version of the Arabic Twist, which when combined with quarter and half turns makes for a high impact set of moves.

with Donna Mejia 2014Later that afternoon I took another three hour with Donna Mejia, ‘Le Funk Arabi’. I did not know much about Donna and I’m so happy to have learned from her this weekend. As an ethnomusicologist, Donna’s knowledge of music, social issues and cross cultural dialogue informs her fusions in a deep and respectful way. The music in this workshop was all underground arabic hip hop and to this soundtrack we learned some combos infused with house, hip hop and bellydance. Her workshop the next day was a whole other flavour, looking at improvisational dance, not in the ATS sense but as in movement experiences that involve, as Donna put it,  “the deliberate act of using the body over cognition.” Moving only slightly into the realm of contact improv, I can say that I felt the community of the room as more cohesive after this three hour session, due to I think the internal experience of tapping into our bodies and also connecting with others in an unstructured way. I couldn’t help but think, of the experience of a dancefloor in a social setting…mainly the kind of setting I have known a dancefloor to be: hours of music, mixed together into the longest song you can imagine. And all of the dynamics that happen as people move as a group, from intersection, repulsion, divergence, resonance –terms used in improv can also apply to the autonomous zone that is ‘the dancefloor.’  And that’s not even getting into issues of transcendence. I’ll save that for another entry.

I got to work on some floor moves with Ashley Lopez in her “Floortastic” workshop. Lately I’m a super keener on floorwork, knee pads now a part of my bag-o-dance gear as I better understand the mechanics of dancing on your knees and dream up ways to incorporate it into my practice. My last workshop of the weekend was with Calamity Sam, who focused on non-choreographed performance and tips and tricks for addressing common issues that arise when there is no choreography to cling to.

For the first time our ITS group Serpentina North Ensemble performed at the Cues and Tattoos, Serpents Muse. As the guidelines required at least 50% improv, we went with a choreographed entrance and moved into an upbeat improv set. It was awesome to finish our weekend up with a performance and for so many dancers. I think our biggest compliment had to be the woman who approached us just after our show, who said “I don’t bellydance, but watching your troupe made me want to.” While we train and practice and sweat over holding this still while hitting that beat with this part, etc…at the end of the day, if you make someone want to dance, that’s meaningful and deeply satisfying.

 

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On the plane home from Seattle I dreamt of the whole troupe being there next year and other adventures to come this summer. I schemed new things for my own practice and current collaborations. Although I don’t discount the local expertise to learn from and support here in Toronto, traveling for dance always brings its own unique set of insights and experiences. Ever unfolding.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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.

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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

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Its pretty cool that wordpress does this annual review where you can see how people find your blog, where they are viewing from, etc. Having been a teen when the “world wide web” came into my livingroom, I’m still really fascinated with the possibilities of such far reaching communication for collaborations, understanding across diversity, political organizing and of course the lifeblood that keeps me from going under…music. And thus, dance. Here’s to using this mass scale communication tool for the benefit of all.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 970 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 16 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The longest night

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The longest night has come and gone. Happy solstice people, here’s to the return of the sun. But until that time may  we all have comfort in a winter cocoon –whatever that means to you.

Since my last blog, dance life continues to be as expansive, therapeutic and challenging as ever. September brought the final days of Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market where Serpentina enjoyed dancing alongside other local talents for an appreciative crowd in the streets.

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In these photos, I’m wearing my new Medina Maitraya headpiece..a beauty I had been awaiting in the mail. I have been lusting over her designs for some time now. Its beautifully made and a minimally glitzy flapper/gladiator look which goes so well with my costumes. Definitely my favourite costume piece of the year!

October brought the annual Moonlight Tribe celebration, held by Orkideh of Serpentina, for the all night art festival Nuit Blanche. Once again held in Habeeba’s bellydance studio, this year was the best turnout ever with people packed in throughout the night to see some of Toronto’s best dancers. Bellydance, classical Indian, contact dance, Arabic singing (lililili! to Roula Said), and of course all of the amazing fusion that runs in between and across the genres. I had more than a few performances over the course of the night…first Sugar Shakers flapper numbers, a vintage/charleston/bellydance solo and last but never least a group improv with the ladies of Serpentina North Ensemble. It was a wonderful long night being both dancer and audience.

