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The Spirit Moves 

Dancers are increasingly turning to yoga and Pilates to keep their bodies tuned

The dog days of summer are behind us. We may still be romping in the great outdoors, squeezing every last minute out of Daylight Savings Time, but the chorus of cicadas is tipping us off to the truth that our days of humid languor are numbered. Soon the air will take on that familiar chill, and it'll be a little too nippy to keep up our summer recreational activities--we'll have to put all that windsurfing, rock climbing and kayaking behind us.

There's the rub. We're hooked on the endorphins that flowed so freely these past few months, and we don't want to jones. How to keep moving when you don't want to join the lemmings on the treadmills? The answer is to ask yourself, WWDD?

That is, What Would a Dancer Do?

Dancers by and large are pale, nocturnal creatures who shun the sun, opting for cavernous structures equipped with little more than a wood floor and a barre. And although their craft keeps them in exquisite physical shape, it also makes them vulnerable to a plethora of injuries. Until recently, injuries had always been taken for granted, and dancers gave in only when their bodies finally gave out.

This is changing. Dancers are discovering that there are things they can do to lengthen their dancing lives, to keep them supple and strong, and these very same things are available to normal human beings who lack the grace and skill of a Nureyev.

For the past several summers at the American Dance Festival school, yoga and Pilates classes have been offered in addition to dance technique classes. The Pilates Method has always been popular with dancers, who discovered it long before the rest of the world. It's named for its creator, Joseph Pilates, who was born in Germany in 1880. As a nurse in England during World War I, his desire to help bedridden patients recover inspired him to design an exercise apparatus by attaching springs to hospital beds. This led to his invention of his first exercise machine, the Reformer.

Joseph Pilates' basic philosophy was that by strengthening the body's core, or "powerhouse"--the abdomen, lower back and buttocks--the rest of the body would move freely. He focused on combining mental awareness with physical movement, in order to enhance muscle function and control. In recent years, the Method expanded from machine-based work to include exercises performed on floor mats, thus allowing greater numbers of students to participate.

Triangle resident Carol Parker, a certified Pilates instructor, has taught mat classes for many summers at ADF and is an alumna of the acclaimed dance troupe Pilobolus. She spent 11 years with them, and attributes her longevity to Pilates. "I'm the only one who survived Pilobolus for 11 years," she says. "Everyone sustained injuries. With Pilobolus, I had such a strong core."

When Parker was dancing professionally and wanted to build her upper body, she discovered that Pilates did the trick. And after leaving Pilobolus, she was invited to join the White Oak Dance Project with Mikhail Baryshnikov. "I did all kinds of work, with Mark Morris, Martha Graham, David Gordon, Martha Clark--all the dancers studied Pilates and did Pilates warm-ups," she says. "Misha does Pilates." Parker has been teaching Pilates locally for years, and just started at the Plum Spring Clinic's Therapeutic Movement Studio in Chapel Hill's Southern Village.

Yoga, an ancient tradition born in India, is currently riding a wave of popularity in America. Exhibit A is the recent Time magazine cover story featuring supermodel Christy Turlington in an arm-balance lotus pose (which should have been captioned, "Hey, if you weighed 90 pounds, you could do this too"). The Sanskrit root of the word "yoga" means union, and refers to union of breath and movement, or union of mind, body, emotions and spirit.

Yoga is actually a spiritual philosophy comprising numerous branches, of which hatha yoga, the aspect of yoga involving movement, is just one. When Westerners talk about yoga, they're usually referring to hatha. There are several types of hatha yoga, all based on different combinations of standard asanas, or poses. There are hundreds of asanas, some basic, some advanced, many which are variations on a handful that are the cornerstones of most yoga practices. Many yoga studios offer Pilates, as the two modalities complement each other so well. Pilates focuses purely on the physical, while yoga, which can be but isn't necessarily physically demanding, includes elements of meditation and spiritual awareness.

In the past few years, a number of centers have sprung up in the Triangle to offer a buffet of classes to satisfy everyone from the yoga neophyte to the seasoned practitioner. In Chapel Hill you can find Triangle Yoga, birthed in 1996 by two yoga instructors in search of a home--Los Angeles native Tracy Bogart and homeopath Susan Delaney. Here you can sample almost every style of yoga: Older, established disciplines such as Iyengar and Ashtanga, contemporary variations like Powerflow, Pre- and Postnatal, Gentle Yoga, and Pilates and Tai Chi as well.

Triangle Yoga is known for attracting big names in yoga circles to conduct intensive weekend workshops. The weekend of Sept. 21-23 features yoga teacher and author of articles and books on yoga Donna Farhi, accompanied by yogi Dave Stringer, who will provide drumming and chanting. Yogic chanting usually involves praising Hindu gods and goddesses in song, with a musical instrument such as a harmonium. Stringer, who has a CD of chants out, will lead a Saturday evening Kirtan, an ecstatic chanting session. Oct. 19-21 brings Aadil Palkhivala, an advanced Iyengar teacher and native of India. Weekend intensives are $165. The regular fall schedule began Sept. 4, and classes run almost nonstop from morning to night. Classes are $15 each, but purchasing three-month passcards of five, 10 or 20 classes lowers the per-class tariff.

