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Coming Clean on Day 13 (the “missing” invitation) February 3, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Health, Life, Music, New Year, Taoism, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Happy Spring Festival! Happy Carnival! Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

My apologies for not posting this before tonight’s “First Friday Night Special.” You can request an audio recording of tonight’s Yin Yoga practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible.

“If the cause of disease is understood as imbalance, then the goal of treatment is to recover balance. Problems are resolved through methods of complementarity.”

– quoted from “Problems in Search of a Solution: Treatment” in “Chapter Three – Philosopher in the East: The Doctor as Gardener” of Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinefield L.A.c. and Efrem Korngold L.A.c., O.M.D.

Many Eastern philosophies are tied to medical practices: e.g., Yoga and Ayurveda from India, Taoism and (Traditional) Chinese Medicine from China. In each pair of sciences, it is understood that too much or too little of something can create imbalance that leads to discomfort, dis-ease, and inefficiency. When the mind-body does not work optimally, these philosophies and medical sciences offer cleansing practices (and/or rituals) intended to improve overall health – physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically/spiritually. These practices are ultimately about letting go of what no longer serves us and making room for what will serve us… or, for what we will be served.

People spend a lot of time eating and celebrating during the Lunar New Year, in a way that can be excessive and, therefore, can lead to imbalance. By Day 13, people are ready to give their bodies a break from all the rich and heavy food – especially if they are celebrating the Spring Festival. While there may not be ritual cleansing, people who celebrate the 15-day Spring Festival traditionally eat “clean” on Day 13. A lighter, often vegetarian, meal that can help the body cleanse itself after the heavy feasting of the previous two weeks also prepares the mind-body for one more round of feasting and celebrating during the Lantern Festival (on Day 15).

Click here to read more about cleansing rituals and traditions in different traditions and why some people celebrate brotherhood on this day.

A First Friday Night Special playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lunar New Year Day 13 Clean 2023”]

NOTE: The playlists on different, because some tracks (including the track for the practice) were not available on Spotify. However, the practice track on both playlists is related to the Earth and grounding.

This Yin Yoga practice is accessible and open to all.

Prop wise, this can be a kitchen sink practice. You can practice without props or use “studio” props and/or “householder” props. Example of Commercial props: 1 – 2 blankets,2 – 3 blocks, a bolster, a strap, and an eye pillow. Example of Householder props: 1 – 2 blankets or bath towels, 2 – 3 books (similar in size), 2 standard pillows (or 1 body pillow), a belt/tie/sash, and a face towel.

You may want extra layers (as your body may cool down during this practice). Having a wall, chair, sofa, or coffee table may be handy for this practice.

Updated links will be provided for the events related to February 3rd.

### OM ###

Bird on Fire (a special Black History note) February 3, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Women, Yoga.
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Happy Spring Festival! Happy Carnival! Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

This is a special post for Thursday, February 2nd. Yes, it was Groundhog Day. Yes, it was Groundhog Day (and you can click here to read last year’s related post). It was also the 12th day of the Spring Festival, which is another day when people eat “clean” (more on that in the Friday post).

“Black History is Happening Every Day.”

– a segment on the podcast FANTI, hosted by Jarrett Hill and Tre’vell Anderson

If you spend some time in my classes and/or peruse my blog, it doesn’t take long to notice that I use dates, historical figures, and special events, as jumping off points. They are a way to get everyone on the same page, to give people a frame of reference – especially if I’m going to delve into some aspect of Eastern philosophy that may be unfamiliar to most people in my classes. Sharing people’s stories, cultures, and histories is also a way to cultivate empathy and curiosity. Plus, I’m a fan of knowledge and, well… the more you know….

As much as I endeavor to diversify my “curriculum” and playlists (and have been known to “randomly” throw in extra Irish musicians and historical figures at the beginning of March), I don’t typically spend a whole month talking about non-religious cultural observations. Oh, sure, I’ve devoted several Aprils-worth of classes to poetry and if you show up at a class during the eleventh month of the Gregorian calendar, there’s about a 20% chance I’ll be sporting a moustache (if you mou’, you mou’), but I don’t really focus on one group of people during a single month (or week). When I mention that it’s Black History Month – or Native American Heritage Month or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – that reference is just a footnote at the beginning of the month (or week), because I agree with two of my favorite podcasters: Black History is Happening Every Day! Actually, I think that’s true of every demographic in America: everyone is making history every day.

