Always Be Dancing Expressive Arts

Yoga and Flamenco for Every(body)


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¡Olé Namaste!

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Pictured above from top left: Two students strike a pose, Hurley School, Boston; Eve Costarelli (AKA Eva Lorca); Students learning palmas at St. Stephens after-school program, Boston, MA; Visual representations of flamenco; Antonio Tiriti and Eve performing at the Natick Farmer’s Market; Students performing the story of Ferdinand The Bull; Eve teaching how braseo to students of St. Stephen’s after-school program, Boston, MA; Eve and some students. (Thank you to Celebrity Series and Robert Torres for the pictures of Eve and St. Stephen’s)

I am a flamenco dancer. Through this dance, I communicate my kinship to the gypsies, a group of wanderers/nomads/pilgrims who migrated from Northern India during the 8th and 9th centuries. One route that they took was through Saudi Arabia and Northern Africa, before arriving in Spain through the Straits of Gibraltar. These gypsies were comprised of expert metal workers, animal tenders and entertainers. They arrived in Spain when the country was controlled by the Moors (made up of Arabs, Syrians and Berbers). In Spain, the gypsies mixed freely amongst the veritable melting pot of cultures. In Andalucía, a region in Southern Spain known as the birth place of flamenco, the gypsies found a land that suited them and found a sense of connection with the people who lived there: the Jews, the Moors and the Spaniards. The gypsies absorbed the diverse cultures around them: the music of the Moors, the songs of the Sephardic Jews and the dances of the Spaniards and then coupled with their heritage from India, they transformed the music, song and dance into the art of flamenco.

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My journey to become a flamenco dancer has been a deeply personal artistic pursuit. I have found that the greatest joy of flamenco is discovering my interpretation and style within the art form. As a flamenco dancer, I possess the capacity for self-controlled passion and emotional expression which becomes the underlying energy which motivates me to dance. This is my life force, my soul, my chi, my prana. Duende, the passion and inspiration within, is the heart of the flamenco artist. It is the transfer of emotions across space. It is the energetic imprint of the raw emotion released as a result of a performer’s intense emotional involvement with the music, song and dance. It is in the sum the energy the dancer takes from the earth, drawing it up through the soles of their feet. It travels through the body electrifying the the base, the core, the heart and shines forth through the crown of her head.

It is in this sensation filled space that I find the connection between flamenco and yoga. I speculate that the gypsies created the movements in flamenco directly in correlation to the yoga body. The energy centers, the chakras, directly speaking to the emotional output of the artist. I believe that the gypsies brought with them an underlying understanding of yoga and that this physical, emotional and spiritual connection to the body was then naturally incorporated into flamenco’s expression. It is fascinating to teach flamenco under the label of mindfulness. I incorporate it (plus a smattering of other rhythmic and contemplative movement forms) into all of my youth yoga classes. I find that flamenco is a perfect addition as its many benefits go hand-in-hand with the benefits of yoga.

Flamenco and Yoga both:

  • Stimulate memory, thinking and retention
  • Increase the ability to focus, listen, observe and absorb
  • Reduce Stress
  • Strengthen the heart muscle, both physically and emotionally
  • Increase positive energy
  • Develop balance, flexibility and coordination
  • Strengthen confidence, patience and risk taking skills
  • Build community
  • Deepen sense of self
  • Expand world view
  • Heighten happiness
  • Help you get in touch with your emotions and give you a safe outlet for their release
  • Cultivate accessibility, adaptability and inclusivity

When you want to plant a flower, you first need to till the soil, nourish it, plant the seeds, water it, and then sit back and wait to see the blossom….now in relation to the flamenco body. If you imagine that the soil line is at the hips, so your legs and your feet are the roots below the surface. The roots grow down and ground the dance to the earth. From the waist up is the blossom, growing from the soil line (which is your hips). This is the blossom. With good, strong roots, you then use the upper body to create the shapes and lines true to flamenco, building out of the hips and allowing the legs and feet to move separately.”

My favorite part about teaching is sharing my love of movement and making both the arts of flamenco and yoga accessible. Yoga is not one tangible thing. It is not movement; it is not breath; it is not meditation. What it is, is all of these things. Each of these elements leaves an energetic imprint, a vibrational frequency on the person, and that is the yoga. I love both yoga and flamenco in my life and I live to share them. With each personal exploration of my own energy’s movement, I teach. Yoga and flamenco are deeply connected to my soul, and I am constantly evolving. I choreograph the dance between effort and surrender. I find such joy in these sensations. All I want to do is to share them with my students.


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Book Review: Disruptive Stubborn Out Of Control by Bo Hejlskov Elvén

IMG_6706I was pleased to get a copy of this book. It seems ground breaking in its vision of dealing with disruptive classroom behavior as it does not blame the disruptive students as acting out on purpose, but instead the resounding message of the book is, kids will behave, if they can. To me, that is a refreshing perspective as it seems in most cases that students are punished for their inability to act appropriately even when it seems that a reward option is being exercised. This is the case for sticker charts etc. We think these are systems of reward but they are quite insidious and are actually just as likely to be a system of punishment. We think that if we force the children through behavior modification to behave appropriately and that we will see a change in their negative behavior but this is only true up until the point that they cannot behave appropriately. This book does a great job showing examples of behavior, explaining through simple charts the sequence of events, and offers action plans. But most of all, it makes the adults, the teachers, the ones responsible for changing the outcome of negative behavior. It may seem an insurmountable task, along with all of the other teaching duties, but in the long run, taking action and responsibility will lead to a stronger sense of community in the classroom and pave the way for a more fluid learning environment for everyone. The back of the book offers insights for personal reelection and a large section of further reading on the subject.

I highly recommend this book as an alternative viewpoint from the norm. It will empower you to take work through and discover a new way of taking charge in your classroom.

How I will use this book:

I too encounter negative behaviors in my yoga classes. By this I mean children who cannot sit quietly and are disruptive and out of control. I want to help these kids so much as I know it must be very difficulty for their classroom teachers and their families to deal with their continued “lit” behaviors. I have a number of such students in the after-school program I teach at that is in a housing development. I am not sure how these kids teachers actually reach them? How do they learn if they cannot shut down and listen? I have starting working separately with each of these students, for just a few minutes each before my yoga classes begin. I know their “negative” behavior is not on purpose; the just lack self control. So how to help them learn self control? How to take control of their “Me-Me” outbursts? One I idea I had was to create a social story, to show them how their behavior negatively impacts the other students. I spent about 5 minutes talking through the cartoon. I let them know they were not in trouble and I asked if they knew how much noise they made during class (they did not). I made a secret symbol up for them (crossing my fingers at my lips) to let them know tat their “Me-Me” talking had got too loud and disruptive. During class, I used this symbol, but I also called attention to them when they “went there” not by saying “shhhhh” but calling their name, getting them to “see me” and saying they were too loud. This coming week, I am going to have one of my assistants keep track for me how many times they are disruptive during class so that I can actually show them data of their disruptions. Well day one went very well. I did not let their behavior distract me from teaching but I kept a tight hold on it. At then end of class, these two boys (plus one more who I will be adding into this program) came up to me at the end of class and gave me big hugs. I never expected this and I was totally enveloped by them. It was a glorious feeling of connection!

Full disclosure: Jessica Kingsley Publishers sent me a copy of this book. All onions are my own.