Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Thoughts on death, ancestors, and the future...

I don’t know if the concept of what I perceive as me will exist after I die. That part of me may end when my brain ceases to function, when there is no more living body to contain my consciousness. Or maybe I will continue in some less substantial form, but I wonder how long a sense of self will last without a body to interact with the world. In more fantastical moments I imagine that we, and our identities, fade slowly into some collective gathering of thought, without individual distinctions or names. Occasionally bumping into the world of the living, giving rise to stories of ghosts and spirits, or those fleeting moments when we know we have touched something greater than our individual selves but struggle to name it.

Most days I am okay with the ambiguity of not knowing. I figure I will either have an amazing new experience or my sense of self will pop out of existence when my body dies and there will be no consciousness to perceive the loss of this. Knowing that this life may be the only time I walk this world keeps me present, it lessens the pressure to be perfect because who really gets it right the first, and possibly only, time?

It is the part of me that will for sure be left behind, my body, that gives me a sense of continuity. It is through my body that I am connected to the past and to the future.

When I think about what will happen after my death, I imagine my body buried deep in the soil, or perhaps my ashes scattered across some bit of earth I loved, slowly decomposing…composting…until, after a time, there is no difference between what was me and what is soil.

That decomposed me will be dug through by earthworms that move infinitesimally small portions of me a few inches deeper into the earth. It will be eaten by insects and digested in the guts of bacteria. Fungus. Ants. Water. Freezing, thawing, freezing again. Breaking down into my base elements. This happens to all living things.

Maybe some particle of me will be pulled up by the root of a tree, transforming into energy, leaf, bark, berry, and root.

This is where I find my hope.

When I look out my window to the tree that rises from a three-foot-wide strip of soil between street and sidewalk, I think of all the other living creatures that are a part of that tree. How many bits of broken down, composted beings exist beneath its bark? How many generations of us are in those leaves? How many in the white flowers that bloom on its branches in the spring? How many in the berries that plump and ripen each fall?

A squirrel may eat a berry from the tree, taking in a few particles of my ancestors into its squirrel belly. It will live out its life, raise its young, grow old and die – or it too may by eaten by a hawk, moving the process of transformation along more quickly. It either case it too will be bodily broken down by time, scavengers, and weather. The tree too will eventually die and take its place in this cycle.

With each meal we eat our ancestors. We wear them on our bodies. We burn them for fuel. We plant seeds in them. We grow the next generation with what the Earth and they provide us. The trees, the flowers, the grass, the sea, the cotton t-shirt I’m wearing, my skin, my cat, parts of this computer, are our ancestors. And in time they will become the future generations that live out their lives here.

When I turn my gaze again to that same tree I see my ancestors, and I see all the generations to come. And I am reminded that I am here only briefly. I am not the owner of this place, I’ve no more right to it than the bee, or the flower, or the squirrel. It doesn’t belong to me or you, but to the future.

When I turn my gaze to my own hand I see the past that created me, and the future that my body will be come. And I am reminded that I only have right now, the very brief window of time that is my existence, to help create a world where all of the other beings I walk this Earth with, and all that are to come, are able to live out their lives in safety and peace. I only have right now to make choices that will help to ensure that there is enough Earth left to support the generations to come.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Rhythm & Drum: An Introduction to Belly Dance Rhythms & Drumming for Dancers!

Date/Time:      Part 1: Sunday, July 14 – 4:00 – 5:30PM
                        Part 2: Sunday, July 28 – 4:00 – 5:30PM

Location:         Bright Star World Dance
                         108 High Street, 3rd Floor, Portland, Maine
                         (This venue is not mobility accessible)

Cost:                Part I: $25 (workshop only)/$65 (workshop & drum)
                         Part I & II:  $50 (workshops only)/$90 (workshops & drum)

Advanced signups are closed as are drum preorders .  If you wish to drop into the workshop please use the contact form to let us know you plan to attend.  

We do have drums that can be borrowed for the workshop.
Are you a belly dancer seeking deeper understanding of the music you dance to? Do you want to become more comfortable with dancing with a live drummer?  Would you like to be able to accompany the rhythm on the zills as you dance?

