The Significance of Veils for Movement with Presence

Ruth St. Denis, the modern dancer, once said: ‘We should realize in a vivid and revolutionary sense that we are not in our bodies but our bodies are in us.’ This assertion beautifully articulates the idea that the body is not the limit of one’s self, but only an aspect of it. This potent thought is not a mere abstraction, but one which has the power to expand horizons in dance, offering the possibility for a renewed self-awareness in movement. 

In ancient times, Greek dancers possessed an inner feeling of harmony. They wore long, loose garments with veils that rippled in movement, captured so well in the sculptures and painted vases of the time. 

Veils have been in human culture since antiquity, playing a major part in women’s attire. Till today, the veil is worn diversely, whether traditionally draped as a sari or wrapped into a kimono, or adorning the Western and Eastern bride alike. The veil signifies both a piece of cloth and the concept of covering oneself. Garments could also be seen, in a broader sense, as a veil.

What we wear influences the way we move, how we feel about ourselves, and the way we relate to the people around us. Wearing long garments or draped veils brings about a certain sense of presence and more substance to one’s expression, compared to restrictive clothing which accentuates the lines of the physical body. Bringing the veil back into the dance costume – as both cloth and thought – would help develop a new movement awareness, winning back an essential dimension to dance which today is increasingly being left out.

Symbol for protection of the sacred

The veil signifies protection of that which is sacred, too holy to behold. In ancient times, the Mysteries of initiation were strictly concealed from the common people and the betrayal of the secrets to those who were unprepared incurred severe punishment. The well-known story of the Greek dramatist Aeschylus tells of his prosecution for having revealed part of the Mysteries on stage.

Temples made use of veils to separate the inner chambers from the outer, marking a clear distinction between public spaces and those in which only priests may enter. 

In philosophical literature, the statue of the goddess Isis bore the inscription: “I am all that has been and is and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my mantle.” (On Isis and Osiris, Plutarch). The sacred is pictured as the divine feminine and spirit of nature, and her words point to the existence of an everlasting world hidden from the world of human beings. It was the secrets of this higher reality that the initiates guarded.

Symbol of status and virtue

Women seem to have carried the sacred in them more, while men seemed to have more affinity for earthly affairs. They were revered when their powers were recognised, but they were also mistreated when their place on the earth was misunderstood. The head covering and long garments became society’s tool for the subordination and categorisation of women. 

The ‘worldly veil’ became a status symbol, separating respectable women (who were expected to be modest), from the rest. Both were dominated and repressed, fully supported by a law and religion conditioned for a patriarchal society. 

Dancing veils and self-awareness

The veil separates two worlds: one of spiritual and the other of matter. In The Birth of Venus, a painting by Botticelli, the goddess is depicted as floating naked on a shell, blown by two flying figures towards a forest shore where maidens await to receive and cover her in a cloak. It shows the passing over of Venus from the one world to the other. She was born naked there and must now cover herself here. The ‘split of worlds’ artistically depicts an experience of human beings as well as spiritual beings, involving a mysterious adjustment for those who knew both sides.

At a time when religion and dance were inextricably linked, the temple dancers of ancient greece carried out movements as part of a sacred ritual, in a mood of reverence and deep inner connection to their gods. Through the art remaining from those times, we see costumes that are rippling and flowing, much like water, as moving veils catch the air. 

When we wear long garments that offer a feeling of spaciousness and extension, we come to know ourselves as beings with presence.

In the early days of modern dance, Isadora Duncan and others sought to recreate that experience of movement which the ancient dancers had known so well. To achieve this, they draped themselves with veils and flowing garments, while seeking for more natural movements, emerging from an inner soul life. It was a time of reimagining the dance, a divergence from ballet, which had already taken centre stage in Europe. These dancers’ choice of materials and styles for costume allowed for an unfolding of a new movement awareness.

What we wear informs our feelings and artistic expression. The sari, worn by classical Indian dancers, and donned by Ruth St. Denis for some of her modern dances, is a traditional Indian dress worn typically at the time of marriage. The design has a straightening effect on one’s sense of self. There arises a sense of dignity, of tallness, uprightness, and elegance. For new mothers, this reinforces a sense of responsibility. For dancers, it offers a structured and graceful form perfect for stylized poses, mime and expressive storytelling.

