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This long weekend has been all about getting grounded and staying limber for what promises to be the trip of the year (the only trip, really), as I prepare to for a brief but full west coast adventure. Each year Serpentina North Ensemble gives the f-u to Toronto’s end of March chill for the lush and balmy-in-comparison land of Seattle for the Cues & Tattoos festival (last years post here).  This will be my 4th year attending, and its special for a few reasons. First and foremost, the whole troupe is coming, which has never happened! All of us will perform on the Serpents Muse stage on the Sunday of the festival and of course take the fabulous workshops available over the weekend. Also, this years festival logo (shown below) was designed by Toronto’s very own artist/designer/illustrator Marion Green,  who also created our troupe logo. She will be joining us for the festival too, look out for the purple hair and bangs and tell her how much you love your hoodie/tank top/festival swag!

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Before Seattle, some of us will hit Portland for a show and we’ll take that opportunity to get a private troupe session with Paulette of Gypsy Caravan. Its been a couple of years since I’ve been to Portland so hoping to fit in Powell’s bookstore, Voodoo Donuts (vegan cock & balls donut, its a real thing) and *fingers crossed* a class at Datura.

From there, its a short bus ride to our hostel in Seattle and we rest up for the weekend ahead. The lineup is killer this year (as every year, really) at the festival. I’ve signed up for workshops with Mardi Love (both of hers, cause any chance I get to study with her is so valuable), Zoe Jakes, Sharon Kihara, Luciterra and Elizabeth Strong –who I saw for the first time on a small stage in San Fransisco in 2009 and am excited to finally learn from this wealth of dance knowledge and skill.

After Seattle, the troupe parts ways and I get on the train to Vancouver, to see more of the west coast and my Karma Teachers family. It will be my first time at the Karma Teachers mothership: the studio that offers all free and by donation yoga classes, and the teachers who trained me last summer in Toronto for my 200 hour yoga teacher training.  I will be celebrating my birthday in Vancouver and I’m excited to spend it staying with dear friends, exploring new vegan eats and yoga yoga yoga…

I’ve had the luxury of some downtime before hitting the road tomorrow and this prompted me to think about self care (taking care of the bod pod, as my dance sister Shaila would say) before and during dance intensives or series of workshops. I’ve been sleeping 7-9 hours a night, skipping out on any late night adventures in favour of preparing the body for this all dance and yoga trip. Plenty of plant-based foods, water, adaptogen herbs (like ashwaganda/withania), good old vitamin D and daily yoga is the recipe that helps me feel optimal for the brain and body capacity required for intensives. And since this lady is an introvert (albeit a very social one), I have had enough alone time these past few days to get grounded before the whirlwind of people. It is super fun traveling with the troupe. We get more hangout time than usual, eat together, dance together, meet new people together.

Stay tuned for posts from the west coast adventure!

 

 

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[Artist unknown]

Moontime, menses, Aunt Flo. Once a month (give or take) all our movements feel different as we bleed. Women with movement/dance/yoga practices often modify our practices during these times, whether we realize it or not.  Depending on each woman’s particular experience –pre, during and post– there are usually movements or stretches that feel so right and others  that just aren’t happening.

Have you ever tried a headstand during moontime? When I do, its like my hips beg to be closer to the earth and most they definitely want to remain right side up. Hip opening movements bring release and relief, but going upside down feels somehow just wrong to me. Sure, I can will my way through most of my usual movements when I’m practicing yoga or dance drills. Yet, if I take the time to tune into the language of the body, before allowing the mind to command it into motion –into what I think ‘should’ happen today –I will hear what it needs to feel rejuvenated, balanced and respected. In yoga we hear that we are not just our bodies, not just our minds. During our periods, we can feel particularly  embodied in our experiences and that is not anything to run from –that body wisdom communicates important things through sensation, vibration, flow, tension and rhythm. Speaking of listening the primal language of the body, bellydance can be so satisfying during moontime! The weight of the hips can be set in motion to stretch  out the lower back. Exploring shapes through space, connecting with the juiciness of slow intentional ryhythmic movement, can transform some of the less pleasant bodily sensations we sometimes associate with menstruation. The spirals, waves and figure eights that create the foundation of bellydance, were designed by and for the female form, after all! And as such, they might even feel and look extra luscious, when the red rivers a flowin’.

