Creating A Dance Vision Board

“Dance is Life”

That is what one of the new group leaders said a few Thursdays ago during Nooshi’s Bellydance class in the Bronx. I couldn’t agree more! When I first started my dance adventure I took Bollywood classes. I thought that afterward I would be able to remember all of my dance experiences fully and clearly. I had the idea that I would look back on everything and remember what I was wearing, other faces in the room, the music, specific movements, emotions, feelings, what people said… the moment to moment happenings. But, dance doesn’t work like that. When I dance (and I’m sure when others do) I’m in the moment. I’m so present that it’s hard to describe. I love that about dance and at the same time whenever I’m not dancing I wish I could go into an immaculate library in my mind filled with all kinds of dance experiences and replay them exactly how they occurred so I could relive everything.

When I’m fully present in a dance class or Dance to Unite class I get a lot out of the experience. This makes me think about life in general; if I’m intentionally present on a daily basis I can get so much more out of life than disconnecting from the flow of it and entertaining anxious, worried fearful thoughts. I can feel fulfilled so much more dancing through life than future tripping or “over analysis leading to paralysis”. I encourage everyone to let go and dance through life!

Dancing in the City

Highs

Beginner Bellydance classes at Serena Studios

I’m learning hip lifts and drops, how to make different figure 8s and different ways to shimmy, how to do large and small hip circles and have proper posture. Shimmying is really hard for me, especially with my shoulders. My arms also get tired from being up, so building arm strength is something I have to work on. Even though I get self-conscious sometimes about being thin and not being really curvy, I feel excited about taking the class.

Congolese with Funmilayo Chesney

I’m taking Congolese with Funmilayo Chesney at Asase Yaa in Brooklyn! This class is energy medicine for me, meaning that after I take this dance class my energy level is through the roof. I come home and end up staying up until 2am (when other days I can hardly keep my eyes open). I have never felt so awake after a dance class, it’s very reinvigorating mostly because of the live drumming, the energy the teacher brings and the energy of everyone else dancing and connecting with each other through dance, music and singing. At the end of class we all form a big circle and different people dance in the circle one at a time. I have always been deathly afraid of dancing in the circle by myself. I have danced in the circle twice. I really want to dance in the circle with confidence by the end of the year!

Going to dance classes with friends!

Getting dance deals (helloo Living Social, if you don’t know, now  you know, you know)

Lows

Not having money

 Living in NYC is expensive, and when I don’t have money for dance classes I feel down sometimes.

Commuting from Staten Island

Between walking to the ferry, the process of loading and docking and walking to the train and getting off and walking to my destination after I get off the train (and often going to three different boroughs in the same day sometimes), by the end of the day I don’t feel like dancing because I’m so tired!

Knee pain

On a daily basis my knees hurt and it really makes it difficult to get around

In the end, I’m so grateful for the dance opportunities I have had and that are happening now!

Dance/Movement Goals

What also keeps me going is the fact that my grandmother and I both made dance/movement goals. We have different goals, but a few similarities are doing yoga at least once a week, learning more about dance travel/tourism and a secret goal I won’t reveal until June or July. One of my personal dance goals is to focus on exploring and studying different dances from Africa and the African Diaspora and Bellydance. This summer I want to take a break from those classes and study Semi-Classical Indian dance and Beginner Ballet. Another goal is to just explore different dance styles without studying them for long-term until I’m done with what I’m already studying. At the beginning of February, my grandmother and I sat down at the kitchen table and talked about our dance/movement goals, then I typed them up and now we have them taped to our walls.

Over the weekend we also created Dance Vision Boards to inspire and motivate us!

