GEC stands for Mr. George Elliott Clarke

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the honour of coming to know one of Canada’s most esteemed poets, Mr. George Elliott Clarke, as GEC.  Cuz that’s the name of the folder that carried all the drafts that helped produce the latest two poetry videos on the lyw Youtube channel.

Nevertheless, I always address him directly as Mr. Clarke. It was a privilege to work with his poetry in my own version of a creative universe.  Lots of ways to get to know people but I doubt any compare to the layers and weaving of one’s creative work on another’s.  Mr. Clarke very graciously approved and supported the idea of letting me illustrate two of his poems through video.

The first video, Everything is Free, is a gentle poem that lets space and breath build into a feeling of hope and renewal.  Amazing dance photography seemed the best way to illustrate this poem. Both demonstrate clean, powerful, precise and beautiful movement even though everything is actually static — everything is actually free ;).

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The 2nd video is a little more mysterious because it isolates two poetic fragments from a larger poem, from a larger series of poetry.

Both poetry videos show verses from the book, Whylah Falls, which tells the story of lovers in southwestern Nova Scotia in the 1930s, through dramatic monologues, songs, sermons, sonnets, newspaper snippets, recipes, haiku and free verse. [info c/o en.wikipedia.org]

But a small piece of poetry can sometimes feel very big, and I think the isolation of these fragments actually frees the reader’s imagination to fill in the missing gaps with their own lives, memories … recipes and songs.

When I read Each Moment is Magnificent, I interpreted it as a person who reflects on a river, metaphorical and literal, that has flowed through and around him all his life.  I imagine a man lying on his back in an open field staring at the stars, while the sounds of the river flow over him like music.  And the music isn’t all peace and harmony and lovey nature – it’s a strong current pulling at a resilient person.

Please check out the two latest additions to the lyw Youtube channel.  I’d like to thank Mr. Clarke again, through this blog, for the pleasure of working with his poetry.

Everything is Free

Each Moment is Magnificent 

 

I have to give props to special contributors for these videos.  Carlo Cruz and Orestis Charalambous kindly donated their stunning dance photography to the first video.  The use of the image of the Sissiboo (aka Sixhiboux) River was kindly donated by the Yarmouth County Museum.  Thomas Hawke allowed the use of the piano image in the 2nd video.  Full credit details are in the video.

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Toronto Needs to Keep a little Cumbia in its Salsa Mix

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Photo c/o Toronto Salsa Practice

Toronto loves its salsa.  Bachata may be sexy, merengue may be fun but salsa has always dominated the Latin nightclubs; a niche dance and music community that has been going strong in Toronto for decades.  However, salsa-love would not be the same without a little cumbia in the mix.

Back when I started hitting the Toronto salsa clubs, about 12 years ago, a few cumbia songs use to always be sprinkled into a salsa club night, with some bachata and merengue, and maybe a cha-cha-cha or two.

Now, I only have a handful of dance partners who know how to lead a good cumbia and I only know of one downtown club that serves up a good set of cumbia songs.  This would be good ol’ El Rancho; a Latin nightclub known, famously and infamously, by most Toronto salsa-dancers.  For after all, any nightclub that has been opened since the 70’s would have its stories to tell.

Sometimes, a salsa lover needs to play with what salsa isn’t in order to appreciate what salsa is.  This certainly should not be the case with everything one loves, but in terms of salsa, I say this is a healthy practice.

Cumbia is not salsa.  Is often confused as salsa and, unfortunately, often danced as salsa.  Salsa, being a ‘sauce’ of styles and flavours, has some roots in cumbia, does play with cumbia sounds and movements — but it ain’t cumbia.  There’s a good reason for this.  Cumbia should be cumbia.  Salsa should be salsa.  And they should always stay in Toronto’s salsa mix because they compliment each other.

Salsa can easily be bogged down by complicated turn patterns and superfast/superhot rhythms and beats.  Even slow salsas can be busy.  There’s a lot going on musically and physically.  Cumbia is that great way to chill a salsa dancer out.   The movement of cumbia drops down, more predominantly, in the hips, is simplified, and makes the whole body movement more circular – or elliptical, rather.   Oddly, simpler can often be harder and this certainly befuddled me when I first learned cumbia.