Sometimes, unfortunately, human history is really tragic and horrific. In fact, someone once gave my a calendar full of really horrible things that had been done to African Americans on any given day throughout the year. I appreciated the gift – and have learned a lot from it –  but it’s never my go-to reference source. It’s not that I steer away from hard and tragic stuff; but that’s not all of life. Life is full of ups and downs and lots of things in between. So, I highlight people, events, and things that I can see as a reflection of life. When I remember or discover something and/or someone that resonates with me, I consider how it can be a gateway into the philosophical practice. This is very much in keeping with the way ancient philosophy (and religious) teachers taught. It’s just that rather than making up stories (parables), I’m using true stories and tales. And, more often than not, someone shares with me that they had never heard the story I told or had forgotten it and appreciated the reminder.

Recently, however, I have noticed how much the subjects on which I choose to focus – the kinds of subjects I have chosen for over a decade – are being “outlawed” by certain policymakers around the country. Recently, I have started thinking about how much of the history that was not being told up until recently is getting banned. Recently, I have thought more and more about the ramifications of losing things we may never get back; of losing the truth we may never get back. So, for Black History Month 2023, I am going to highlight some people and events that don’t get a lot of “air time.” They may not all be the focus of the next few weeks of practice, but they will be here… for anyone who is curious.

“She’s living in a world and it’s on fireFilled with catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away

Oh, oh oh oh ohShe got both feet on the groundAnd she’s burning it down

Oh, oh oh oh oh, oh oh oh ohShe got her head in the cloudsAnd she’s not backing down

This girl is on fireThis girl is on fireShe’s walking on fireThis girl is on fire

Looks like a girl, but she’s a flameSo bright, she can burn your eyes”

– quoted from the song “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys

Earlier in my life, I had the great pleasure of working with some of the most amazing classical ballet dancers on the planet – including several whose presence on the stage was groundbreaking and newsworthy. Sandra Organ, Lauren Anderson, and Carlos Acosta became, respectively, the first African American ballet dancer at Houston Ballet, one of the first African American principal dancers at a major classical ballet company, and the first (Black) Cuban male principal dancer at a major classical ballet company (outside of Cuba). Each of them made it possible for more dancers of color to make a name for themselves. Each of them continues to contribute to the world of dance. What doesn’t always make the news, however, is that each of them dance (and now direct) in the footsteps of Raven Wilkinson.

Born February 2, 1935, in New York City, Anne Raven Wilkinson loved dance at a very early age. Her mother, Anne James Wilkinson, studied ballet in Chicago before getting married and starting a family with Dr. Frost Birnie Wilkinson, a dentist who had attended Dartmouth University and graduated from Harvard Medical School. After watching Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo performing Coppélia (when she was about five), her mother tried to register her for classes at the School of American Ballet. Historically, students could start training at New York City Ballet’s feeder school if they were 8 years old or would turn 8 during the year they started at the school. The Wilkinsons, however, were told that Raven had to be 9. Not to be thwarted, Raven was signed up for lessons in the Dalcroze method, a style of music education. When she turned 9, her uncle (a surgeon who graduated from Darmouth and Harvard) gifted her lessons at the Swoboda School, later known as the Ballet Russe School, where she trained with dancers from the Bolshoi Theatre.

In 1951, Sergei Denham, director of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, bought the Swoboda School, making it a feeder school for the very company that had inspired Raven Wilkinson to dance. She studied under the new leadership for three years before she auditioned. Even though at least one of her peers told her she would not get hired because she was Black, she learned the aesthetics and dance vocabulary she would need to technically blend in. Then, in 1954, she auditioned for Sergei Denham for the first time. In all, she would audition three times (and get rejected twice) before she was hired on a temporary basis. It was temporary, she was told, because the director was considering hiring another dancer (in Chicago) partway through the tour.

“During that same meeting, I also told Mr. Denham that I didn’t want to put the company in danger, but I also never wanted to deny what I was. If someone questioned me directly, I couldn’t say, ‘No, I’m not black.’ Some of the other dancers suggested that I say I was Spanish. But that’s like telling the world there’s something wrong with what you are.”

