Saturday, December 12, 2009

The gift of dance

As I reflect on this past year, I have much to be thankful for. Just this season I celebrate my son's milestone birthday; 33 friends and family all gathered for Thanksgiving bringing my dad to tears; I'm publishing my 2nd book DANCING MY PRAYERS and I'm still here, using my gift of dance. Last year this time I could not lift my right arm due to a rotator cuff injury. As I sulked and moaned about not being able to dance full out I was reminded that God uses even the least of us. As I tried to dance my prayers in the morning, I was frustrated when I couldn't even raise my arms to praise Him. Lying prostrate was so painful I could not bear it. My students suffered as I could not demonstrate simple por de bras. I spent much time getting medical attention when what I needed most was rest. A year later I can now lift my arms again. It is still uncomfortable but I'm thankful I can once again use my limbs. This past year has made me truly appreciate the gift of dance. Its amazing how you can appreciate something so much more when you don't have it. We all have the ability to dance and we should use it everyday. Whether is exercise, cha cha slide, salsa or African dance - this year give yourself the gift of dance. Use your gift to celebrate you, this season and the fact that we are all still here. I dance because....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Dance Brings You Home"

I was blessed to participate in the recent Symposium on North African Dance & Culture at Rutgers University, Newark. When I signed up for this event, I had no idea of what I was getting myself into. I just knew that I have a desire to research why people dance. When I heard Morocco (Caroline Varga Dinicu) open with "Where there is no dance there is no life" I was intrigued. When Amel Tafsout later said "dance brings you home" I knew I had much to learn.

Morocco spoke on Dance As Community Identity in Selected Berber Nations of Morocco. I was fascinated by the Guedra, which means spreading soul's love and peace to the beat of the heart. In North African dance you learn dance in the family. It is communal - people dance as a way of life. Dance is their pride and a statement of their ethnicity.

Amel Tafsout, who is from Algeria, spoke on body Art: Symbols, Henna and Tattoos in the Maghreb. During our movement workshop she spoke with such pain and passion about the persecution of her people but when she danced she was filled with joy. She explained that when she dances, she is with her grandmother, who taught her to dance. "Dance is such an integral part of their society, that everyone learns the dances from the grandparents, parents, siblings, etc..."

As I danced with Morocco and Amel I thought about how many in our culture do not dance. I thought about my students who have never seen their parents dance. Our dances are taught in studios and schools, sometimes without meaning, just as a means or performance. I wonder would our children, our society be different if dance were more a part of our daily lives, our celebrations. Dance brings such a release for so many. So why don't we dance daily, at family gatherings, in church, in school?

This year as we celebrate my dad's 86 years of life at our family Thanksgiving celebration, we're going to dance - maybe Swing dance (which he did in his younger days) or just a line dance. I believe we will all remember that experience much longer than the turkey or the drama that sometimes comes along with family. I'll let you know how it turns out.

I dance because dance always brings me home!

Friday, November 6, 2009


This year to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month we introduced ZUMBA to the students and staff. We had a great time learning dance movements from Salsa, Merengue, Cha-Cha, Reggaeton and Cumbia. It was a great opportunity to show my students how Hispanic culture has influenced our world. It was great to see students dancing with each other and being excited and happy about dancing merengue and salsa. They didn't get into arguments about where they were from and who danced better - they just danced. The parents were treated to a morning ZUMBA class - which they loved. As the parents danced I heard them yell out "Yeah Daddy Yankee" and "We're not used to sweating like this!" This workout is a great way to lose weight, exercise with your family or just learn about Hispanic culture. How different the world the dance would look without the contributions of Hispanic culture. Look for your local ZUMBA class. Its a great workout and a way to continue to dance your way to good health.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


This year I started the year off teaching Bollywood. My students love it. I thought they might think it was corny, wack, lame, whatever the term is these days but they absolutely love it. It has gotten even the most disruptive students interested. I watched a youtube video of inmates in the Philippians doing the dance from Slumdog Millionaire. I knew my students would be able to master this dance. It has helped my shy students come out of there shell. They're not afraid of looking silly because the dance is so quirky that everyone looks a little silly at some point. The students are singing the song and putting so much energy into their movements. It has also helped me introduce cultural dance and help foster a sense of appreciation for other cultures amongst my students. I am loving the workout.