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Then the whirlwind of October continued with the Halloween Bazaar of the Bizarre, where Strange Dames set up to sell our creations.  Here is one happy customer wearing one of my cowl’s. She also makes really awesome sock monkeys!

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October also brought a trip to Detroit for the Theatre Bizarre event –a grandiose costume party and freakshow in a giant masonic temple.  I enjoyed this elaborate carnivalesque party with a great crew of new and old friends. We also checked out the Museum of Modern Art in Detroit, and a weekend marketplace…where i realized recently I had never been into that market area during the day (only warehouse parties over a decade ago!)

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1381659_10151934553359557_1023942933_nNovember brought with it less showtime but still the continuation of ongoing practice. To my delight, Roula Said is once again holding classes in movement and sound like no one else does so I have a weekly dose of that medicinal movement in her new coach house studio space. My appetite for zill-playing has gone unsatiated for some time and having a weekly place to play again has been divine! I had the absolute pleasure of dancing to live music played by Nomadica at the festive party early December. It’s actually the first time I have danced solo to this band and in such an intimate space (the Handlebar in Kensington Market) surrounded by some of my closest and longest dance friends, this was a much needed celebration to ring in the dark season of winter.

In November I had an opportunity to be a part of a Day of the Dead photo shoot with local photographer Paul Devisser. And what happens when you put a group of performers together for a shoot? We take our own pics during the breaks! Good times with some of my favourite dancing ladies…

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And now with December come and nearly gone, reflections abound. I don’t really do new year resolutions, but the list-maker in me jumps at the chance for a new list as each year wraps up. So now that I reflect on my dancers wish list –or should I say work-my-ass-off-for-it list,  here are some of my 2013 highlights:

  • traveling to Seattle with some troupe mates for Cues & Tattoos, where I took 3 workshops with Rachel Brice, 2 with Mira Betz and a Fat Chance floor work workshop with Carolena Nericcio all in one weekend! Immediately following was my first visit to Portland Oregon, where I checked out classes at Datura and Gypsy Caravan
  • working with a skilled physiotherapist on alignment, strength and posture that did incredible things for my dance and overall everyday movement
  • increased flexibility (see backbend pic above…I couldn’t do that last year!)
  • maintained a consistent home yoga practice
  • completed Basic Black certification at Darkside Studio
  • developed a vintage jazz/charleston/bellydance fusion choreography to ‘Charleston Butterfly’ and got to debut it at Darkside’s gala show for the Kami Liddle intensive.
  • danced to Nomadica live
  • I continue to have the honour of dancing with the amazing ladies of Sugar Shakers and Serpentina North Ensemble. The synergy of all the dedication to and passion for dance is definitely a highlight of my year! FUmasquerade2013
  • and the award for 2013′s most carnivalesque and exhilarating gig goes to: Fedora Upside Down Masquerade 2! with this longstanding but yet-to-be-defined trio

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL! MAY YOUR 2014 BE FILLED WITH HEALTH, LOVE AND MOVEMENT.

 

 

 

 

Fall apart, fall together.

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Creative grounds are shifting. Leaving space for new things to percolate. Stretching out time by not packing the schedule is my new fascination. And while at first it can make one feel like they are missing out on something — when projects or collaborations go on hiatus, shapeshift or drift– it ultimately creates the kind of space and time of which new possibilities are born.

This is why I love fall: fall apart, fall together. Winds of change are blowing strong. And this has everything to do with my adventures in movement.

The spring brought with it studies with some truly inspiring people at Cues and Tattoos. This being my second year attending with Orkideh –one of my troupemates in Serpentina North Ensemble – the excitement of the new instructors mixed with being more familiar with the event made for particularly enjoyable anticipation. There I studied in three workshops with Rachel Brice, two workshops with Mira Betz and one with floorwork workshop with FatChance Bellydance.

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with Mira Betz and son

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with Rachel Brice

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with Carolena Nericcio, grandmother of American Tribal Style (ATS) bellydance

While there wasn’t much time to explore Seattle, we took a bus to Portland when the conference finished. There we danced with a large group of Gyspy Caravan ladies and took some classes at Datura with Colette Todorov and Ashley Lopez.

