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.

EA-ARTIST-2015-pages-w-captions

(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

10943662_409454855846151_4114801920719367800_o

“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”

11084231_409454975846139_1289517943257594753_o

then the whole class joins her in learning different Ballet moves

10956409_409454735846163_5730770870542648282_o
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.

11080462_409454582512845_8627614917887164267_o

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

10903885_404688576322779_216128666178194004_o
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!

10982084_404688612989442_3804962539905478079_n

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 

VIDEO0017_0000044113 (1)

Thursdays at Entrada Academy in the Bronx

Bellydance with Mehrnoush

VIDEO0047_0000019207

Simone Meet Cumbe, Cumbe Meet Simone

20141126_164422-1
(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.

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

dancetounite4

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!

Learn more about Dance to Unite. Become a Volunteer or Donate!

Dance to Unite!

Dance to Unite Orientation
Dance to Unite Orientation (Courtesy of Dance to Unite)

I’m currently reading a memoir called Wild by Cheryl Strayed, who takes the reader along the Pacific Crest Trail, as she describes her experience hiking it by herself in 1995.  I’m taking my time with the book. I’m really taking in her story, studying her mindset as if it’s an artisanal piece with exquisite detail, and trying to reactivate my rusty imagination while she describes the highs and lows of being on the trail. I feel like embarking on this dance adventure (and documenting it via a blog) is like Cheryl’s first steps on the trail.  I’m a little nervous, the twins, fear and self-doubt, are pulling me to the side, convincing me to analyze the decision more.  “You haven’t danced for some time, why are you getting involved with it again?” “What if you can’t dance anymore?”  “Just stick to learning dances you’re comfortable with”, “I don’t know if I will make a good teacher’s assistant?” “What if I don’t work well with the kids?”  “Maybe I should wait awhile before I do something like this.”  Hiking the PCT was a big decision for Cheryl, and in a way so is this dance adventure, because I am 1) getting involved with something I thought I would never do again (in any way) and  2) trying to get over my fear of being seen. Despite all her regrets and doubts, Cheryl knew in her heart the only way was forward, even if that meant facing the unknown and making mistakes.  So I told the twins to kick rocks and let me do my thing. If I have second thoughts, struggle with something , stumble and fall, I’ll be like Cheryl on the trail, falling forward.

I tend to think about my life within the context of nature, landscapes and animals. I have an idea of this journey ahead of me since  I have danced before, but I’m sure I will grow in unexpected ways as a volunteer and learn more about dance in general. My first steps were meeting the other teachers and teacher assistants  at the Dance to Unite orientation in late September. I will assist Mehrnoush, who teaches belly dance to fifth and sixth graders at Entrada Academy in the Bronx (whoo belly dance!)

Well I technically just lied.  I took my first few steps earlier this year when I found Dance to Unite on meetup, but I didn’t come back to it until around May or June. I contacted Galit Adani, the Founder and Executive Director,  and from there we met once or twice. I found myself at a summer party fundraiser for the organization at Nirvana Lounge, where one of the new teachers, Vaishali Sinha performed an Indian classical dance called Kathak.  It was beautiful. I loved her costume and the music and I was sitting with my friends, wishing I could see the performance all over again.

* heaves a heavy and thick  “Once Upon a Time” television show-like book of “Simone’s Life” on the table, flips to the middle to a blank page…first class is October 2!! Stayed tuned*

This slideshow requires JavaScript.