The kimono is made up of panels stitched together, rather than draped, and the belt distinguishes the upper and lower halves of the body. Although the kimono offers a different experience to the wearer than the sari does, both garments inspire similar feelings of dignity and grace.

When we wear long garments that offer a feeling of spaciousness and extension, we come to know ourselves as beings with presence. Covering the length of one’s body, one has the feeling of being enveloped by a sheath, similar to living inside one’s home.

The veil lifted and discarded

At the start of scientific breakthroughs in the natural world, there was an enthusiastic notion: Isis has been unveiled. Nature’s secrets were being uncovered; new experiences were had in the spheres of Art and Theosophy. The question arises: is not the nature of our inquiry a determining factor on the conclusions we draw? We may have discovered certain facts about nature – but this is not to say that, from Her point of view, we have ‘unveiled’ her. Isis could very well still affirm that ‘no mortal has lifted her veil’, even today. Or, more precisely, that not all have done so.

In what we see today in art and culture, we might believe that the veil has been lifted and cast aside. The excessive infatuation with the lines of the physical body in bare physical space has so pervaded our modern awareness of movement that the realm to which flowing veils and garments once pointed to has become unfamiliar and alien territory. 

Without veiling, one’s movement inevitably falls into the angular, mechanical and pumping language, drawn from bone, muscle, limited geometrical space and purely physical laws. Movement that prods at the still and voiceless air has replaced the one which through a layered sheath, extends itself into a realm of life. Ebbing and flowing, billowing, it invisibly swirls and crackles all around us, in us, through us. 

The all-embracing veil

A shift in movement awareness happens through a shift in self-awareness. The veil keeps the life-flow from fading into physical space by directing and extending it outwards into an infinite, living space. 

A new art of movement, Eurythmy, was developing alongside modern dance in the early twentieth century. Founded by the spiritual philosopher and scientist, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, it arose as a gift of Anthroposophy (‘wisdom of the human being’), as the renewal of dance. Eurythmy takes as its source of movement speech and song, with their innately sculptural and living qualities. With a costume of loose silk and a draped, thin veil, the eurythmist shapes the air, her floating veil catching and revealing movements which arise from the ‘deep human-creative’.

While the veil of the past was needed to protect the spiritual mysteries from the unprepared, the veil now protects us from the declining influence of the purely physical which seeks to strip and empty us out. If, like the ancient Greek dancers we invite the embracing wings of the gods and goddesses which ray out behind us, we may well discover a new and larger self which is being forgotten with the discarding of the veil.

‘Dancing to reconnect’ – article by an eurythmist

I recently wrote an article for Niroi’s website entitled ‘Dancing to Reconnect: what the ancient Greeks knew about the art.’

From my background as an eurythmist, I have been deeply moved by the fruits of ancient Greek culture, its art and values of beauty and truth. I’ve learned to appreciate its philosophy, dance, architecture and myths. So, in this article I take a look at the origins of dance as a spiritual-religious practice, one that connects the human being to a larger reality beyond this world, something the Ancient Greeks understood and expressed so well!

Niroi is an organization worth checking out, they promote Greek cultural ideals through a variety of activities.

Read the full article on their site: https://www.niroi.org/post/dancing-to-re-connect-what-ancient-greeks-knew-about-the-art

Mirror Mirror (a short story)

Synopsis

A story on the theme of body image and relationships, Mirror Mirror shows the protagonist consumed by self hate in front of the mirror. She speaks with her own reflection, unravelling her turmoil in an attempt to come to some sort of conclusion about her life: should she continue in her dependent, self-destructive ways?

Posting on Women’s Web – my experience

Your post titled Mirror, Mirror, I Deserve A Life; I’m Going To Find It! has been published today on Women’s Web as a Featured Post. Featured Posts are a careful selection of highly relevant and interesting posts picked by our editors each day. Thank you for sharing your voice with our community, and here’s wishing for more power to your pen!

