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Dance and martial arts have made meaty contributions to yoga history, philosophy, and posework. The 108 Karanas of the Dance of Shiva (called Shiva Nata) are actually yoga-like postures meant to actualize viewers through a geometrically-precise drama.
The Karanas create mandalas (meditation images called yantras) in space over time–with the frontal body in the vertical plane and in the horizontal plane with the feet. These mandalas affect our mind and our energetic body.
The “Classic” form of Indian dance was practiced by the Devadasis (“servants”–or literally “slaves”–of God). They were temple courtesans who were free women and occasionally scholars. They were second only to priests in Tantric settings in the Middle Ages.
Their dance was called Dasi Attam, and it was a fertility rite performed for the pleasure of kingly guests and temple benefactors who wished to have blessings on festivals and marriage ceremonies.
This court and temple dance, called Margi (“march” or “step”)–as opposed to village dances called Desi–was resuscitated by Rukmuni Devi and made into the “Classical” form now called Bharat Natyam (“Dance of India”) in the 1930s.
In America, her work was anticipated by the inventive “Oriental Dance” of Maud Allen and Ruth St. Denis in in the early 1900s.
St. Denis has a singular status because she taught Martha Graham (the mother of modern dance) for ten years and became a student of the great yogini Indra Devi in Hollywood in the late 1940s.
Magana Baptiste–the mother of Sherri and Baron Baptiste and a student of Indra Devi as well–taught Oriental Dance and yoga in the groundbreaking San Francisco yoga centers she created with her husband, Walt, beginning in the 1950s.
She brought Oriental Dance to Hollywood movies, and Shiva Rea and Hemalayaa Behl have both advanced new yoga/dance movements in a big way. They are part of the “evolutionary pulse of yoga in America” as Rea has well-characterized it.
Behl has mixed yoga with hip-hop, Bollywood moves, and classical Odissi dance (that she trained in for five years). Rea has integrated work from Zhander Remete and his Shadow Yoga, as well as postures from the Indian martial art, Kalari, and her knowledge from ethnic dance worldwide.
This lecture was given for Hemalayaa Behl’s Teacher Training today. Please enjoy dancing through these slides.