Bach in the Park and the Spirit of Play

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

The Fine Lines dance class at Carlton Gardens.

A SPECIAL JOY awakens in moments of dancing outdoors. For one who spends most days writing on the laptop and reading through dense texts as a researcher-academic, it is a welcome respite to not only move, but to dance in a natural space, among huge, brawny trees in the majestic Carlton Gardens. This is the paradox of being a dance academic -- one has to fight to get the space and time to move and dance in between academic work -- but it is all a matter of self-discipline, really.

Thankfully, my dance teacher in Melbourne, Katrina Rank, held an enticing invitation to free dance classes in Calrton Gardens at the beginning of January 2020. Called "Bach in the Park," it made me wish it was permanently held there instead of the regular studio where Fine Lines, Katrina's group, does classes. And yes, she played Bach classics through her phone as we ran through the class with mostly senior women, which to me, made this group extra special. It is inter-generational and I felt surrounded by a circle of dancing wise women whenever I am in a Fine Lines class.

Katrina's classes are taken from various modern techniques. We begin with structured movements and usually move towards improvisation and play. Each one gets to lead the group or another person, which brings in a lot of synchronicity and amusement; and our energies grow bigger in the group improv. Dance as play.

I started with Katrina's classes in 2019, and she has recently incorporated some Taichi-Qigong movements with contemporary dance vocabulary. Bring this with the natural sound of crackling dried leaves as they are crushed on your feet, the sound of the wind and the birds, the streaming sunlight like stage lights, all add to the radiance of the moment of dancing. An exquisite and relaxing feeling and I can't wait to dance more in outdoor spaces. It reminded me of the reason why my previous dance films were held in natural spaces -- in La Mesa Dam in Quezon City; in Matuod Beach; in UP Lagoon.

The spirit of place, the spirit of ecology, resonate with the innate qualities of the human psyche: Calming, grounding, life-generating, stabilizing.

Basking under the canopy of noble trees. Photo by Kate.

Ecology, after all, comes from the Greek 'oikos', which means 'house.' In Raja yoga meditation, I learned that the first house is the mind, then the body, next the physical world, then the social world, and the larger environment. When we care for these multiple houses we inhabit, we bring more harmony to the elements of our life. And yes, everything begins in the mind and how we clean and use its faculties: our thoughts, our attitudes, our values, our awareness. Whether we choose to be aware of it or not, our world grows from this point of internal emergence.

Over the years, I have observed that any spiritual and creative practice that wants to come from a deeper place requires some kind of inner work, a regular fine-tuning of one's inner awareness or consciousness.

Or, as one yogi told me once, "What we do is actually not just inner work, but also inner play!"

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