Slow re-entry

I started this post on June 7, 2013.

It’s been about a week without jet lag, 2 1/2 weeks home. That cloudy, out-of-it feeling is mostly gone & today, while swimming, I realized I was feeling sad. I”ve been noticing a kind of low energy & thought it was jet lag; rather, I think it’s the transition to my life here, so different than what I did while away.

Back to work, which is fine. My job is good, a little boring, but I love my co-workers & structure is good for me. My daily ride on the 6AM bus, routine tasks, yoga, swimming, grocery shopping, time with friends. All of it is good & I’m grateful to have a life full of work that makes a difference & friends/family who care. It’s just not the same as the busy, ever changing days of the last month.

One thing I miss a lot is the focus of daily dancing. I was lucky to be the one on the floor, moving in all sorts of ways, with people who were significantly different & yet so much the same as me. Sharing experience through the body is priceless; making a connection to something other than the outside layer of myself seems effortless. I may become my best self when rolling, flailing, scooting, sliding, pivoting to stand with total strangers, who, in amazingly short order, are no longer strange at all.

We did have a daily routine, not so structurally different from here; breakfast together, off to the studio, same car & driver, a full day of work, home for a swim & dinner, then off to our rooms alone. Maybe it’s just the constant attention I miss. Some other things are: the company of so many different people over the course of the month, different languages, different sights, smells & sounds. Everything was an adventure, just looking out the hotel window or driving in the car. Despite the ridiculously busy schedule, it was different & stimulating each day.

In Indonesia our classes were full of women who’d studied traditional dance from their earliest years in school. When I realized that was part of the every day education of girls & young women, I understood why, to almost a one, their fingers were long, lithe & arched backwards towards their wrists whenever they opened their palms. They all had the classic hands of Indonesian dancers & they displayed them endlessly as we moved, no matter the music. I found myself following them, making the hand gestures with my long, crooked fingers. The arm & hand movements were totally up my alley; I even felt a self-satisfaction & a self-confidence boost about my own movement, since so much of it is & has been upper body centered. My being one-legged & all.

There was, also, a beauty & devotion to family & faith & something deeper than day to day, head to head interactions. Their gestures of gratitude & respect were so subtle & so powerful. I wanted to remember & continue them; I haven’t thus far but maybe I will. Even the headscarves, which were not only a sign of devotion but a fashion statement & beauty booster, were a little awe inspiring. Religion is not something I practice, and I was a little nervous about being with people who are so devout they pray, unfailingly, 5 times a day. Whatever pre-conceived notions I had melted away. The Indonesian women I met are as diverse as any in America, as interested in having family & career, as conscious of fashion, as quirky & fun loving, with or without head scarves. The men we met seemed much the same. We had just one man, besides Reiza, in our teacher training; several did participate in the public workshop.

In Mongolia we were faced with the challenges of inaccessibility: the very different language & alphabet, steps to our hotel & everywhere else, squat toilets, being on the 9th floor with a non-working elevator, negotiating traffic as we walked to the Genghis Khan Pub each night, how to respond to the seemingly cautious, proud Mongolians, who looked at us as if they wanted us banished. In the workshops, I felt as if some of the young men were checking us out, wary of our motives. They seemed skeptical, although that changed considerably over each 3 day session. It made for good pondering; Alito & I talked about it; it was a stimulating challenge trying to get behind their somewhat steely exteriors. So never boring. These are the things that bring out the best in me: my positive attitude, desire to make all things seem effortless, curiosity about what’s below the surface in people. They can accentuate my fierce independence & tendency to deny what’s really happening, as well. I’m happy for the chance to notice aspects of myself that become accented when I’m in new situations & for the desire that arises to work to soften that next little bit.

We were beat by the time we got to the Philippines, yet, there too, my fascination with the things I saw & the spirit & character of the people & place kept me going more than a good number of hours a day. Almost every day I was up at 6A and still finishing up the blog at midnight. Here I drag on if up that many hours, day after day; there it fueled me. Or maybe my body just took over, knowing what it had to do. Either way it worked & was fun. The Filipinos were a tad goofy as a group, full of energy bursting forth. They seem a naturally joyful, lighthearted people. I struggled some with thoughts that they were less “deep” than the other two cultures. A judgment that keeps me out of the moment. They were engaged from the start, and for the most part, very good improvisers & much more willing to verbally share in the circles. I had many of my best, most connected & fun dances with individuals & small groups there. And their devotion to the arts & respect, shown in lifetime financial support & the kind of tribute in death we were a part of, is testament to their depth as a people.

In all three groups we found very interested participants, most of them in their 20s and 30s. It was encouraging in that they will be the people most likely to take Alito’s work on into their communities & the future. The best thing that could happen would be a Teacher Training, with available scholarships, to be held somewhere in the area, so those who want it can have a more in depth experience in mixed groups. The message is, at it’s core, about inclusivity on all levels & in all things. Something all the world continues to work towards, each country & region at it’s own pace.

It requires, first & foremost, an acceptance of the premise that we can only be a better society if all bodies speak & all voices are heard. Then, there’s the daunting work of accessibility, made more complex in some older cultural areas, by the amazing structures that should not be destroyed or awkwardly altered just so I, in my wheelchair, can gain access. It’s unfortunate that I may not be able to be a part of everything, everywhere, in the same way as everyone else. All of the natural world is not available to all beings. That’s not what real inclusivity is. All of life is not the same for all of us.

It comes back to acceptance and attitude. One hearty lesson, more front & center as a result of this adventure.

