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OK, for everyone out there not currently on spring break, my lord, was this week s-l-o-w or what?! Maybe it’s just because I have a super-fun weekend mapped out (drumming! dancing!) and am anticipating the excitement, but every day this week has felt like a ho-hum Tuesday.
But finally! Here we go. It’s Friday, it’s the 13th, and I have a hodge-podge list of five things that have peppered my (interminable!) week with some color and life.
(1) As if a nod to my I Am Woman post from a few weeks ago, my Old Lady Friend™ Carrol sent me the link to this video, 500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art.
It’s a hypnotic 3-minute compilation of female art subjects through the centuries, edited artfully itself so that each image morphs into the next. To me, it’s visual art presented in a dance-like manner. It’s also just fun to see the painting styles and female figures transition as the years go by.
(2) Next isn’t a video but a blog that I am excited to add to my Google Reader: Dancemeditation.
The blog is maintained by Dunya Dianne McPherson, whose book, Skin of Glass: Finding Spirit in the Flesh, is currently on my nightstand. It’s been on my Amazon wishlist ever since I purchased Gabrielle Roth’s Sweat Your Prayers (which has essentially become my bible) and it popped up on my “You Might Like…” list.
Dunya is a former professional ballerina who turned to Sufism and now teaches her brainchild Dancemeditation™, “a unique, integrated movement meditation system for self-discovery, healing, and evolution.”
The way she writes about the human body is utterly fascinating and captivating, and it is hard not to roll my spine and rock my pelvis along to her words. They are the words of someone so at home with her body, so familiar with every tendon, vein, and cell within; some chapters have such a deep and sensual feel that they read more like erotic literature, a kind of “kinesthetic pornography,” perhaps.
This post on simple side-to-side rolling will get you moving.
(3) Switching gears, we now move to Main Street, U.S.A. for some Disney dancing!
Posted on Disney Parks’ official blog, this video features Barbara, a Walt Disney World cast member who has taken her role as Main Street hostess to a new level by just doin’ her thang during the daily parades. If I knew there was an opportunity out there for me to both (a) work in Disney World, and (b) dance my heart out every afternoon, then Barbara would be out of a job. … OK, so I’m a bit jealous, but I love Barbara for bringing dance and Disney together in the upbeat way she does. :-)
(4) The last two items go hand in hand. First is the 2011 Emmy-winning choreography “This Bitter Earth” from Mia Michaels, which appeared on Season 7 of So You Think You Can Dance.
I’m going through a bit of a SYTYCD drought here (still more than a month to go before Season 9 starts!), so I’ve been filling the holes by watching clips of past seasons on YouTube. This particular dance about aging is just so powerful, poignant, and kind of sad. It’s a hit-you-in-the-gut piece, no doubt why it was nominated for and won the Emmy. The three variations of a simple rocking motion at 1:14 are just beautiful.
(5) Staying on that theme of aging is the video that’s been going viral all over Facebook, “Man In Nursing Home Reacts To Hearing Music From His Era.”
As a dancer, music has such a profound role in my life, and it is so comforting to know that the brain has the ability to store the passionate, joy-filled memories associated with a particular tune. This man, described as “inert and unresponsive,” comes ALIVE when exposed to music from his younger years. His reactions at 4:00 and 5:15 are a bit Awakenings…but so hopeful and smile-inducing. And I love that there’s a whole movement behind this kind of therapy: http://www.musicandmemory.org!
Now this has me wondering…what music from “my era” would make me come alive 50+ years from now? Hmm…
Comment with an online video/website/photo that’s been stirring your soul lately!
As if on cue, the first full month of fall has started on a cool and crisp note; after days of humid, muggy weather, today it’s breezy and only going up to 65. And thus begins the season of pumpkin spice lattes and me actually having to put on a jacket after swimming at the gym, rather than just throwing some shorts over my bathing suit and driving home in a wet Speedo.
and So You Think You Can Dance live!
