Our body provides the freedom of expression. It wants to move. This is what it was designed for. To really harness the intelligence of the body is to have the freedom of being able to move it, to be sensitive to pick up on our instincts. If we are sensitive of our body, we will understand that it has deep wisdom and a natural ability to renew and heal itself.
The popularity of dance and yoga has heightened awareness of somatic practices. Dancers and yogis put their bodies into situations where they can experience flow – the experience where the body is able to move in harmony to what the moment demands.
The art of dance is a powerful impulse. Martha Graham, dancer and choreographer and one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, said that dance is the hidden language of the soul.
As well, yoga is an ancient art, used for centuries not only to strengthen and improve the body, but also to help the soul.
I am speaking with Jack Waldas, ballet and yoga teacher. Following his dance education at Ballet School New York and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, Jack danced with NY Theater Ballet, Nationaltheater Mannheim, Stadttheater Augsburg and Landestheater Innsbruck and Linz.
During his dance career he tested the effects of yoga on his own body and emotional self.
This experience of yoga lays the foundation for Anandansa – his own playful fusion of yoga and dance, of meditative mind-set and expressive movement.
At the end of his dance education career Jack devoted his life to furthering his knowledge of yoga, body work and health-oriented movement. He completed educations in Prana Flow yoga, Anusara yoga, Spiral Dynamic body mechanics, as well as studying yoga therapy, Thai massage and Tai Chi.
Mr. Waldas, you are a dancer. After all the years of conscious and complex training of the body through the dance, how are you today experiencing your body and movement?
JW: At this point in life (age 50) I experience movement in my body as more conscious and less physical. The body awareness is more intense – my entire body is more present, the sensation is finer, the coordination more immediate. Conversely, the physicality softens – my body needs less workout and more care, the joints need less extreme movement and greater integration, the muscles respond better to smoother, easy, organic flow.
This is all part of a natural aging process: our outward journey becomes less important and the inner one reveals more and more of its beauty.
What kind of mindfulness did you bring from the practice of ballet and art?
JW: Dance, especially on stage, was a great practice for being present, for focusing the body-mind awareness on the moment. With experience, the excitement of performing in front of others ironically draws our awareness inwards, it demands concentration and relaxation.
How did you find yourself in the world of yoga and do you feel a direct link between dance, yoga and art?
JW: Yes, I experience interrelatedness between dance, yoga, and art. They are all practices that seek wholeness, being how we are „meant“ to be. When we look back at art and dance history, we see creativity most often flourishing where there was either great internal difficulty or extreme passion driving the artist to his task. Yoga as well has its origins in the basic human need to process the pain and suffering of life into the „sweetness“ of being alive.
What has your yoga practice inspired in you?
JW: My own personal practice inspires me every day to feel who I am in that moment. It allows me to check-in with a part of me that is invisible to the logical mind-set. This aspect of ourselves, whatever you may want to name it (intuition, spirit, deep awareness, metta Consciousness), is a universal human quality. It unites us on a deep, indescribable level. This is, among many other things, very useful for teaching/sharing the immediate experience of yoga (union with Self).
As a ballet dancer, you had an opportunity within different roles, to explore your emotions, feelings, diverse states, thoughts, experiences, and moods. How did the yoga practice touch your emotional being?
JW: Yoga is very helpful to me in balancing my mind and emotions. As a typical artist it is easy for me to feel extreme emotions, to have wild thoughts. Being creative and being deeply happy also require certain stability – a calm center from which all these amazing human experiences can be received. It is this grounding for which I am most thankful to the yoga practice.
As a dancer, you were in a position to work with different choreographers.
Now you make your own choreography in a very special way.
You base your work on organic ballet, contemporary dance, yoga, and bio-mechanics. Would you explain a little about these approaches to the body and movement?
JW: All of these systems have one thing in common – they are based upon the organic nature of the body. All of my work is about exploring the natural, the inborn qualities of our bodies and energetic selves. It is less the result that interests me and more the immediate experience of moving, of being still, of being alive. This is a very different approach from creating choreography for the stage, something that should „sell“.
Your teaching method Anandansa unites physical expression and spiritual awareness, dance and yoga.
Your book „Street Yoga“ has been awarded the best yoga book and it deals with the overcoming of discrepancies between what happens on the yoga-mat and in “real life“. It is interesting symbolism of the word „street“ points to a meeting place, an everyday routine, the dance of life. Would you tell us more about the book?
JW: The book was a spur of the moment idea. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife), Julia and I were sitting in a cafe having a few drinks. We spontaneously started having a playful conversation about all the possibilities in which one could practice asanas. We began to think up fun and unusual situations of people doing yoga poses. As we were brain-storming, we realized that this was not only an amusing concept, but also a very inspiring one. Yoga (in the tantric sense) is meant to connect us more with life and not to be a separate „holy“ thing that removes us from everyday life. So „Street Yoga” is about being connected to our practice at all times and in all places.
Your workshops and teachings are another meeting place. What is important to you while working with people? What is it that you want them to recognize and experience? Are your workshops intended for people with no dance experience?
JW: I most want my students to find their „inner teacher“. We all have this intuitive knowledge within us and when we are connected with it, we experience what we most need to grow. It is, I believe, this inner growth that leads to deep happiness, to ananda.
My workshops are for the individuals present. Sometimes the students are professional dancers, sometimes they are novice yoga practitioners, and sometimes it is all new to them. It is simply a matter of setting the „game rules“(for whom this particular workshop is intended) and then the work becomes a play.