How to Create a Dance/Movement Vision Board

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On my board I have pictures that reflect the dance classes I’m taking right now (Bellydance and dances from the African Diaspora), the barefeet logo because I want to do what Mickela Mallozzi is doing, which is traveling around the world learning dances from different cultures, meeting different people and eating lots of delicious food! There is a white rose with musical notes on the petals to show my love for music, yoga poses by Yoga Rachael who I follow on Instagram and Dance to Unite’s logo for inspiration to learn more about the 13 Steps to Unity, and to remind me about the kids we serve. Under the ballerina on the right is the logo for the upcoming NYC Dance Parade in May which hopefully I can participate in. There is also a photo of a field of daffodils and that represents a very special aspiration I will blog about later on. I have a photo of two people dancing because one day I would like to try social dancing! I haven’t touched upon everything, but finally there are inspiration sayings like: “wherever you go, go with all your heart” by Confucius, “the quickest way to acquire self-confidence is to do exactly what you are afraid to do” by anon and “be brave with your life”.

1. Buy a poster board at Michael’s or another art and crafts supplies store (OR I’m totally for DIY, you can use the side of a large cardboard box instead).

2. Research dance/inspiration related photos on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr or Google Images

3. Copy and Paste to a Word Document

4. Print the document and cut out the pictures/words with scissors

5. Glue (or tape) them to your board

This was just a suggestion! You can create your vision board however you want 🙂

Special Guest Ballerina Visits Bollywood/Kathak Class

1397389_409454665846170_8539383243999551167_oSpecial guest artist and professional Ballerina, Emily Anton, joins Circle Talk in Vaishali’s Bollywood and Kathak class.

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(source)

Emily is a part of Ballets with a Twist dance company.

>>>Learn more about Emily and her experiences by checking out her blog!<<<

On March 30, 2015 there was a lot of excitement at the beginning of class as the girls practiced their Bollywood dance while they waited for Emily. When she arrived, it didn’t take long for the girls to start asking questions about life as a Ballerina. There was never a dull moment during class. Emily introduced herself and answered the girls questions from what’s her favorite move to her favorite part about being a Ballerina. Some girls asked if she had ever had an injury, what dancers do if they mess up during a performance and how male ballerinas are able to lift female ballerinas. Emily then demonstrated some Ballet moves and explained the reason why she enjoyed Ballet was because of how expressive she could be.

After an initial Q&A, this happened…

Emily passes around a special pair of Ballet Pointe shoes

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“I was 13 years old when I got my first pair of pointe shoes. They are special to me because dancing in pointe shoes is unlike anything else on earth – you are quite literally standing on the tips of your toes using shoes specially designed to help you do that. It feels like you are floating, rising above everything else, flying, spinning with the greatest ease. I also enjoy the additional challenge pointe shoes present the ballet dancer, everything becomes slightly harder and additional strength is required in the ankles and feet to allow the ballet dancer to rise all the way up on to the tips of your toes!”

We watch a short video of her performing in “Cocktail Hour: The Show”

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then the whole class joins her in learning different Ballet moves

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Port de Bras

At the end of class the girls performed their Bollywood performance for Emily.

She didn’t leave without a lot of thank yous, more questions and hugs.

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Quotes that INSPIRE Emily 

“In life, as in dance, grace glides on blistered feet” -Alice Abrams

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. – e.e. cummings
“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” -Anonymous

Dance to Unite Team ( Jenae, Galit, Emily, Vaishali and Tal)

Dance to unite team ( Jenae, emily, Simone, Vaishali and Tal)

Yoga, One Love

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Tal, Kayla and two students!

Since I started volunteering with Dance to Unite last October, many new Teachers and Teacher Assistants have joined the organization. I wanted to visit a few other classes before the end of the school year and had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago. After work I made my way to the Lower East Side to join Tal’s yoga class at PS 140.

When I first walk in I see a room filled with kids preparing for class and see Tal welcome me with a big smile! I then say hello to Teaching Assistants Brooke, Kayla and Bar ( I always love getting to know the other volunteers). We all sit on our light and dark green mats in a circle and Tal starts the class by asking us, “what makes you happy?”. Everyone shares their answers by passing around a small ball (like passing around a talking stick) using our legs and feet. A few kids say they are happy to have pets. I say I’m happy to have my glasses in order to see. After that activity, Tal begins Circle Talk by introducing what she called the word of the day:

Giving

Tal continues Circle Talk by discussing how Giving is when you give someone a physical gift or kind words from the heart. She asks the kids about times they have given something or kind, loving words. It is a really great Circle Talk and the kids have some great responses!

