THIRTY YEARS ago an enigmatic teacher, Andreas Demetriou, began to train me in the old and beautiful slow dance of T’ai Chi. It was the long, classical Yang form that I learned with him in London, and it has stayed with me through the extraordinary twists and turns, ups and downs, sicknesses and recoveries, of my life since then. It is, of all the movement forms I have practised and loved, the one that will grow old with me. Though I leave it from time to time, it never leaves me.
Andreas’ own teacher was the formidable Norwegian Gerda Geddes, who was a true pioneer. Dancer, psychoanalyst – a woman who escaped the Gestapo when she joined the Resistance, and then landed in China with her diplomat husband in 1949, just before the Chinese Revolution – Gerda first saw the T’ai Chi in action, on the misty banks of the Yangtse River in Shanghai in the 1940s. She wrote about the power that it stirred in her: “As I watched I had a sensation of hot and cold streaming up and down my spine. It was like ‘meeting with the Holy’ and I remember thinking: ‘This is what I have been looking for all my life'”. She went on to study with a T’ai Chi master in Hong Kong, and later, she was the first European to bring the technique over to London, where she taught generations of dancers and interested laypeople at The Place, and all over the country, for several decades. She herself practised the T’ai Chi until she died, well into her nineties. Her philosophy and wisdom live on through the people she taught, and the words she shared, on the deeper meaning and significance of this profoundly peaceful and nourishing art form. My own work, mentored for many years by Andreas, has also been shaped and influenced by her, though we never met face to face. There are other pathways too, that inform the way I practise and teach. The Alexander Technique. Meditation. Nature itself. The trees in the little wood down the end of my road, rooted and graceful. The gorgeous dog I walk every Thursday, bounding with natural energy. The ground under my feet. They all remind me how to breathe – how to be fleetingly, but tangibly, free – and how to be still, content.
Again, here is Gerda Geddes, describing the first meeting with her future teacher, who came with his friend to demonstrate the T’ai Chi: “When I looked at the 82 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, and of how to grow old.”
I shall be running independent classes again in T’ai Chi and Chi Kung, in Leeds, starting with a taster session on Friday February 19th, 12.30 – 1.30, at Leeds Buddhist Centre. Visit my Facebook Author’s page for more details, or leave me a message below.
Dancer in the Light: the Life of Gerda ‘Pytt’ Geddes by Frank Woods (Psi Books)
Andreas Demetriou teaches at Brockwell Lido in Brixton