Gaga class with Ya’ara

“Art is the spirit, we can’t live without it.
It has a bigger force than any pandemic.”

On Weds. June 24th I had the pleasure of taking a dance class (on-line through zoom) with Movement Artist Ya’ara Dolev.

Photo Credit: Ya’ara’s Personal Instagram

This class was organized by the Dance Program at Oakland University. Many thanks are due to Michigan Dance Council, Associate Professor Elizabeth Katner, Gregory Patterson, Dance Department Chair and Associate Professor, for organizing and disseminating such excellent and international content for dancers in Michigan.

A special thanks is due, of course, to Ya’ara herself, whose gorgeous dancing, and generous and ferocious spirit infuse the Gaga practice. Ya’ara is a stunning artist with a long and diverse international career. Ya’ara’s accomplishments have garnered quite a list of prizes and recognitions. For more about her, visit here. 

This writer, having been a professional dancer for over 20 years, has faced many injuries and chronic illnesses, including asthma, cancer and fibromyalgia, perhaps that is why I was drawn to class with Ya’ara today. There are many days now where I am unable to dance. But today, I was able to join in and participate in 80% of the class. Therefore, this blog post is created from first-hand lived experience.

The class experience is amazingly robust. Gaga is a style of dance and a movement discipline which is physically, mentally, emotionally and imaginatively challenging. Ya’ara dances with us, and her physicality belies her grace, efficiency, and strength, even through the distancing lens of video capture. Her verbal cuing is elegant, alternatively cerebral and somatic, imagistically vibrant and welcoming.

During a portion of the class, where I needed a short rest, I danced at my desk and composed a poem, entitled “Tama,” in honor of the feelings that movement practice generated in me. See the poem- in draft form- here. This poem includes reflection on “Tama” which is a movement pattern organized around repetition, mindfulness, spine movement which echoes cranial sacral rhythmic patterns, and the loose concept of energetic reciprocity.

In this poem, these feelings are connect with the materiality of the world through cotton. Cotton is a truly international material good with an expensive past, present and future. Cotton is resource-intensive to grow and develop into cloth, and sadly has been produced with unfair to horrendous working conditions for the past 300 years or so. The project of the poem is to explore patterns of multi-geographic fiber production, and it grows from my practicing of Tama with the class cohort on June 24th. Additionally, my interest in cotton production is intersectional, but takes its strongest philosophical grounding from embodied knowing and the imperative for fair trade and respectful human stewardship of earth’s resources. However, I want to specify that the poem grew out of the experience of dancing with this group.

After the movement portion of the class concluded, we had a chance for Q & A with Ya’ara. This portion of the meet-up was informative, as Ya’ara has recovered from several extensively debilitating injuries.

Dealing with injury

Yes, dancers, musical performers and athletes deal with injuries all the time. However, during a long career, which we all hope to have, the accumulation of natural aging of tissues, and trauma, which includes past injuries, can compound. Ya’ara provides an anatomical background and lived somatic framework for the “protection instinct,” most humans have around injury:

“The body wants to protect an injured place with a blockage and inflammation. When I bring movement to an injury, it opens up the blockage. When I am/ have been injured, I would put music that inspired me on my headset, and lie down on my back in the studio, and…close my eyes, imagining inside that I am moving and, also, moving inside water.”

Ya’ara brings appreciate inquiry to life as she asks, inwardly- self to instrument:

“How can you bring more and more softness and patience to your movement? Always believe that the tissues of the body, we can heal them. We can heal it.”

She continues: “I had the craziest injuries and doctors couldn’t even believe it. And they were saying, no way. But I had an international career after that…” (conquering the injuries, and moving on.)

Greg Patterson asks, how did you come to Berlin?

Ya’ara and her husband and family moved to Berlin for a fresh start. “Okay I thought, this could be beautiful….With four suitcases and two children, we landed and set out.”

“Literally from coming with my suitcase and nothing, they have made a life and career with many different (artistic) projects. Berlin is a great place for the arts, with lots of flexibility and great atmosphere in Berlin.”

As Europe opens up from COVID-19, Ya’ara pauses to reflect on life after the pandemic: “I see projects in Berlin, its like mushrooms after the rain.”

A student dancer asks, what was your worst injury ever?

Ya’ara briefly describes spinal injuries, involving likely vertebral fracture and a slow recovery process she undertook while working.

While injured, I had to create a solo, so I was just lying on my back, imagining I could sit. And heal very fast.

Of a traumatic Knee Injury, she remembers: “It was a complete loss.”

I was working on a commercial set, jumping these crazy slow motion jumps…(on a trampoline)” It turns out the equipment set-up was not adequate, and safety precautions were not a priority for the producers. Ya’ara’s trampoline was not balanced, and there weren’t adequate mats around the set-up… She fell back and smashed her neck and right knee. 

She describes the slow progression towards healing. 

Cross ligament completely torn, knee was cracked, meniscus was completely gone. A total loss for my right knee. I did an operation there, repairing the front cross ligament. I had a physical therapist who worked with Olympic athletes, and my father (her face lights up) was a healer, a reflexologist, and after working to make the knee strong, I would rest, take reflexology.

After working to make muscles on all sides of the knee strong, it would be red and inflamed. So I would rest. Apply ice compresses, heat compresses. And work again.”

This kind of stubborn persistence, combined with kinesthetic knowledge, spiritual patience and positivity, imaging the best outcome, even while in the devastating moment of loss, characterizes several of the world’s star athletes. Ya’ara is in good company with Tennis Star Serena Williams and NYCB prima ballerina Misty Copeland. All three have rebounded multiple times from potentially career-stopping injuries. Ya’ara exhibits a super-human growth mindset, and that is a habit of mind that anyone can aspire to cultivate.

For more information on Gaga, I recommend this excellent documentary, Mr. Gaga, released in 2017, and under the direction of Tomer Heymann. This film focuses on Gaga founder Ohad Naharid’s life and work. (Image credit: still from the film, which is available for viewing now.)

Still from Heymann’s film.

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