After Circle Talk the class show me their fusion Hip-Hop yoga dance, choreographed by Kayla who teaches a Hip-Hop/Jazz class in Chinatown. As I’m watching I become inspired. I don’t know why but I am. I love how the yoga poses align with a Hip-Hop song about love. After they practice once, I join in on the second practice. While I was dancing I felt like I could see this happening in classes around NYC. Yoga and Hip-Hop have a bright future. Dance to Unite has a bright future!

 Students (and Brooke to the upper far right!) performing Hip Yoga to MC Yogi’s “Give Love” 

After practicing the choreography we play freeze dance. I LOVE FREEZE DANCE PEOPLE. Bar plays different songs like Becky G’s “Shower”, and the rest of us dance in a moving circle doing our own dances and when the music stops, we freeze in a yoga pose. Other times the group dances in a moving circle and follows the leader’s movements and then FREEZE…Tree pose or Boat pose! Of course everytime the music stops the only yoga pose that comes to my mind is tree pose. I think to myself, I need to get back into yoga because my asana vocabulary is lacking!

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I absolutely loved Tal’s yoga class. Kids need movement, it’s healthy for their bodies and brains. Yoga is one of many ways to get kids moving and aware of their bodies. I love that yoga can be adapted to the world of childhood, that it can be really fun and uplifting and a great foundation for when children want to continue to explore and practice yoga as they get older.

Tal’s 6 Tips for Teaching Yoga for Kids

Tal

1. Establish a certain routine for each class- start with a calming breathing exercise to calm the body and focus the mind. Using a chime is a great centering activity.

2. When teaching yoga poses, there’s no need to provide too many detailed directions- keep it simple and the children will naturally follow through. Younger children in particular, enjoy practicing poses that mimic animals like dog, snake, etc.

3.Kids enjoy stretching to a sun salutation sequence (a traditional yogic warm up). Incorporate songs that direct children to follow a particular flow of movements.

*Kids of all ages love Kira Willey’s ‘Dance for the Sun’  

4. Create a ‘kids’ Yoga playlist’  with all the songs that you will use for each class  – choose current music that kids enjoy listening to but make sure that you listen to the lyrics first as some songs may have inappropriate words or themes.

5. Incorporate Yoga games and other activities that allow children to release excess energy-kids can’t get enough of playing ‘Freeze Dance yoga’- they love to dance to their favorite tunes and find creative ways to freeze and connect poses with their peers – it’s a great way to foster a sense of community within the classroom and promote our Dance to Unite’s mission of unity and peace!

6. End each class with savasana (Sanskrit word for ‘relaxation’)- most children (especially older ones) embrace and appreciate the opportunity to relax on their yoga mat at the end of the class. Put on soothing background music like nature sounds or use a variety of guided meditations.

The students in our 5th grade yoga class frequently request the following guided meditation: ‘Water- journey into the Ocean’ by Chitra Sukhu.   
  
Tal has been a devoted practitioner of Dahn Yoga (Korean style) for the past 7 years. Her passion for working with children as well as for the philosophy and practice of yoga sparked her interest in getting certified as a Yoga instructor by ‘YogaKids’; an internationally accredited program…(read more of her bio)

The Adventure is Only Beginning

I have been a Teacher’s Assistant for four months now. I can’t believe I’m actually assisting in a Bollywood and Kathak and Bellydance class. Before joining Dance to Unite I had no idea about either of these dance styles. Last August I had the opportunity to attend Claude Stein’s “Natural Singer” for five days at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. It was a  workshop for people who a) wanted to sing more because of pure enjoyment b) people who wanted to overcome their fear and anxiety of singing (even if they weren’t singing in front of people) and c) people who wanted to overcome their fear and anxiety of performing in front of crowds (me!) whether they were amateur or professional singer-songwriters. It was at Omega, during break time when dance sessions were offered, that I found myself in a dance studio, consumed by Bellydance music (I didn’t know from what country), tying a bright orange, pure white or red chiffon hip scarf around my waist. The teacher, with such a stunning presence, directed us to move our hips in a figure eight shape. We moved our arms slowly like the movements of a serpent and danced with colorful veils. Some sessions we danced with traditional golden Thai fingernails. I was sold on it all, I wanted to learn more about Bellydance and Thai dance. I thought it was so funny that two months later I would learn my first volunteer experience with Dance to Unite would be helping Nooshi with Bellydance.

