Power.On Pointe.

On April 10, 2015 my grandmother and I went to New York City Center to watch the Dance Theatre of Harlem company perform Power. On Pointe.

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We LOVED the performance. We saw four works; “Agon”, “Coming Together”, “In the Mirror of Her Mind” and finally “Return” . When I lived in Denver in second grade, my grandmother and I went on a school field trip to see “The Nutcracker”. I have absolutely no recollection of that experience so really, Power. On Pointe. was my first time attending a Ballet performance! My grandmother and I enjoyed every single piece and were really surprised that songs like “Mother Popcorn” and “Superbad” by James Brown could be used for Ballet (view part of “Return” below). Definitely check out Dance Theatre of Harlem’s New York Season next year!

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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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

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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)

Dear Dance Teachers, my Hip Hop Quest started something like this…

This is my first Dear Dance Teachers post. As a new dance teacher (literally just hatched haha) currently gaining experience as a Dance to Unite volunteer, I want to learn as much as possible about what it means to be a dance teacher and how to teach a class in a fun and effective way. Look out for Dear Dance Teachers posts sharing teaching tips. 

I went on a mini Hip-Hop quest at the beginning of February to find appropriate Hip-Hop songs for kids. I knew I would have a difficult time finding songs without lyrics purely revolving or hinting around sex, drugs and violence, but I didn’t know it would be THAT difficult.

I wish there was a plethora of Hip-Hop songs for kids. Children and Young Adult Literature exists and flourishes because the need for it is acknowledged, valued, recognized and given attention. It would be a cool if there was a whole genre of Kid/Teen Hip-Hop with age appropriate lyrics and relatable content that received as much respect as explicit songs/artists do. Maybe Nicki’s “Anaconda” beat could go with a song about doing well in school or putting lyrics about negative experiences with bullying and overcoming the situation to Timbaland’s “Bounce”.

I wouldn’t tell any Hip-Hop artist with explicit content to change because that’s their art and artists create what they want. Not only that but I just realized that it makes no sense to complain about the content of some Hip-Hop and Rap and how it sends the wrong messages to kids. Not because it’s not true (it’s true all right!) but because I’m not looking in the right place. I’m not sure many Hip-Hop and Rap artists with explicit content are thinking about kids/teens while they are in the studio.

 So where is the right place to look?

There’s something missing.

It would be so cool if there were music review websites and a ceremony like the Grammys or Billboard Music Awards dedicated to artists who created Hip-Hop and Rap exclusively for youth. If any Hip-Hop or Rap artists out there are reading this, whether you are well-known or just starting out, kids and teenagers need songs too!

Below are ideas for your Hip-Hop class! The playlists by no means represent all of Hip-Hop.

Song Suggestions and Tips

Note: Many of the songs below are still explicit, I suggest this list because there are parts of different songs that you can use.

Tip #1: Using the following keywords during research can be helpful: Hip-Hop, Old School, clubbanger songs, playlist, remix, dance trends, instrumental

Kid-Friendly and Semi-Kid Friendly Hip-Hop

Old School Hip-Hop

Tip#2: Find Hip-Hop songs with lyrics or just instrumental on these four online platforms: Spotify, Soundcloud, Youtube and Pandora.

Hip-Hop Dance Trends

Tip#3: Youtube Hip-H0p Dance Trends from past and present

Remember the Harlem Shake Craze?!

Check out the Original Harlem Shake below!

Fusion

Tip#4: Fusing Hip-Hop with other genres:Hip-Hop+R&B, Pop, Rock and Roll, music from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, musicals, film soundtracks, dancefloor hits ranging from house to dubstep

Tip#5.Taking parts of songs that are explicit and creating a medley

Tip#6. Slow Hip-Hop ( I realize routines don’t always have to be fast-paced Hip-Hop)

Tip#7. You’re sitting in your car at a stoplight and you hear the car beside you playing this really cool song, or you’re at a party and you really want to know the name of the song getting everybody on the dance floor. This is where Shazam comes in. Many people already know about this app. I love Shazam, the idea is genius. Whenever you’re on the go and you hear Hip-Hop (and other) songs you would like to try in your class, pull out your phone and Shazam, you know the name and artist of the song!

Tip#8. Research music review/media sites based in other countires and look for Hip-Hop artists/dancers from around the world like Les Twins

Looking at Youtube videos of parents dancing with their kids can be inspiring too!

If you have any ideas for Hip-Hop songs, please comment below!

Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi

When I think about returning to dance and joining Dance to Unite, I feel a lot of joy. I also feel very passionately about learning about other cultures, especially through dance. I’m grateful to live in NYC where there are a plethora of opportunities to engage with people, places and things that are different than myself. When I’m not dancing in a studio or space around NYC, whenever I have time and money, I still continue my dance adventure online. Two weeks ago I was researching dance blogs and came across a woman who is doing exactly what I want to do. I was floored when I found her website, I could barely contain my excitement finding this lady, who travels and explores the world through dance.

It’s been six months since I’ve started this adventure and I’m literally at the very very tip of the iceberg with learning, experiencing and understanding the different dance forms in the world. I think I’ll be on this dance adventure for my entire life! I want to challenge myself along the way, and dance challenges for me are anything that deals with a lot of footwork, various social dances (because I’ll be nervous about messing up),making my movements clearer and catching on to choreography quicker.