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Posted in Contemporary dance, International dance, Mixed abilities dance, Travel | Leave a comment

Back in the USA–leftovers on my mind

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We left Traders Hotel at 5AM Sunday & were home by 2PM Sunday; it feels too fast somehow. I need time to catch up with myself. Three easy flights, Manila to Tokyo to Portland to Eugene, short layovers with decent WiFi, food, wine & movies on board and Sara & Tashi greeting us with orchids on arrival. I have no idea how to keep them alive; just have to trust that I can nurture the orchids & the precious new that’s inside of me. The rosebud Ujo gave me the night of the Manila dinner slowly opened; I left it behind & I’m wondering about it now. Ujo bought it from a little girl on the street.

Walking into my apartment, I felt a little lost. Just me and the stuff that’s here; no agenda, no group to anticipate, a bunch of laundry to do & mail to go through. Yuck! My mind’s blank; the stuff that built up in my body over the month hasn’t made it’s way through my cellular filters & up into my head, where I hope to be able to make enough sense of it to articulate something about how the trip changed me. I need patience & a gentle attention; integration takes time & an open-mindedness.

I putzed around for a few hours, then went swimming. Something for my body & to begin the process of settling in to home & routine. Then to the grocery store for much craved salad fixings; when I returned with the veggies, the lion was parked next to me, smiling in my window. Honestly, it looked real, like ‘Life of Pi’. Hadn’t thought of it until now, but maybe I’ll look up the lion animal totem. Everything speaks.

On a more leftover bent, I want to mention the amazing chandeliers (there are three of them) that hang over the lobby space in the CCP. Being a regular floor mover, I had the opportunity to look up at, into & through them to the painted ceiling beyond. They’re made from a native shell & crystal and have been hanging since the 60s, when the center was built. It’s an awesome space; they add a touch of regal.

Another leftover is related to two parts of the closing remarks delivered by Tony, one of our embassy hosts. He cited a phrase Alito speaks during every exercise, “a short time more”, & reminded us all that life is short. Tony encouraged us to get on with things that matter, to shape ourselves in a way that feels good to our bodies & our beings. I hadn’t thought of those words in that way & felt it to be a recognition of Alito’s simplicity & wisdom. In another part of his remarks, he talked about choosing how we are born into life; he hinted at us having many lives & that many of those may be forgotten. Alito pointed out that he said disabled people chose to be born that way, without saying why or how. Initially, I think I ignored the remarks, since it’s not an unfamiliar notion. I’ve wondered whether cancer materialized in my leg as a way of concentrating troubling stuff, trapped in my body, so that it could be amputated from my being with the physical mass of the leg. A kind of clearing out so I could go on with less baggage. As I sit with Tony’s words, I feel uncomfortable with someone else deciding for me, & a whole group of people, how we came to be as we are. Seems to me it’s best to come to these kinds of insights on one’s own. There are many burdens & responsibilities that come with being a disabled person in the world today. When I’m told that I chose these, I’m robbed of the chance to come to my own understanding. More will be revealed; I can’t ignore what pushes my buttons.

A couple more things I never had the time to share. One is that much of the sushi fish in Japan & China comes from the waters around the Philippines. There’s a very good sushi restaurant, Kitsho Japanese Restaurant & Sake Bar, in the Traders Hotel; they serve Fugu, blowfish or pufferfish, which can be lethally poisonous if not carefully cut to remove toxins & avoid contaminating the meat. All of this from Chris, the CCP VP, former Hawaiian theater professor & sushi eater. Alito & I never had the chance to visit the restaurant. I’ve never tried Fugu; a missed opportunity.

The other is more historical. Islam is the oldest recorded monotheistic religion in the Philippines; it reached the islands in the 14th century. The Spanish conquest strengthened Christianity & now the islands are predominantly Catholic. One of the participants wore a scapula around his neck; I remember getting one when I made my Holy Communion. It was pinned to my undershirt, a kind of protection. I asked him about his & he offered it to me. I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, although I can’t resist going to church in foreign places (no opportunity this trip) & receiving communion. We agreed to pray for each other; I’ll remember to do that when I look at the scapula.

Religion is very important in the islands, whether it be organized Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Indigenous beliefs. There is still an area in the south Philippines that is 5-9% Muslim & has been subject to Taliban infiltration attempts; it’s an area close to Indonesia. According to Tony, the people have resisted because they hold tight to their art & dance traditions, which would be taken away under Taliban rule. The US Embassy is working to strengthen the populations in that area so they can maintain their traditions & their democracy.

After midnight again & still writing. I’ve enjoyed creating this blog more than I ever imagined &, I like writing late at night. It’s not the best for my early AM awakening to support work & my swimming routine. I don’t want to give up the writing routine; not sure what to plug in for focus & purpose. Maybe the thing to do now is to go back over all I’ve written to see if there’s a clue in there about where to go next. And, I’ll ponder what to do to work out the late night/early morning dilemma.

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Traditional Philippine Dance meets Improvisation

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Our last day in Manila began, pretty much on time, in the large lobby space of the CCP; it’s Saturday here, minimal traffic, so most people were here by 9:15AM. Alito started with a regular warm-up, even though the plan was to teach material suitable for developmentally & mentally challenged people. Then on to a brief circle warm-up, with 1, then 2, then 3 people making a shape in the center; the rest of us in the circle made a shape in relationship to the 1 person or chose which of the 2 or 3 to make relationship to. An exercise in providing an opportunity for each participant to make a choice, something some people never have a chance to do intentionally. Then we split into groups of six, each with a leader, & did essentially the same thing in the smaller groups. Then the the 2 lines of 3, with 1 line making a shape together & the other making a response. All to see if the participants understood the 1 action, 1 response structure. Alito demonstrated with the developmentally disabled woman in our group. She’d come a long way in the 4 days; the first day she refused Alito’s invitation to demonstrate an exercise with him. At the end of that day, she sat in one place during a big group movement score; I stayed near so she wouldn’t be alone (part of Alito’s method) & as a point of teaching for the group. The next day Alito asked if he could tell the group some things about her; she agreed. After that ‘coming out’, she seemed to participate more easily & was willing to demonstrate with Alito. The group was able to provide opportunities for her to participate & to allow her to move in & out in her own time. Her mother, a special education teacher, thanked Alito for allowing her to be a part of the group. He told her she was an important teacher for the group; she challenged us all to make space for her uniqueness & gave the would-be teachers a chance to work with her different abilities. He asked the young woman if she understood; she beamed (as she did whenever she demonstrated with Alito) & nodded. Her mother did the same.