I recently learned about Fifi Abdou, an Egyptian Bellydancer and actress. 

I’m also researching more about different kinds of music that Belly dancers use. I really like the late Warda Al Jazairia, an Algerian and Lebanese singer born in France. 

In November I joined Vaishali’s class and like I said in another post, at the same time I was taking a Bollywood and Bhangra class with Ajna Dance. Then I started a new job working with Teaching Artists and my first assignment was assisting a Bhangra class for third, fourth and fifth graders in the Bronx. It was taught by a professional dancer trained in Odissi, a classical Indian dance. I have gained so much exposure to Indian culture and dance, but there is so much more that I want to learn and understand.

Nava Durga- Odissi

Odissi Dance “Sthayee” by Rahul Acharya at the International Odissi Festival (2006)

Mini Class Update 

In both classes we have covered the following steps from Dance to Unite’s “13 Steps to Unity”; Dance to Unite’s mission, culture, unity, acceptance and respect. The last time I posted a class update, I wrote about how the students and teachers shared their backgrounds and cultures during Circle Talk. In the two classes after that concept, we talked about unity. It was interesting to hear the students talk about their experiences regarding division between different cultures and races/ethnicities and their thoughts on what perpetuates lack of unity among people of different backgrounds. One student described a friendship that was ruined because of differences and felt it was stupid. Another explained how people don’t take time to get to know each other on a personal or/and cultural level. Others spoke about the unfairness of overgeneralizing a people and held a discussion on why people are grouped together as being this (negative) and that (negative) instead of being viewed as an individual responsible for their own actions. We  continued by asking the students how they could embody unity in their lives.

“Just say hi to someone who is different than you,” one girl said.

“Dancing with others who are different is unity,” said another. 

In Nooshi’s class, (which by the way, another volunteer Katrina has joined us!) we talked about acceptance, including everything from accepting other people’s differences, to other people’s opinions, accepting ourselves and annoying mothers who just don’t understand.  When we talked about respect a lot of the conversation turned toward (cyber)bullying, how to prevent oneself from bullying, how to respond to it and seeing things from another person’s perspective. There are really opinionated girls and others who do not share their thoughts (next class we’re going to encourage them to share).

Sometimes Circle Talk runs over a bit because we are having such a great conversation. We are like archaeologists, excavating and examining not only deep issues, but most importantly solutions (Dance to Unite emphasizes the positive) through personal stories, and returning to the surface shining a light on positive responses, attitudes and behaviors we are capable of doing when the going gets tough. And boy, these conversations can sometimes be a little tough. Many children and teenagers know what’s going on in the world, they know about racism, sexism, isms ect. And what I find in these two classes is that the kids bring up real world issues that they face directly or happen to others. I like this because the students learn how the 13 Steps to Unity can be applied to real world situations (look out for a future post on the 13 Steps to Unity and the complexity and simplicity of fostering cross-cultural relationships/communities).

I’m also starting to feel more comfortable about discussing DtU’s concepts knowing I have work to do on myself. I don’t think spreading positive messages is exclusive to perfect people (who are qualified because they are perfect)…because perfect people don’t exist. Just as a regular teacher learns while she or he is teaching,  Dance to Unite teachers can learn more about themselves regarding the 13 Steps to Unity. I just want to say this because positive messages will be buried-six feet-under messages if the sentiment is that perfect people should spread unity, acceptance and peace. I understand walking the walk and talking to talk. However, we all learned how to walk and we all learned how to talk, it’s a process.

Dance to Unite provides a broader horizon of options on how to show up in the world. To me, underlying each concept is power and in every class we are teaching kids all the different (super)powers they have; uniting with different people, and respecting themselves and others. And then after all that, we dance!

