I have been driven by curiosity, creative expression and a desire to try everything at least once.
As soon as I could run I took off. Moving through the fields and rows of grape vines that surrounded me on the flat red earth of Coonawarra in the South East of South Austalia. I live here till I was nearly 5. I explored the landscape, visited neighbours and marvelled at the size of the wine vats in Wynns winery where my father worked. My mother always looking for me. I loved to sing, at the age of 5 I new every song on the radio. I danced around the garden, hung upside down from the clothes line and lay on the garage roof with my fathers binoculars for hours looking at the stars. I loved colour, drawing, painting and I as got older I began to sew and crotchet my own cloths. As a young teenager I was the family seamstress and hairdresser. I was also drawn to helping those less fortunate and in need, particularly those with disabilities.
To learn is to experience and that is how I have lived my life
My formal dance training consisted of 3 years of Scottish highland dance in my early teens and here and there of Modern dance and contemporary dance. Learning choreography was a problem for me and still is because of my dyslexia. My favorite way to dance was to dance freely. Luckily growing up in the 70’s was all about dance and freedom! As I have written already dance was my way of escaping, self preservation and healing.
It was not until 1989 after I had given birth to my 2 children that I discovered Bellydance. I was enthralled by the effect learning this dance had on me. I loved it so I searched for classes and people who shared this passion. Even in my first year of learning, I was singled out to teach others. The dance had found me, but it was not commercial bellydance that I found difficult to relate to that took my heart but the traditional Egyptian styles of Shaabi (folk) and Baladi (Urban folk) . I also loved all the various Middle Eastern traditional dances styles, Moroccan, Lebanese, Turkish etc. and also modern cabaret and tribal. I tried them all but it was the Egyptian that knew my body already. I began teaching in 1991 even then my classes went for 2 hours with long warmups. In 1992 I discovered Suray Hilal who was Egyptian born London based dancer whose dance style which was traditional Egyptian base with a strong emphasis on body work was everything I desired. I attended numerous workshops with her and her teacher, till I found my own way in the dance.
In 1995 I was a part of a dance group called the Snake Sisters. We decided that we wanted to deepen our somatic exploration and we found an Alexander Technique AT teacher called Jane Refshauge. Jane turned out to be much more than meets the eye. She was not only and very fluid innovative AT teacher, but she has also studied with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohan who created Body Mind Centring BMC when there were only 5 people in the class. Now there can be 100. She also studied Idoeokensis with Andre Bernard another somatic exploration method to free the body created my Mabel Todd. This gift went on for about 6 years. We began by meeting once a week with just Jane and the snake sisters. This developed into a research group that included other practices, such as Feldenkrais, Authentic Movement contact improvisation, contemporary dance and Shamanic dance practices. I feel that this time was revolutionary, very few bellydancers have had the chance to work with such a rich and expanded base. All the while I kept teaching and performing in Melbourne and also touring with Yalla and teaching interstate. These were the formative years of Embodied Bellydance
My journey to Embodied Bellydance® EBD
The title Embodied Bellydance® was born around 2008. It took me a long time to give meaning to what it was that made my work unique and the word Embodied was it. It works from the inside out, there are no shortcuts. Many are draw to it, some stay and others find it to difficult to go deep inside that place. It has been a long hard and sometimes lonely road for me but I know that I am a pioneer, I cannot be anything else born on a New Moon eclipse, with a chart full of cardinal sign on a cardinal cross.
As I said it found me. I feel it lives on my bones my breath, there is not explanation. I could dance it before I danced it. According to Jane, and out AT exploration; she says that to really be in the dance of Egyptian dance require that you are in what AT calls “Primary control’
Alexander Technique AT
I am not a qualified teacher of AT but I still go to Jane for lessons, this is my 19th year! I not only lives in my dance but it lives in my life and it is a big part of what holds and informs the Embodied Bellydance® framework.
Body Mind Centring BMC
When Jane introduced us to BMC, I saw and felt immediately the connection that it had with Egyptian dance. What BMC calls Navel Radiation is what the expansion and contraction of the belly is as it shapes the bones of the dance. Again I am not a qualified BMC teacher but I would say it is the next element that informs EBD.
Because we learnt this movement method at the same time as AT and BMC they at times have become one. Ideokensis if a beautiful way to think of movement, it is very close the AT but also different.