Confirmation email from Women’s Web

I’ve had a great experience writing for Women’s Web and would definitely recommend contributing to their site. They feature work not only in fiction but a variety of categories. They’ve published my book review on Forty Rules of Love and cover a lot of interesting and relevant women’s topics.

10 Unusual and Effective Ways of Learning

Take the first small step

#1 Focus on the Small Decisions for Long Term Gain

Learning something new starts with the decision to learn it. But it doesn’t end with those big decisions, like signing up for a piano class. What really matters once we choose to learn something, is the string of little daily decisions we must make, like: getting off the couch, getting yourself ready for that piano class and getting into the car. Nowadays, it’s easy to start something or make the ‘big’ decisions, because we’re excited about learning something new. But the real learning begins when, each and every day, you take those little steps which make it a routine over months and years. 

In his TEDx talk, How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals, Stephen Duneier explains the tactic he used to accomplish every big goal he set himself, whether it was acing college, learning a new language or setting a new Guinness World Record. And he reminds us that we can do it too – because the tactic he uses isn’t out-of-this-world-crazy. It’s making incremental improvements on the micro level, what he calls ‘marginal adjustment’.  He starts with the easiest, tiniest action and keeps it up as much as possible each day. It might be ten minutes now, and then ten minutes again – the point is to keep it going daily, so that there is progress and momentum building.

Every skill, including cooking, has many components

#2 Learn Better through Deconstruction

Tim Ferriss, author of the Four Hour Work Week, argues that learning a new skill might be easier, quicker and more pain-free than we think if only we learn to ‘crack the code’ – or deconstruct it. In this talk, he shares his proven method of mastering any skill, condensed in the acronym DiSSS: Deconstruction, identify, Selection, Sequencing, Stakes. 

To summarize, mastering any skill requires you to 1) deconstruct the skill and identify and address hazardous areas ie. that will likely cause you to fail. 2) Selection is about isolating any one aspect of the skill and mastering that. For example, cooking involves many things from grocery shopping to working with different tools, so don’t attack all at once but set aside one aspect, such as paring vegetables and just work on that for awhile. 3) Sequencing involves questioning best practices and choosing what to start with. Ferriss gives the example of language learning, where he selected the typical grammar structure in a language and applied it to one sentence, in all 12 or 13 variations, helping him grasp the concept as it is presented in different sentence structures, giving him a model for constructing other sentences. 4) Finally, stakes maintain accountability and motivation. If there’s nothing to hold you accountable or provide incentive in learning something new, it’s hard to stick to and accomplish your goals.

Create visuals through collage

#3 Learning through the Imagination (Visualization)

We’ve all heard that ‘imagination is more important than knowledge’ (Einstein). How, then, can we apply imagination to our learning? One fun and easy way is through ‘design thinking’, where you put forward a question, goal or issue and try to come up with as many ideas and possible solutions as you can in a limited 10-minute session. It’s a brainstorming step where you allow yourself to be as wildly creative as you can in your ideas. More often than not, when you allow yourself to be a creative thinker, you will come up with workable and novel answers.

Another way to use your imagination is visualization. When working with any subject or topic, you can visualize it vividly in image, colour, pattern, shapes or movements to work it out – you might be surprised by the results! I sometimes used this as a student, visualizing a choreography or poem with my questions just before going to bed and sometimes finding an answer the next morning. You could also create a visualization board or collage, to pictorially work out a difficult question, problem or learning roadblock.

 

Learn from others’ work by emulating them

#4 Imitate / Emulate what you Aspire Towards

Imitation has a special place in Waldorf education with young children, but it is also an excellent way to learn and deepen in any field as an adult. I’ve heard of authors trying to pick apart and study sentences of their favourite writers to bring more of it in their own writing; graphics or design students often look for inspiration in others’ work and aim to match their favoured aesthetic in their creations. You need to try on others’ shoes as a learning exercise until your own style and work emerges. Imitation is a good way of breaking into and learning about the field, improving your craft and eventually discovering your own, polished-and-informed voice.