Sometimes I forget that we’re all teaching others when we let ourselves be seen doing what we love. This is the basic philosophy of DA; Alito often stresses that society can’t grow unless we include all people, not to help the differently abled, but because we all need to learn from each other. Frequently, though, the attitude of helping the disabled, or being nice to them by including them, being willing to play with them, still prevails; even in the minds of those with the disabilities. I see it in myself (still second guessing about what I have to offer, though much much less often) & I heard it frequently enough in all three countries, with disabled participants or their families thanking people for doing such a nice thing, or able bodied dancers wanting to help loosen up their disabled students or break through their walls, or help them have fun or feel better. Nothing wrong with any of that in some ways; it’s just that it sounds like the helpers are making choices for the people they assume need their help. So there’s little communication happening & little acknowledgement of what we can learn when we let people be who they are and get to know them starting from that place, without a superimposed agenda. Subsequently we, the people who others want to help, have to begin to believe we are teachers, have something of value to offer, because we can make our own choices, live our own lives & ask for help when we need it.

Next, we worked a little with follow the leader w/constant eye contact & the low, medium, high sculptures. Then we formed groups of 5 with numbers 1-5 moving anywhere, in order; number 1 moves & stops where #2 can see her, then #2 move & stops where #3 can see phim and on like that. That score became the beginning of the showing we did in the afternoon ceremony. We added the running and, ‘homes’, line with thinking movement & walking backwards work we’d done a few days before.

Lunch was the familiar sectioned box, with either the head or tail of a blackened tilapia; the whole fish was cut down the middle, crispy on the outside, tender, warm & white underneath & served straight up with a little cup of salty shrimp/anchovy paste. Also in the box was a cup of beef adobe, a small whole, grilled eggplant that was scrumptiously soft with that smoky grill flavor, a few sauted julienned veggies and the usual mound of rice. To my tastebuds, it was the best lunch box we had in the Philippines.

After lunch we settled into massage groups of 3 with a focus on physicality, not sensuality, alternating 2 givers to 1 receiver; the exercise took about 40 minutes. A few of the older gents were joking around, pulling & poking each other; Alito pounced. He asked that they be respectful of each other & the group. Moderately successful. There are a few men who’ve horsed around, on & off, during the four days, sometimes miming ballerinas, sometimes jumping, leaping & slamming the floor. (Later, in the closing circle, the same man defended himself by saying he was allowing his inner happy, playful self to be active in the class. Valid enough, maybe poor timing.) Then, we rehearsed the score we’d put together for the showing; we were all tired & it took a while for most of us to remember what we’d done, where we began, what groups we were part of. We got there thanks to the group intelligence & working together. This is a group that’s worked continuously & energetically. Many of them are beautiful movers; together, we’ve created some stunning improvisations over the four days.

Time for a break before the closing ceremonies. Many spoke in the ending circle, a few more than once. The beauty of simplicity, being all together, learning to wait, seeing space and gratitude traveling back & forth between me & Alito and all of them, were the main themes. Finding a way to carry on & give back to their communities was prime in many minds. We ended the circle anticipating the usual afternoon snack, then the ceremony with video, group showing & the duet with me & Alito.

Some things change. No snack before we re-membered ourselves. Odd. Then we were told there would be a celebration ‘cocktail party’ for all of us after the ceremony. And, there would be participant performances after ours. There were hints of the performances throughout the break; different dancers were appearing in fancy regalia, putting on make-up or huddling secretly.

Chinggay didn’t realize she could invite an audience for the ceremony & showing, so there were just a few spectators: Robin, the public affairs officer at the Embassy & her 80+ y/o parents (Her dad, who calls himself a cripple, has mild Parkinson’s & has taken to being mad at himself for needing a walker or wheelchair. He’s a delightful, blue-eyed, curious & adventurous man struggling with the new limitations.), Denisa, the renowned Filipino choreographer & a friend, a few of the dancers’ friends and some CCP & embassy staff.

Tango Tangle was a hit; Emery’s a household name in Indonesia, Mongolia & the Philippines now. The showing went well. Alito & I were good enough, rolling around in our exhausted states. Then came the good stuff. Our group was made up of people brought from provinces outside of Manila; maybe there were 5 or 6 groups, including the local Manila one. Each group donned regional native costumes & improvised a score using traditional movements & one or more of the exercises they learned over the 4 days. There was some interesting singing; apparently Filipinos like to sing as much as dance! Maybe they practice dancing more!! In one group piece a woman wore a mask, in one a man pretended to hurt his leg & the group had to improvise with mixed up abilities. In another, tubes of fabric were used as slings around the torso, skirts, dresses, all part of a dance performed with movement & stillness, action & response. The wheelchair ballroom group showed off some of it’s moves (not nearly enough to satisfy my desires) including flips, successive wheelchair twirling (maybe 4-5 really fast spins) and phrases done in sync by all the dancers. It was a mix of fun, frivolity, beautiful traditional movement & costumes, creative use of the DA exercises, nice improvising and a thoughtful & moving (no pun intended) gift to all who were there. My camera got stuck in zoom mode during some of it so the pictures do not begin to capture the dances. Bums me out! Ujo & others were filming so maybe in the documentary…