imageIn modern times, with renewed interest in menstrual rites and the revisiting concepts and practices like the’ red tent’ (sacred spaces for women during menstruation), there is still a blaring absence of traditions that honour the sacred blood and the wonders of the female body. Rather than seeing our periods as some strange passenger to be endured through our regular routines, we can choose to reframe and reclaim our experiences of menstruation by developing our very own period practice. Might I suggest a theme song…

Our moontime practice could include modifying routines before we bleed, to prepare the body by focusing more on hips and legs, as well as during to address issues that arise throughout the body –whether physical or emotional. Maybe there’s a particular song, asana, mantra or dance move that feels particularly delicious…well, that could lead  be part of the ritual. Sure, you may still need to to bust through rehearsal or class but the power of ritual is strong (The word ‘ritual’ comes from ‘rtu’ which is Sanskrit for menses, in honour of the beauty of this life nourishing blood). When the body is heard and respected rather than repressed and belittled, it might just reciprocate with greater ease of movement, whatever that is for each of us. Try some of this and this for the body and a little of that for the soul.

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Do you modify your dance or yoga practice during moontime? Here is another bloggers perspective on mentruation and yoga. Feel free to post some comments, it’s never really a class topic, you know?

 

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Last weekend I attended the opening in Hamilton for a fabric art piece I had a small part in. Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted is a project created by Heather Bain and Ken Moffat, based on interviews with Arturo Vega (aka the 5th Ramone), the man responsible for the logo art/design behind the legendary band. With their  interest in queer histories and punk subcultures alike, the team set out to document the life of Vega and the idea of a punk rock quilt was born. Seventeen artists contributed a square based on audio and visual interview material and the final product was a patchwork interpretation that showcased a diversity of mostly Toronto-based artists. Several other artists who showed their work along the same theme alongside the quilt.

The Hamilton opening at Hammer City Records followed the Toronto showing at Videofag a few months back where the artists gathered for the first time to see the completed installation. Here’s a video of Heather and Ken talking about their project.

 

My square was a collaboration with Jumbo, who developed the concept based on his favourite Ramones tune and incorporated elements of Arturo Vega’s graphic style during that era (arrows, baseball bats, geometric shapes…). After checking out the interview material, some statements jumped out at me and we ended up running with this ‘moment of panic’ theme that kept coming up. I used a gel medium for the print, and some needlework (embroidery) to make up this fabric collage that was made out of symbolism that we either pulled from the interview content or was related to the Ramones. It was cool to see our square incorporated into the final piece and take in the diversity of styles and images that were used.

I had hoped to make it out to see some of the other places along the art crawl strip but it was bitter cold and I was having too much fun in that little back alley record room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

imageIts been three months since I posted. Although my intention is to post monthly, sometimes life is too full and the words to capture it get pushed aside –sometimes like these times, life takes longer to percolate into documentation. Ponderings pass through day dreams, face to face conversations and journals, before ever making it out into the world. The darkness of December was filled with gatherings with the people I love. From winter solstice, to Christmas, Yule and New Year, the month was made up of the best kind of winter medicine: community. (Photo credit: Ken Dobb)

I don’t confine resolutions to new year but it’s a good time for intention-setting, goals, hopes and reflections. 2015 was a year of new material in movement, integrating elements of yoga, bellydance and overall functional movement.I have yet to digest it all, but certainly a foundation was added upon toward a dream I have of bridging a few different worlds I live in!

Some dance/movement highlights:

  • House of Shimmy – new choreography, new creative direction, some sweet costume pieces and a whole lot more to come! (Photo credit: PDV Photography)

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  • bellydance performance with Adham Shaikh at the Royal Ontario Museum

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  • Dancing to Nomadica live at their annual Yule party
  • teaching some workshops: vintage solo jazz and flapper bellydance fusion
  • Karma Teachers 200 hour certification
  • Daily yoga movement and meditation practice
  • joining a term of Om Laila’s vocal and percussion class

 

These are just some of the many many wonderful human beings I have met through dance over the years and continued to dance with in 2015…