Surely there will be surprise challenges, for example, Bellydancing. Two weeks ago I took my first beginner Bellydance class. Watching belly dancers online and having a little bit of experience with bellydance movements, I previously thought that bellydance would be easy. But after that class, I realize my perception was way off! Bellydance is more than drawing a figure eight with your hips. At the beginning of the class we focused a lot on making serpent-like movements with our hands and let me tell you, it was hard! The teacher demonstrated the move and I was like, “what the hell, how is she doing that?!”. My goal with Bellydance is to learn as much as I can and take a performance workshop.

I encourage you to try a dance that scares you! Or a dance you know you will suck at, haha! It will be well worth it to show yourself that you can do something you think you can’t do! Flamenco scares the shit out of me because of the footwork, but sometime at the end of the year I’m going to start taking classes.

Dance+Travel+Communing and Connecting with other People…This is it right here baby!!! Plus food, we can’t forget that!

Experience the world, one dance at a time with Mickela!

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.

Simone Meet Cumbe, Cumbe Meet Simone

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(I’m on the right!)

A couple of weeks ago I found an old photo of my friend and I at a Ballet performance (I’m on the right). I was kind of startled by the picture because I have no recollection of that young Simone, even my Ballet classes slip my mind. It is interesting what people do and do not remember from their childhoods. Surely my dance memories would remain intact, but all I can remember is my friend’s name. With this absence, finding this photo gave me some reassurance of dance in my life. I don’t think finding this photo was a coincidence. A few days later I was scrolling down my Facebook feed and came across a trailer for Michaela Deprince’s upcoming book trailer below.

I was immediately inspired by her personal story, the images and reality of a Black Ballerina and and just the elegance of Ballet. I never considered taking Ballet classes again because of my “too late” mindset. But, as I continued to learn more about Deprince, Misty Copeland and after watching First Position,  I decided it’s not too late for me. I’m hoping to start adult Ballet classes next year at the Dance Theatre of Harlem!

While taking Bollywood and Bhangra classes on Wednesdays I have also found a home at Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance. It is truly a gem. I started taking classes about a month and a half ago. I registered for Cumbe’s Community Dance Day, where all the classes for a Saturday were $5. My first class was Congocise taught by Funmilayo. I love the live drumming, which Funmilayo says is better than today’s synthetic music. I strongly support eating real food instead of synthetic food (and try whenever I can) because real food gives you healthier energy. I never thought about live music like drumming providing healthier energy than synthetic beats.

The second class was West African with Mouminatou Camara and then Samba/Afro-Brazilian with Danielle Lima. After taking Samba I realize I’m not good with my feet, I need to move my left side more and I have a hard time doing two different moves using my legs, feet and arms at the same time. In all three classes, the dancing style where people line up in four lines on one side of the room and dance across to the other side was new to me. Cumbe offers so many interesting classes like Salsa, Afro-Latin Jazz, Afro-Haitian, Sabar, “Dancing the Orishas” with Gilset Mora and special workshops like upcoming Rumba with Stevie Insua. I love Cumbe, and what’s awesome about the center is that people from all different backgrounds come to learn!

Congocise class with Funmilayo

After my first experience with dances from the African Diaspora, the word “free” comes to mind. Free head, neck, shoulders, arms and hips. Free everything. It’s not like learning choreography where there has to be some thinking and constant repetition involved. Following the teacher’s movements in lines across the room is a mixture of observation and pure dancing. When it’s your turn, you have no time think, hardly any time to practice, you just go. Three days ago I took Samba/Afro- Brazilian again and gained confidence to just dance (even if I don’t have the movements all the way right). This reminds me as a dance teacher-on-her-way to always remind students that dance class is about having fun and expressing yourself, trying your best and never giving up on learning the moves.

I’m really excited about DanceAfrica next year, the nation’s largest festival dedicated to African dance. It takes place in New York City through Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and other states like Chicago and DC. Last year DanceAfrica focused on Madagascar-based music and dance troupe Bakomanga. I didn’t get a chance to go in 2014, but I’m hoping to attend next May. Cumbe participates in this festival and I can’t wait to find out which teachers will give dance demonstrations.

West African Dance Demonstration with M’Bemba Bangoura at DanceAfrica 2014

So far I have taken a Hip-Hop, Dancehall and Afro-Cuban Folkloric class at Cumbe. The most challenging class has been Afro-Cuban Folkloric dance. I cannot describe the dance, people have to see and experience the strength and spirit in the movements for themselves. I sucked in this class. I could not get the moves right to save my life. I was off with the beat and an overall mess. When my arm was supposed to go right, it went left and when I was supposed to turn I was tripping over myself. I’m intimated by that class and contemplating about going back, but the biggest lesson I have learned at Cumbe is that I cannot expect to waltz in a class and ace a cultural dance I have never been exposed to. It takes time. I’ll say it again, (mostly for myself) it takes time. A few of my fellow Dance to Unite family members have said this to me, so I’m going to continue to learn and grow at Cumbe keeping that in mind.