What I’m Learning from Hummingbirds

This summer I’ve seen more hummingbirds than I remember ever seeing in one season. I also learned to recognize some of their sounds – the strong buzzing of their wings and the high-pitched whir of a male’s song.

This week, I read in a Barbara Kingsolver essay about how a hummingbird builds her nest. She describes this stunningly detailed process including laying down spider webbing, weaving in shreds of bark, and meticulously licking her nest into perfect shape.

Reading this reminded me of the power of details.

I had a dance teacher in Israel who said, “God is in the details.”

She was urging us to study the details in our dancing.

To create artistry, dancers train to observe the breath between the take off and landing in a leap, the involuntary gestures an elder makes while speaking, the focus of our eyes, the precise force in a push.

We learn to notice what so many miss.

When I’m in the dance classroom, I frequently focus on the details of the fingertips. Do they curl in? Do they extend? Do they face forward or back? Are they inviting or reprimanding?

How do your fingertips connect you to what’s beyond your body? Do they reach? Or pull?

These are the edges of your body. How do they facilitate connection? Or protect your privacy?

This week, notice how your fingertips move. As you reach and stretch, pay attention – can those fingertips open a little more? As you find yourself angry or withdrawn, how do those fingertips behave?

I also invite you, over the next few weeks, especially as the seasons begin to change, to notice new details in nature. I guarantee there are surprises for you in every inch of your daily travel.

I’d love to hear about your discoveries. Send me an email! maren@movingjoystudios.com.

It brings me joy to write to you. Thank you for being with me on this journey into dance, the wild world, and our bodies, in service to life’s wholeness.

If you think of anyone who would love to read this, please send it along.

With heart,
Maren

www.movingjoystudios.com

www.postcardstotheearth.com

The Camera Inside My Head

A few months ago, I picked up my sweetie’s New Yorker magazine and found an article about dancing.

The first lines are, “Dancing. Ban dancing. Break its legs and bury it. And don’t make me do it. Don’t make me dance.” **

WHAT?!?! I thought to myself. I kept reading…

The author graphically describes his feelings about his lack of coordination, refusal to dance, extreme self-consciousness, and the guilt he experiences at parties.

He wrote about feeling awkward and clumsy, being afraid to look stupid, an inescapable self-consciousness, and more.

While reading it, I simmered over with questions, ideas, suspicions, curiosities, outbursts, confusion, and contemplation.

With so much to say in response to the article, I’ll start today with a story about dance-induced self-consciousness.

I remember a time during my intensive dance training in NYC when my teacher firmly said, “The camera that is in your head, that is looking at you all the time, judging – turn it the other way. Now.”

I’ve carried this image with me for over 10 years. Whenever I’m in a dance class and I feel small, stupid, or inept, or I can’t free myself to openly dance, I hear my teacher’s voice.

I pause for a moment inside. I locate the camera inside my head. (For me it’s usually in the upper right side of my brain, looking down on me). I stare into its lens, and using my magic powers, direct it to turn the other way: Leave me alone!

For some of us, it’s a camera watching and judging. For others of us, it’s a terribly mean gremlin inside who is constantly yelling at us, telling us we look stupid, we should be able to learn this faster, or whatever mean insult it can invent.

For many, it’s a gremlin with a camera. Yikes – watch out!

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you experience dance or movement-induced self-consciousness? What are your tools to keep going and free yourself?

Your invitation this month:
Take at least ONE 3-minute dance break during your day. Put on a favorite song and let yourself move. Listen to the music; see what it asks your body to do. Try something you’ve always wanted to try (unless it’s a back flip and you’ve never trained to do that – maybe then choose a different move ;).

As you dance, watch out for gremlins with cameras! Turn down their voices, divert their eyes, and instead tune into that spark of inspiration, that ounce of joy that is rippling, somewhere inside you, as you move.

With gremlin-squishing joy,
Maren

www.movingjoystudios.com
www.postcardstotheearth.com

**article: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/16/ban-dancing

Why Engineers Make Great Dancers

One thing I’ve noticed in the dance lessons I teach, that might surprise you, is that engineers make great dancers. How would I come to that conclusion, you may ask?