All proceeded upstairs in the CCP to a large ‘L-shaped’ room, with surround windows brilliantly framing the fiery sunset, for a feast of traditional Filipino finger foods, punch & beer. The bar was in the crook of the ‘L’ & the buffet set up along it’s long arm. Small, round, high tables were set up around the empty space. There were shrimp & shredded something fried pancakes, crispy sesame wrapped bananas (just sweet enough to cause a craving), Balout, fertilized duck eggs that are marinated somehow (I had a bite, tasty, but I was afraid of the bad belly thing), something like tortillas cut in triangles topped with shredded cabbage(maybe) & something else very tasty, tiny fried Lumpia, fish skewers, avocado, crab & shrimp sushi & maybe more. The no-show snacks (noodle soup & fat, white dumplings filled with some kind of meat) were offered, too. It was all delicious, this, the second dinner CCP hosted for the whole group of 30+. The CCP/embassy staff had been taking photos & put together a slide show; it was fun to see clips from the 4 days of sculptures, odd pairings, beautiful relationships & silly postures. We had a brief chance to connect socially, say hello & goodbye and move onto our hotel. Many of the participants knew each other from previous meetings; few ever had the chance to dance & eat together like they did during this training. All thanks to the generosity of the American Embassy Manila & the CCP.

Alito & I packed up, dusted off, decompressed & met up for a beer in the lobby Lounge where we lounged on the couches, drank beers, ate peanuts & some potato chip-like but nothing like a potato chip thing. Just enough; an hour of music, though, not as good as our first foray into the Lounge. A very sweet young waitress with braces flirted with Alito. Back to the room for a 4AM awakening.

There’s more, so tomorrow Leftovers near and later in the week, as things settle and slowly move from my body to my mind, Leftovers far.

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An unusual glimpse of a beautiful culture

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This morning began an hour earlier than the last few days. We were picked up at 8:15AM so we’d arrive at the CCP in time for the processional into the main theater in memory of the National Artist, Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana, an actress who died May 12 at 96 y/o. The Philippines honors artists who have contributed significantly to the development of Philippine arts, by nominating them for National Artist designation. Upon nomination a committee reviews their body of work & decides who will be recognized in this way; the artists are announced by virtue of a Presidential proclamation. National Artists represent all categories of the arts; they receive a monthly stipend & full medical & life insurance upon receiving the designation. Within days of their death, they are remembered with a necrological service in the main theater that includes a state funeral with military honors; the flags outside the Center are flown at half mast until the ceremony is completed.

The center staff, dressed in lavender traditional style garb, was present, assisting the invited guests gathered in the lobby before the processional, helping all get seated & escorting people out of the theater. Many of the male attendees wore traditional style ecru, short sleeve, button front shirts, made from banana skin or other natural fibers. Most are sheer, with the look, oddly enough, of some of the traditional shell jewelry. The shirts are similar in style to the Indonesian batik shirts; the fabric is different. Some of the women guests wore embroidered tops or dresses; many were dressed in white. The stage was set with a center area of white flowers & greenery, where the urn with Daisy’s ashes rested; two military men framed the sides. The CCP seal hung from the ceiling. The edges of the stage were lined with the flowers & greenery, too. A full orchestra, in white jackets, formed an arc in front of the stage. It was a stunning site to see as we slowly made our way into the theater.

We were invited as a group; most of the us had never attended anything like it. It meant an entire morning without dancing, a significant reduction in the training time. Alito & I had never heard of National Artists; we followed the lead of Chinggay & Chris, who thought the experience would be a good one for the group. They, also, suggested we take a short tour of the small galleries, that reside in the center, following the ceremony.

I watched as all manner of people filed in; frail elders were wheeled near me or lovingly assisted in walking down the steps to the front of the theater. The other living National Artists, wearing their ornate, gilded necklace-style medals were, also, escorted to the first row. Shortly after the service began each living NA was escorted up the few stairs to the stage to leave a white rose in a designated place in front of the urn. The respect, attention, TLC & courtesy shown to all those who participated in the ceremony was moving. Daisy’s co-star, in her most famous role in the play ‘A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino’, was wheeled on stage in a wheelchair; she took maybe 10 minutes to circuitously tell the story of their relationship during, & in the many years following, their work together. That she was granted the opportunity to speak in her own way, in her own time was a tremendous gift to those attending. I felt it as an acceptance of her as she is, & a respect of her achievements & her age.

Daisy’s daughter & granddaughter spoke about her as a mother & grandmother. Both tributes were simple statements of the artist as person. Her granddaughter choked up as she was saying her final goodbye. Her daughter read a short poem about saying goodbye; it was a poem Daisy had cut from a magazine after her one y/o baby daughter died many years ago.

Following the musical, dance & theater tributes to this beautiful woman, the military guards carried her ashes out of the theater & completed the funeral with a military salute accompanied by a military band. Our group met & watched the end through a window. We were all moved; many of us, despite having no relationship with the artist or her work, cried much of the way through the hour long ceremony. For me, it was much more than the artist ceremony; I experienced the Filipino culture on full display. The respect paid to the elders & other frail guests, the very idea of honoring artists in this way, the time granted to the tributes needing to be made & the palpable sense of loss with the death of a generous member of the Philippine nation are, to me, all aspects of a people. The Philippine people embody inclusivity, respect, generosity, love of the arts & artists & much more. I experienced the culture as it is every day, only heightened & crystallized, in this tribute to one of their beloved people.

We toured the galleries (pictured are some of the treasures); in the music room, curated by Menchie, one of our CCP collaborators, we were encouraged to play the instruments; we pounded on drums, tapped various xylophone type structures made of wood and/or metal, used dowel like sticks to hit the Bangibang or tap on the floor. Bing, the man with the leather bands on his calves, comes from the southern province of Mindanao & teaches humanities; he gave a mini walking tour through the musical & the culture galleries. This is another indigenous people that remind me of Native Americans; Bing agreed. Like the Mongolians, they look similar and their native art patterns & the ritualistic nature of their traditions mimic each other. Nothing is exactly the same; they’re just similar enough to suggest that we’re all related & likely descended from the same blood.