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I am both immensely proud and humbled to have completed the Karma teachers 200 hour vinyasa yoga teacher certification this year (more on that in previous posts). Upon completion, as new graduates we were encouraged to work on 40 days of practice in order to maintain the momentum, and to support our growth as both teacher and practitioner. Setting some milestones for myself, I completed the 40 days of practice and went for more with what I called 40 days: the sequel. With the goal of 108 days of practice, I continued on past the sequel, aiming to complete the 108 before 2016. On December 29th I had my 108th day of practice and received a beautiful custom mala from one of my teachers at Karma Teachers. Below is my post to fellow karma teachers on day 108:

“Day 108 of 108 days of practice! Emerson says go for 1000, then 10 000. Thank you Emerson, Michael and the karma teacher community for the ever unfolding gift of guidance and transmission of lineage. This has been a memorable year in yoga and dance –which is, to say, self-discovery and unconditional love. Namaste”.

Part of me was worried that once I stopped counting, I might stop practicing. I fought the urge to continue counting, after all the point is to integrate a practice into daily living not keep a tally of days. I went through periods of feeling empowered by my new level of discipline, impressed with some improved strength and flexibility to feeling the pang of loneliness in solo contemplation and practice. Delving into mantra, meditation and asana, I felt the ache of sadness inseparable from heart-centered work and even boredom on some days. Uncertainty rears its head, as it inevitably will in any truly soul searching experience. Moving into a deeper devotion to movement, connecting with others through being more connected to myself and giving love and attention to the parts that need to be healed have created fertile ground ready for further cultivation. May 2016 be filled with authentic movement and expression for all of us.

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Spring is fast approaching, stay tuned for upcoming shows and events!

 

Fierce as Equinox

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imageI don’t have many pictures from what had been one of the most significant months of my life in recent times. The significance will no doubt continue to unfold beyond the current meaning it holds for me. The few pictures I have gathered from others, mean a whole lot to me. At the end of August, I graduated from the 200 hour yoga teacher training with Karma Teachers. We worked hard physically and emotionally together, under the guidance of two beautiful and skilled teachers. But the end of that month is just the beginning of a new chapter, that begins with planning ways to integrate this training into all aspects of my life. I have a few ideas: first and foremost, my own personal practice went through a major growth spurt this summer. Each day began with 20-30 mins of meditation and about a two hour asana practice. Currently I practice an hour of asana a day, as well as meditation (sitting, chanting, walking, mindfulness, etc.). I had been practicing solo for so many years and starting to practice with others was really quite powerful. It propelled me into discomfort zones both emotionally and physically, and I have come to know this group that ventured on this journey of self-discovery together, as my karma family.

Second, I am currently offering free and by donation yoga classes on request. It can be at a park, a community centre, a livingroom…I dont have a space but I will teach anyone who wants to practice. ESPECIALLY if you think you can’t, we will modify and show you that anyone can practice yoga.

Third, this experience will only enrich my dance, it cant be any other way. When somoene knows how to move with grace, intention and precision, this shows in dance and I strive for this in my movement. I love pushing the bodies limits incrementally and seeing where that leads. Daily consistent practice does amazing things.

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Once September arrived, I was back in action with the troupe, and we had some super fun shows lined up for FanExpo in Rue Morgue’s horror section, the Toronto Veg Food Fair and the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exhibition.  See more pics and follow the adventures of the Serpentina North Ensemble on our instagram page.

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Karma

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Blindfolded vinyasa practice today!

An overused and misunderstood term. Karma is not inaction, or blind acceptance. It’s so much more than ‘what goes around comes around’. I am coming to understand karma as a beautiful sympbolic concept to help dismantle our understanding of reality, to dissect our reality into conditions so we can create meaningful change. Conditions can be accepted but not agreed with and most certainly many conditions need to be resisted in this world.

Why all this talk of karma, what of it in relation to dance? Well these days, I’m knee deep in yogic practice and philosophy, as a teacher trainee with Karma Teachers. This full time (6 days a week!), month long intensive training is focused on selfless service, community and offering yoga to everyone in the spirit of unconditional love.

It is a diverse group of people, many of which may never have crossed paths were it not for Karma Teachers. And I have so much love for all of them, as well as the fearless and ever curious teachers Emerson and Michael. Find out more about Vancouver-based Karma Teachers here.

