I am off to Houston tomorrow for Helen Terry’s Blue Storm Celebration weekend. Lots of Nia, 3 days non-stop. I am psyched!
This morning I taught my last class before flying. Whenever I travel the last class before flying has a certain poignancy to it. Not that I don’t like flying, or fear it, really. But there is this thing about the plane taking off and into the air, and when we are up there, I am always in awe and then there’s the take off and the landing. I will be flying over to Cleveland and over to Houston tomorrow, and well….you never know.
So, my last class before flying is always very dear to me. These are often classes where I play with something that is risky and challenges me. Today I taught the first three songs of Passion for the first time, then some songs from Commercial and ended with Earthsong. The focus for the class was an invitation for all of us to cast out for the best class ever. If this was your last time dancing, how would you like to dance?
Not to be morbid or anything but the trugh is that it may be my last class. Any class might. And how can I let myself enjoy each class as if it was the last, to give each class my all? That is what we explored.
As sometimes happens, halfway through the class another focus emerged form me having to do with reaching. Reaching for something beyond my grasp, yet staying grounded. Sensing how the lengthening of my body from my center and form the earth creates more space in me and more breath. This is what flying feels like to me. I reach with my body and mind into the sky and to keep from freaking out, I breathe and stay with the sounds and sensations of the plane and the calmness of the flight attendants. On a plane it is a reach that I do with my mind. I reach out to a place of trust, it often a time when I feel very deep gratitude for my life . I also do a lot of 8BC’s to stay grounded and I reach out, cast out, to my next Nia class. I recapitulate, reach back to my previous classes. I carry the thread of joy from the past to the future, though the present state of being suspended in the sky. I look down at the earth and marvel at the beauty of this planet.
And then, inevitably, I land in a new place. My emotional body is already reaching out, reaching to the landing in Houston and then to the time I return to Manchester on Monday. My physical body is still here. At home. One foot on the ground, the other reaching for the stars.
I have this dilemma that I toy with when I am working with new music. At what point do I bring it into class and play with it in public. I like to sometimes teach with it before I have done any of the Freedance work to find choreography. Just to see what will emerge. Things come up in class that would never happen with just me and the dogs in my living room. And yet, the craft that I like to bring to a class is not there in the same way as when I work with something I really, really know.
I have some new music I am working with now, Commercial by Los Amigos Invisibles. Most of the songs are a 7-8 beats per bar (fast) and there are short recordings in between many of the songs with random sounds and funny talking. It is not the usual straight out album. definitely some fun things to move with. Am I ready to take a small leap and bring it into class?
The triad of Anticipation, Preparation and Relaxation is where I go to help me figure out if I can bring it in. I love the multi-dimensionality of this triad. There is the physical preparation listening to the music, barring it, dancing to it, preparing the focus, creating the space and the anticipation of knowing what comes where and when the moves will change and when a certain instrument is going to play. This allows me to be relaxed in class and to truly teach what I sense. Then there is also the layer of the preparation and anticipation that happens as the class happens. Preparing the class to make a change and to anticipate what is coming. This creates relaxation in the whole room. We know where we are going, the guide is present and giving us fair warning and sometimes some surprises.
When I have new music, the second dimension of the triad applies more than the first. I do not know the music as well, I do not have mapped out choreography. The clearest thing I can have is a focus that will be the thread throughout the class. That, along with the Joy of Movement helps me to craft on the spot. The preparation I bring in is in the 13 Principles of Nia which I embody. I cast that I will bring all of them in, turn on the music and jump into the unknown.
And although this seems more alive in classes where the music is new, it is what happens to me in every Nia class I teach. The music goes on and I have a plan, but sometimes things happen and emerge that I had not at all anticipated. This is what keeps my Nia practice alive for me. It is adventure of the highest kind.
When I was living in California, I decided that I wanted to go on a vision quest. Being a city girl, I decided to start small and just camp overnight on Angel Island. Angel Island is in the middle of the San Francisco bay and has camping spots with probably the best views in the entire Bay Area.