The Mona Lisa Project was in another small space; there were all manner of visual art takes on the traditional painting. Many were done in the last 1-2 years. There was a zombie interpretation, a garishly colored collage of current fashion images, a few without facial features; my two favorites are pictured; the pictures don’t begin to capture the feeling of either. Both popped out at me immediately as I entered the space. Other viewers chose other representations as their favs. It’s the eye of the beholder thing.

We had a full afternoon of dancing with progressive touch, beginning with what can be felt in the space around a person. We took turns being still & exploring the other’s body without touch, then with tracing the skin, then with weight. Next came taking weight & using an impulse from the body to signal your partner to leave. Then duets using any of what we’d learned in all of the days of this teaching. Some people were challenging each other in giving & taking weight; Alito spent time explaining the difference between that challenging mindset & the curious one, where you slowly enter your partner’s body through space, then skin & only into weight with good listening to what’s happening in your partner’s body. There’s been a sort of machismo dynamic present since the beginning; there are many men, which always changes the feeling of a group. It’s got a playful aspect to it, but the leaping & jumping & slamming feels a little like showing off. Not a problem, just my observation. In dancing with weight sharing, showing off works if you’re skilled; for beginners it can tend toward dangerous. Alito initially said the duets might go several minutes; in the end, I think we finished earlier for the safety of the group. The duets separated, lining up on opposite walls; the dancers on one wall entered & did a solo based on the images they remembered from the afternoon’s dancing. Maybe 3 minute solos; same for the other wall of people. In the closing circle Alito asked people to share their process for dancing the solo based on his suggestion. Most of the sharing was rambling, not that I could’ve shared any more coherently. My process was to begin with an image I remembered & loosely follow images that came, revisiting them in the new space. I randomly found 2 of the partners I had during the exercises & made brief, familiar relationships with them. I ended with another image from one of the exercise duets.

We were interviewed by a media representative before returning to the hotel. Alito chose a night alone; good for me, too. Ujo filmed me blogging. Then an interview about the Philippine workshop so far; then my closing message, my feelings about the trip, what did I learn. I ate the snack from this afternoon, rice porridge with slivers of fresh ginger & chicken cooked in. It was delicious but my belly didn’t like it. It left me shortly after I enjoyed it. I ordered ice cream from room service; maybe dumb after the porridge, but it’s been ok in the belly.

I began packing for the trip home. Almost unbelievable. Where would I go next if we weren’t going home?

Posted in Contemporary dance, International dance, Mixed abilities dance, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sinking in, shopping, swimming & seeing the NBA

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Three nights & 2 days to go until we’re on the long flights home. Hard to believe the time has gone by so fast; we’ve seen & done so much. I can still remember my first impression of Jakarta in the taxi to the hotel. And the shock to my comfort zone with all the attention & service. That’s followed us all the way through. Here in Manila we’re called sir & madame by everyone, even the participants. We’re constantly telling them, no sir or madame, just Alito or Karen; they nod & say yes madame (looks an awful lot like madman), Karen.

Today, one of the deaf women, said she feels like I’m her mother. The Indonesian women called me Ebu, which means mother. It’s a high form of respect & a way to express gratitude to an older woman for teaching what she knows. It’s another something that pushes some discomfort buttons; is it hard to accept that I am old enough to be these young women’s mother or is it had to accept that I have, indeed, taught them & had a positive influence in their lives? For sure, it’s hard to know which.

On to this day. We started late again; our schedule says we begin at 9AM; today it was closer to 10AM again. Traffic delayed the participants traveling by car. It’s the reality; this country, and the other 2 we visited, all have their own time. Like Bonnie Dunn time, it can’t be sped up. It is what it is & we have to accept it (or pull our hair out!). A circle to begin, then a little longer warm-up, one of my favorite parts. A chance for a few minutes of an Authentic Movement experience in any given day is a big treat. I’m always prepared to stay out if Alito needs me; hasn’t happened, so I’ve indulged, with gusto, in every single warm-up of this trip.

The rest of the morning was devoted to numbers. Five in the line, 1-2-3-4-5, each make a shape staying in the line & repeat again & again. Then in a more organic space, 1 moves in & takes a shape, then 2 and on. Then the same with #1 moving to another place in the space with 2, then 3 etc., joining. Finally, going anywhere in the space while continuing to move only when the number before you stops. We’d had the same groups for the whole morning, which increased the quality & intensity of the relationships & made for a really beautiful group improvisation. We continue to have some leapers, jumpers & body slammers; the group was so focused by the end, they’d slid in & all was ok. Most of the participants sunk into an improv state, in which you know who & where you are &, at the same time, have joined a group consciousness. Alito did something brilliant at the end; he instructed everyone to lie down, relax & remember, re-see & feel, the images that most stood out. Not a thinking thing; more just allowing that state to fill The space & bodies. I lay there for a few minutes, remembering & then the tears came; they’re movement traveling through the inside of me. I’m moved by what people can create & experience together in such a short time. It’s community beautification project in our dance space.