Kathak choreography in the beginning in Vaishali’s class

Tying our colorful chiffon hip scarves in Nooshi’s class and starting with a warm-up

Sometimes classes are challenging because the students are talking too much, not listening, not feeling motivated to participate or come in late. But that’s just a part of the ups and downs of class. Learning how to deal with those challenges are learning lessons for the teachers and I.

Stay tuned for more posts about finding appropriate Hip-Hop songs for kids, more classes at Cumbe, my secret dream to be a Bellydancer performer and my first attempt at choreography!

Mondays at Achievement First Endeavor Middle School in Brooklyn

Bollywood and Kathak with Vaishali 

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Thursdays at Entrada Academy in the Bronx

Bellydance with Mehrnoush

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Alvin Ailey and Doug Elkins OH MY

On January 4th, my lovely friend from another organization I volunteer with, gave me a beautiful gift…tickets to a performance at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater! The performance was beautiful and I enjoyed it very much. The first piece was “Four Corners”, and then “Suspended Women” and finally ” Revelations” which premiered in 1960 and was originally choreographed by Alvin Ailey.

A week later on January 11th, I received another gift from the Board of Directors from Dance to Unite! I found myself sitting in the Joyce Theater with many DtU members, watching a Doug Elkins Choreography performance. It was funny and upbeat (I enjoyed all of it, but my favorite part was “Mo(or)Town/Redux”) and I loved the music. Afterward we all went to a restaurant, ate delicious food and got to know each other more.

I consider the Alvin Ailey and Doug Elkins Choreography shows my first time attending professional dance performances ( I saw the Nutcracker when I was in elementary school but I can’t remember A thing). For both shows, I admired how their bodies spoke and sang to the audience. I enjoyed watching the dancers perform together (and I thought to myself, “hey, I wonder what it must be like to dance like that, where your body is all intertwined with somebody else’s body, and the choreo has to be just right”). Because let me tell you, the dancers were doing what seemed to me, pretty complicated partner choreo.

But anyway, I appreciate the wonderful beginning to 2015 and I look forward to what the future has in store next!

I AM (WE ARE) THE LOCK(S), DANCE IS THE KEY PART 2

Happy New Year !

I want to start off by apologizing for not posting Part 2 before the new year! One of my goals for 2015 is to post consistently.

RECAP: In the last post I wrote mostly about exploring my Ghanaian identity and how I traveled to a Ghanaian restaurant in the Bronx in order to bring  a cultural dish (Waakye) to one of Dance to Unite’s Teacher’s Workshops.

Fast Forward to Part 2:

In regards to other cultural dishes, this also happened…

I am in LOVE with the combination of Dance and Food Culture 

Galit began the workshop by explaining what impacted her to start Dance to Unite. She shared a video showing a 2012 performance at the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City, of four of her students, all African-American girls, dancing to an Israeli song called “Mi’Ma’amakim (Out Of The Depths)” by The Idan Raichel Project.

After that, she covered a lot of topics including how to facilitate Circle Talk, especially when students bring up  conversations around difficult topics revolved around concepts like unity, culture, acceptance and respect. I can’t tell you how scared I was in the beginnig of my teaching assistant experience, to co-facilitate Circle Talk. Somewhere in my mind, I thought the teachers would do most of the talking, but I realized I had to contribute to the conversation too. I was scared I was going to say something wrong or unclear, but it helps that the teachers I work with encourage me to help them facilitate Circle Talk. I can’t tell you how scared I was of interacting with children too. Last summer, before joining Dance to Unite, I avoided working with children at all costs because I didn’t want to make mistakes and embarrass myself some sort of way. It’s so funny to me, and startling, that I have now decided to be a teacher.

Dancing and Circle Talk are like little uniquely carved keys that open up a world of possibility. 

I like tracing my decisions to their origins and a couple of months ago I considered going into Physical or Occupational Therapy. Before that, I wanted to be a Journalist (still may write) and before that a Publicist and before that…well you get the picture. I have grown so much as a teaching assistant with Dance to Unite. I have overcome fears and feel settled and peaceful in pursuing a teaching career.