Dance Movement Therapy DMT
I had already began working with disability group through Bellydance before I began my DMT training in 2005. I had also already began to facilitate what I now call Dance Journeys for the Awakening Heart. My DMT training opened me up to harnessing my skills and passions. It also took me smack bang into one of my strongest fears, academic writing. I am dyslexic and so to be able to actually write my papers especially in my final year, I hired a tutor. Jane who not only is all the things above is also a DMT and one of the lecturers of the International Dance Therapy Institute of Australia IDTIA where I graduated from in 2011 says, that although our course is called an Advanced Diploma in DMT the workload is really that of a Masters. So at the age of 53 I completed my first Tertiary course! When I teach EBD I hold each class in a DMT framework. Along with learning about moves I honour the healing dance that is taking place.
Jane taught us anatomy using a function creative style that was very much informed but BMC and Ideokensis. This has stayed with me. I love learning Anatomy and I am very motivated to search and research constantly discovering new things. I have developed a way to teach anatomy that helps the student feel their body and also to enjoy it because when we explore a particularly body part we then dance it.
I drawn nearly everyday, as a practice I sometimes write, dance and draw, I love it when I do this, I feel complete. So drawing and writing are also a part of EBD.
Music and Sound
I love Egyptian music along with all Arabic and world music. I use a big variety of music in my EBD classes and workshop but Always come back to Egyptian music. I feel that using other styles of music helps the student to access all parts of sell for first before the focus on the Bellydance side of things. I know that this make my dance richer and stronger.
One my strengths is also that I spent over 10 years rehearsing and playing with Yalla. I learnt so much about all aspects of music and then I had the joy of performing for so many people all over Australia. I was also a part of the Sanctuary Ensemble that was dedicate to playing Sufi, inspirational & contemplative original music, song and dance and the poetry of Rumi. I also include sounding in my teaching. I feel it is very important it does something to the body the individual and the group. Recently I have been taken by continuum Movement. It fits what I am doing and teaching so well
All of these riches feed my dance and my teaching.
“Continuum” came into my life around 2008 firstly via Amber Elizabeth Gray, then Elaine Colandrea and recently Rebecca Lawson who are continuum teachers who studied directly under Emile Conrad.
Continuum is a direct experience movement enquiry. It is a dynamic invitation towards what it is to be human, honouring the connection with our primordial selves that evolved from water. It is a somatic experiential practice where we consciously explore with the mindfulness of being, a part of the blossoming biological and planetary evolutionary process. It uses Breath, Sound, Deep listening and Imagination. Tapping into our inner biological landscape. it moves through all the levels and densities of Fascia/connective tissue. Feeling the skin as a breathing container that is what separate and connects us to our environment and others.
Emilie Conrad, the creator of the process touched me so deeply in her book “life on Land” that I wept , many times whilst reading it. Emilie passed away the same year that she was due to come to Australia.
I am also a certified Functional Analysis body psychotherapy practitioner. Functional Analysis is a deep and profound style of Body centred Psychotherapy founded by Will Davis. The main school is situated on the South of France and has branches in a number of countries in Europe. I belong the the first training group in Senigallia Italy and graduated in 2017.
“I first met Maria Sangiorgi when she contacted me to see if I would teach an Alexander Technique workshop for her performance group The Snake Sisters. As the only time our schedules would match was a Monday morning (which would mean Sunday night preparation time) I wasn’t too keen. My first response was to suggest she asked someone else who had trained in body mind awareness of the organ systems.
I didn’t really know that much about Egyptian dance, mistakenly thinking it was a simple folkloric form. Maria persisted in her request and when we finally did work together I was surprised to learn how complex the Raq Sharqi dance form is. I’d been teaching at the Victorian College of the Arts – School of Dance and was very familiar with the demands of classical ballet upon the body. I was taken aback to discover that Egyptian dance was even more demanding than ballet, as it requires the classical axial form be maintained, whilst spiraling around the very same axis. This means that there is no room for error. One cannot ‘cheat’ or overuse muscles to ‘hold’ a position. The spherical dynamics of the form will not allow this. The dancer needs to be truly in balance, otherwise the sprialic movements cannot occur.
We worked together on Monday mornings for five years ! After this Maria and her colleagues taught me a series of workshops integrating Raqs Sharqi with the information we had been exploring. This became the Melbourne Movement Research group that met at DanceHouse for the next five years !
Maria has always initiated exploitative learning environments. Her creativity is limitless and her capacity to refine and deepen the simplicity of learning unparalleled in the teaching of dance and movement” Jane Refshauge, Teacher of the Alexander Technique