Express your thoughts creatively

#5 Mind Map your way to Comprehension 

Mind mapping, by Tony Buzan, embraces the quick, spontaneous and associative nature of our brain and how it really works. Mind maps help us bring our thoughts on to paper the way they appear in our minds. Starting from the centre, the main idea, we branch out into more and more specific details related to the main idea and connect them with other ideas. Using colour coding, diagrams, sketches and symbols, this method can aid the learning of any topic, accompanying the essay writing process, structuring presentations, note-taking from a textbook, or contributing to learning a new skill. Learning to mind map will help you break things down and condense complicated subjects or thick books, making them easier to digest.

#6 Review in Reverse for Memorisation

The review exercises bring the experiences of our daily lives to full awareness. By directing our attentive gaze to what has happened – whether in a single day or in whole phases of life – we kindle light in our will. Undertaking such a review backwards, in reverse sequence, or from an ‘external perspective’, requires a huge inner effort as we establish distance between ourselves and our daily experiences.

Book: Strengthening the Will, review exercises by Rudolf Steiner

The backward review is an exercise for the end of the day, which helps us to settle our inner life, like a meditation. The backward review can also be a healthy and useful tool in learning, when, at the end of the day or with regard to the previous day’s class, you think backwards on experiences or a lecture or a process. Again, this is something that can be effective when done before going to bed and works wonders for the memory. A simple example would be going over the alphabet in reverse. It’s applicable to anything sequential you wish to remember.

#7 Get to Grips with your Topic via Essay Writing

Understanding and conslidated learning comes from writing and research and simply thinking through a subject carefully and deeply. That’s why courses assign essays, because it’s the best way to tell what a student knows or thinks about a topic. Whether they’re lengthy or short, essays get you to confront your ideas on a given topic and helps gauge where you are on your learning journey, and determine which direction to take it in. 

An essay in its skeletal form is the introduction, supporting body paragraphs and conclusion. Try to write an essay on a topic or issue you want to learn or understand more about.  It needn’t be very long or complicated or even academic. What matters is that you explore your thoughts, try to articulate them and broaden your mind through research.

#8 Discussion: bring it to the table

Find a friend or colleague with whom you can discuss something you want to learn or know more about. This could look like a meet up over coffee to discuss your project, book, assignment or task. Or it could be a group meet up that’s happening in your neighbourhood, like a book club or interactive workshop. Finding ways of talking about your subject with others will enable you to grow, learn and deepen your relationships – with the subject, and with people who are connected to it. 

Explore relevant issues, share resources and problem solve, making the meeting productive, contributing to a better and fresher understanding of your interest. 

Get it into your body

#9 Embody your Subject (not just for kinesthetic learners!)

We all have different learning styles, but somehow, movement and dance can be a great way to memorise long passages of anything and make sense of something in an embodied way. If you can break it up and bring rhythm to it through clapping, stepping, jumping, throwing a frisbee back and forth, movement can be a great tool for getting something ‘in’ you. I remember preparing a twenty minute demonstration talk which involved memorizing pages of words as well as presenting movement demos. I could get it done in no other way than talking it, walking it, enacting it and placing myself in different parts of the room to differentiate different points covered in my paper. The same works well for learning long poems, stories, charts or lists -map it out in space, use your body, move it, dance it, play it.

#10 Learning through Story

Story is a broad tool that can be in visual, oral, moving or written form. No matter which you use, a narrative that breaks down simply as beginning, middle and end, can be a powerful way of learning a variety of topics.

To use story, ask yourself: can I convert this concept or chapter into character, setting, plot? Can I express this in a well-contained and detailed, descriptive story to make what I’m learning memorable? Online videos are a good example of how subjects are transformed through the storytelling medium whether animated or not, and delivered in digestible and engaging ways within a short period of time. Speakers of twenty minute (or more) talks often use anecdotes and stories to get their points and examples across in effective and enriching ways to their audience. Stories make the subject matter and learning more interesting, human and accessible.

Tools to try out: storyboard, short story or narrative, storytelling, news story.


How to become a productive writer (for beginning writers)

If you’ve always wanted to become a pro writer or start writing more consistently, there’s no better time than the present to begin!

