Where Om meets the 'Funky Cold Medina'beth | November 1, 2008
Daily Camera Newspaper, Boulder, Colorado, November 2007
Innovative class marries ancient practice with modern dance
by Lisa Marshall
At first, it looked and felt a lot like a typical yoga class. On a Tuesday evening after work, eight women of various ages, shapes and sizes quietly filed into a north Boulder studio, took a seat on the floor, and fixed their eyes on a lean and limber instructor named Viki Psihoyos.
Soon we were quietly making our way through a predictable series of hurts-so-good stretches and yogic poses with names like Downward Facing Dog, Table Pose, and Child’s Pose. But just about the time I began to get that familiar, intimidated feeling that my rigid runner’s body was just not built for this yoga thing, the mood began to shift.
From the speaker in the corner, a deep Middle Eastern beat began to crescendo as Psihoyos directed us to bend our knees, put our hands on them, and swivel them in a belly-dance-esque circular motion. Soon, we were gliding through the room to the ethereal sounds of Celtic artist Loreena Mckennet, moving our arms as if we were swimming deep underwater, and waving our hands in the air as if our fingers were paintbrushes splashing vivid colors on the walls. Before we knew it, we were engulfed in a full-on free-form dance groove, sweating and laughing as Tina Turner belted out “Be good to me” in the background.
“This is fun,” I thought to myself, wondering if I’d ever said that in the middle of a yoga class before.
That, Psihoyos explains, is what can happen when dance meets yoga. “Most people walk into a class and fear that they aren’t going to do it ‘right,’” says Psihoyos, a former professional dancer who brought Yoga Meets Dance to Boulder this summer. “I make it clear that they are here to have fun.” A blend of easy Hatha yoga moves, guided imagery, meditation and various forms of dance, the trademarked Yoga Meets Dance class was founded in 1999 as an outgrowth of DansKinetics — a rigorous yoga-dance blend created at the famous Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts.
Beth Rigby, a Kripalu-trained yogi wanted to create an easier, more accessible combo with more free-form dance and Yoga Meets Dance was born. Since then, Rigby has trained more than 100 instructors around the country — including Psihoyos — and offered the class in just about every venue imaginable. “I’ve done it with wheel chair patients, trauma patients, for stress reduction in a corporate environment, on cruise ships, and in fitness centers,” says Rigby, who lives in Sedona, Ariz. “It can be adapted to almost any population. It’s just super simple stuff to de-stress, have fun, and let your hair down.”
According to the 2005 Yoga in America Market Study by Yoga Journal, 7.5 percent of adults in the United States, or 16.5 million people, now practice some form of yoga, and statistics from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association show that nearly 90 percent of fitness club now offer it. Meanwhile, dance as fitness has also grown in popularity, with nearly a third of health clubs offering dance classes.
Combining the two, Rigby says, can help newcomers to dance loosen up and get comfortable in the group before the music cranks up. And unlike yoga, which can often be a somewhat inward-centered, solitary experience, it can cultivate community.
“You feel connected to people at the end, whereas you might not at the end of a yoga class or an aerobics class,” Rigby says.
The yoga poses aren’t held, so it’s considerably easier than many classes, and aside from some general guidance through four dance forms based on the four elements (earth, water, fire, and air) step-by-step instruction is kept to a minimum.
“It’s less rule-bound,” says Alyce Barry, a Boulder writer who recently joined the class. “There are so many rules in yoga.” Half way through Psihoyos’ Tuesday night class, eight women who had never met before walking in the room found themselves in a circle, red-faced, sweating and giggling as they took turns leading a dance to Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina.” Then came more free-form grooving to “Wild Thing,” and a cool-down dance with colorful scarves to the tunes of Cirque Du Soleil’s Alegria. But perhaps the most emotionally challenging dance of the night came toward the end, when — as instructed —the women gathered in twos: With one hand over their heart and the other palm-to-palm with their partner, they were instructed to dance in a slow circle, maintaining eye-contact all the while — an art that many of us aren’t used to.
“It was very joyful,” says Tracy Holderman, a yoga instructor who took the class that night: “You never make eye contact with the people you do yoga with.” With class over, she and her classmates filed out, with a good stretch and rigorous workout behind them, and perhaps a few new friendships in their future.