At the end of the workshop, we also heard from Melissa Lauradin, a creative artist and designer who supports Dance to Unite and also created this great video bio of DtU.

I AM (WE ARE) the Lock(s), Dance is the Key Part 1

It was 6:50pm when I got off the 1 train and walked up the steps, welcomed by a light snowfall and the bright flashing reds, whites, yellows and blues of Times Square. I never would have thought coming out of the subway on a fairly cold night could be so magical, but it was. For a whole week I was walking around the city wearing a years-old pair of glasses because I had broken the glasses I usually wear. I could not see far away, I could not see people’s faces, everything was blurry. I walked around blind to all the details of the world.

This past Wednesday, right before I headed to Dance to Unite’s Teacher’s Workshop, I stopped in Downtown Brooklyn to pick up my new glasses. I really wanted to get them before the workshop. I cannot describe the feeling of being able to see after feeling so disconnected for a week, so when I walked past Times Square it felt so magical to see so clearly. I start off sharing this story because as the year is coming to a close, I feel what happened is symbolic of how I have gained a lot of clarity over the last few months on who I want to be in life, what I want to do, specific goals I have, and how much I want giving to be a part of my life.

My new glasses!
My new glasses!

Rewind a couple of hours before, I was getting off the 4 train at 183 Street on my way to Ebe Ye Yie, a Ghanaian restaurant in the Bronx. I fumbled with my phone trying to get the GPS to work. No luck. I followed the numbers to 2364 Jerome Avenue and stood in front of the restaurant for a few minutes.What am I going to say I thought.

“Hi, do you have plantains and okra?” 

“Hi, um do you have Kelewele, no..no just say plantains” 

Kelewele (Kele-wele)
Kelewele (Kele-wele)-a spicy snack of cubes or small slices of ripe plantain, spiced with ginger and pepper and deep fried until golden. Fried plantain without the spices is commonly eaten with bean stew and is known as red red (Source: food.com)

I went inside and asked the woman at the counter for the food I wanted. She didn’t have either, but she had okra soup. I told her I didn’t want soup and from there I stuttered an order, sounding confused. Awkwardness set in. Her husband came out and I finally gave in.

“I’m going to a gathering tonight where people are bringing food from their culture” I said.

” Oh you’re Ghanaian?” asked the woman.

I quietly gave an explanation about being half Ghanaian,  without telling my life story, and how I was not raised in the culture, which explained my lack of knowledge about Ghanaian food. They became gentle and suggested I buy Waakye, a popular street food in Ghana. I felt relaxed enough to ask how to pronounce Waakye and the name of the restaurant (which means ‘it is done’), just so I wouldn’t butcher it when I told everyone about the food at the workshop. The man continued to say they were from Kumasi in Ghana, of the Ashanti and spoke Hausa.

As the food was being prepared I panicked because of the whole situation. Here I was in a Ghanaian restaurant about to provide Waakye for the workshop and I did not know much about my country. Hmm…my country, can I say that? I was so stressed, I did not take time to reflect on how it was my first steps toward learning more about myself and thank goodness the first step was though food. There is a long back story to learning about my Ghanaian identity; lets just say I’m opening up more and more to something that as been blocked for a long time. There are many different cultures within Ghana, but right now I want to learn more about Ghanaian culture as a whole.

Ghana flag

I do want to acknowledge that I mostly identify with being African-American (and do not use my father’s last name, Oppong) because I have grown up in the culture and in the United States my entire life. I could have brought a soul food dish, but when I was thinking about what culture to represent, I wanted to explore that unknown part of myself.

US flag

It’s amazing where life takes you! I don’t know about any of my readers, but lately I’ve been involved with things that I consciously and unconsciously avoid.

I’m excited that my dance adventure has led me to explore Ghana’s food culture!

Waakye
Waakye (the man I spoke to, if I remember correctly, told me to pronounce it like Why-chee; consists of rice, beans and fish)

stay tuned for Part 2…

Bollywood, Bhangra and Kathak

Two months ago I thought about taking Bollywood and Bhangra classes. I found Ajna Dance on the internet and as I clicked “book now”, excitement coursed through my veins because, not only would it be my first dance experience after a long dance hiatus,  I would also be exposed to two cultural dances I knew nothing about.

