Backwards and Forwards

As the Dance Barn reaches it’s 15 year mark, it’s a great time to reflect on how we got here...

My daughters were still young when I first decided to start a dance class in my living room. It was a desperate attempt to train them in dance that cared about their purity, movement that was honouring to who they are, choreography that came from an inspired place of creativity. Turns out there were a whole lot more moms and dads that felt the same way I did - within a year and a half I had 11 dance classes happening in our living room!

The Dance Barn was actually a barn we renovated to become our studio as more and more families joined in on the fun - it was a unique rustic structure overlooking the valley farmlands of Fort Langley with massive sliding doors the could be opened to the stunning expanse of green beyond. But it was cold in the winters. The Mirror fullll-time students who arrived in the early morning would be layered in warm pants and parkas and toques and mitts while they began classes, gradually shedding layer by layer as their bodies warmed with each dance exercise.

It was a great start to something very unexpected. Classes continued to grow and when our lease on the barn property ended, we hunted down a new, larger facility in a more central vicinity and launched a second time. We have been pleasantly amazed that the studio has continued year after year. Hundreds of students have passed through our doors for a short or a long time and we have loved watching that dance development of each one.

Our Mirror Program, which began in 2005 has seen seven graduating classes out of it’s 4 year program, with students coming from as far away as Germany, Spain, Sweden and the US and as close as our very own studio. Dozens of productions have been created and performed and international performances have been done in France, Israel, Greece, England and across Canada.

We are envisioning new things for the further evolution of the studio and can't wait to see them unfold. Can you imagine if we could expand what we are doing in dance into all areas of the arts? We are considering this possibility and look forward to seeing what develops in the next months and years.

We are thrilled that you are on this journey with us - your families are invaluable to the Dance Barn! We hope that our vision continues to interlock with yours and that we’ll keep facilitating your dance aspirations for you and your children.

Purity and Innocence

A video on YouTube last year hit the media with force...in it, a troupe of 8 year olds girls, dressed to the hilt in bustiers, garters and gloves started into a risqué jazz routine complete with grinding, thrusting hips and sexually suggestive movement. Talk show hosts and television commentators criticized, or justified, the girls’ dancing according to their personal opinion - a host on "The View" excused it as "Just the dress for a certain dance form, so it's acceptable." As a mother of 3 daughters I had my own perspective - it was not only inappropriate, it was embarrassing. For me, I am a firm believer in promoting the purity of youth and in facilitating dance movement that celebrates the beauty of young energy, joy and freedom, without complicating it with adult themes. Youth lasts such a short time - purity and innocence are fleeting in this culture of ours - why not give it room to breathe for as long as we can? We have chosen to raise up a staff who encourage our students to be free in who they are - we release them to move in creative ways; we give them the technical tools to execute movement with excellence, effectiveness and strength - all without requiring them to compromise their youthful integrity.

Yoga?

Many of you have been asking questions about this "exercise" form, yoga,  that has taken North America by storm. I thought I would just offer up a few bits of information for you to consider. Please don't hesitate to email me at mail@dancebarnstudio.com, if you would like any further information about this material.

 

The word "yoga" is Sanskrit; it derives from a verbal root, yuj, meaning “to yoke or join or fasten or harness, as in horses to a chariot; to concentrate the mind in order to obtain union with the Universal Spirit; to be absorbed in meditation.” Its meaning in plain language is union or yoking with the god consciousness. "Namaste," frequently said at the end of yoga classes, means, "I bow to the god within you." The sound "om," that is often the mantra chanted in yoga classes, is intended to bring students into a trance so they can “join with the universal mind”.

As with many worship expressions, there is an emphasis in yoga on ways in which to best honour the gods. Yoga therefore has established postures that mimic the postures of illustrated and sculpted images of these gods. The “lotus position” for example imitates the posture of Vishnu; the “lord of kthe dance” pose is a re-creation of the pose of the dancing goddess Shiva; the “cobra pose” is dedicated to the serpent; the “fish pose” is also the incarnation of Vishnu; the “monkey pose is a recreation of Hanuman, the monkey god. The positions are also dedicated to various gods. “Sun salutations” are specifically for the purpose of worshipping Surya, the sun god; Marichyasana, or sage twist. is dedicated to Marichi, the son of the god Brahma; the warrior pose is dedicated to Shiva, the warrior goddess; and so on…