I can’t tell you how many times I am working in the dance studio with a couple who is learning to dance together, and I’m trying to explain which direction they need to face for a certain move. One of them will then say something like, “oh, so you mean I need to turn 270 degrees” and the other will look at me and say, somewhat apologetically, “He’s an engineer.”

My typical response is – I love engineers! Engineers are great dancers!

Here’s how I know: I’m surrounded by engineers on a regular basis. My grandfather was an engineer, my father is an engineer, my brother-in-law is an engineer, and my partner is, you guessed it…..an engineer! (secret: at least 2 of those 4 are dancers).

So, I believe have some insight on how engineer brains work*. Here’s why I think they make such good dancers, based on experience witnessing them learn (and quickly, from my perspective of teaching beginners):

  1. Engineers have methodical minds: Teaching and learning dance involves methods of stacking more difficult skills on top of basic skills, like walking. Even though we are working in an art form, the pathway for learning steps and moves can be logical.
  2. Engineers are good with patterns: At the foundation of many social dance forms (swing, salsa, ballroom) are patterns. We start with a basic, repeatable, rhythmic foot pattern. Most beginning moves are executed in this repeatable pattern.
  3. Engineers have lots of brain power: As much as I will forever advocate that learning dance requires (and builds) kinesthetic intelligence, using one’s thinking brain is a big part of it, especially at the beginning. When dancers can conceptualize how a move works, it is often easier to perform.

The moral of this story? If you’re an engineer and never thought you could dance…reconsider 🙂

And, if there’s something out there you think “is not your style” or you “could never do”, but somewhere deep inside you’re curious….give it a shot! Please tell me about it!

I’d love to hear your stories of dancing engineers, or engineering dancers, or anywhere in between.

*DISCLAIMER: My unscientific assessment of engineers is based on experience, perception, and fun. I do not claim to understand all engineers, all dancers, or all of anything!  🙂

NOTE: If you’re reading this on the web and would like to join my email list, sign up here for monthly newsletters like the above. You’ll be the first to know about new posts, events, workshops, and performance.

How to Find (and Dance to) The Beat

Imagine this: You’re walking in to your first private dance lesson. It’s the first time you’ve ever been in a studio. You find yourself in a big open room, with mirrors, and you realize you are, well…NERVOUS!

One fear I’ve heard many times from new students is that they “can’t find the beat” or that they “have no rhythm.”

In the hundreds of beginning dancers I’ve worked with, I find that this is rarely true in reality.

I won’t go into all the reasons why people believe this about themselves (right now).

What I find is that by slowing down and finding some patience, everyone can learn to find the beat – and move to it. (I have worked with a few dancers with hearing loss; its still very possible).

And it often comes easier than you think.

Here’s a mini-lesson to get you started:

How to Dance to the Beat: 
(Warning: This may cause you to feel silly. We often feel silly or embarrassed when learning something new with our bodies. If this is true for you, you might want to try this alone as you build confidence!)

  1. Find a piece of music with a solid beat, like this song from South African artist Mandoza. (I frequently use this song in my dance classes!)
  2. Close your eyes and let your body bounce. Most of the time some part of your body is moving with the beat. For many it’s the head nodding, for some the knees bouncing, and others a tapping toe.
  3. Trust that you found a pulse that the music is feeding you.

NOTE: There are often 2 primary pulses in a pop song. In ballroom dance world they are called “quick” and “slow.” In music they are called all kinds of things, but that’s for another time. If you do this with another person, they might find a different pulse, and that’s ok. Trust that what you feel is a match.

  1. Start clapping your hands to match the pulse your body found. Feel the clap in your hands and also hear how the clap matches the song. Continue bouncing or nodding or tapping your foot while you clap. Don’t be shy – go for it!
  2. Trust again that your body is matching the music.
  3. Now, step one foot down each time you clap.
  4. Focus on the moment your foot steps down. Feel the floor beneath you. See if you can notice the change in pressure in your foot when it meets the floor.
  5. Now you should be essentially marching in place and clapping. Your hands clap at the same moment each foot hits the ground.
  6. When you can feel your feet from the inside, stop clapping your hands and continue moving your feet to the beat.

