In Search of Truth and Beauty || The Ephemeral Dance of Spring

Posted in Blogs, Feature

BY JONI TAKANIKOS
May 11, 2016

Spring is the perfect backdrop to practice seeing and experiencing change in every moment. It’s on the ground—we can practically watch the grass growing from hour to hour and, certainly, day to day.

Lilac Skies (photo by Gina Simpson)

Lilac Skies (photo by Gina Simpson)

The plants are blooming voraciously and dying back with the same fierce leave-taking. We witness the delicate new shoot transforming to leaf to bud to bloom in the space of a few passing days.

The sky provides the light for this grand and dramatic show of constant change. We have clouds forming and turning mountainous as they climb ever higher into the blue firmament, followed by a strong wind that sweeps it away in mere minutes.

And then what? A hard rain drumming on the rooftop for a few brief minutes, followed by a silent stillness that flows into birdsong. The birds must study all winter for the release of their spring songs.

The cosmos in an allium (photo by Gina Simpson)

The cosmos in an allium (photo by Gina Simpson)

This symphony of spring has a simple mantra—change, change, change. This is a change both constant and certain. We would be wise to carry this spring mantra into the long days of summer and the stillness of winter. Spring is the season within all seasons—practicing its dance of renewal through constant change. Pema Chödrön shares with us her words of wisdom, “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.”

This inherent changing rhythm brings me to the doorway of dance. I love dance in all its forms and it has been my lifesaving companion throughout my journey. In the last 20 years I have been fortunate to study with two very gifted teachers, Deborah Hay and Christine Tasseff, right here on Whidbey Island. Deborah Hay, who is based in Austin, Texas, teaches, choreographs and performs internationally. Deborah is also an author, brilliantly using words to translate her experiences from the fields she inhabits. I am currently rereading her book, “My Body, the Buddhist,” replenishing my cup in Deborah’s well of profound wisdom. Her latest book, “Using the Sky: a Dance” was published in 2015. I studied with Deborah the first couple of times here on Whidbey when she brought her Solo Commissioning Project to WICA for five consecutive summers beginning in 1998.

Christine Tasseff, circa 1996. (Cover of “Island Independent” by Bill Ruth)

Christine Tasseff, circa 1996. (Cover of “Island Independent” by Bill Ruth)

Christine Tasseff, who has lived on Whidbey for 30 years, has also taught her popular classes and workshops here, as well as in Seattle, NYC and Nashville. Many of you may know Christine through the gardens she shapes with her landscaping team, Roots. I know her as a gardener of the moving body, stewarding all the many shapes that arise and fall on the dance floor.

Christine, like Deborah, is a keen observer of the body, the space around it and its relationship to the other moving bodies in the field. She studied for 26 years with Gabrielle Roth, dancer, author and founder of the Five Rhythms practice and brings Gabrielle’s legacy to brilliant life every Sunday morning at Bayview Hall from 10 a.m. to noon. The class is by donation and is aptly named Prayerbody.

Prayerbody in motion (photo by Joni Takanikos)

Prayerbody in motion (photo by Joni Takanikos)

Christine creates an environment in which a body may gently explore the rise and fall of its own individual rhythms and shapes. With her gentle guidance there is no wrong or right way—just the practiced attention to your own movements and your relationship to the movements of others. Christine describes one of the many aspects of her teaching by saying, “Dance is translated not only through our bodies, but also through our heart and soul as we weave community on the floor.” Through this process you may find yourself stepping through a transformational gate.

In my 20 years of this practice with Christine, I—along with her many students—have had the opportunity to work with some incredible local and visiting musicians. The core group of musicians who currently are creating the soundscape for Prayerbody include Joseph Sanchez, Nick Toombs and Ashley Eriksson. Christine draws musicians who share her keen awareness of the palette held by dance and the music assumes the presence of another limb, shaping each dancer individually and collectively. This dynamic orchestration creates limitless opportunities to explore new rooms in the body.

I often bring my journal to jot down thoughts during class. Here are some from Easter Sunday:

Bred in the Bone
Easter 2016

Eat this bread
It is my body
So holy, so holy, so made
for eating—with every sense
held—withheld
Cornucopia of Strange Beauty
Drink this wine
It is my blood
sour and sweet, all the holy
rivers of longing—forever
tied to the tree, the rocks
the sky—this holy body
of trailing tears
Eat and Drink from this well
It does not belong
to me—It belongs
to the estuary moving
towards the sea.

Growth (photo by Joni Takanikos)

Growth (photo by Joni Takanikos)

So in the spirit of this moving and enchanting spring field, I encourage all of us to dance however we can: from our chairs, our beds, our lawns, roadsides or to simply be witness to the profoundly beautiful choreography of spring.

For more information about Prayerbody and to contact Christine Tasseff, go to prayerbody.com. Dance opportunities abound on Whidbey Island. Check out classes and performance schedules at Whidbey Dance Theatre: widtonline.org.

I highly recommend these two acclaimed documentaries. The 2011 film about the legendary choreographer Pina Bausch, “Pina,” and the 2013 film, “Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil LeClercq,” the life of the acclaimed ballerina.

Joni Takanikos is a perennial student of the miraculous nature of the body and the fields it inhabits. She teaches yoga at Half Moon Yoga Studio in Langley.

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