Tag Archives: India

Laughter Yoga

“Laughter is the best medicine,” you might have heard. That adage — probably more credible than “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” — is the basis for a form of yoga, appropriately called laughter yoga. We attended a laughter yoga workshop with our friend Allie yesterday at the Old Town School of Folk Music to try out the practice, and because an hour of laughing sounded like the perfect Sunday activity.

Laughter yoga originated in India about 15 years ago when Dr. Madan Kataria noticed the medicinal benefits of laughter among his patients and organized the first laughter club. He coupled laughter exercises with Yogic breathing routines, and the practice is now an international well-being phenomenon.

Our bodies cannot discern the difference between real and fake laughter, and as we found in class, what starts as forced laughter inevitably turns into real, and often uncontrollable, laughing. You won’t be expected to tell jokes, and there’s no need to sport your Lululemon, because you won’t be contorting into downward dogs or warrior poses. (Still, being comfortably clothed helped us relax.)

“It’s kind of like reawakening your joy, like you’re a little kid again.” -Judith Sample, certified Laughter Yoga instructor

Our instructor, Judith Sample, took the 10 of us through an hour of activities that included introducing ourselves to each other with a laugh, imitating types of laughter, including animal laughter, slow motion laughter and shy laughter, and practicing deep breathing. Less than halfway through the class we were already feeling lighter and happier.

If nothing else, laughter yoga is a healthy reminder to smile more, relax about how seriously we take ourselves, and just laugh.

Tara and Karina for TKGO

Akram Khan and Cross-Cultural Dance

Akram Khan’s bahok came to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art Stage this past weekend, and it was a show we were eager to attend. Karina had been hearing all of the (well-deserved) hype at her internship at the MCA, and Tara is taking a Cultural Studies of Dance class at Northwestern and learning, among other things, about the problematics of authenticity in cultural representation and how a message is communicated to an audience. But even if we had just wandered into the show, we’re certain we would have been just as riveted throughout the entire entertaining and thought-provoking 75-minute show.

bahok, which means “carrier” in Bengali, premiered in Beijing in January 2008 and was voted “Best new vision of global interchange” by Dance Magazine before it embarked on a world tour in 2009. Akram Khan has been called one of the greatest young choreographers by the Dance Critics’ Circle, dance critics and fellow choreographers (including Tara’s flamenco instructor and Northwestern professor Joel Valentín-Martínez). With all the hype, you’d expect an overly abstract piece from the kind of choreographer who works on the too-buried-in-metaphors-to-understand kind of dances. Instead, the Londoner (his family is Bangladeshi) offers a simple but profound message set to an international score from composer and longtime collaborator Nitin Sawhney and, at times, humor in bahok.

(Below is a clip from one of our favorite numbers in the show.)

Set in an unidentified airport (though it really could be any transportation station), bahok explores what happens when people of different origins — China, Spain, Slovakia, India, South Korea, Taiwan and South Africa — are forced to interact and communicate with one another despite language barriers and cultural differences. The dancers in Khan’s company are from all the aforementioned countries, which brings another level of nuance to the work.

Total unison is rare in bahok. Instead, Khan plays with levels and shadows in his choreography. Dancers fly across the floor and lift each other in the air, showing their differences even when all move at the same time. Stage lighting gives the work even more dimension, leaving some dancers in the dark while others are featured in “monologues.”

While language is used in the show (a big electronic departures sign serves at times as the subtitle screen, other times to display cryptic messages), it does not aid in communication. Characters retreat into their own memories, describing their childhoods in a way no one else can understand, or they unsuccessfully attempt to answer simple questions for a customs official. Movement is the only way characters can explain their feelings and communicate who they are to one another. In portions of the show where only one or a few are dancing in the spotlight, each expresses an individual personality on stage, whether it be obsessive paper collecting or a private dance with a father’s shoe.

(Learn a few bahok moves in the MCA’s informative promotional video, below.)

The work, ultimately, is honest. Khan understands that a transportation station is both a void and transient space, and though his characters overlap and spend a long time waiting together in the same space, they never completely accept or understand one another. They exclude each other, they ignore each other, they bicker with one another (but without a cliché dance fight scene). Even when all embrace in one scene toward the end, the most eccentric character is left out and must force her way into the huddle. All are from different places and going different places, but inevitably they end up getting to know each other, whether or not that’s their intention.

Moreover, they are all from somewhere and going somewhere, all the while carrying (hence, “bahok”) memories, aspirations and experiences. It’s a theme that resonates with us especially now, as we (and our friends) conclude our final months at college, which perhaps is an equally adequate representation of transient space, and figure out where we’re going. The final image on the train schedule board is a play on words that sums up the piece: Replace the ‘M’ in “HOME” with a ‘P’ and you see “HOPE.”

How’s that for a representation of the world as it is today? Bravo, Akram Khan, for not only revealing a new perspective on human nature that’s highly relevant in today’s ever-transient society, but also for teaching the world another — better — way to communicate: dance.

Check Akram Khan’s calendar to see if the tour’s headed your way; we both agree you don’t want to miss this. And lastly, check out Nitin Sawhnye’s music, because the score was sublime. (We want the soundtrack!)

Tara and Karina for TKGO

Samba and Bhangra in New York

It’s December 1st, which means the class schedule is adjusting at the prestigious New York City dance school The Ailey School (run by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater). But don’t freak out—we’re not professional dancers, either, and that’s why we love (and clearly recommend) the Ailey Extension.