At lunch, Alito & I sat with Tony (pictured with beard & necklace), our local embassy host; I had the chance to ask him about his writing; according to the CCP staff, he’s one of the Philippines’ art greats, having written 41 books & short stories, at least one Libretto & several plays that have been performed. He’s a visual artist & a shaman, as well, and has worked for the embassy in Manila for 34 years. Each day he’s wearing a different chunky necklace, strung with big, beautiful, unusual beads, which are excavation finds, re-strung, that he picks up at antique shops; he’s got a tattoo on the crown of his head, visible because he’s balding in that spot, & several other tattoos on his fingers; maybe other places, invisible to the naked eye. He & Alito seemed to clash a bit in the first few days; Tony had what seemed like a personal agenda involving what we might do to make our visit a true cultural exchange; he suggested we learn a traditional Filipino dance & find simple costumes to perform in when we return to the US. I think he didn’t know what to expect from us initially; today he seemed to sink in, with the rest of us, not to the dancing, since he hasn’t been moving with us, but to the DA philosophy. Whatever, it was a good day with Tony Perez. You can find him, & the things he’s written on the web if you Google Tony Perez Philippines.

Alito showed the ‘Hoop Dance’ he choreographed for himself & Karen Nelson in 1984. I suggested it; we have many choreographers in the group who, I thought, would enjoy it. We showed ‘Wheels of Fortune’, too. Both were well recieved; both are ambitious dances & gave the group a sense of Alito’s broad range of talent & accomplishment. It’s something I’ve come to see in a new light on this trip & I think the groups have all appreciated seeing some of Alito’s history. Moving again, we did low, medium & high in groups of three, in place & with traveling, then launched into some exercises we’ve done in the last 2 days, combining them for a mini-performance. We had 2 well known Filipino dance community visitors. Denisa Ruiz (sp?) who studied, choreographed & performed in NYC some years ago & is interested in making dance accessible in the Filipino schools. She was joined by a respected traditional dancer. For the ending of our short ‘informance’, we formed a line close to where the guests were sitting & did ‘Speak your Movement’, substituting thinking for speaking to include the deaf dancers in our group. Then, the slow backwards walk. A palpably beautiful ending to WOW our guests. Then the circle, where there were some interesting comments about it being nice that able bodied people want to join with disabled, and about going to the floor to see how it is for ‘them’. Alito pointed out that them is us & us is them, & that the DA philosophy doesn’t really include those words or ideas. There was a brief discussion. The dancing seems to speak louder than the words; I felt no such separation in as the group moved together. Another dancer said he was slowly understanding the importance of waiting before moving & of stillness. That the exchanges are happening is so good. For these 4 days we are all together, an inclusive group of physically challenged, deaf, developmentally delayed, able bodied (temporarily, as Emery would say) and culturally diverse people. It’s cause for celebration.

Alito met with the Filipino dancer/choreographer to discuss a plan to continue the teacher training & to find a way to make some Filipino trainers. An ambitious undertaking; something DA continues to pursue. At the moment, Alito is the only trainer of teachers. There are many teachers, in many countries worldwide (just one, or maybe a few, in Asia) & likely some of them would like to be trainers. There’s been a lot of interest here, in Asia, during the trip. Funding any project seems to be the biggest stumbling block. Even that can be overcome with collaboration. Alito seems ready to work with whichever people are willing to continue the process.

Onto shopping. We talked about it all week; finding a few more trinkets to bring home for family& friends. Alito had the idea to get Tashi a Jeepney & Sara something for her birthday & Mother’s Day. There’s been so little time that spending it in a shop crowded with stuff has not seemed so inviting. Neither Alito nor I are shoppers, so we haven’t been able to motivate each other to actually GO shopping. Chinggay & Mike saved us from our inert selves; they loaded us up in the van after the day’s activities & drove us to 2 popular Filipino traditional crafts shops. The first, Balikbayan Handicrafts, is full of carved wood furniture, display cases full of pearls, color enhanced coral & other native gems, as well as less precious jewelry, bags, some clothes, foods & pretty much anything else you could imagine. Fun to browse & we each made a purchase. Next we navigated the Mall of Asia, the biggest mall I’ve ever been in, (much bigger than the fancy one in Jakarta), complete with an ice skating rink & a merry-go-round. We found our way to Kultura, (culture in Filipino), where there were racks of traditional style clothes, inexpensive trinkets & jewelry, knickknacks, fancy foods & much more. I bought a few things; Alito went with Mike to another store to search out something for Tashi. Success–he found a rolling Jeepney & something else that he had wrapped; Tashi loves opening presents.

In another above & beyond act of kindness, our hosts offered to take us to our hotel to drop off our things & get our swimsuits, and then, to the Sofitel pool for an evening swim. We met Cannon, our doorman friend from the last 2 visits, and the lovely young greeters in the dresses with the trains. The pool was nearly empty; candles at the tables between the chaises provided much of the light. The pool, itself, was lighted & there were some outdoor lights. I haven’t done much swimming since my daily dips in Yogyakarta, so I’m happy for any time in the water. I swam some lengths, Alito paddled around; we dried off & wanted to sit out & relax but the smell, maybe seaweed dredged up from the nighttime storm the day before, was unpleasant. We dressed & headed to the Snaps sports bar in the lobby for a bite & a peak at the NBA playoffs. A young woman in shorts & a striped shirt, holding a racket, greeted us at the entrance; we popped up 2 steps to a table with a view of the giant TV screen & several smaller ones. The chairs are rounded, orange-yellow & each has a rectangular throw pillow for maximum comfort. Alito asks about the NBA game; they immediately put the game on the giant screen & a different re-play on the next closest one. Alito has a burger & a Cerveza dark, I order a spicy grilled chicken burger with mango salsa & a San Miguel Pilsen. Both come with fries. The chicken was good; Alito’s burger ok. Beers excellent. We watch the end of the Miami game & half of Memphis & OKC. We’re both happy. Alito had referred to it as our last ‘date’ night; we’ve been each other’s company for a solid 31 days now. I’m really glad we’re still ok enough with each other to joke about date nights.

A dollar fifty taxi ride, home by 10PM. Tomorrow’s another day.

