This summer, for my 12 consecutive year, I joined the staff at Northeast Youth Ballet for six weeks of flamenco and yoga classes. To say that teaching at this school is an absolute pleasure would be an understatement. This is an amazing dance school. The dedication of the owners and the teachers to the students is unparalleled. You can tell this from the moment you walk in the door. The total vibe of the place is one of harmony, cooperation, focus and positivity. I am so fortunate to be part of it all!
The last four weeks have been dedicated to the intermediate and advanced students. Having them both for flamenco and yoga has really upped my game. I can work theories of physical and energetic movement throughout flamenco class, using the pulsations of the specific rhythm they are working on and then bring those same energetic movements back in during yoga class. I am so satisfied being able to combine these two art forms. This is where my heart lies.
At the beginning of each class, I would lead a flamenco centering exercise to get them in the mindset for flamenco. I needed them to connect to the songs they would be dancing too and to soak their minds and bodies with the rhythms. Most of the time, we started lying on the floor. After an initial breathing exercise, we would listen to the song to ingest it. I would talk about the essence of the song, how it's particular rhythm would motivate the movement and allow your soul to show through while you danced it. I would talk about grounding, being able to hold the song in the heart, almost being able to grasp it with their hands.
The intermediate students and I worked on the fourth Sevillanas. Now it is true, that you would normally learn them in order -1, 2, 3, 4- but I chose just to work number four with this group. It is full of -step, ball change- which I knew would be a motor skill they already possessed and by working on only one Sevillanas, we would have time to do it in partners and in a circle formation. For the demonstration, they are dancing it four times. Firstly they will do it facing the audience; second, they find their partners; third, still in same partnerships; and the fourth time, they move into two circles, one inside the other, and then those two circles partner each other. It reminds me of Bugsby Berkeley’s choreography from the 1920's (stylistically, my favorite era).
The advanced students took on a Tangos de Triana ( I was so motivated by my workshop with La Lupi to explore the rhythm and movement of this song style. It is really snarky (from the Urban Dictionary “A witty mannerism, personality, or behavior that is a combination of sarcasm and cynicism. Usually accepted as a complimentary term”) and full of bravada and fun. The attitude just jumps right out of my heart. I tell them it feels like hip hop danced on the street-an expression of the creators, the gypsies in Andalucia, fighting persecution, like the blues. We worked tirelessly on giving the dance the right attitude and grounded-ness.
I cannot wait for tomorrow's performance to see these students dance. To see them perform my flamenco but also to see them dance ballet, character, modern and musical theater. I adore seeing them in all these different elements and how each of their souls comes out. It just is so revitalizing!
Teaching yoga after a full day of flamenco is idyllic. My dream job. I love to use energetic movement, from inside the body, the subtle body’s movement, to heighten the yoga experience. This is a perfect age group for this as it allows them to drop down and totally relax, take notice of their breath and how their bodies are feeling, and then begin movement from a place of presence. I find a good combination of activities in a youth yoga class, keeps the kids present and fully engaged. Some of the things I like to include are meditation, breath-work, poses, games and open discussions about principles such as Ahimsa (a principle of yoga that means to do not harm), karma , practicing yoga off the mat.
Karma class. Karma is defined as an action or a deed; a result of an action; destiny or fate, following as effect from cause. Synonyms are fortune, fate, destiny. Karma yoga is the yoga of selfless service (altruism= one acts without being attached to the fruits of one's deeds).
Kinder people live longer lives; people who volunteer experience fewer aches and pains. We feel good when we give because we experience the “giver's lift”, a distinct physical sensation from helping. Kindness makes us happy. It reduces depression, lowers anxiety and builds our self esteem.
How to you practice Karma? One way is with Random Acts of Kindness (RAK). It is stated that one RAK a day keeps self-centeredness away! As Aesop said “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
I read to the class-I love reading stories out loud to kids of all ages-The Three Questions (Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy) written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth. It is a wonderful story about Nikolai who wants to “be a good person” and so proposes three questions to his friends: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? They never answer him directly, but by the end of the story, Nikolai has answered the questions for himself. I had them contemplate kindness and the ways they are already kind and the ways they might like to add more kindness into their lives. I gave each of them two pieces of paper and a crayon and they wrote two examples of how they are and how they want to be kind. The recurring themes were of helping out family members, giving attention to those around them, and being positive, friendly, loving people. We left our slips of paper in a vase soother people could read our notes and feel connected.
We then stood and did some fun flows to different songs on my play list: Jamaica Resting by The Pool; Give Me The Sunshine by Leo's Sunshipp; The Sun Can't Compare by Larry Heard presenting Mr. White.
Taking a cue from one of my mentors, Shakta Khalsa, I taught them the “Detective” game (from the Radiant Child Yoga's teacher's manual). Dividing the the girls into smaller groups, I had them sit in circles. One person, the “detective”, would leave the room. The group them decides who will be the secret leader. The leader makes different motions such as leg taps, hand claps, eye blinks, small quiet movements or loud fast movements and everyone else follows as immediately as possible, trying to accomplish this seamlessly as to not give away the “it” person. The detective then returns to the scene and tries to determine who is it. This game develops powers of observation and the ability to be subtle, focused and alert. The game was a huge success and the smaller groups allowed for each girl to take a turn.
I wandered around the room listening into their giggles and relaxed chatter. We gathered into one large circle, held hands, breathed in and then lay back (usually we play the hand squeeze game here, but today I just had them relax).
These students have been the most willing participants in everything I have given them this summer. They have expanded their repertoires, their presence, and their characters. They have expanded mine.