One of first steps in understanding the music you dance to is to learn about the rhythms behind it. Co-taught by dancer Joie Grandbois and percussionist Stephen Carpenter, this unique (and fun!) two-part drum & rhythm workshop series will introduce you to common rhythms used in belly dance by combining instruction on the drum with dance application.

Designed specifically for dancers, each workshop includes instruction on the drum (a drum is required for class), dance instruction, and a chance to play for your fellow dancers! 

Our goal is to increase your comfort level with the music. 

Note:  A drum is required for this class.  While we strongly suggest learning on the doumbec/tabla students may bring other drums with prior approval of the instructors. We have arranged to purchase drums at a discounted price from The Drum Shop. 

You may purchase drums with your workshop registration and will receive your drum on the day of the workshop. 

Part I: Basics (July 14)

This workshop will give you a basic introduction to the doumbec/tabla.  You will learn how to play a few of the more common rhythms you hear in Middle Eastern music, instruction on dancing to the rhythm, and a chance to play for your fellow students!

Each student who attends Part I will also receive a rhythm sheet and information on resources for deeper learning.

Part II: Advanced (July 28)

Note:  You must have taken Part I to take Part II

This workshop is an introduction to more advanced rhythms such as the kars lama and samai.  Building on lessons from Part I you will learn how to play these delicious and moving rhythms on the drum as well as have the opportunity to dance and play for your fellow dancers.

Students who attend Part II will also receive information on resources for deeper learning.

This workshop is open to any person 18 years of age or older.

Joie Grandbois

Dancer, choreographer, musician, writer, storyteller. Whether they are using the medium of dance, rhythm or words Joie seeks to bring to life the character present in a creative work. A lifelong dancer Joie entered the world of belly dance through the side door of raqs gothique after falling in love with its dramatic storytelling nature. Their dance explorations have also led to a study of cabaret and Turkish styles of the dance expanding their love of the art form. For the past 9 years joie has studied and played Middle Eastern percussion,and has a love of playing the zills.

Joie is the founder and director of the street vaudeville performance troupe Dark Follies which formed in 2008 and performs as a solo artist around New England. They teach belly dance, contemplative dance, and theatrical dance in Portland and Biddeford, Maine


Stephen Carpenter

Stephen Carpenter, has been studying hand percussion for most of the current century with a particular focus on the rhythms of the middle east. Stephen has played with variety of performers in Maine and around New England in both stage and classroom settings. Through the voice of the drum and ney he seeks to create a conversation between the music, dancer and audience.Since 2010 he has been the musical director for the Portland, Maine based street vaudeville troupe Dark Follies. Stephen is also a professional woodworker who crafts many of the instruments he plays upon


Friday, June 7, 2019

An anxious confession...

The following was surprisingly difficult for me to write about.  I still struggle with letting go of the belief that the face I present to the world has to be a perfect one, and that I must appear strong, solid, together, etc., even when I'm not feeling that way.  But I am working very hard on being honest about where I am and what I am feeling...so here goes. 

I love performing.  Whether I'm dancing, sharing a spoken word piece, or playing music, I love the shared experience of live performance. I love the collaborative process of creating a new work. I love that no two performances are the same.  I love how it pushes me outside my comfort zone.  I love the unpredictability of improv.  I love the high after a show that goes well.  Performance has been my boost, my balm, my escape when life proves to be more difficult than I can manage.

Like many performers, I am nearly always anxious and nervous before a show.  I've been known to joke that I spend the last ten minutes before going on stage convincing my body and brain that, despite what I'm feeling, I am not actually about to be eaten by bears.  I also grapple with issues around feeling good enough, and yes, I struggle with comparing myself to other performers, but there has always been a joy I feel on the stage that is stronger than those thoughts.  Generally, once my foot hits the stage, my anxiety has fallen away and I'm all in.

But lately something has changed.

Over the past year, when I take the stage my general pre-show anxiety has gone away but instead of being replaced by the usually focused joy of performing, I'm filled with nearly paralyzing panic.