Cary's Joy Yoga Studio, established in October 1999 by Joy Doherty, is kicking off its fall season with a "Free Yoga Day," Sept. 15 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Doherty, who has moved out of the area, is returning to give a weekend workshop titled "The Freedom of Here and Now," Oct. 12-14. Joy Yoga's regular schedule comprises beginner through Level III yoga classes, plus prenatal yoga and Qigong--tai chi movements done to music. Two "Early Bird Yoga" classes are offered each week, and mid-morning and evening classes appear on the schedule daily. Three-month Yoga Class Cards are $60 for five classes, $110 for 10 classes and $150 for 15 classes. Twenty-Class Family Pass Cards cost $155 for one-hour classes and $190 for 90-minute classes.

Durham's new baby, Yoga Spot, is celebrating its first birthday this month. Founders Cynthia Hughey and Nancy Kimberly have assembled a fall schedule that boasts a wide array of traditional yoga classes (Ashtanga, Iyengar and Kripalu), as well as Pilates, kid's yoga classes and meditation classes. Sunday mornings feature a meditation class followed by a Q&A and discussion and, once a month, there's a "Dharma talk" on a specific topic. Fall mini workshops include Alexander Technique on Saturday, Oct. 13 and Nov. 17, from 2-4 p.m., for $20 each; Body/Mind Centering Sunday, Oct. 14, at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30-5 p.m., for $75; the Moon Club Series for women, Saturday Sept. 15, from 2-5 p.m., for $30; Pranayama (yogic breathing) Sunday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 28, from 2-4 p.m., for $20 each; and Restorative Yoga Saturdays on Oct. 20, Nov. 10 and Dec. 8, from 2-4 p.m., for $20 each. Regular classes are conducted in sessions that usually, but not always, run 15 weeks, for $165. Signing up for an entire session is encouraged, but three-month passcards are available, and the single class drop-in rate is $13.

The Plum Spring Clinic in Chapel Hill is a comprehensive center providing "integrated medical care," with a staff that includes holistically oriented physicians and naturopaths. This fall the Therapeutic Movement Studio is offering 18 classes a week of yoga, Pilates, meditation, tai chi and prenatal fitness, with an emphasis on injury rehabilitation and pain management. Single classes cost $13, and a five- or 10-class passcard brings the rate down to $12 per class. Parker's Pilates Conditioning classes run in eight-class sessions for $120, and Introduction to Meditation is $65 for an 8-class session.

The fall lineup at Durham's Ninth Street Dance, which caters to non-dancers who just wanna have fun, has Tri Yoga, Kundalini yoga and Pilates, as well as a mind-numbingly eclectic array of dance classes, including ballet, flamenco, and the intriguing-sounding "Middle Eastern Fusion." Most classes run in eight- to 12-week blocks from September through December, with fees varying, but you can drop in on a single class for $12-$15.

Around the corner on Broad Street is Radonna Patterson's Bodyworks: The Treatment and Prevention Center. Regarded by many as the Triangle's Pilates guru, Patterson began doing Pilates as a dancer in New York in the '70s. After sustaining several severe back injuries, she found that Pilates allows her to be free of pain. Patterson's studio has two Reformers and two Cadillacs, the machines on which hardcore (no pun intended) Pilates work is done on. Until two years ago, Patterson and her brother custom built them for clients, but her brother has moved back to their home state of Texas.

Since then, Patterson has concentrated on her work, specializing in, but not limited to, treating people with injuries. A large portion of her clientele is referred to her by surgeons. She employs a staff of four: two bodyworkers who also teach Pilates, and two Pilates instructors. The center does individual Pilates work, rather than mat classes, but the four machines enable Patterson and her staff to work with up to four people at once, each doing his or her individualized program. Mat exercises are assigned as homework.

Patterson emphasizes the therapeutic nature of her services: "We do cranio-sacral work, deep tissue work, structural integration. The goal is to change posture, not just relax." Patterson charges $80 for an extensive 90-minute initial consultation. A one hour individual Pilates session is $40, but an eight-session card costs $240. Bodywork is $75 for one hour, $95 for an hour and a half.

Yoga and Pilates classes, and even a bastardization dubbed "yogilates," are on the schedules of many Triangle gyms and health clubs. Though yoga and Pilates do wonders in the way of injury prevention, in the wrong hands, they can cause injury (and you don't want to end up having to go to Patterson as a patient). Certification for teachers of both disciplines exists, but isn't required for teaching, and yoga instructor certification is actually controversial. (Ideally a yoga instructor has studied yoga for several years and is committed to a personal practice. Dedicated yogis with an extensive background are upset by programs that offer weekend yoga instructor certification programs.)If you're a newbie who's contemplating checking it out, it's better to skip the gym and go to a

center where the quality of the instruction is assured. Besides, ambiance plays a big part in the experience, and it's hard to melt into yogic stillness when the grunts of buff guys pumping iron are drifting through the doors.

So with the autumn equinox approaching, be assured that your healthy glow needn't fade to fishbelly white as Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in. Your inner landscape awaits exploring, and guides abound. Just follow the dancers. EndBlock

  • If you're a dancer, or just want to look like one, get hitched to the latest trend in fitness.

More by Deborah Klinger

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