Next we're gonna try ZUMBA! Stay tuned.

Will You Be There?

As I approach the 3 month anniversary of Michael Jackson's death I am reminded of a dance I choreographed some 16 years ago. I was also reminded of this during Oprah's recent show honoring his memory. She said she wished she had been there for him. She interviewed him many years ago and after she didn't really keep up with him, reach out to him. So many of us were just not there for him.

The piece I choreographed was inspired by 8th grade students at I.S. 218 in Washington Heights. As students starting preparing for graduation one of them asked me if the teachers and staff and particularly myself, were going to be there for them when they graduated. We talked about friendship, relationships and being able to depend on one another. He asked me if I saw him years after he graduated, lying in the gutter, would I be reach my hand out to his and help him up. We started exploring movements to help answer the question and result was a beautiful piece that demonstrated our need for friendship and a sense of community.

The dancers started the piece as any member of society that they wanted to explore but they didn't acknowledge each other. As the music changed, the dancers all changed into homeless people, finally acknowledging that they were all the class and social status. We realized we are all only a short step away from being homeless or just alone without anyone to care for us.

3 months after Michael Jackson's death I hope we all will take our relationships with each other more seriously. We are not that different when you take off the titles. The next time you walk or drive down the street and you see that homeless person, remember they are somebody. Acknowledge them by at least looking at them and not through them. Acknowledge that you see them even if you don't have anything to give. Then work on the relationships you have now. Don't take them for granted. Live a life that allows you to be there for those you love now and in the past.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Recharge My Battery

June 2008, as the school year came to a close I realized my battery was completely dead. My creative energy was lifeless, limp and short circuited. I usually spend my summer eyes and ears wide open for new ideas for September. As I stated the summer of 2008, I felt my creative juices were dry. I prayed and just had to trust that when September rolled around I would somehow be ready.

July 28, 2008, I found out, help was on the way. I attended dance NJ annual membership meeting and workshops. There I found out I had been awarded a professional development scholarship from Curtain Call Costumes to attend Dance Teachers Magazine Summer Conference. My prayers had been answered! Along with the workshops I took at the Dance NJ session, the Dance Teachers Conference helped me tap back into my creative energies.

Joan Meyers Brown, artistic director of Philadanco and keynote speaker for the conference spoke about how we as dancers need to refresh ourselves so we can give our best to our students. As I took each class, I realized I needed to get out of these classes what I needed for myself before I could even begin to think about what I was going to teach in September. That attitude helped me enjoy the conference immensely. It helped me enjoy being a dancer, willing to stretch my body beyond limits to see how far I could go. How could I possibly encourage my students to try new movements, explore new dance genres and endure painful exercises if I wasn't willing to do the same? So - during this conference I got to experience the elongated stretches of Pilates, multidisciplinary approaches to modern, rhythmic explorations of tap, sensuous movements of Latin, contemporary urban influences of hip hop, incredible flexibility of yoga, inspiring creativity of the National Dance Institute and an exciting Broadway experience with In the Heights. I was exhausted when it was all over, but I had danced like I hadn't danced in years.