I hope you find the information below useful in starting your own journey in writing, whether you dream of writing fiction, non-fiction or both.

No. 1: Mindset (practice non-judgement)

Mindset is probably the easiest to overlook when you’re trying to embark on a creative project or path. It’s quite normal to think about things like time or inspiration as the most important, but I’ve learned time and time again that it all boils down to attitude. 

Finding Enough Time:

I realised that I did’t need a whole day to write. I just needed three hours a week for a 70,000 word novel draft: over half a year, the pages accumulate. Last year, I was teaching artistic movement classes for adults and also learning different things. I still managed an hour-a-week creative writing mentorship session and a few hours a week for building up my collection of short stories. 

In short, mindset plays a huge part in whether you’re going to be productive or not. Remind yourself that if writing is important to you, you will find the time for it somehow!

Tips for Mindset:

Create affirmations and speak them aloud. Something like: ‘I am a brilliant, prolific writer’ or ‘I allow myself to write what is living inside me.’

Tailor your affirmations to the fears or resistance that get in the way of your writing practice. 

Consciously changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk will open doors to greater productivity, because you learn to trust the voice that says ‘you can do it. You deserve time for your creativity,’ rather than ‘you don’t have the time/talent/energy to do it.’   

Remember that inspiration is not your responsibility, sitting down to write, is. 

S. S.

That can take a lot of the load off your shoulders. If you write something, anything, your job is done. Have the mindset that it doesn’t have to come out perfect and you will lovingly accept anything that comes out. Writing practice is not just about developing the skills of the craft but it is equally about developing compassion, patience, curiosity and non-judgement. 

You don’t have to be original. You don’t have to be smart. You just have to be you – and that changes every moment! 

No. 2: Set up to do the work (and play!)

Visualize the kind of writing space you would love to have and then arrange something that resembles it. 

To be productive as a writer (or any artist), it is essential to have a space and time carved out just for the work. There needs to be a receptive space that is ‘yours’. It could be a desk, a designated room or somewhere in the corner of the house. 

Set it up with your laptop, notebooks, folders, pens, books, chargers, as well as something to inspire you: a vase of flowers, some incense or a colourful painting – anything you feel drawn to. 

Eventually your practice will catch up with the goals you set yourself. 

S. S.

Next, try to think about a time of day that suits you, that you will most likely be in the mood to write. Be realistic. If you’re not an early bird, choose the afternoon or even late at night. Pick a time of day and aim for just half an hour a day or three hours a week to start off with. Even if it doesn’t always happen consistently in the beginning, don’t beat yourself up, just keep trying! Eventually your practice will catch up with the goals you set yourself. 

No. 3: Writing Tools and Exercises (building writing muscle)

writing exercises build writing muscle

When you sit down to write, it’s always a good idea to be working on a specific task. When starting a new project, do fifteen minutes of warm-up exercises. There are many writing prompts and exercises on the internet. Gather these into a word document or notebook and pick from it when you sit down to write. Then, carry on with your project work, ie. story, novel, essay.

I would recommend having some sort of mentor, whether its a writer friend you check in with once a week, a writing mentor, an editor, or even an online course where you have the chance to share your works-in-progress for feedback to peers – it keeps you growing in your work rather than working in total isolation. 

Tip: to keep your creative juices flowing, start a writer’s journal going – this is where you can collect ideas, character backstories, plot developments, odds and ends, inspiring phrases and other useful notes. 

Never try to force your writing! And never, ever worry about grammar or structure. There are many free softwares to take care of basic grammar and spelling and you can always get an editor further along the process to help with all the finishing, tidying and polishing of your work! 

Checklist:

  • Form personalised affirmations to overcome mental blocks
  • Visualize and set up your very own writing space 
  • Create a schedule (and do your best to stick to it)
  • Collect writing prompts and exercises to build writing muscle
  • Team up with a mentor, friend or join an online course for regular feedback
  • Start a writer’s journal
  • Writers online groups and forums: mentor, critiques, or beta reader

Resources:

  • Get Grammarly for free grammar & punctuation assistance

Are there any other areas or tips in writing productivity you would like to share with us? Please leave them in the comments below!