The Phillies game was a make-up from a rained-out game we were supposed to attend back in August. It was re-scheduled for a Tuesday afternoon, so I actually had to take off from work to go to a baseball game. Once again, it rained consistently all morning but luckily cleared out right before game time. Citizens Bank Park, normally sold out and jammed packed, was pretty empty. It was weird to see so many blue seats rather than the usual red sea of Phillies t-shirts.
It was only my second time at Citizens Bank Park, and all I wanted was for someone to get a home run so I could see the Liberty Bell swing and gong. The previous game I attended last season (against the Nationals) was awful, and I left without my Liberty Bell wish being fulfilled. The Phillies ended up losing this game (coincidentally, also against the Nats), but Raul (“Ra-oooooollll!”) Ibanez did get a home run, and thus the Liberty Bell rang gloriously throughout the stadium.
Some people find baseball too long and boring, but I find it kind of meditative. Those few moments of holding your breath as the ball flies toward the hitter or after the crack of the bat keep me in suspense and on the edge of my seat. Of course, I’m speaking as someone whose home team has had quite the victorious record these past couple of seasons; I don’t know if I’d be so into it if my team was at the bottom of the barrel.
To close September, last night Bryan and I went to Atlantic City for the So You Think You Can Dance tour. I’m a huge fan of the show and watched it diligently all summer long; seeing winner Melanie so close up gave me the goosebumps. I didn’t take any photos during the show because I just wanted to watch the dancers and not worry about getting the right shot. I’ve watched the routines on television and on YouTube, but seeing them live with the pulsing music, flashing lights, and being able to see the dancers’ expressions so close up is so much fun! I felt my body moving along with theirs; during the finale, the dancers encouraged everyone to stand up and move. It was like being in a giant night club, and everyone had a little bounce to their step as we filtered out of the arena.
The evening didn’t start so wonderfully, though. Due to heavy flooding and random road closures, we got stuck in awful traffic on the way there. We sat in 30 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic just a few minutes from our house and–once we thought we reached the end of it–the road was closed, and everyone was basically forced to make a circle and go back the way we.just.came. There may have been tears and cursing. Had Bryan not taken a “risky ninja” move and cut through some back roads, we would have been nearly 45 minutes late to the show. Instead, we arrived only about 10-15 minutes late. I nearly lost it again when when one of the event staff members pulled a prank on us during intermission. I guess my hand wasn’t stamped properly when I left the arena, so when I came back in, she couldn’t find it on my skin. “Can’t let you in,” she said. I pulled out my tickets for proof, and she still shook her head. “Sorry, you can’t go back in.” I must’ve looked like I was going to burst into tears, and Bryan must have looked ready to punch someone, so she finally broke into laughter and said, “I’m just messing with y’all. We need to have some fun, too!”
I normally like the glitz, glamor, and gaudiness of Atlantic City, but I was not having any of it last night. The awful drive there, the intermission scare, and then not being able to eat dinner until 10 p.m. amidst a smoky casino…I was so ready to go home. And we did…in the pouring rain. My friends, I was not very yogic last night, and it’s times like those I feel like a fraud. I may be able to do 10 minutes of alternate nostril breathing in the morning, but stick me in traffic with the threat of being very late to an expensive event that I was really looking forward to… goodbye, any notion of yoga.
So let’s say goodbye to September and, on this first of October, wish a happy birthday to my two favorite things:
and Walt Disney World!
To live without pain or dance without soul?
One component of my job is to keep abreast about all the latest goings-on in the field of psychological/psychiatric research (a) so we can include news briefs of the most interesting developments in our publication and (b) so I don’t sound like an idiot when I’m talking to our contributors. Most press releases that come my way seem to be generated by Captain Obvious (“Women Who Experience Gender-Based Violence Have Higher Incidence of Anxiety”), but every now and then along comes something eyebrow-raising, like this: “Drug May Help Overwrite Bad Memories.”