I was now ready to go back into my dance studio in Newark Public Schools and create a place for my students to create, practice, learn and experience their authentic selves. Judith Jamison, Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, who was the 2008 Dance Teacher Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, commented that "dance teachers create a sacred space in the dance studio." We do so much more than teach dance. We teach life skills through dance. We relive history and reinforce social customs. We teach how to live life to the fullest because in dance, nothing is impossible. I now know, my creative juices cannot ever completely dry out. this great art form comes from a place so deep in my soul that it is always protected. It sometimes gets covered up by the business of life but eventually it emerges and keeps on giving. As it continues to emerge in me I continue to evolve. When my time on this earth is over, dance will continue to live in the lives of the students I've touched. after 20 years of teaching dance in the public schools I thought my best days were behind me. I now know I still have so much more to offer. I am so thankful I accepted the call to teach dance years ago. I am blessed to have been called to this great profession of dance teacher.

June 2009 - time to recharge my battery again. Stay tuned for the adventures of this summer.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


"We can get another limb?" was the phrase I heard while visiting a friend in the hospital. Her son, Chad had been hit by a train and had to have his leg amputated. He is 21 years old and although it was a tragic accident, he still has his life. The family talked about how there were 2 other train accidents that day - each of them fatal as their bodies rolled under the train. When Chad got hit, his body flew up in the air and landed on the platform where there were people to get him immediate attention. Before going to the hospital my friends and I were a little anxious about what we would see. Hearing of this horrific accident we could only imagine what his body would look like. As we walked in the room we saw a beautiful; young man with no scratches or bruises on the top half of his body. One leg was gone and the other was bandaged and pinned together but praise God, Chad was still alive. Heavily sedated and unable to speak for now, Chad will undoubtedly face challenges as he recovers. I don't know how he will handle the loss of a limb but what I do know is that the faith and strength of his family & friends will be a huge part of his successful recovery. The streams of family and friends that have come to the hospital are a testament to how much Chad and his family is loved. The power of prayer is being realized as he recovers.

As dancers, we place much emphasis on our bodies. obviously; our bodies are our instruments - we speak with our bodies. I encourage you today to pause for a moment and think about your life. What does it speak? If we spend as much time training our souls as we spend perfecting our limbs, our lives would speak masterpieces. I wait expectantly for the day Chad will dance down the aisle. Please take time out today and pray for Chad & his family. He still has his life, and we trust God today for a full recovery.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

But I could dance!

My 8th grade students recently performed THE AUDACITY OF HOPE at our Mothers day forum. Donna Flagg, our keynote speaker spoke to our mothers about her journey from being a truant, failing student, unable to read - to an author and entrepreneur. I thought it was going to be the typical "I thought I was a failure but look what I've done with my life" speech. My students and I were flawed when she said "I felt like I couldn't do anything - But, I could dance!" When she said it she looked right at my girls and they were glued to her every word after that. Her passion for dance helped her realize that she was really good at something. Her gift of dance helped her get into college. She eventually learned she had a learning disability. I don't call it a disability but a differbility - because she learns differently. Dealing with her differbility helped her get her life on track. She worked her way into corporate America and now has her own company. The Krysalis Group - a consulting firm that provides training programs, marketing expertise and strategic solutions for business. My four dancers were mesmerized. We've had athletes, inmates, politicians, educators, etc... come and speak at our school but a dancer - wow! Donna spoke of how she used her passion for dance to fuel her desire to succeed. To make matters even better, 3 of my dancers found out that day that they had been accepted into Newark's Arts High School for dance. I'm so thankful they were there that day to hear Donna. Whether they become professional dancers or not they know for sure that they can and will succeed - why? because for the rest of their life no matter what they do they'll be able to say "But I could dance!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dancing Through the Darkness