I have never studied yoga so intensively before and although I have been practicing on my own for some time and cultivating meditation practices since my teen years, I realize now that I have had only bits and pieces to work with. Yoga has been of interest to me as a wellness tool, a healing modality and a complementary movement to dance. This training has offered me a solid foundation and framework for understanding yoga lineage, practice and philosophies.

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With such intense studies happening I have taken August off dance projects and I have to say I am missing my troupemates and dancing each week. I’m asking a lot of my body this month and as much as my mind says dance, after an eight hour day, my body says rest. Oh and I’m on a yogini schedule, wake up at 5:30am to get to the studio for 7:30 and ready to meditate by 8am. Although its messing with my night owl self concept a tad, I am grateful for the opportunity to study pretty much all day, every day for the month of August. Afterward I will continue to study intensively as part of the karma teachers personal practice program. Who knows where this all will lead, there are many ideas brewing as various strands of past and present circumstance, experience and relationship starts to weave together into possibilities.

While visions percolate, I put them aside to continue to study hard as I move into the final stretch of the course with our practicum. My intention is to deepen this practice, share it with others freely in the spirit of unconditional love for the benefit of all. So much more to come…

On a dance note, there are lots of Serpentina shows coming up, so check out the Upcoming Shows section!

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Its August and between the sunshine and endorphins of physical activity, I have been feeling the summertime love. In my attempts to resist the glorification of ‘busy-ness’ that plagues city life, I’ve been experimenting with regaining that feeling of summer as a kid — when days drag on and months are but one long moment in time. Doing this adult thing, it ain’t so easy, but I’ve found some little ways: riding to work each day, not having a mercilessly packed schedule, growing food being outside as much as possible. And music, always music. What is the soundtrack to YOUR summertime?

In June, the Sugar Shakers performed at the annual Great Gatsby Garden Party and although it was a grey, rainy day, it was a sold out event with overwhelming response, drawing out a pretty awesome and superbly -dressed crowd.

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Getting our charleston on. Love all the smiles in this photo!

House of Shimmy did a last minute show with Random Order at Pride. It was right after the Gatsby event, so I booked it to the village, and got ready for a show that was so close to being stopped by the pouring rain. Random Order has fabulous synnergy and their music is so fun to dance to –makes me feel like Im in a Tarantino movie dancing to their soundtrack.

A couple of shots from after the show…a little sweaty, a little soggy, but always ready to move!

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House of Shimmy

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Rain or shine

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In late July, I had the absolute pleasure of teaching my Flapper School workshop at Dragonfly Bellydance. It was sold out and in the middle of a heatwave but we jumped right into the charleston and other boisterous flapper footwork. Musically we delved into vintage jazz, mostly Bix Beiderbecke and brought the tempo up with some electroswing. It was like flapper aerobics up in there, and it was so much fun to see the group smiling and dancing…the two hours just flew by. Apparently some gams were feeling it, in the aftermath of Flapper School.

Speaking of flappers, Sugar Shakers is preparing for a hiatus after our next show this Saturday at a speakeasy event at the Spadina Museum. We  have dwindled in numbers and are re-grouping and revisioning, to create the next incarnation of Sugar Shakers. I will still be doing solo flapper performances and classes on request, and if you are looking for group performance, there are plenty of amazing vintage dancers in Toronto so please message me if you need a connection to other performers.

Serpentina North Ensemble is going strong, we’ve been working hard and have a few shows coming up. I have had to skip out on a few shows to focus on another project (stay tuned, next entry!), but I did get to perform with the whole troupe at a very sentimental event…the wedding of Jim (aka JMBZ) and Craig. It was a lovely and elegant backyard ceremony, and we were so so honoured to dance for them! Upcoming is the one year anniversary of Hip Hip Hooray Cabaret, Fan Expo and the Steampunk Expo in Niagara-on-the-Lake. (See upcoming shows section for details).

I am deeply submerged in a fulltime month long intensive at the moment and at one week in, I will wait until the halfway mark to write a blog about it. But what I will say is that I am so grateful for this opportunity, for this experience so far and the people I have crossed paths with. I have a feeling our paths won’t uncross for a long while after this time together.

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