According to a Canadian study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, recalling painful memories while taking the drug metyrapone can reduce the brain’s ability to re-record the negative emotions associated with them (Explanation: manipulating cortisol close to the time of forming new memories can decrease the negative emotions that may be associated with them). The press release goes on to explain the study procedure:
The study included 33 men who learned a story composed of neutral and negative events. After 3 days they were divided into three groups: Participants in the first group received a single dose of metyrapone, the second received a double dose, and the third were given placebo. They were then asked to remember the story. Their memory performance was evaluated again 4 days later, once the drug had cleared out. The researchers found that the men in the group who received two doses of metyrapone were impaired when recalling the negative events of the story, while they showed no impairment recalling the neutral parts of the story.
For those not quite ready for a quick prescription of eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, good news: Metyrapone is no longer commercially produced.
But what if it were? What if that magic pill did exist, and all of the pain and angst of your past could be deleted? Would you take it?
The press release above is actually a few months old, but I started thinking about it again last night as I was watching So You Think You Can Dance, as contestants Melanie and Sasha were talking about where they find the emotion that drives their intensely powerful movement. Sasha, after performing in a duet about manipulation and abuse, alluded to “having been hurt” in the past. Melanie, in tears, talked about her deceased father, physically in tears as she began one of the most achingly eloquent solos of the competition.
If these girls were to have taken that magic drug, would such beautiful art even exist?
So often in yoga or Eastern religion discourse, we are taught that the past is the past. Acknowledge it and move on. Yet, isn’t it in those times of deep contemplation and reminiscence that the most powerful works of art emerge? My god, if everyone who suffered a broken heart erased that memory from their brains, the world would be devoid of some of the best ballads, poetry, paintings, orchestrations, and ballets.
There are periods of my life I’d like to forget. I’ll be going about with my day fine and dandy when BOOM! Well, hello bad memory! I didn’t see you coming, and to tell you truth, you have made me quite angry/sad/confused.
It’s not pleasant getting socked off-guard by icky thoughts of the past, yet at the same time it is that unease that has given depth to my dance and writing. I was a talented writer in my youth, but only to an extent. I was young; my words lacked experience. How can one write poetry about the injustices of life when you are only 14 and have lived a comfortable existence? All I cared about then was the skeleton, the technique: that lines rhymed and the meter stuck. It is the same with dance; I was a dedicated dance student through grade school but little emotion came through in my high hitch kicks and straddle jumps. I was good at dancing–I remembered routines and could execute them gracefully–but the flesh of my bare-bones dancing took years to develop.
No amount of master classes or instruction videos could give me the depth that real life–love, loss, betrayal, redemption–brought forth to my movement. Every misstep I took or misfortune that was thrust upon me made me weak in that moment but stronger for the future. Events that brought me to my knees and hurt so badly that I didn’t even care about dancing anymore–surprise!–today have only made my dancing richer and more three-dimensional. And without a doubt, my dancing 10, 20, 30 years from now won’t be the same as it is today. It’s a bit cruel that by the time we reach an age of such wisdom and experience–a time when our dancing would reflect decades of memories–our bodies are breaking down. If only an 80-year-old could dance in an 18-year-old’s body!
(Returning to the memory-erasing drug, though, I should note that the investigators conducted the study mostly with people with posttraumatic stress disorder in mind; we’re talking soldiers, victims of horrific crimes, etc, not people trying to recover from a bad break-up. Although painful memories may add depth to artistic endeavors, I am not advocating that veterans who have witnessed their friends perish in a land mine hang onto those memories in the name of art.)
As Thais recently noted in her blog, traumas need to be released:
If we do not consciously work through our traumas and release the caught up energy in our bodies, that force is going to come out one way or another. Some it’s by a physical illness, others it’s by addictions or eating disorders. Just look at the world around you, nothing good comes out of compression. Finding that release valve is what keeps us sane. Some may find release through dance, sports, yoga, therapy, etc. It’s important to find the right activity for you and your body.
So, now, comes the million-dollar question: Do you take the magic pill…or do you dance?