I bought myself a really great mummy sleeping bag and some great treats to store in my bear proof container. The night before I went I ran into my friend Prisco at a local cafe and excitedly told him about my vision quest and that is would be my first night sleeping alone by myself in the wilderness (with a great view of the city…) He looked at me and in the most serious tone said, “Humanity has spent all this time trying to get away from the animals and people want to intentionally go out and expose themselves to them.” I was like, okay, thanks for the encouragement and that seed you just planted in me.
So off I went the next day bright and early on the Angel Island Ferry which leaves from the most tourist infested part of San Francisco, the Marina. The boat was packed with young kids and foreign languages and it a was loud. We finally got to the Island and I took off with my sleeping bag, my meager provisions for the night and my little map of the trails. The further I walked, the less people surrounded me and by the time I got to the area where the campground was, I was the only one there.
I am thinking it was around September when I went, or maybe it was August. At any rate, I did not expect to be totally by alone. It could have been that it was the middle of the week, a Tuesday. Oh, well… I pulled out my sleeping bag, unrolled it and found a not so lumpy spot to lay if out and began my journey into the night.
If you have ever been to the Bay Area, you know it can get foggy at night and as the sun began to set, I could see the fingers of fog begin to move across the Golden Gate Bridge, but miracle of miracles, it stopped right at the Bridge!
So there I was, by myself, watching the sun set and getting ready for the visions and possibly, the wild animals. I heard that a lot of a what a vision quest is is about facing our deepest fears. At that moment, as it began to get dark, even with the city lights twinkling before me, all I could think about was that maybe there were bears or other animals on Angel Island. Until that moment, I did not even know that was my deepest fear! I did not sleep a wink all night. What did I do? I watched the starts pass above me, actually watched the sky moving, sometimes dozing off and waking up to a whole new sky of stars! It was so beautiful! I also listened to the night sounds . The world really come alive in a different way for me that night. Sounds that I never heard in the day. There were also new smells and colors dipped in gray, dark blue and brown black. At some point, I had to surrender to my fear and just give in the energy of the possible bear, or bobcat or mouse that might be scampering around me. In this surrendering, I felt myself completely alert all my senses heightened, yet safe. Not safe enough for a deep in my own bed slumber, but safe enough to enjoy the wonder of the night.
The day dawned clear and crisp. My sleeping bag had kept my body warm, but my face was covered with dew and chilled. As the light came up, I felt the remnants of my fear dissipate and with that also, my senses began to dull a bit, to depend more on the known of the daylight word.
I thought back to what Prisco had said and realized that the night had been for me an awakening of my animal self and I had really spent the night exposing myself to myself. And I felt I had an inkling of what the animal in me can be, so quiet, so alert to the sounds of the earth, so living on that edge between predator and prey. It’s a far fetch for one night spent in a national campground in one of the biggest metropolises in America, but a crack opened in my mind and I have been finding my way back to my animal self ever since.
When I turned 26, I celebrated my birthday by dancing. Being just 26, I did not have a lot of experience to draw from or many things that I had been doing for a long time. Things were changing all the time, I was living in San Francisco and every day was a brand new gift to unwrap. As I was eating dinner with some friends after the African Dance class and before going out clubbing, the conversation turned to whether there was anything, other than sleeping and eating that any of us had done consistently for more than 10 years.
I thought about it and came up with only one thing. In retrospect, my future and my past were colliding at that moment, but I did not realize this until a few years later. The one thing I had been doing pretty much every day since I was 16 years old was dancing. Sometimes this took the form of half an hour with Madonna’s Like a Virgin album, sometimes it was an African dance class, sometimes it was a combination of those two and a few hours of clubbing.
This felt really significant to me. Waking up at 5am so I could get my half hour in before work. Leaving boyfriends behind so that I could go to dance class. Ignoring come on’s on the dance floor so that I could PLEASE have my dance!!!!
I am on almost 30 years of dancing every day of my life. Since the Nia Technique came into my life, dance has taken on a more multi-dimensional feel, and even now, as I am writing, I am Dancing Through Life. It just gets bigger and bigger. Deepest gratitude to my body, for the music and for the dance. And thanks to all of you who share that with me!