The Extension is the part of Alvin Ailey devoted to teaching “real people” how to dance. No experience necessary! But you still get the high ceilings and mirrored studios the spoiled Ailey School students get, and your friends will be flabbergasted when you tell them you take classes at the Alvin Ailey studios (hey, it’s not a lie!). Most classes are at night, so dropping by after work (with a change of clothes and some sneakers) is easy.

While in New York, Karina and I attended a few Masala Bhangra Workout classes with Sarina Jain and loved it so much we followed the instructor to SELF magazine’s Workout in the Park in Central Park one Saturday. If you’re not into the dance school thing and have a gym membership, she also teaches virtually the same class at CRUNCH Fitness. Here’s a peek:

But what really stole my heart is the samba. The colorfully-clad instructor, Quenia Ribeiro hails from Rio de Janeiro, where her mother was a samba dancer. She’s danced for 30 years herself, at Radio City Music Hall and even on Telemundo. Don’t miss the super-charged Saturday lesson from 4-6 p.m., when the class is full of experienced dancers and newbies, all laughing and shouting in samba lines to a live band.

In the video below, Quenia Ribeiro (in white, with the abs) and her Ailey samba dance workshop paraded up and down the streets of New York showing off new moves as part of Quenia’s “Bloco Ribeiro” event.

There aren’t any monthly membership fees or anything of the sort. Just pay per class, so if you don’t like something, you never have to go back again. It also comes in handy if you embarrass yourself horribly and can’t bear to show your face again. (I speak from experience… Let’s just say hip hop is not my thing.) New students can get the first two classes for $25 total, and afterward, each additional class is $17. You get discounts as you buy more classes at a time, and a nifty little key ring card (like at the grocery store) to store your info, so you just swipe. It beats spelling K-A-L-M-A-N-S-O-N before every class!

Happy dancing! Click here for a class schedule, or here for a printable December class calendar for the fridge.

The Ailey Extension, 405 W. 55th St. (at Ninth Avenue), New York, NY 10019, 212-405-9500, www.aileyextension.com. Subway: 59th St/Columbus Circle (1, 2, A, C, B).

Tara for TKGO

Shortchanged at the Chicago International Film Festival

This past Friday we headed downtown for the U.S. debut of Barah Aana (translation: Shortchanged) at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was an intimate and exciting setting, and we actually ended up seated behind the very talented and down-to-earth director, Raja Menon.

Trailer (without subtitles)

The Indian independent film was entertaining and thought-provoking, laden with commentaries and reflection about India’s newly-developed social structure. As Menon described it succinctly, the movie was about dignity— the necessity, cost and implications—told through the stories of three flatmates, each of a different generation, in Mumbai. Although it is set in India, the movie and theme resonate worldwide, which explains why the audience (us included) was completely caught up in the film’s characters and plot. Heck, we’re still thinking about it. Needless to say, we highly recommend Shortchanged.

Menon was gracious enough to participate in an honest question and answer session following the screening. We also managed to snag him after that for a brief TKGO interview of our own, below.

TKGO Interview with Raja Menon

Visit the Shortchanged official site here.

-Tara and Karina for TKGO

Chicago World Music Festival

After the World Music Festival closed last week with a (free!) blowout night at the Chicago Cultural Center, we have some new favorite bands. Check out our reviews below, and hear for yourself with our audio and video.

Mikrokolektyw

These two Poles played the whole concert with furrowed brows, at least until the killer drum solo near the end. The result of this intense concentration? A simple lineup of instruments (heavy on the trumpet, snare, and cymbals, with an occasional layer of electronic tones), that produce a powerful sound somewhere between jazz, Big Band and what you’d imagine the Star Wars theme song could have been. Beware: it grows on you fast! Hear for yourself here.

Rahim Alhaj

Under a stained glass dome bigger than an Olympic swimming pool, Rahim Alhaj played the oud. The oud is an Iraqi string instrument that looks like a large sitar. Alhaj was forced to leave Iraq because of his activism against the Hussein regime, so he moved to the U.S. to continue composing and playing. The notes are enchanting and plucky, reminiscent of some of the traditional Indian ragas. The large drum adds a deep, soothing, textural harmony that made us melt in our seats. Listen here.

Klappa Lisnjak

This group of a cappella men may have looked stiff and slightly uncomfortable in the spotlight, but there was nothing nervous or uncomfortable about the music when they began singing. We can’t admit to hearing much originality — it’s still a cappella — but it’s great a cappella, and it’s in Croatian. Their harmonies ran dangerously close together, but each man held his own.

MoMo

These Brazilian crooners took obvious inspiration from Barcelona’s music scene (their songs are mostly in Spanish with some English), and they also credit Angola, Africa and the U.S. for influencing their compositions. The folclórico/coffeehouse-sounding beats come from two plugged-in guitars and a drum set. So where’s the spice? The bassist also plays a mean organ-flavored keyboard, and once even stood still, closed his eyes and put his hands together in a hollow-sounding flamenco clap. This is a TKGO fave!

Tambours Sans Frontieres

Their performance was like a big paint party with drums and players dressed in variations of zippered red and black jumpsuits. The Congolese drummers smiled, laughed and bounced to the rhythm throughout the performance. They’re another TKGO pick; we wanted to jump right in! Hear it here.

Aditya Prakash Ensemble

All three members of this group sat on the floor, singing and drumming deep bass notes in a traditional Carnatic tune (from India). It seemed a little esoteric at first, but a few minutes in we were mesmerized.

Tara and Karina for TKGO