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.