It has been declared by the yogi’s and Hindu leaders themselves, physical yoga disciples are integral to the faith and created for their worship value. Even the Hindu America Foundation (HAF) are up in arms that anyone would presume to disconnect Yoga from its Hindu roots, (regardless of efforts to create such concepts as "Chrisitan yoga" ). "While HAF affirms that one does not have to profess faith in Hinduism in order to practice Yoga or asana, it firmly holds that Yoga is an essential part of Hindu philosophy and the two cannot be delinked, despite efforts to do so." As Aseem Shukla, author of The Theft of Yoga (from the "Indian Realist") has said, "Hinduism, as a faith tradition, stands at this pass a victim of overt intellectual property theft, absence of trademark protections and the facile complicity of generations of Hindu yogis, gurus, swamis and others that offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism… "

Prashant Iyengar, son of B.K.S Iyengar (the founder of the Hatha Yoga) declares, “There is no physical yoga and spiritual yoga.  If it is exclusively physical, it won’t be yoga.  Yoga is dealing with the entirety; it is a union.” Iyengar aptly describes, “Hatha yoga…[to be] commonly misunderstood and misrepresented as being simply a physical culture, divorced from spiritual goals…Asanas (yoga poses) are not just physical exercises: they have biochemical, psycho-physiological and psycho-spiritual effects.”

Further, although it is often asserted that yoga has tremendous physical benefits (which on some levels is true), numerous medical and psychological reports, and even yogis themselves, have indicated that yoga can actually also be harmful physically, emotionally and mentally. The following is a list of some observed physical conditions connected to yoga:

Other sensory and motor symptoms may include: the feeling of cranial pressures, the perception of inner sounds, experiences of inner lights, vibrating or tickling sensations in the lower back, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), changes in breathing, spontaneous bodily movements, sensations of heat or cold moving through the body, localized bodily pain that starts and stops abruptly, vibrations and itching under the skin, and unusual, or intense, sexual sensations, Mental and affective symptoms include: fear, anxiety, depersonalization, intense positive or negative emotions, spontaneous slowing or speeding of thoughts, spontaneous trance states, experiencing oneself as larger than the physical body, and experiences of paranormal consciousness. [Source materials: Scotton, Bruce W, Chinen, Allan B. and John R. Battista, Eds. (1996) Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology. New York: Basic Books, p. 261; Greyson, B. (2000). Some neuropsychological correlates of the physio-kundalini syndrome. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, p. 125; Kason, Yvonne (2000) Farther Shores: Exploring How Near-Death, Kundalini and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Ordinary Lives. Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers, Revised edition, p. 222; Grof, Stanislav & Grof, Christina (eds) (1989) Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis (New Consciousness Reader) Los Angeles : J.P Tarcher; Sanella, Lee (1976). Kundalini--psychosis or transcendence? Published 1976 by Lee Sannella in San Francisco]

 

For a more detailed account of this discussion go to Ed Hird's Article "Yoga: More than Meets the Eye"

 

[*It can be noted that we do not use yoga at the Dance Barn. We have, rather, chosen to develop stretch and strength classes which use a collection of exercise vocabularies developed by our instructors and from other sources, such as Pilates, as an effective conditioning form - for exercise, flexibility and strengthening - those without spiritual undercurrents.]

Can I Have This Dance?

North America has greatly lost its sense of dance as a culture - we tend to leave it up to the "professionals" - but in most other cultures (note especially the Africans and the Polynesians), dance is just what they do. When there is a celebration, they dance. When they go off to war, they dance. When they mark a new season in life, they dance...and it's not just the young, it is everyone, of all ages. I was significantly affected a few years ago when we were attending a church service in Kona, Hawaii and in the middle of the worship time, 2 older (and I must note, fairly overweight) women got up and spontaneously began to do the hula. Tears were streaming down my face as a watched the beauty of sway of the hips, the fluidity of the flowing arms and the delicate gestures of the articulating hands. Have we maybe stolen away the natural splendor of the movement of a woman by either requiring that only the thin and the trained do it or by contaminating it with sexual themes? Is it maybe time to take it back in it's true form?

And men, too, have often had their gift of dance taken away - few men dance any longer in North America and those who do are either led into quite an effeminate direction with it or need to be super-athletes to do it (think breakdancing...does my huband really need to be able to spin on his head to dance?). But again, the Pacific Islanders have it figured...take a look at the "Haka", a dance done by the men of the Maori culture (the best clip is of the New Zealand "All Blacks" rugby team) this is a dance for stirring th warriors to step out into battle (I, personally get shivers everytime I see it). At the First Nations event a couple of years ago, we watched a crowd of Polynesian young men sing the Haka over a group of young Canadian First Nations men. There were tears and weeping...a realization that many of our young warriors have lost their hope and their courage - this seemed to be a reinstating of them into their place in this culture. I pray that they, too, would dance an impassioned dance of identity, of authority, of strength, of purpose...