Posted in Contemporary dance, International dance, Mixed abilities dance, Travel | Leave a comment

Really!! What a group in Manila!!

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This may be our most energetic, rambunctious & moving moving moving group of all! It’s clear on this, the first day of the teacher training, that there’s no holding this group back. There may have been a little shyness during the warm-up; however, by the end of the morning people were traveling all around the space, leaping, jumping, twirling, rolling & sometimes joining me on the floor.

The day began a little before 10AM; we waited for a new group of people in wheelchairs to arrive from somewhere outside of Manila. They rolled in, in their decorated chairs, with sparkly streamers hanging off the back, as if straight from their ballroom dancing performance. Throughout the morning they showed off their excellent wheelchair maneuvering, spinning their chairs 2 & 3 times in succession, faster than the twirling male ballet dancer we had in one of the Mongolia workshops. I’d love to see them perform live. For sure I’ll check out their YouTube video.

After doing the train track exercise to show how our group affiliations change with each experience we have, we repeated the exercises from yesterday on this, the beginning day for this group. Alito added moving while in constant contact with the skin, in groups of 5, for the ending exercise challenging & fun for all. It’s a practice that helps one stay in control of his/her own body while moving; attention to balance is essential to controlling your own weight, so as not to put it upon others, while sensing, relating & attending to the gestalt of the whole group. There were comments & questions at the end of the morning; a few teachers asking about difficult classroom situations (Alito almost always advises honing intuition in the teacher so the best solution will be more likely to come in the moment the situation arises). Comments were mostly about feeling free & having “eureka” moments, one young dance teacher’s word.

The afternoon began with two videos & many questions about creating choreography. Alito explained about creating dances for specific bodies, not based on his movement. We talked about the importance of dancing choreography each time as a new experience, something alive in the moment it’s being danced, rather than as a set of movements.

Follow & lead were the 2 words of the afternoon’s activity. All variations: follow the leader in duets & trios, follow & give the lead, follow & take the lead, follow or lead in groups of 5 & in the whole group. I was out of my chair, on the floor, working hard to follow 2 leaders who danced my group all over the space. I’d had plenty of exercise by the end of the day, sliding, scooting, rolling, slithering, all the while trying to interpret each leader’s movement from the sensations inside my body. It’s a difficult exercise; when I’m focused on traveling & keeping up with a group, I can lose the connection to myself. Sometimes that leads to a sadness, like feeling left behind or that I’m too slow & awkward. I could get in the chair, but I like moving on the floor. It’s one of those ‘in the moment’ experiences that arises when I pay attention to what’s happening inside my skin & in the space around me; a this or that moment with a heightened sense of ‘it’s my choice’, what do I want to do, how do I stay connected & keep up? It’s what improvisation is all about.

The media interviewed Alito for 15+ minutes at the end of the class. (There have, also, been 2 newspaper stories about our work here.) Then it was a snack of a traditional noodle dish with small amounts of chopped cabbage, carrot & pork. We’d had a satisfying box lunch (pictured) of beef stew, grilled chicken, julienned water chestnuts in a sauce similar to chow mein, & rice at 12:30PM; there was a group dinner at a traditional Filipino restaurant planned for 7PM. No way I could eat a snack & have room for dinner; most all the Filipinos enjoyed both. I’m in awe & love how sharing food can bring people together.

Really!! What a group this is!! is as much about the organizers as it is about the participants. Both our embassy hosts, Elizabeth & Tony, and the CCP staff, Chinggay, Mike & Menchie, are as attentive as can be. They’re present at the start & end of every day, make sure Alito & I have all the food & bottled water we want, have given us a tech team, with Doods as our contact, for the videos & CDs and scheduled several media events. And, they organized & treated us to a dinner par excellence.

The pictures tell the story; we dined at Bistro Remedios in the Malete section of Manila, the first part of the city to be built up with apartment buildings in the American style. It was completed in the mid-1930s, when the area was a Commonwealth, according to Chris, the CCP VP, who lives in the area. Much of Malete was destroyed during WWII & was re-constructed in similar style. Awaiting us in the restaurant, were 2 long tables stunningly set. We were served fresh coconut water in fancy glasses before the food arrived. (Chinggay said the CCP is surrounded by coconut trees; they often harvest the fruits when special meetings are scheduled so the refreshing water can be served to guests.) Then it was Lumpia, a fresh wrap with a veggie filling of chopped bamboo shoots, carrots & maybe cabbage & served with a soy based sauce; next a cup of a fresh corn soup that tasted like juicy corn scraped off the cob with little else added. Then came the whole tilapia, cut off the bone for easy serving. I had a feast picking on what was left, stuck to the bones, after we ate the fleshy filleted wings. It’s usual to eat the whole fish, head, eyes & all. Along with the fish came chopped green chilies in coconut milk sauce & a beef stew; then flan for dessert. The conversation was lively at both tables; it was truly a celebratory feast hosted by the CCP. No less than extraordinary generosity.

Toward the end of the meal, the musical trio appeared; they had us all singing, clapping & moving with their opening ‘La Bamba’, followed by a couple of Filipino tunes. Finally, they broke into ‘Happy Birthday’ in celebration of the dancing twins (pictured); one of the girls is developmentally disabled & in our group along with her mother. She works with young children & loves to dance. Her sister told me earlier that she didn’t much like dancing; it looked like she was having quite the time dancing to her birthday serenade. We were a loud, raucous group; really, what a group is right!! So much fun when we’re supposed to be working.

There’s a lot more to say; maybe some of my impressions will crystalize & grow in richness as the next days play out. About the picture of the legs, though; I saw the leather & bead bracelets on Bing’s legs this morning & had to ask. They’re a traditional healing article from a southern area called Bukidnon. To apply you soak them in water, stretch the leather to get it up over the calves; it shrinks when dry & stays up at the knees. It’s thought to be a remedy for circulatory disorders and a possible preventative for other conditions. The wearer leaves them on until they loosen or break & fall off signaling that they are no longer needed. It’s being close enough to people in these different cultures to learn about little things like that that’s made this a terrific trip.