(That was really hard to write - truly, I sat here, fingers hovering over my keyboard for a good couple of minutes asking...do I want to admit this publicly???)

It first happened at a show last spring.  It was one of my troupe's shows.  I was doing a performance I'd done at least a dozen times.  I was feeling anxious, but passed it off as pre-show jitters which I assumed would fade as usual once the performance began.  But the moment I stepped out before the audience my heart started to race, my knees were shaking, and my hands began to sweat.  I felt nauseous.

I heard the music playing behind me but it suddenly seemed to make no sense.  Despite the fact that just a few minutes before I'd been playing percussion with the same band that was now playing music for me, I could not find my space in the rhythm.  It sounded like a scattering of nonsensical noise.  Most of my performances are improvisational but I generally go it with some sort of plan.  This night my mind was an utter blank.  I froze.

I did move eventually, but I don't recall what I did.  I just remember the feeling of wanting it all to be over.  I wanted the music to stop. I wanted to leave the stage and never come back to it again.  When I saw a video of the performance my movements seemed awkward and stiff, my face without expression.

When I had some time to think about it I was still dismissive.  I thought maybe I'd not prepared enough.  Maybe I'd not taken enough time before the show to center myself.  I had a long list of reasons why it happened.  And I convinced myself it was a one time event.

Except it wasn't.  And it got worse.

I practiced more.  Prepared more.  Moved more.  I tried choreographing performances more thinking that having something memorized might help ease the anxiety.  I tried muttering mantras under my breath, deep breathing, keeping myself occupied right up until just before I went on stage.  None of it helped. Each performance brought more anxiety, more fear, and another round of panic.

I started to get anxiety about my anxiety.  The days leading up to a show were torturous because I knew what would happen as soon as I got on stage.  I avoided even talking about the shows to people because it brought up too much fear.   I didn't tell my troupe-mates about it because I'm the troupe director, and I didn't want to appear to be anything other than totally together.  Other than a brief mention at a practice earlier this week, I've still not been very open about it.

I tried to find a reason...

I'm stressed about other things. 
I'm uncomfortable with my body. 
I'm dealing with a depressive episode. 
I'm lonely. 
I'm hungry. 
I didn't get enough sleep.
I'm just naturally anxious.

And a host of others...none of which fit.

I'd like to say that I'm going to finish up this post with some story of how I found a cure  But I haven't.  I have a performance this weekend and I confess, I'm terrified.   My biggest fear right now is that I'll have a moment where I truly do freeze up completely.  Where I go out before the audience and nothing happens...and I will be a horrible disappointment to everyone.

I know that this has to be temporary.  I have hope that eventually I will find a way past this. Naming it, not keeping it to myself (where it just tumbles around in my head telling me I'm a failure as a performer, teacher, artist, etc.) is a step in that process. For now I will  keep performing, try to be patient with myself, and keep reminding myself to practice self compassion.

I'll get there.  I will.

Thank you for reading.  Thank you for your compassion.  Thank you for your support.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Workshop: Rhythm & Zils

Date:  April 28th - 4:00 - 5:30 PM

Location: Bright Star World Dance
                  108 High Street, 3rd Floor, Portland, ME

Cost: $25 (Class size is limited to 15 students)

Zils are in integral part of any belly dancer's performance repertoire.  Learning to play them well means knowing not only about the dance, but the music and rhythms behind it. 

This fun, friendly class includes an overview of rhythms that dancers are likely to encounter, along with easy zil patterns that can be played along with them, and each student will receive a rhythm sheet with the patterns written out for practicing at home!

Students will also learn: 
  • Exercises that help build rhythmic skill
  • Tips for practicing at home
  • A few tricks that will aid in zilling while actually dancing!
Total beginners welcome.   This is a hands on class so bring your zils! 

Live music is provided by Stephen Carpenter.


Your Name:

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Spring Session - Heretica: Cultivating Choice

When: Thursdays, 5:30 - 6:30PM, May 9 to June 20 (SixWeeks)

Cost: $65Advanced Registration/$85 Day Of (full session only – no dropins)***

Where:  Bright Star World Dance, 108 High Street, 3rd Flr, Portland, ME

Are you seeking a dance class that strengthens your spirit as well as your body?