Guess what…. You’re dancing!

For added flair, feel free to move around the room, stepping down on the beat, adding some of your own personal groove 🙂

Now, 3 times this week, put on the radio, or Pandora, or Spotify, or whatever fancy music playing program you love, and try this with 5 songs in a row that you don’t know.

Like these mini-lessons? Let me know! Also, if you think they’d be helpful in podcast or video form, and you would love to learn from me that way, send me a message, or post below!

May your week be off to a foot-stomping, hand-clapping start!

In Joy,
Maren

PS – Know anyone who would love a mini dance lesson for finding the beat? Please send this along!

Dance’s Rewards

It feels good to sit down and write to you again. Life has been so full since I last wrote to you about courage, and if I wasn’t writing I may have forgotten all about it!

How did the courage challenge go?

My sister, also a dancer, wrote back to my last post saying that she thinks a lot about the positive things dance class can do.

I actually think you may know several of these already, either through direct experience or some place in your bones and blood that re-members forgotten elements of life.

Here’s my 5-minute brainstorm of the potential REWARDS of stepping into the studio and taking class. Once again, this could be an entire essay…

Attuned body awareness
Sense of freedom
Time to tend to self
Laughter
Community
Matching the Music
Sweating
Find focus
Learning
Feel stronger
Tangible Change in self over time
Child-like play!
Stress relief
Balance
Overcoming obstacles in mind, body, spirit
More overall energy
New friendships
Engage with rhythm
Mental lightness
Relief from anxiety/depression
Confidence
Healing
Connection

What others do you know? Which of these to you connect to most? I’d love to hear about them! Please leave a comment below.

Here are some reflections written by my modern dance students at the end of their 30-hour course:

“I hold myself differently when I walk; I feel like I’ve developed more technique for the simplest things like walking. I feel physically stronger, more motivated, and way less lazy.”

“I have noticed that through this class, my overall energy in my days in and out of class has risen and I feel more awake and aware.”

“Modern dance has been all these things to me: being embodied, aware of myself, my connection to the space I’m in and with those around me, and present.”

“Many times during or after class I felt a release of all negative energy and my emotions were able to be fully expressed.”

Here’s your challenge for the week: MOVE your body and DANCE. In a way you long for. Could be in a class or on your own, outside or in your home. To music you love, to the sounds of the outdoors. Slow, medium, fast, wild, or smooth. Naked or clothed. Just find a way to dance.

If you’d like to be in the dance with me, here’s where I’ll be:

Wednesday Night Swing Dance Classes
7-8pm, Kakes Studios, 2115 Pearl Street, Boulder
New sessions starts next week on Feb 3. You can register by purchasing the series of classes here.

Private Dance Lessons
Sessions available Sun, Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri
You choose the form! Modern, Swing, Salsa, Ballroom, Jazz, Tap, Improvisation, general dance training for all forms…ask me if you’re not sure or have other ideas.

Bodywork/Massage Therapy
Sessions available Mon, Fri
Table work or floor work
Address emotional stress, physical tension, life transition, body awareness, athletic overuse, well-being maintenance.

Modern Dance at Front Range Community College (FRCC)
Tues/Thurs 11am-12:15pm, Feb 9 – May 5 (12 weeks)
Westminster Campus, 3645 West 112th Avenue, Westminster, CO 80031
FRCC classes are open to the public! Email me for registration details.

May your next two weeks simply dance!

Soulfully,
Maren

The Most Courageous Thing

Happy New Year! If you received my letter on Friday, you’re getting a double happy new year! If you’re not – I write another newsletter every other Friday focused on embodiment and earth practices. You can read it here. You can sign up for it here.

I hope you are feeling well, rejuvenated from the change in pace over the holidays, and inspired to be back in routine.

Today I want to write to you about courage. Over the past year, I’ve been teaching dance at Front Range Community College. My students are amazing. They come from different age brackets, cultural backgrounds, economic statuses, and regions; most of them never haven taken a dance class in their lives, much less been in a studio.

Each semester I am struck by just how BRAVE it is to sign up for, and repeatedly show up for, a dance class.