I recently read an article in the Health Monitor titled - DANCING THROUGH THE DARKNESS. The article was about Julianne Hough and her battle with endometriosis. I have become a very big fan of ballroom dance so the title of the article and Julianne's picture on the cover immediately caught my attention. I was inspired and intrigued as I read about how she suffered for 5 years with her pain. As I read about her recovery and how she was able to "dance a lively jive that involved twisting, spinning, jumping..." just two weeks after the surgery, I started to feel like there was something wrong with me. Why wasn't I able to bounce back so quickly? I haven't bounced back as quickly because I haven't been fighting this fight with the right weapons. In my previous post LORD LET ME DANCE, I wrote about how I dance through everything. What I also must do now is pray healing over my body as I dance. This setback has not only been physical but spiritual, mental & emotional. As I sat in church yesterday and watched the dancers give praise with their arms lifted up, I remained seated. One of the dancers asked me why I wasn't standing and I pitifully answered "It hurts". I felt so small after I said that. How dare I refuse to offer praise because it hurts! What if Jesus refused to remain on the cross because it hurt. This is spiritual warfare and dance is my chosen weapon. God has plans for my life and I am blocking my blessing by giving in to the pain. So tonight as I exercise, I pray & dance - dance & pray. I praise God for Julianne's speedy recovery. If you are living with pain, speak directly to the enemy and let him know your body is the temple of the most high. Push the negative thoughts out of the way. Become a fierce prayer warrior. Declare healing and DANCE! I Dance Because...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Daily dance with Jazz

I look forward to my daily dance with Jazz everyday. Its actually just a walk to the park with my dog named Jazz but it is so cathartic. Usually I take my ipod and leave my phone home. I used to take my phone just in case something happened but I would always get interrupted by an unnecessary phone call. I thought taking my ipod would help me worship. Occasionally I would hear a song that would help me recognize and acknowledge the goodness of God but when I started leaving my ipod home I began to really see the greatness of God. As I walked t the park I noticed the shapes of the trees and how their limbs and branches hung. Even the trees seemed to be dancing. I began to marvel at how everything in nature is just so perfect. Jazz loves our daily dances. It used to annoy me how she never walked in a straight line. Her pathway in front of me was always zig-zag, back and forth-sentinel. She was guiding and protecting me - always looking around to make sure nothing got to me. I thank God today for my daily dance with Jazz. It helped me appreciate Gods love and His protecting hand in my life. It also helped me appreciate where I am and who I am in Him. It cleared my head, my heart and my nose so that this cold I thought I had, turned out to be a heavy, heavy weight I no longer could hold. God's got it now! I feel so much better knowing that from now on when I take my daily dance with Jazz, I dance because of GUIDANCE - God, U & I DANCE together. idancebecause...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lord Let Me Dance

I've been stressing lately on why I've been unable to dance. I suffered a painful rotator cuff injury in November and 5 months later, I'm still in pain. I've had pity parties with myself and complained until no one will even listen anymore. So now I'm gonna just pour my heart into what I know I was called to do (Thank you Rev. CAM). Ted Shawn wrote "...I believe that dance is the most perfect symbol of the activity of God and His angels. I believe dance has the power to heal, mentally and physically..." Ted Shawn is partially correct. When our dance is focused on releasing our negative feelings and invoking the presence of God - then yes, God will heal us through our dance. I think for too long I've made DANCE my GOD. I've been dancing for God for a long time but when life situations halted my dance, I just sat down without a fight. I complained about how bad my arm hurts and how I felt like a fish out of water because I can't dance full out. So now what do I do? I dance! I dance because it is my life line to God. I dance my prayers. I dance because it is what God has told me to do. I dance through my strengthening exercises for my shoulder. I dance and allow God to use me to help others. I write about dance and then I dance some more. I seek God and wait for Him to answer. Most of all, I pray, God will restore me to full health. idancebecause...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ballroom dance

My husband and I took ballroom dance classes. We both loved it and want to continue training. I recommend ballroom dance for any couple. For me, this training was a very humbling experience. You see, in ballroom dance, the man leads. As a dance teacher this was very difficult for me. Not only did I have to let him lead, but I had to do it without speaking. I had to trust that he was leading me in the right direction. There were times when I had to stop and say, "are you sure you know what you are doing?" This experience also taught him to make sure he knows what he is doing before trying to lead me. I recommend ballroom dance for any and every couple.