I can’t remember when I started having a strong interest in India. The various ceremonies (like Indian weddings), celebrations like Holi, Mehendi and fashion have always been beautiful to me. One of the first countries I want to travel to (as I have not gone abroad since I went to Costa Rica at eight) is India, alongside Morocco, Cuba, Mexico, Uganda and Burma or (Myanmar)! The whole time I was exploring India somehow it never dawned on me to research different Indian dances. At the start of my dance adventure I YouTubed Bhangra and found Bhangra Empire, a dance troupe based out of California. I was floored by the mixture of Bhangra music and hip-hop (not to mention the amount of energy it took to dance for eight minutes straight). Then I found myself YouTubing Bollywood dance video clips and found Bride and Prejudice. I love the clip below:

I like when the women kick their hips out and the men jump back or go whoaa!

I watched my first Bollywood film last month on Netflix called Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. I LOVED IT. The dancing, music and colors. I enjoyed the storyline and characters and at the end I was just like, “WOW…thank God I learned about this at 23”. I clearly need to explore Netflix more.

And to top it all off, I’m assisting another Dance to Unite class with Vaishali, who will be teaching 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls Bollywood and Kathak at Achievement First Endeavor Middle School in Brooklyn! We had our first class last week!

Galit (taking the photo), Vaishali and I with a group of middle school girls excited about Dance to Unite and learning Kathak!
Galit (taking the photo), Vaishali and I with a group of middle school girls excited about Dance to Unite and learning Kathak! (Source: dancetounite.org)

The first class was filled with high energy, lots of smiles and anticipation for the upcoming months. Dance to Unite worked with this school last year so a lot of the girls are familiar with the organization. At the beginning of the class Galit asked alumni girls to explain to the new students the mission of Dance to Unite, and then Galit introduced Vaishali. The girls had a chance to ask her questions about her background. Then Vaishali taught everyone how to pronounce Kathak and explained its meaning–“to tell a story”. She continued explaining how it was expressed in temples before it became entertainment in the high courts. She told the class a story using her hands and head, then she asked some of the girls to tell their own stories.

If you have read this far (haha), I encourage you to try it out and tell a family member or friend your own story through movement.

I’m now on twitter 🙂

What is…

Bollywood:

Bollywood is the informal name given to the popular Mumbai-based Hindi language film industry in India. Bollywood Dancing is one of the hottest dances around! It is the foundation of every great Indian Bollywood Film. The dances are a fusion of traditional and classical Indian dances with the influence of some jazz, hip-hop and modern dance. Timing and Rhythm, energy, and sharp controlled expressive movements are the important elements of Bollywood Dancing!

Bhangra:

Bhangra is the most widespread of Indian folk dances worldwide, and has influenced popular music and dance, including Bollywood styles, more than any other folk dance. In turn, Bhangra has been influenced by fusion with genres like hip-hop. It was originally performed only by men, but these days women perform it too.

Kathak: 

Kathak is among the six major classical dances of India and one of the most dynamic theater arts in the world. The word Kathak is derived from katha, meaning “the art of storytelling.” It is also synonymous with the community of artists known as Kathakas whose hereditary profession it was to narrate history while entertaining.

( Source: http://bollywooddancemania.com/dance.htm and http://www.kathak.org/site/kathak/section.php?id=4176)

Throwing The Biggest Baddest Party for Cultural Diversity Through Dance

Dance to Unite Class #2

October 9, 2014

I had a terribly stuffy nose and I despise stuffy noses. But of course, I hardly noticed during the class and plus Mehrnoush bought me Cranberry juice which was so kind. During Circle Talk, we talked about the second concept of the “13 Steps to Unity”–Culture. Mehrnoush asked the girls what did culture mean to them and some said traditions, customs, what people share in common. Then we all went around and talked about our backgrounds; where are families are from, what kind of music we listen to and the food we eat. Many of the girls were either African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican or both.