Here are some reasons why:

  • You are immediately forced to face the fact that you can’t do everything perfectly right away.
  • You face disappointment and failure daily.
  • You (usually) have to look at yourself in the mirror for a long time.
  • You are asked to relate to your body.
  • There’s no place to hide in the studio. You can be seen everywhere.
  • Your peers will see you dance.
  • You’ll hear unfamiliar music.
  • You must face the fear of “looking stupid”.
  • You must face the fear of getting hurt.
  • You must face the fear of being judged by others.
  • You are stepping into the unknown every time you show up.

I could probably think of hundreds of more reasons. If you have any more, send me a quick reply with your list.

Aside from personal fears that arise when signing up for a dance class, we simultaneously face our western American culture’s incredible knack for feeding our fears and keeping us small.

When else, besides in dance, are we asked to be with our body? To love and move what is there? To make beautiful and strange and silly and athletic art reflective of our own personal vision?

Taking a dance class is not only courageous; it is an act of rebellion.

(Oh boy. I think I have a much longer essay to write. Thanks for helping me start it here!)

As it goes with courage, when it is welcomed and tended to with love, care, respect, and appropriate guidance, it reaps rewards.

Here’s what some of my students discovered:

As time went on I started to break free of my fears of being judged.

One of my goals was to keep dancing after a mess up. I feel like I have really gotten good at this…

I learned how to not only control and coordinate my own body, but also how to coordinate myself with a partner.

The most important skill I have taken from this class is the fact that I am capable of accomplishing any and everything I want.

One of my fears is failing. I’ve learned that the only way you fail is if you don’t try, don’t show up, and simply give up. If you can’t do something, that is ok. Just do your best at anything you put your mind to and that itself leads to success.

In the spirit of courage, what’s a risk you’ve wanted to take that you could engage this week? It could be as simple as going for a walk in the middle of your day when you don’t feel like you have time. Or putting on some weird music and dancing in your living room. I challenge you to identify one risk you can take this week and take one step towards that risk today.

Risk doesn’t have to be something huge – listen to what feels doable but just needs some attention to make it happen. Let this be a risk that fulfills you!

Email me your story (maren@movingjoystudios.com) and/or post it below.

Can’t wait to hear from you! I’m working on my own risks, too!

If you want to work with your body to build courage, here are some ways I can support you:

Wednesday Night Swing Dance Classes
7-8pm, Kakes Studios, 2115 Pearl Street, Boulder

New sessions start at the beginning of the month. This Wednesday is the 2nd week of January’s session. You are welcome to jump in this week, or start in February. You can register by purchasing the series of classes here.

Private Dance Lessons
Sessions available Sun, Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri
You choose the form! Modern, Swing, Salsa, Ballroom, Jazz, Tap, Improvisation, general dance training for all forms…ask me if you’re not sure or have other ideas.

Bodywork/Massage Therapy
Sessions available Mon, Fri
Table work or floor work (stretching, gentle movement, somatic practices)
Address emotional stress, physical tension & pain, life transition, body awareness, well-being maintenance.
*(yes, even rest via massage can build courage!)

 

Modern Dance at Front Range Community College (FRCC)
Tues/Thurs 11am-12:15pm, Feb 9 – May 5 (12 weeks)
Westminster Campus, 3645 West 112th Avenue, Westminster, CO 80031
FRCC classes are open to the public! Email me for registration details.

Sparks of blissful courage to you as you start 2016.

In the dance,

Maren

Straightforward Self Healing

I know I’ve been struggling to get enough deep rest as we approach the darkest day of the year. Anyone else?

This week I want to share with you another practice that cultivates rest that I lead in almost every workshop I teach. It’s called a Body Scan.

I love body scanning because it adds structure and specificity to the practice of lying down, and it is one of the quickest ways I know to center in my body and nurture my body awareness.

I also love it because it trains our ability to imagine. In Body Scanning, we use imagery – a vital artistic tool – to direct attention, elicit sensation, and self-heal.

I’ve been working with Body Scan for so long I don’t remember when and where I learned it! Various teachers have added their styles, so here’s my personal stew of another simple tool to bring you back to life.