I'd love to ask again, can I have this dance?

More Than a Thousand Words

It has been said that a "picture is worth a thousand words" - how much more, then, is a moving picture worth? Dance is a constantly evolving series of moving picture moments and, if you listen carefully, there will be words spoken you that you (and perhaps, even the choreographer), never realized were there. In a day when words are cheap and information is overloading our senses, dance has the ability to speak beyond words and communicate a message that goes directly the heart and spirit of a person. I have watched joy released by the unihibited twirling of a 3 year old; I have seen grief uncorked by the lamenting gestures of a contemporary dancer; I have witnessed beauty of all sorts washing over an audience, mesmerized by the simplicity of the unison movements of a corps of ballerinas; I have seen a crowd ignited by the powerful clacking rhythms of a mob of tap dancers. This is why we dance...not only is this a lovely way to express our humanity, it is essential to our being. 

It is why I often encourage choreographers not to be too "literal" in what they create. By keeping dance a little more "poetic" the meaning can often go deeper and can often speak beyond what even the choreographer intended. Let's be honest, there are many life experiences that don't even have words that adequately express the scope of their impact on a person (eg. grief, ecstacy, depression, fear, love...). As famed dancer/choreographer, Isadora Duncan once said, "If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it..." And so we dance...if I could've, I would've even danced this message for you...

Poetry in Motion

I often lament that I have led my daughters out into this uncertain profession of dance - frankly, they all love it - but to be honest, I fear for them. I fear that they won't be understood; I fear that they won't find their place; I fear that they will live as starving artists; I fear that they won't dance. Since "perfect love casts out all fear" I know that I need only lean on the Creator, who dispels fear, and allow Him to peacefully, confidently, lead these young women into the things that they were created for. Although dance may not be one of the most lucrative of life pursuits, it is in all certainty, an unreasonable fabrication of a Divine passion - in short, God wants it to "be".

 

And who am I to fight God? I have become resigned to unloosing my girls to the creative kinetic compulsion that is intrinsic to who they are. Thankfully some key people around them "get it" - Grandparents, friends, church-folk, the artistic ccommunity they live in...and for that I am grateful. My mother-in-law is a poet - a very good one - her words dance on pages and evoke images near real in a creative mind and she has managed to articulate the great mystery of this gift of my daughters' dance. Here it is - savour it. Thank you Sheila for affirming this uncommon call.

 

Granddaughters Dancing

 

All their young lives, they’ve been gathering, 

folding the world into themselves, 

 

winding it into enigmatic balls of string.  

Now they begin to unwind the enigma, 

dancing themselves into the world. 

 

They are string-writing on the stage floor 

in a mutable moving script. 

Dancers Stay Smarter

It's the evidence I've been looking for! The long sought after truth that the many years I've given to dance is going to pay off in my old age! But this is evidence in a direction that I never expected. For those who think that dance is for people that are more inferior in their intellectual capacity (why else would anyone choose the arts over academics?) Well here is the data - read it and weep!

A 21 year study done by a team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine looked at a the correlation between leisure activities and the risk of dementia (declining cognitive abilities) - in a collection of elderly individuals. The results (at least from my perspective) were surprising.

Mental tasks such as creative writing, reading, playing music, group discussion, crossword puzzles, board games and cards; physical tasks such as tennis, , golfing, swimming, bicycling, dancing, bowling, walking and climbing stairs - all were considered and their impact assessed with regard to their reduction of incidences of dementia. A few of the results were as follows: Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia; Bicycling and swimming - 0%; Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%; Playing golf - 0%; Dancing frequently - 76%.

Remarkably dancing was the only physical activity that resulted in a reduced risk and was almost double the effectiveness of even the most risk-reducing mental activity. Richard Powers, Prof at Stanford University observes that "Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing your connectivity...Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes."

Further, researchers have discovered that styles of dance that involve constantly changing movement patterns (like swing dance or any freestyle dance) rather than the same repetitive rote patterns (like ballet or ballroom dance) increase the impact of the dance form on the brain. It seems, the need for the brain to make snap decisions with each "next step" actually helps to create new neural pathways in the brain. Since dementia is the result of neural pathways becoming blocked, single pathways for a given activity can become quickly disabled. Multiple pathways, on the other hand, permit the brain to adjust to new courses whenever one pathway gets blocked.

So keep those bodies moving - it's good for your brain!