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How and why I became a yoga dance teacher.

Updated: Jan 13

On a hot, sunny afternoon on July in 2014, I was sitting on the couch in the Tripsichore

Yoga Theatre studio in London next to the sound system with my pointer finger poised over the play button of a portable CD player that was plugged into a two speaker P.A. System. It was the second day of the fourth week of Tripsichore’s annual month long London Summer Intensive that I had been co-running and co-teaching alongside it’s founder, Edward Clark, for the past six years.

On this particular day of the course, the afternoon session was titled Yoga Choreography,

which always causes a nervous stir among the participants. This stir occurs because most, if not all, of the course participants risk the threat of a rainy summer in London and flock to the studio doors, to fulfil a desire to master the really hard and glamorous postures, despite of the fact that Tripsichore is actually a yoga dance company. Fortunately or unfortunately, who can say, but over the years of Edward and I guest teaching on teacher trainings and workshop as well as performing, Tripsichore has developed a reputation is for it’s uniquely advanced sun salutations that incorporate numerous inversions in advanced moving vinyasa's. This push and pressure to master handstands, walkovers, and unusual asanas was the cause for Edward and I to replace the

glamorous tricks of our trade for the really hard stuff, giving the participants a yoga dance

experience for one afternoon. Since having had three weeks of working on the Tripsichore

technique, why not to provide an opportunity for them to use this technique in the situation that it was created for, Yoga Dance.

And for this reason, I spent an hour watching Edward walk the participants through yoga

choreography. This being their final week of the intensive, I could see that they were all physically and mentally exhausted, however most managed well at struggling through and accepting the current situation. While a few, I noticed, kept looking at the clock on the wall with expressions of, “When is this going to end!” As I awaited Edward’s signal to start the music so he could lead them into the first posture, one of the participants, Beth, caught my eye. I could see her inner mental struggle with the last bit of choreography Edward had just explained to the group. Beth, a women of 36 years, was married with two children, short, overweight, and like most of us living outside the cave, full of self doubt. Having worked one on one with her for the past few weeks, I knew the choreography was just a bit above her current ability and confidence, therefore I was greatly interested in seeing how she was going to figure it out, or if she was going to make any effort at all.

Edward gave me the signal and I pressed play. I watched everyone scramble to remember

the choreography, hit the music cues and get in sync with Edward who was leading it. Then the moment came for Beth, as for everyone else. It was a difficult move. They had to jump from a standing high arch into a left side crow, landing with the right ear delicately placed on the floor, all executed on a particular saxophone cue, and then go into leg variations. I didn’t envy them. It was hard, even with good technique. Sadly, Beth backed out along with a few others, which resulted in various versions of shuffling from a high arch into table pose, or child’s pose accompanied by side glances to see if there was a consensus of rebellion from the others.

Edward deliberately continued on in solo fashion to the end of the piece with a few

participants joining in on the last posture to save face. When I stopped the music I heard a

collective sigh of relief that it was all over. Although I inwardly shook my head, I felt compassion for those who actually started to gather up their bags and coats in false belief that the session was done and they were homeward bound. No, my little ones you don’t spend an hour learning a four minute piece of choreography to run through it once. You practice and practice and practice to work out the kinks and get it performance ready! It’s hard work. It’s harder than doing a yoga practice on your mat because to present a piece of performance art, one must go do the work of self-correction to discover all the places where it falls apart, and the first place it falls apart is in one’s own inner dialogue. This is one of the main challenges of Yoga Dance. What the audience energetically experiences is the story that you are manufacturing about yourself in your head, regardless of music, lights, costume, or makeup.

Edward ignored the collective groans in response to his announcement that they would be

running through the piece a few more times. He silently took his first position and I once again, cued the music. I noticed that Beth along with two others was all for it. She seemed to love the challenge. When I noticed the expression of determination on her face, I could see her inner story was changing, and I wanted to know what it was going to be. Riveted, I couldn’t take my eyes of her progress as the group did the piece five more times.

Beth delivered in the most astounding way. I could give you a physical description of how,

but her physical execution diminishes in the light that she exuded on the final run through from start to finish. She surprised herself, and advanced her yoga practice all in one moment. I didn’t know the exact words she chose in her own mind, but my interpretation of her inner dialogue was “I FUCKING AM!” And perhaps she had learned this lesson in other areas of her life but that day she found it in this area. She just needed the opportunity of an uncomfortable situation to dig deep, find herself, and be. As a result I got to experience BETH, the real Beth, in her full beauty, and she was magnificent irrespective of all else. What further blew me away was that, as she was leaving the studio with another participant, I over heard her admit that she had always wanted to be a dancer, and never thought she could, and was feeling it was too late, and how she couldn’t believe that she did what she had just done.

I know how Beth felt, empowered, beautiful, graceful and true to herself, because that’s

how I feel when I perform. It’s an introverted experience played out in an extroverted situation. I hope what I am trying to convey makes sense. That was the day that I knew what I wanted to do with part of the rest my time here in this life. Give anyone the opportunity through the platform of Yoga Dance to bring what they’ve got to the table and unashamedly light up the world with the power of who they are. Simply the essence of who they are, the light of who they are, the core of who they are, the truth of who they are, however you want to phrase it, soul, spirit, or energy. So, loose the self judgement and just come. You are your gift to the world, so bring it! And I will do my best to take any practitioner who is willing to put in the work, to choreograph a yoga performance piece for them to shine in.

Nikki Claire Durrant

NCD Yoga Dance School

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