The best part of this practice is that it’s portable, easygoing with time, and there’s no such thing as an overdose!

Body Scan for AWARENESS OF SENSATION and RELAXATION
Tips for Practicing: Read all the way through, then begin by gently talking yourself through the practice with as much as you can remember. OR Record yourself reading the steps, taking your time, then play it back as you do the practice. OR another creative way you invent!

  1. Prepare the Space
    • Lie down on the floor. For work-day practice, turn away from your screen, sit tall on the edge of your seat, and rest your hands in your lap. For parenting at home, try this while washing dishes (maybe skip the close your eyes part ;).
  2. Consider Time
    • I love taking at least 10 minutes for this practice. It can also be done in 2. Try it all depending on your needs. In only takes a shift of awareness to begin.
  3. Shift the Energy
    • Bring your body into healthy alignment: Visualize a long vertical line of energy from head to toe and align your hips, ribcage, and head along this axis. If you’re lying down, the floor is doing this for you.
    • Close your eyes.
    • As we bring attention to parts of the body, imagine warm rays of sunshine passing over those parts, inviting letting go, softening, and relaxation.
    • Bring your attention to the top of your head. What sensations do you notice? Can you feel temperature? Pressure? Can you feel your scalp?
    • As you imagine sun warming your face, soften the space between your eyes. Relax your ears.
    • Allow your brain to relax inside your skull.
    • Relax the roof of your mouth, your tongue. Relax your throat and neck.
    • Allow your shoulders to soften, as if warm water was rolling off your shoulders draining all unnecessary tension with it.
    • Let the warm sunshine spread down your upper arms, elbows, forearm, wrist, hand, and fingers. What sensations do you notice? Allow yourself to linger and listen.
    • Moving down your spine, softening you upper back, mid-back, the space behind the heart.
    • Now allow the release of any unnecessary tension in your low back. Let the floor or chair truly support you here.
    • Soften the contents of your abdomen and allow them to rest in the bowl of the pelvis.
    • Relax inside your hip sockets.
    • Let the awareness spread between your legs.
    • Now your upper thighs, knees, shins, ankles, tops of your feet, toes soles of your feet.
    • Feel your body bathed in sunlight. Make another invitation to your entire body to let go of any unnecessary tension.
    • Breathe. Receive Sensation. Feel.
  4. Return
    • Slowly open your eyes and let in the light.
    • Wiggle fingers and toes, breathe deeply, and stretch if you feel the urge.
    • Slowly roll to one side. Pause.
    • Sit up slowly. Pause.
    • Stand up slowly. Pause. (If you did this sitting, I encourage you to take a walk around before your next task).
  5. Reflect
    • Do you notice any changes in the way your body feels? Any changes in your energy level? Your emotional states? Your focus or clarity?

It’s fundamental to understand that whatever you are feeling is your truth. The body scan may leave your more tired, more energized, aware of an area of tension needing attention, more relaxed, or….and each time will be different.

This is a BODY AWARENESS practice. It is to bring YOU closer to YOUR BODY.

I invite you try this ONCE this week – before Friday. Tell me about it below!

I’ll be taking some time off at the end of the year, so the next post will be on Monday, January 11.

BEFORE THE BREAK, I AM DANCING FOR PEACE IN BOULDER. WOULD YOU JOIN ME?

SUNDAY DECEMBER 20: Flocking for Peace
Flocking for peace is an embodied movement for peace. We are gathering 50-100 people on Sunday, Dec 20, in North Boulder Park to move together like a flock of birds with the intention of creating a unified field of possibility for peace on earth. I’m part of the leadership team, which includes some incredible seasoned spiritual leaders, choreographers, activists, and artists. Read More and Join the Movement on our Facebook Page. Open to all ages! No dance or movement experience needed.

Enjoy the dark nights, the bright stars, and your tender body as this year comes to a close.

In the spirit of and in service to joy,

Maren

PS – Know anyone who could use some straightforward self-healing guidance? Or who is an educator and might benefit from learning about the body scan for leading it in their classroom? Please forward this post! Thank you!