– Raven Wilkinson quoted from the Pointe Magazine interview ” Raven Wilkinson’s Extraordinary Life: An Exclusive Interview” by Margaret Fuhrer (dated June 1, 2014)

Raven Wilkinson started dancing for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1955 – 14 years before a company devoted to African American ballet dancers, Dance Theatre of  Harlem, opened across the street from where her father’s office. By her second season she was dancing as a soloist.* She toured the United States while dancing roles in Les Sylphide, Le Beau DanubeGiselle, Graduation Ball, Harlequinade, and Swan Lake. Of course, touring the United States in the 1950s meant dealing with segregation and racism in the South. On the one hand, Ms. Wilkinson was light-skinned and could “pass” – and classical ballet was/is so closely associated with whiteness that almost no one considered the possibility that there was a Black dancer in the company, even though there were dancers from South America. On the other hand, she had no intention of lying. The company had encounters with the Ku Klux Klan – in and out of their robes – and in 1957, a “whites only” hotel owner in Atlanta, Georgia questioned her race and she answered as she had always intended to answer: truthfully.

After the incident in Atlanta, Sergei Denham and the company took extra-ordinary measures to ensure the safety of Raven Wilkinson and the other dancers. Sometimes, segregation forced her to travel ahead of the company. Sometimes, segregation and racism forced her out of roles. A member of the artistic staff told her that she had hit the proverbial “glass ceiling” and that she would be better off retiring and starting an “African dance” company. When she pointed out that she wasn’t trained in African dance, Sergei Denham backed her up, even offered her a featured role in Raymonda. She would appreciate his support later in life, but at the time, she was increasingly frustrated. She retired from the the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1961; but she did so with the intention of finding another, more progressive, company. After being rejected by the other major companies in New York City, she gave up, started working a “regular gig,” and even considered becoming a nun. Two years after leaving the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Raven Wilkinson put her pointe shoes back on and went back to dance. Then she got a call from a Black dancer in the Netherlands.

“‘I regret that he was not seen in the United States as a dancer because there was living proof of a danseur noble no matter what color, and he was amazing.’”

– quoted from MOBBallet.org (cited, Dr. Josselli Audain Deans PhD, Dance Magazine, November 1997, pages 87-88)

Sylvester Campbell, was an African American ballet danseur from Oklahoma, who trained at the (historically black) Jones-Haywood School of Ballet (founded Washington D. C., in 1941) and at the School of American Ballet (the school that, years earlier, rejected Raven Wilkinson for being too young). In 1960, Mr. Campbell started dancing principal roles at Het Nationale Ballet (the Dutch National Ballet), After dancing there for several years, he convinced Raven Wilkinson to relocate to Holland where she become a second soloist and expanded her repertoire, adding roles in Serenade, Giselle, Symphony in C, La Valse, The Snow Maiden, and The Firebird (which was originally created for the original Ballet Russes).

Both Americans would eventually leave the Netherlands because they were homesick. Sylvester Campbell went on to be a principal dancer at Royal Winnipeg Ballet and then director of the dance Department of the Baltimore School for the Arts. Raven Wilkinson danced with the New York City Opera (until 1985) and then appeared as a character dancer and actor until 2011, when the company was no longer in residence at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She also taught ballet at the Harlem School of the Arts.

All the way up until her death in 2018, Raven Wilkinson was heralded as a role model and mentor for dancers like Misty Copeland, the first African American principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre.

“I loved Holland, but I missed my own country. I missed the very thing we complain about when we’re here—America’s diversity of philosophy, of feeling, of custom. It makes for a difficult society sometimes, and yet you feel its absence in a place like Holland, where everyone has the same history. So I came home.”

– Raven Wilkinson quoted from the Pointe Magazine interview ” Raven Wilkinson’s Extraordinary Life: An Exclusive Interview” by Margaret Fuhrer (dated June 1, 2014)

PRACTICE NOTES: If I were to lead a practice dedicated to Raven Wilkinson, I’d focus on how the situations that make it hard to practice satya (“truth”), are also the situations when it is most important to practice that second yama (external “restraint” or universal “commandment”). There would probably be an emphasis on poses with external hip rotation, counterbalanced with poses that internally rotate the hips and thighs – plus something to open up the heart and the throat chakras (as they are related to “the gifts we extend out to the world,” determination, and expression). There would also be some awareness of “long lines,” articulating the feet, and dancing the arms. Of course, we would work our way into Naṭarājāsana (“Dancer’s Pose”) – all while listening to the highs and lows of Igor Stravinsky’s “L’Oiseau de feu” (“The Firebird”).

*NOTE: By some accounts, Raven Wilkinson was promoted to soloist, but other accounts indicate that she was given soloist roles without the title (or the paycheck that might have come with it). 

Errata: Raven Wilkinson taught at the Harlem School of the Arts not at Dance Theatre of Harlem as implied by my earlier type-o.

### “Firebirds sing by night” ~ Yakov Polonsky ###