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Being silly in Portland

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We capped it all off with a much needed restorative yoga class at a studio I can’t remember and spent the last few days vintage shopping and eating our way through a most vegan-friendly city.

The next major dance happening that I was looking forward to was the Kami Liddle intensive at the Darkside Studio. It was two days of really great drills, combos and group exercise. I was so excited be invited to perform at the gala show. I performed a vintage flapper fusion piece to Charleston Butterfly by Parov Stelar, as well as some straight up flapper goodness, ala Sugar Shakers. Thanks to PDV Photography for the lovely shots!

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Summer in this city is never complete without performing in the Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market. Serpentina did three editions of Bellydance Revolution, with two more to come.  Always a  relaxed festival atmosphere dancing in the streets alongside other local talent.

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This summer I had an opportunity to work on a shoot with local visual artist/VJ Jax-A-Muse, as she gathered dance footage for prepared for a big show at the Royal Ontario Museum. I had a great time working on the green screen for video as Jax got footage of various tribal bellydance movement. And lucky me, Adriana of Plastik Wrap just happened to drop in, and between her and Jax a great set of still photos were born. Looking forward to working with these creatrixes again, that’s for sure!

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Last but not least, here are a few shots from the last couple of Sugar Shakers shows as well as my performance at Bellydancers with Pride with Undine Dance Co. and Serpentina (pride pics by PDV photography)…

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Savouring the sun as the nights get crisper, the dance schedule is about to pick up again. In a couple of weeks there will be workshops with Paulette Rees-Denis of Gypsy Caravan. Details on the Serpentina site. Be sure to check the Upcoming Shows section!

Life til now

erykah badu concert 2013When sleeping women wake, mountains move. Women heal, women help, women sing, women dance, women create, women love and women protect. Happy International Women’s Day every day.

This entry is dedicated to all you badass women and the men who know it.

The past couple of months have been pretty busy dance-wise. Serpentina North Ensemble performed at Reveal Me, a monthly event by Red Herring Burlesque that sometimes allows performers to keep their clothes on. We were one such act in Febuary’s edition of this sultry show. And damn what a show it was! After our number we made our way to the audience –sexy, classy, trashy, crass and hilarious. All bases covered on a Wednesday night…

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March also brought with it an opportunity for Sugar Shakers to dance to Tia Brazda live at the Valentini Blue Cabaret. Held at the swanky Capitol Theatre, this event raised funds for cystic fibrosis. Tia Brazda and her band put on an awesome show and dancing to her song “Too Crazy” live was a serious treat –really looking forward to any future collaborations with this lady. She’s hit the electroswing scene here in Toronto as well, bringing down the house at the ElectroSwing Club a few months back.

In early March I completed the Darkside Studio Basic Black intensive. It was an interesting four days of not only drilling movement but also included anatomy, music theory, zylls and history of tribal fusion dance. Although I’d been to many Darkside events over the years and participated in shows and workshops, this was the first time I’d actually had an opportunity to learn from Audra. I got a lot out of it, it was comprehensive and helped me think about some foundational stuff in new ways. Here’s something I wrote after the four days…technique nerds, for your eyes only:

“There was a definite theme running through most I’d the traveling drills in the basic dark side intensive.That theme was weight transfer…that when my feet aren’t sure if where they are in relation to the movement, the movement most often looks sloppy even if the isolations themselves are precise muscularly. The unsure step creates a weak foundation visually as well as structurally…” (Sandy Watters)

Oh there’s more writing on that but the nerd alert is over, sorry. One of the things I love about dancing is the magic of learning (and re-learning) these lessons on a visceral level. You can read it a million times and it may translate into your body, but when you move and your body learns something, its a beautiful physical infusion. I know you know what I mean…

Darkside Basic Black intensive feb 2013 Here we all are at the end of the weekend. Belly-blissed out.

At the end of the intensive was testing and I can now say I’m certified in the Darkside Dance Program Basic Black. I’m hoping to be able to add in some classes there this summer and possibly to the Lavendar intensive come fall. Big thanks to Audra for being a gracious, patient, dedicated and skilled teacher.