Posted in International dance, Mixed abilities dance, Travel | 4 Comments

What a group in Manila!

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We began the day at breakfast where Alito & I shared our pre-group jitters. Just the usual anxiety that arises from not knowing what a group will be like. Who will we meet? What will we learn? How will the day progress? We’re both tired, having been on the road for 28 days, meeting & dancing with hundreds of people. The two days rest helped us both; it cleared our heads & injected a little relaxation into our full on schedule.

Mike, a CCP staffer, picked us up at 8:30AM, as planned. He’d been up for awhile; he lives 18 miles from his office in Manila & was on the road to here this morning for 2 hours. Hard to imagine, but that’s the reality of traffic in all three of the countries we’ve visited. Thankfully, our commute to the CCP venue is pretty short; about 10 minutes to cross a divided road in front of our hotel to the building that’s directly across that road. We’d walk if crossing the street, even with the light, wasn’t such a big deal. Anyway, it’s nice to ride with Mike & whoever our driver is for the day. Mike is a sweet, single 34 y/o, very helpful & easy to be with.

Many of the participants were there when we arrived. The CCP & US Embassy arranged transportation for several groups to come from outside Manila to join for today; twenty five of the 60+ will be with us the next 4 days, too. One group was traveling by van from some distance & was stuck in traffic, made worse by an accident on the road. We started with opening remarks from the VP of the CCP, Elizabeth from the embassy, Alito & me. Chinggay & Menchi, the CCP staff who invited the participants, recognized the organizations they represented & each participant by name. Nice touch; they stood, we got to see them & it began the process of getting to know each other. The last group arrived at about 10AM & we settled into a circle to begin.

No language interpreter needed, a big plus. We had several deaf participants & a very good sign interpreter. Also included in our group were 7 people in wheelchairs, 2 autistic girls, a few dance teachers & many dancers. A number of the people in wheelchairs are ballroom dancers; they competed on a show with able bodied ballroom dancers & made it up to the quarter finals this year. According to Chinggay, they have quite a following after having been on TV for the competition. Many physically challenged folks live in an “institution”, Chinggay’s word. They have access to many creative programs there, & many work, as well. There are, also, schools & organizations for deaf & autistic people. I’m not sure if those are residential.

Alito began with a short warm-up, pointing out to the group that, while watching, he noticed many seemed shy about moving. Not for long. We started with 1 mover/1 watcher, then action/response in duets; it seemed like the group quickly warmed up while dancing with each other within those structures. The energy in the room increased; Alito reminded everyone about the importance of focus, concentration & dancing with one’s partner(s). After A/R, we did movement & stillness in duets, where we either both are moving or both are still, changed by either mover. Then, each person can decide whether to move or be still in duets. We ended the morning with moving/still in groups of 6, where each person, aware of sensation, relationship with all the group, & time, can move or be still as he/she wants. In my group people mostly moved; at times it felt like being in a group of wiggly worms. The morning flew by. We ended at 12:10PM for a box lunch of marinated pork (I think they call it adobe), fried chicken, rice & a little scoop of sautéed veggies.

Videos after lunch; the Tango Tangle which the people in wheelchairs really enjoyed & the Montevideo Urban Intervention parade. Chinggay told me they’ve been hosting arts events in unusual places for a few years. I thought she might enjoy seeing the parade, maybe get some ideas. We did a few Migrations after the videos; just walking first, then determined forward movement & creative moving with attention to others, then with music. All went well. The space is long, a big lobby in front of the Cultural Center’s Theater, so the migration was great there.

After that we made sculptures with touching near or far in groups of six, then did 3 duets in groups of six and began making the ‘Numbers Home Choreography’ we’ve done with the last 2 groups. We were expecting the media at 3PM & wanted to have a performance structure ready to show them. There were some cameras from the embassy, but the media visit was cancelled due to election issues that took priority.

After melting into each other in our small groups, we slowly rose to form a line at the front of the lobby space; then the slow backwards walk & another melting, into one big pile of all types of bodies. Togetherness at it’s highest; feeling someone’s weight on my body allows me to let go somehow, it relaxes me. And it’s just plain fun to be part of a big mush pile of bodies.

In the ending circle, there were more comments than we’ve had from the last few groups; Alito pointed out that it was each of our responsibility to share as a way of giving what we have to the space. It seemed to motivate people to talk, some more than once. Also, I think, it’s easier when the language isn’t an issue. People seemed a little self-conscious about their English, but most are fully fluent.

Certificates were given to those not returning; pictures & a snack of spaghetti with bacon cream sauce, three toasted bread triangles & a small bottle of sweet green tea. More like a dinner to me. Many people hung around to eat & talk. Sharing food is a big part of this culture.

All & all a successful day. The energy in the room in the afternoon was palpable; Elizabeth & Allen from the embassy noticed it. An affirmation. Mike loved the Tango; the beautiful, traditionally dressed greeters, with us the whole day, said they felt a part of the group even though they didn’t dance. They enjoyed watching so many different bodies moving & having fun together.

My foreigner’s belly seems to have resolved itself, mostly. Still some rumblings & I’m taking it easy on the odd foods. I love trying exotic foods, things I haven’t had before, so it’s hard to resist. And, everything here tastes so good. Tomorrow we’re going to dinner, traditional Filipino style; Mike tells me all 30+ of us will likely be at one table. How could that be? It’s got me wondering, anticipating another new experience in a friendly foreign place.

Posted in Contemporary dance, International dance, Mixed abilities dance, Travel | Leave a comment