Search This Blog


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lineage - in Martial Arts, Yoga, Zen - and Belly Dance!

Our "Master Teachers" in Oriental Dance

Recently, I took a workshop with Anahid Sofian, where the day's classes were taught by her protege, the internationally-renowned Eva Cernik. Among the attendees was Nourhan Sharif, and others who were remarkable for their intelligence (one had her Ph.D. in biochemistry), devotion to the art (most were long-standing students), and overall high level of knowledge about dance, art, and life.

I overheard Nourhan and another dancer, where the question that one of them posed was: Which other leading dancers do you like - and respect - the most? (The context was with historical figures - the luminaries of films, etc.)

Somehow, the conversation swung around to how we - as students, practitioners, and often teachers - show how we respect our own teachers. And someone (here I'm airbrushing just a bit) commented on one dancer who left a well-known teacher to form her own studio. She had been a teacher in the master dance teacher's studio, and took the students - who were in class with her - when she left to set up her own "establishment."

This wasn't just a burst of ego. It was a show of disrespect, and - in simple business terms - an undercutting.

I had the same thing happen to me, and write about it in Unveiling: The Inner Journey. (see the opening for Chapter 15, "Softening: Beginning to Break Through," beginning page 199.

I recall a conversation with another leading dancer, one with whom I've studied and whom I respect a great deal. I asked her how I could honor her in my work. She said, "Simply recognize me in your bio. Say that you've studied with me."

That seems easy enough. Surprisingly, though, there are dancers - those who want to "establish" themselves - who think that the best way to do this is to disregard (and even disrespect) their connections with their teachers and - when they find them - their "master teachers."

We in the Oriental dance world seek to claim legitimacy for our art form. We want respect. We demand, and the rigor and beauty of our art form demands, a high level of respect.

But to get respect, we have to give it.

Look at the great traditions in the world; the ones where personal teaching is necessary. Martial artists, the world over, acknowledge their teachers. Lineage is exceptionally important.

Lineage is important in ballet, modern dance, and other dance forms. It is important in all branches of yoga.

In Zen meditation, one of the practices is that the disciples recite the names of their master teachers, going up through their entire lineage, and thanking and acknowledging them.

We have a profoundly beautiful, moving, and exquisite art form. We also have lineage. It's time for us to respect our "master teachers."

In Unveiling: The Inner Journey, I identify my "master teachers" - in dance, in martial arts, and in body/mind/psyche/energy integration. If I've studied with them, and if there is enough of a relationship so that they can pick me out of a lineup, they're mentioned. I tell stories about them - the kind of "student/teacher" stories that highlight their role as teachers.

Right now, more and more of us are writing. (Morocco's book is coming out soon, Nourhan Sharif has one underway.) We put together websites. We have videos. In addition to teaching classes and performing, we have numerous venues available to us - through the web, digital media, and print - in which we can honor our "master teachers."

We want respect? Let's start by giving it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting "Inner Balance" with T'ai Chi, Chi Kung, and "Push Hands"

Peter Ralston - Martial Arts Master - and an "Unveiling" Master Teacher

Yesterday morning, when the power came back on after Hurrican Irene passed through, I went down to my dance studio for my morning yoga practice. And after my body "woke up" a bit, the yoga became a bit of free-form T'ai Chi, then a bit of Chi Kung, with some of the Silk Weaving exercises mixed in. And within short order, I was back to basic - very elementary - dance movements. Really more the essentials - Anchoring and Grounding, and weight shifting. I began attending to Principles that Peter Ralston had elucidated very clearly when I was studying with him.

Peter Ralston, a martial arts Master Teacher, taught T'ai Chi and other "internal" martial arts. He was - and still is - a very effective fighter. He also based his teachings on certain core body-alignment and energetic Principles. He is one of the Master Teachers whom I reference frequently in Unveiling: The Inner Journey.

Peter has several books published, but one that got a very good review is Re-Thinking Cheng Hsin.

Peter's teachings have had a profound impact on my dance. I particularly credit him with helping me define my first Principles, beginning with Anchoring. I spent a fair bit of time yesterday, not only in physical practice, but re-thinking how to connect the Principles with how to teach, both for beginner and advanced students. Another element underlying all of Peter's teachings is that our practice, whether martial arts or any other area, should be "effortless." (Now I'll confess that my practice yesterday, during which I focused on releasing tension and having proper alignment, was pretty hard work!)

In Unveiling, I write:

This principle - that of being "effortless" - holds true for us as well. If we are seeking to cultivate our Hathor essence, then we need to create it in a way that is effortless, natural, and easy. Similarly, if we wish to access the deep wisdom of our inner High Priestess, this must especially come about in a soft and gentle manner! In part, because this is the characteristic of real power. And in part, also, this is the only way that things will work most effectively in our lives. (Unveiling: The Inner Journey, p. 165)

You can read more Unveiling excerpts at: Unveiling: The Inner Journey.