Shortly after I found myself back at the Darkside Studio for a Fireside Chat on jewelry and adornment. There was amazing collections of various pieces from across time and space, and we were schooled in some tribal adornment from various regions across Asia and Africa.

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I was particularly interested in the ear weights and there are some ear pieces hanging on the studio wall that I always look at when I go in –Audra was gracious to let me try them on. We are not sure where these are from, other than a hill tribe (somewhere) in Asia….if anyone knows, please tell me.

Darkside studio 2013  It was delightful to sit and ogle beautifully crafted jewelry and learn a bit about where it came from. I have always loved jewelry, and adornment has been one of my chosen forms of self expression for as long as I can remember. I had been planning to do an entry featuring some of my favourite and most unique pieces from my own collection. Keep your eyes peeled.

Loving this photo of Jaene, myself and Victoria listening intently.

And then. Oh finally. There was the Erykah Badu concert. I’ve waited so many years and finally, with my sisterfriend Shaila went to see Ms. Badu live. With that kind of buildup there’s a risk of disappointment. But no, she did not let us down. She was touring for the 16 year anniversary of Baduism and was alternating shows between that and Mama’s Gun. The Toronto show featured the latter with of course the kind of variation on the originals you would expect from such a dynamic singer. Rather than recount the show I’ll share with you the reflections made by me and my pen at home after the show:

erykah badu 2013 at koolhaus

When you watch a performance or enjoy a piece of music, a little bit of it is yours, you claim a piece of the experience that has now been a shared one. She looks out into the crowd and we all think ‘she’s looking t me’. …’she sees me’.  An artist that can do that is truly an expansive performer. She gives and gives and she knows that a piece of her has been transferred into the group, the crowd, the person…she may not know who you are but she sees you. I strive to be the kind of performer who makes people know they are seen, that they  –we — are having a shared experience. They should have no doubt that they are a crucial part of this moment. That’s how I felt at the Erykah Badu show last night. (Sandy Watters)

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The second annual Fedora Upside Down Masquerade happened a few weeks ago and it was even bigger and better than last year. With its new venue, the Great Hall, it was a truly festive vibe. Amazing live music from across the globe as usual…a vast array of talented music makers. Victoria, Jaash and I performed a drum solo and people went wild for it. Love this pic of the three of us that Jaash’s friend shot. Had a great time being a part of this event and I have to say one of the most enjoyable group of performers to share a green room with. Amazing music everywhere.

Jaash has been doing a series of percussion for bellydancers which I have been playing zylls in. I miss really rocking out on the zylls so it was great and fun to watch other dancers move to our music. Check his site for more of this.

Last weekend I went to watch, yes you guessed it, more bellydance at the Dragonfly Studio event, Majlis. It was an ode to some dancers of bygone eras where each dancer performed in the style of Jamila Salimpour, Fifi Abdo, Aida Nour, Mona El Said, Soheir Zaki and Nagwa Fouad. There was also a slide show featuring some bellydance costuming history.

The countdown to Cues & Tattoos –One week exactly til Seattle! All is booked, have a place to stay in both Seattle –then Portland for our post-C&T adventure. Here’s my dance itinerary:

Fri  9:30-12:30 “Dynamics in Time” with Mira Betz                           1:00-3:00 “Thick and Juicy” with Rachel Brice

Sat  9:30-12:30 “Layering of Consciousness in Improv” (Mira)    3-6pm “Datura Vocabulary in Group and Solo Improv” (Rachel)

Sun – 9:30-12:30 Smoke and Mirrors: Spellbinding Slow Phrases and Fluid Footwork (Rachel)    3-5pm  FCBD: ATS Floorwork

And then there’s Portland, the plan is to hit up a few classes at Datura as well as with Gypsy Caravan. And of course I can’t wait to experience the Saturday Market I keep hearing about. Every vegan bellydancer needs to visit Portland once in her life, right?!

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Hello 2013, nice to be here.

NYE 2012 Sugar Shakers in Salamanca NY

With the holiday season and all, I had a bit of a break from rehearsals. I welcomed the rest from choreography and technique, to move into the quiet reflective space that winter brings. Lots of stretching, yoga, meditation –and yes sleeping in. The pleasure of discipline taking a backseat to the discipline of pleasure.