The music is unlike any other.  It’s like salsa — but it ain’t.  Cumbia music always feels like a rolling, joyful journey that I always want to follow once I hear it.

Technically, all a salsa dancer needs to do is to not step on the 2nd and 6th beat, as we normally would in salsa.  The feet still step left and right or right and left, but the count is 1, 3 and 5, 7.  After a dancer agrees to stay with these simple rules, most salsa patterns will work while still staying in the world of cumbia.  Because the dancer drops the 2nd and 6th beat, the hips start to move more on a momentum, with both the music and your partner.    It’s beautiful, it’s poetic, and it’s perfect.

This is a shout-out to all the Toronto salseros – bug your salsa teachers to teach you just a little cumbia (they should all know it). This salsera just needs to keep a little in the mix.

photo c/o Salsa Dancers in Toronto

Miguel Gutierrez, of SalsaDancersinToronto.com, is a Latin dance instructor and performer with a long standing in Toronto’s salsa community, and well-versed in cumbia, El Rancho, and salsa pretzel patterns.

Qi Gong and Bellydancing

I am amused by the similarities I have discovered between qi gong and bellydancing as they might, at first, seem polar opposites.

Bellydancing is a Middle Eastern dance form that primarily celebrates the female body.  Qi Gong is a Chinese form of health care that harmonizes the mind, body and spirit.  One seems a physical aesthetic while the other seems an esoteric practice.

Many of the moves in bellydancing are used in qi gong such as hip circles, joint isolations, candle arms vs tea cups (balancing tea lights or tea cups in the hands and winding them behind and around the body).  The vibrations from the various shimmies, in bellydancing, are a direct stimulation to the middle and lower dantians, which are key energy sources according to qi gong.

Many of the movements in qi gong are designed to stimulate optimal circulation as well various organs and systems throughout the body.  This often involves twisting, compression, stretching, and specialized mental focus.  Bellydance figure eights and body rolls/waves massage all the body organs and systems.

The mental focus may not be optimal health in bellydancing but the dancer embodies and projects beauty, emotion and light.  The bellydancer celebrates her (or his) body, as do qi gong practitioners.

The similarities are so uncanny that it is amazing to think that the movements in bellydancing evolved merely for their aesthetic and creative appeal.  Or did they?  Perhaps there was some deliberation in the dance towards holistic health?

Apparently, I’m not the only bellydance student who has thought so.  Here’s a Google search of various compliments of bellydancing with qi gong practice: GOOGLE LINK

25 Years of Arabesque Toronto

I want to write this public thank you to Arabesque Dance Academy and Company for allowing me to join their 25th anniversary celebration on Saturday night at the Estonian House.

As a Toronto native, I can remembering watching this dance school growing in the late 80’s.  It’s beginning may have been modest but the endeavour was bold and courageous.  Middle Eastern dance, even when marketed as bellydancing, was relatively unknown in Toronto.  Arabesque, today, is world renown with the awards and accolades to decorate the more important fact that Arabesque has developed an arts program and a professionalism that makes the study of Middle Eastern dance and culture certifiable.

Nice stats aside,though, I was simply happy to see my former instructors get together on the same stage and celebrate their history in Toronto bellydancing.  Struggling to get those moves with them at the helm of the class built a life-long affection for this art and those lovely ladies and, of course, my former classmates.  Hello out there to Mary and Saba!   I wish I had seen Emese!  Yasmina’s performance was amazing.  And she is so sweet and grateful in her success.

They certainly brought out the light and energy of this dance onto that stage in all its shapes, sizes and styles.  A true celebration of the female spirit and body.

Start a great Monday morning with a little Son de Nueva York

Luis Mangual – Son de Nueva York c/o Grooveshark

Have a great salsa song to start your Monday morning, c/o Grooveshark.com.

This is a beautiful soft, rolling salsa that feels like a sweet massage for your whole body – especially if you’re dancing.   There are some exquisite spaces between the notes that give a dancer a lot of room to play and feel every nuance of the song.  The spaces are nicely balanced with the beauty of what is Latin son

Whether you are a dancer, music lover or not, this is a great song to start the work or study week.