One of my favorite things about 5Rhythms (aside from getting to dance for two hours straight) is the wide range of music used during class. As I mentioned yesterday, 5Rhythms playlists are eclectic and can include everything from classical to country to techno. I love experimenting with different musical genres, but most dance classes don’t have that kind of flexibility. Zumba is all Latin music. Aerobic dance at the gym is all of today’s best hits but sped up x100 so it sounds like Minnie Mouse, not Lady Gaga, is singing. And then places that DO offer a full menu of music, such as the nightclub, where the Jackson 5’s “ABC” may follow Jay-Z, aren’t necessarily the most welcoming venues to open your heart to authentic movement.
As such, a mark of a great 5Rhythms teacher is not just his ability to get everyone moving but to be an awesome DJ as well. Music is key in this practice, and songs must flow seamlessly one into the other, meaning that aside from having pieces selected for each of the 5 Rhythms (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, Stillness), there must be transition songs that link one Rhythm to the next.
This gradual build-up in tempo and those transition songs are what really attracts me to the practice. I dance around in my living room a lot, and I have found that if I come home from work and immediately blast a very Chaos-like song and start jumping and running all over the place–while it may provide a short-term release of energy–I also get tired much earlier in the game than if I approached my living room dance more like 5Rhythms. I think the key to dancing is starting slow and building the fire, not jumping into the flames at the get-go. Without those lovely rhythms of Flowing and Staccato to launch me into movement, I’ll most likely conk out after 15 minutes, exhausted, unmotivated, and feeling somewhat anticlimactic.
Yesterday’s blog post took me a while to write, and when I was finished all I wanted to do was step away from the computer and move! At first I was very tempted to blast some drumming music and just go at it, but then I remembered how fulfilling a full 5Rhythms practice makes me feel, so I quickly cobbled together a playlist. I’ll admit, I was doubtful about getting into “the zone” (I was feeling mighty exhausted and kind of hungry), but 35 minutes later I had a decent physical and mental workout under my belt.
Here’s my playlist from yesterday, which also provides insight into how each of the Rhythms should “feel.” (Since I was rushed, I didn’t add transition songs for every Rhythm. Also, as you can see, I get most of my music ideas from So You Think You Can Dance, which is a great resource for finding new songs!)
Flowing: “Brotsjor,” Ólafur Arnalds (Tadd and Jordan’s vulture dance, Season 8 )
Flowing/Staccato: “Scars,” Basement Jaxx (Robert and Dominic’s clown routine, Season 7)
Staccato: “Sweet Dreams,” Eurythmics (Sabra and Neil’s boardroom dance, Season 3)
Staccato: “I Can Transform Ya,” Chris Brown (Russell and Kathryn’s hip hop, Season 6)
Chaos: “Riding the Waves,” Afro Celt Sound System (Jordan and Tadd’s African jazz routine, Season 8 )
Chaos/Lyrical: “Drumming Song,” Florence + the Machine (All Stars group dance, Season 7)
Lyrical: “Addicted to Love,” Florence and the Machine (Adechike and Kathryn, Season 7)
Stillness: “Time,” Inception soundtrack (no SYTYCD connection)
It ended up being a great playlist; it felt very well-rounded and I was blissed out by the end!
Thinking of creating your own 5Rhythms-inspired playlist? Here are some of my favorite songs for each of the Rhythms (I may or may not have a slight obsession with Florence + the Machine right now):
Flowing: “Teardrop,” Massive Attack (also known as the House theme); “Intro,” The XX
Staccato: “Where is the Love,” Black Eyed Peas (this gets everyone moving and grooving in a live class!); “Rock What You Got,” Superchick; “Run the World,” Beyonce
Chaos: “God is a DJ,” Faithless; “Dog Days are Over,” Florence + the Machine
Lyrical: “Coming Home,” Diddy; “Cosmic Love,” Florence + the Machine
Stillness: “Amazing Grace,” Walela; “Glasgow Love Theme,” Love Actually soundtrack.
If you have a song you think would fit nicely into one of my playlists, let me know!