Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Golden Rule

Participating in the art of Danse Orientale  one benefits from
     a) exercise,
     b) new ways of adornment,
     c)  a connection to women (throughout the ages), and
     d) an exploration into the her/history of civilization. 

Through the investigation of ancient gestures and music, we spiral  toward a deep well residing within. We discover inner resources for inspiration and uncover creativity, fluidity, confidence with emerging grace.

Let us remember, recover, realize:   The creative spark residing within is an immense force and the value of that is immeasurable.  Imagine if we all put that creativity into action!  Imagine every time we are faced with a challenge rather than reacting with some knee jerk response we instead close our eyes, take a breath, tap into the creative well and respond with fluidity and grace.

My mission is to present a few "tools of the trade" from which one might discover his/her own radiant essence.

Typically in my classes, I first introduce The Golden Rule*.  Next, I introduce an Egyptian folkloric 4/4 rhythm pattern known as ‘Beledy’ inviting everyone to step with the pulse and then clap along until we are all synchronistically moving feet and hands, hearts and minds.  This dance embraces us and the beats provide the foundation for the rhythm of life…

“Everything in the universe has rhythm.
Everything dances.”  -  
Maya Angelou


*The Golden Rule
One of the very first lessons I present in my classes refers to a sequence of hand gestures referred to as "The Golden Rule” from classical South Indian dance known as Bharata Natyam or Bharatanatyam**. 

I teach it as it was taught to me by my guru, Mimi Janislawski, PhD, master of classical eastern dance traditions. Dr. Janislawski, who originally enticed by the exotic movement, music and costumes of Eastern dance, immediately recognized the opportunity Bharatanatyam afforded for "dancing eternal cosmic truths. Shiva is the name of the lord of the dance, but what that really means is change and motion in the universe. Vishnu is life, you are honoring life. We dance on Mother Earth," Mimi says in a breathy, peaceful voice. "The material is very organic and nationless in its meaning. Hinduism is just one outward expression of it."

Mimi Janislawski, native to San Francisco, has traveled a unique path to her chosen career as an exponent of Bharatanatyam. She began her dance career in classical ballet, graduated from the Royal Ballet, London, and was awarded the Solo Seat, the highest degree of the royal academy of dancing. In London she began her study of Bharatanatyam from Balasundari of Kalakshetra, 1968-70. Upon returning to her home, she trained under the late T. Balasarasvati, 1971-76. Mimi has performed nationally and internationally in a wide variety of settings - concert, theaters, museums, universities, art festivals - ranging from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to the Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt. Tours since 1979 have included India, Egypt, England and the US. Her large repertoire consists of dances from the ancient classics to original compositions in the traditional style. She has maintained a school in the Bay area for over thirty-five years.
Mimi Janislawski :: Way of the Dance
In addition to her mastery of Bharatanatyam, becoming the embodiment of a heavenly Goddess come to Earth, what also sets this *extraordinary* artist apart is that her repertoire includes all of the following: classical dance of Japan, classical Chinese court and character dance, Javanese court dance, Balinese ritual temple dance, Sudanese and Korean dance. 

In addition, she has created an Egyptian Suite, the culmination of tremendous research bringing to life the ancient dance of Egypt complete with an explanation of the meaning of the gestures from the hieroglyphics and how these accumulated gestures were put together. This dance was performed at the Temple of Karnak by invitation of the Egyptian Government, Department of Antiquities.
Mimi  Janislawski in her Ancient Egyptian ISIS costuming
with moi in Maui, 1999

**Bharata Natyam dance dates back to ancient Vedic rituals from approx. 3000 BC considered to be a "Golden Age when art, science, mathematics, astronomy, architecture and religion were not separate fields, but were oriented to one Universal cosmos." Hence, this principle. Golden (age) + rule = Golden Rule, a universal truth of dance and drama technical procedure. So titled by Mimi Janislawski (among other America dance instructors) because it is THE basic expression of technique, emotional and spiritual procedure for a dancer and/or actor/actress.

Bharata Natyam was the embodiment of music in visual form, a ceremony, and an act of devotion. Today Bharatanatyam is a traditional dance-form known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculpturesque poses. Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over India. 

In ancient Tamil culture and society (an ethnic group native to Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India), the arts of music and dance were performed by Hindu temple Devadasis. These arts were highly developed and played a major role in daily life and devotional ritual. Many of the ancient sculptures in Hindu temples are based on Bharata Natyam dance postures known as karanas. In fact, it is the celestial dancers, apsaras, who are depicted in many scriptures dancing the heavenly version of what is known on earth as Bharatanatyam. In the most essential sense, a Hindu deity abides in his temple as an esteemed and revered guest. Countless ancient Hindu temples kept a tradition of maintaining highly trained dancers and musicians to offer the deity the “sixteen hospitalities.” Dancing and music, pleasing to the senses, are among these hospitalities. 

The "Golden Rule" is the first Sanskrit shloka (poetic meter ~ e.g. couplet) of the Natya Shastra , the ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music codified and written by Bharata Muni (c.600-800 BC). Bharata Muni wrote an entire treatise of procedures on dance and the "Golden Rule" is the first chant (shloka) in the treatise on dance. The "Golden Rule" chant translates to: “Where the hand goes, there goes the eye. Where the eye goes, there goes the mind. Where the mind goes, there goes the bhava. Where the bhava goes, there goes the rasa.” As explained to me by Mimi, the "Golden Rule" reminds us that the technical aspect of the dance is presented by you, the vehicle of the dance, and becomes the emotional quality (bhava) as it radiates out from you. The bhava in turn becomes the spiritual/ethereal quality (rasa) as it received. The rasa is the exchange between artist and audience or, for example, when practicing alone, between artist and the Universe.

Mimi further explained from this Golden age come three methods of rules for any/all procedures ~ including, for example, architectural procedures, dance, meditation, love-making, etc. The Sanskrit meter in which the procedure was written determines whether it is a shastra, sutra (as in Kama Sutra), or tantra. A shastra is most often an observation written to explain an earlier scripture or sutra. Shastras are more conducive to chant. Tantra is an accumulation of ideas and practices, characterized by ritual forms of worship.

In my classes, I start with teaching the Golden Rule not only for its historic significance but also because it reminds us of our heart/mind connection. When reviewing the chant, you will see that the gesture associated with "there goes the mind" utilizes two hands in the Kathakamuka mudra. One hand pointing to the brain and the other pointing to the heart because it was known thousands of years ago that the heart and mind are inseparable and this 'Rule' reminds us of this fact.