The Cloths of Heaven
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
W. B. Yeats
Finding my feet again
I have always loved my feet – and have depended on them profoundly, for the movement work that I do, as a T’ai Chi and Chi Kung practitioner. So it was quite a shock for me this summer, when I was suddenly stricken with tendonitis of the Achilles, in both legs, and was hobbling around in all manner of soreness, burning pain, and deep unease.
Who knows why these things happen when they do? Except, it feels a strange coincidence that I went down with this ailment – or at least, it flared into full intensity – on the very day that I heard of the death of a dear, far-off friend, from cancer.
She was a dancer, a beautiful dancer. I had trained with her at the Laban Centre, and for me, her movement – powerful, beautiful and clear – embodied the essence of dance itself. Now she was no more. And it was as if my very feet had been cut from under me, along with her.
Still – life exhorts us to move onwards. Amidst the underlying sorrow, there has been much dancing since this moment – and much T’ai Chi and Chi Kung. It is an integral part of my life, after all. And my feet still hurt, but far less so. And the combined wisdoms of acupuncture, osteopathy – and the T’ai Chi itself – are helping to re-connect me to the earth. To hope, resilience and a new future.
Respecting the wisdom of the elders
It is not just my friend who shines the way forward, even after her death, but the wonderful wisdom of my T’ai Chi teachers. One, Andreas Demetriou, whom I trained with over ten years, whilst I lived in London, still lives and practises in South London. He is in his early seventies, and as elegant as ever.
The other one has been dead for some time, but her words and her philosophies, remain as potent as when she still lived and taught. This is Gerda Geddes – the first western woman to learn T’ai Chi in China, and to bring the technique back to the UK, where she pioneered its teaching, at The Place in the 1970s, home of London Contemporary Dance. This is where my own teacher trained with her. It is all about the lineage!
Dancer in the light
A lovely book about Gerda Geddes’ life was written by Frank Woods, called ‘Dancer in the Light’. And one direct quote from Mrs Geddes strikes me as particularly powerful. I refer to it alot in my own teaching, and it remains a lodestar to me, both of present and future endeavour.
Moving gracefully through life
She describes a first meeting with two Chinese T’ai Chi teachers, one 74 years old, and the other 82.
“The two old gentlemen stood up in their long, grey silken gowns, with black skullcaps on their heads, and performed the long Yang form. When I looked at the eighty-two year old man, whom I never met again, I had a sensation that he was transparent, like air, as if there was no barrier for him between this life and another life.
“His balance was perfect, and although he was old and thin, the flow of his movements and the harmony of his body seemed timeless. I have often held him up as an example for myself, of how to live, and of how to grow old.”
Autumn classes coming up
T’ai Chi has seen me through the last thirty years of my life – through loss and sorrow, as well as joy and new beginnings. It is a constant teacher and a comfort. There is nothing quite as eloquent for me, as this quiet meditative movement practise – despite all the other forms of dance and of movement that I have learned along the way.
And if you would like to join me, to tread softly through your autumn days, I will be running new classes this November and December – and a longer workshop in December too.
You can take a look here for details: CLASSES WITH BARNEY
‘Dancer in the Light: the life of Gerda ‘Pytt’ Geddes/Frank Woods (Psi Books)
In loving memory of Laurie McLeod