Mehrnoush explained she was born and raised in Iran until she and her family moved to Germany. I think it’s pretty cool she speaks Farsi, German and English and knows a little bit of Spanish! The group leader spoke about being African-American and eating Soul Food. I loved hearing all the stories about food, because I like learning about different food cultures and the history behind the food culture (for example, for school I did a short powerpoint on street food from different Latin American countries and I learned that Peru has a lot of Japanese influence).

When it was my turn I was a bit hesitant. “Should I acknowledge my other identity?” I asked myself, “because...” I continued, “I don’t have to, no one would ever know”.  But before I could analyze more, (and that sounds like me, over analyzing until I’m like “wait, what was I thinking about”) I started speaking. “I’m half African-American and half Ghanaian. My father lives in Ghana and yeah. And I have a good friend who is Guyanese and I love going to her house because it is so different from mine”. “There, I did it.” I thought. The irony of the whole thing is that as Circle Talk continued, Mehrnoush explained how it is more than okay to embrace who we are and to be open to other people and their cultures. I listened and thought about embracing my Ghanaian heritage which I know nothing about. It is something to think about.

In a flash it was time to start dancing. The girls took their places, Mehrnoush put on the music and we began to warm-up.

Cultural diversity is no mistake.

BIODIVERSITY (Merriam-Webster dictionary): the existence of many different kinds of plants and animals in an environment.

Diversity is all around us, whether human beings and their diverse personalities, animals and plants. I celebrate cultural diversity, I celebrate the extrovert and introvert, I celebrate that there are giraffes, peacocks, polar bears and not just one lonesome animal roaming the earth. I celebrate Blue Spruce and Aspen trees, red roses, Hibiscus flowers, I celebrate all the diversity we still don’t know about.

The world is so vast with diversity and at the center of it all is life. Yay for that.

Until next time…

From Staten Island to the Boogie Down Bronx

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Dance to Unite: Class #1

October 2, 2014

I’m always the person who has a low cellphone battery when I need my cellphone the most. However on this day, I didn’t find myself waiting for Galit in the Lower East Side with a red bar. No…I found myself on the corner of West 14th with a dead cellphone in my bag, nervously pacing back and forth wondering if Galit and I would have a hard time finding each other. We planned to meet in the LES  and take the 5 train to the Bronx together. BUT, since my phone was dead I could not call or text her, so there I was feeling naked without my phone.

I don’t know why I worried so much, (like that quote “worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere”) Galit and I found each other and hopped on the 5 train going uptown.  When we got off the train we met up with Merhnoush and excitedly walked over to the school. We met with the principal (who is very enthusiastic about the program) and the group leader who will also help us with the class.  Then we went into the hallway and for the first time, saw the faces of the girls we would be working with until June of next year. We went to the second floor and stood in front of a classroom door anxiously waiting for someone to come with the keys to open it. Once the door was open, the magic began. I saw that we would be teaching them in a dance studio. The room has so much space, shiny wooden floors and big mirrors that cover one wall.

Everyone put their belongings down, took off their shoes and sat in a circle. I can’t tell you what I was thinking from 4pm-5pm, all I know is that I was in the moment, and that’s a good thing! Galit introduced herself and explained the mission of Dance to Unite. Then she described the class outline which includes five to ten minutes of Circle Talk (when we talk about a concept from Dance to Unite’s 13 Steps to Unity) and then dancing.

After she spoke we all went around and said our names and then went right into a warm-up. I love stretching. I try to do it every morning right after I wake up. I want to say “hello knee, hello back, hello arms” instead of “hello internet, hello Facebook, hellooo Instagram”.  But sometimes I can’t help myself and take a peak at social media first. Mehrnoush turned the music on and briefly taught the girls how to move their arms, hands and wrists, and how to move their torsos, “right, out, left, back…now put it together and…”

Some students were deeply focused,  some looked around hesitant, shyly or as though embarrassed , others laughed and smiled. But they were all trying and seemed engulfed in the moment just as much as me! Mehrnoush started teaching the choreography and the girls caught on wonderfully!  Before I knew it, it was time to go and I was like “already?!”The first class was a success! Can’t wait for the next one!

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