Heretica, from the Greek word heretikos, is about learning to understand the why and how of your own movement.  Utilizing techniques such as authentic movement, meditation, silent improvisation, group rhythmic exploration, theatrical improvisation, as well as instruction in dance technique, you will begin to foster a seamless connection between mind and body; thought and action.  By learning how you relate to your body and how your body moves through the world, you become free to create physical expressions of emotion, build stories through movement, and share more of yourself in your dance. 
When you come to understand the connection between your body, our mind, and our spirit - the better you embody your self and the concept of Heretica.  
You become one who is able to choose.  

Heretica: Cultivating Choice, is a class that provides the structure of an ongoing dance class, with the freedom to explore how your body wants to move. Drawing from a variety of contemporary dance styles, authentic movement, and deep improvisation this class is a seven-week movement exploration.

With class warmups that improve strength and flexibility; exploratory dance exercises to help you foster a seamless connection between mind and body; and cool downs that leave you centered and grounded, this class is your bridge between inspiration and movement.

Plus, each week you will be offered optional out of class exercises that will help you build your movement practice at home.

You will want to wear comfortable clothing that allows for freedom of movement. You may also want to bring a notebook or journal, and a water bottle.

Students of all movement backgrounds and levels are welcome to join the class.

In order to facilitate free exploration we seek to create a safe space for all types of dancers and movement artists to explore creative expression. The class is open to all genders and movement forms.

*** Payment plans are available.  Please contact Joie directly if you wish to set up a payment plan.

Full Session Registration:

Heretica: Cultivating Choice
Student Name

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Old Dream: Forgotten Songs

I have started to gather together the stories that have come to me in dreams.  They are scattered across blogs, Facebook posts, and drafts never shared.  This dream came to me a few years ago and it has stuck with me. You can find the recording of the dream on my SoundCloud page.

It is a small, nondescript house, with an a plain shed standing beside it. Inside the shed the walls are lined with shelves that are filled with large storage bins.  There is a long workbench on one wall and only one door.  There are no windows.   

Each morning a woman goes to the shed and unlocks the doors. It is always early, the grass will be wet with dew or crisp with frost, and the morning shadows long and low.  She steps inside and waits.  Soon she hears the crunch of gravel beneath the tires of a delivery truck.  She hears the driver open his door and step out onto the driveway.   She listens for the sound of the delivery van door sliding open and the driver’s footsteps as he approaches.   She sees him silhouetted against the morning light as he steps into the doorway.  They exchange pleasantries.  She signs for the delivery and he hands her one plain white number 10 envelope.

She pauses in front of the workbench waiting until he is gone before opening the envelope.  As soon as she does music begins to sound. One song at a time she hears the last time a piece of music has been played, or sung.  Sometimes it is entire orchestras playing complex symphonies but more often than not it is a single human voice humming absentmindedly.  She often wonders if the owners of the humming voices ever realize that they were sharing this song for the very last time.

As each note sounds out into the air it solidifies into a tiny colored bead and falls into her open palm; a forever frozen musical vibration.  One by one she places each note into a tiny padded box, like those that expensive jewelry comes in.  Each box uniformly gray, and once closed, utterly unremarkable.  She packs them by the hundreds into the large plastic bins.  Note after note, song after song.

At the end of the day, when the last song has sounded, she writes the date on the outside of the envelope and files it away in a cabinet full of thousands of other envelopes.   She turns off the single light in the shed, padlocks the door and go back into the house to make dinner. 

She doesn’t know what becomes of the notes after she packs them away.   She knows she is not the only person doing this.  There are many around the world doing this work day after day.  She knows that the shed is not large enough to possibly hold all of the forgotten songs she has stashed away over the years.  There is some mysterious process that she has never witnessed in which the songs are carried away to their final destination. She imagines that somewhere there exists an immense warehouse with sky high shelves full of stacked bins, filled with an infinite number of little gray boxes, each holding a tiny gleaming and silent note.