But there’s always time for a show. A few of us Sugar Shakers and guests entertained a crowd of over 600 for New Years Eve at the Seneca Casino events centre in Salamanca New York. It was a Roaring 20′s theme, with an extravagant set-up, including a photo set with an old Ford model-t. The dancers did some swing and Charleston, with everyone in fine form and threads. At the stroke of midnight hundreds of balloons and streamers were released from the ceiling while we danced. It was a late night after the show filled with much silliness and laughter –which I intend to extend into 2013.

My top three dance ‘a-ha’ moments ‘s of 2012:

Sometimes you need rest over rehearsal: you know when you’re busting your ass for a show or to get that one combo straight and its after work and rehearsal on a Wednesday night –and you’re just exhausted. While mind over matter is often called for in a dance discipline, sometimes the matter — that is to say your mortal coil — just needs some goddamn sleep. The body will tell you when you’re not letting it rest and if you don’t listen it will talk louder –I don’t wait til it screams its protest against my go go go inclinations, with twists and spasms.

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The importance of posture and alignment:

This year I have learned a lot about my posture, alignment and re-patterning my movement in ways that will enhance my dance as well as prevent injuries. For the first time I have worked with a physiotherapist, who has given my insight into deeply rooted patterns of holding and locomotion and has done myofascial release as well as re-patterning body and breath. On some days the body resists but overall I see more clearly where strengths, weaknesses and compensations lay and my body is relieved of stressful holding patterns. If anyone has an opportunity to go to a physiotherapist, go straight to Nam Do, she is a lovely person and a highly knowledgeable practitioner –guaranteed you will leave each session understanding your body a little better. This focus on fundamental movement patterns has already helped me in my dance goals around increased strength and flexibility and it will be an underlying awareness in all of my movement this year.

The beauty of dance friendships: Recently I’ve been reflecting on my dance friends and appreciating the nature of dance friendships. Usually, you come together through a teacher, studio or workshop and  the way paths cross and creative bonds form is really beautiful. The way we move together, hone our skills together, sweat, stumble and strive for our own personal best together. Sometimes we are so focused on ourselves in our journey and meeting our goals that we don’t always think of how lucky we are to dance with others. I can say in the past couple of years I feel tied into a dance community of very talented creative people and I can also say I’ve made some truly good friends through dance. Incredibly genuine, unique and fearless people dedicated to exploration of life through movement. Dancing ATS/ITS with Serpentina North Ensemble has been a particular growing experience as the group improv structure of the dance requires so many levels of communication. A strong bond is the wonderful result and with that synergy comes a particularly magic layer to movement.

Memorable dance moments of 2012:

  • Sugar Shakers competition at Followlogie in Montreal
  • Cues & Tattoos in Seattle (going back for more this March!)
  • Rachel Brice intensive in Toronto and the honour of performing in the gala show with Serpentina North Ensemble
  • Sugar Shakers road trips/out of town gigs
  • dancing at Funkabelly uptown, at the gorgeous Capitol Theatre as part of a trio to live music by Nomadica

Favourite radio shows of 2012 (actually of several years in a row):

tumblr_lm6xcrVy6a1qite7lo1_1280Yes folks radio is alive and well and has nothing to do with the mindless top 40 drivel. I’m talking community radio like 88.1 FM and 89.5 FM, truly grassroots forms of art and media. Personally my radio at home is always tuned into 89.5 and their programming is amazing, the variety of music, the genre and topic specific shows are a music nerds wet dream. My absolute favourites (music-wise) are:

The Minx sessions

Resistance on the Sound Dial

Higher Grounds

No Man’s Land

Global Rhythms

Funky Fridays

Amalgamation in Sound

For more vintage photos of women and their records check this out. Or this.

Now that I have reflected on the year, I am ready to move onto the next. New years resolutions are fine, but cultivating resolve year round can be a more sustainable path to reaching your goals. Here’s a full year of reaching beyond our comfort zones!

We’ve all managed to survive a stressful time of year (ironically still referred to as “the holidays”), bombarded by capitalist pressures (aka. the accumulation of stuff and things). I hope you have kept this in mind throughout: Never let the things you WANT make you forget about the things you HAVE.

Love and light.

Sandy

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