Learning the Basics of the Dance of Shiva
I've had a couple of people say that they want to study the dance of shiva with me.
My first suggestion to them, before they spend all of that money (while my classes aren't expensive, I do live in Taiwan) is to learn the 8 basic positions of the Dance of shiva.
These 8 positions form the basis of the 64 complete positions.
The second suggestion is to learn the 8 basic movements after the positions have been learned.
These 8 movements form the basis of the 64 possible movements from each of those arm positions.
8 basic positions, 8 basic movements. Memorize them. They aren't that hard.
They form the basis of all the Dance of Shiva arm positions and Movements.
If you memorize them, you have taken the first few steps to actually learning the dance of shiva (instead of just copying someone who is doing it.)
But even 8 positions (and 8 movements) can seem like a pain in the ass. So lets make it even easier to learn.
To make it easier lets start with the positions and break them down into two groups.
The first group of positions has the names 1, 2, 3 and 4. The second group has names a, b, c and d.
1 is the obvious starting point. It's like a reference position for the other 3 positions.
When learning anything, when doing anything its always handy to have a reference. In a lot of instances this is like having a foundation when you are building a building.
1 (or sometimes zero) is where you start, and often times where you return to.
The nice thing about position 1 is that it is clearly defined. It's also easy to recognize.
Just hold your hand out to the side palm up, just slightly higher than the top of your head with fingers pointing directly outwards. The elbow is bent, and if you want to be really anal it's bent at 90 degrees with the upper arm horizontal (elbow at shoulder height) and forearm vertical.
But that's dressing.
The most important point is that the palm faces upwards at just above head height with fingers pointing outwards.
Position 2 is the next logical position to learn. And just as its name follows that of position 1, the actual position itself is relatively easy to move to from that position.
Simply sweep the hand forwards and inwards and down so that the hand ends up palm facing upwards just in front of the belly. Fingers point inwards and the tips don't cross the bodies center line.
Position 1, position 2, repeat each position a few times, moving forwards (from 1 to 2) and backwards (from 2 to 1) a few times. Repeat it with the other hand while you are at it. Say the names of the positions as you move in to them.
Position 3 is next.
For this position point the fingers backwards then outwards while keeping the palm facing up.
It's like a behind-the-back high five or back-hander.
Failing that, it's simply a position where the hand is held palm up at about belly button height with both the point of the elbow and the finger tips pointing outwards.
Now move forwards from 2 to 3 and backwards from 3 to 2 a few times. Then move forwards from 1 to 2 to 3 then backwards from 3 to 2 to 1. Say the names of the positions as you move into them and then repeat with the other hand.
Got the hang of it?
Ready for position 4? If not, practice 1 to 3 a few more times. Then, when you are ready, from position 3 move your hand forwards and up. Keep the palm facing upwards as much as possible.
Finish with the hand at the same height as it was in position 1 but with the fingers pointing inwards. Keep the palm facing upwards.
This one is easier to do if you have a mirror to check your position. As with position 2, keeping your fingers from crossing the center line of your body.
From position 4 you can rotate your forearm outwards so that the finger tips move from pointing inwards to outwards. Now you are back in position 1 again. As with all other pairs of movements, you can practice moving between positions 1 and 4. Try it with alternate hands and then with both hands. And, try saying the position that you are moving to before you start the move.
Now that you have these four positions, you can try calling out a number from 1 to 4. Make it random. Starting with your arms down by your side, move one hand into the position that you call out. If you want to use both hands, then say the number twice i.e. 1-1 (move both hands into position 1.)
You might not be able to do the position fully or properly (position 3 tends to be particularly difficult). That's fine.
The important thing at this point is to know what the position is that you are aiming for.
Part of practice is to work towards being able to do the position as defined.
Practice to the point where you know without thinking each of the positions. Saying 2, you should know automatically that the hand is in front of the belly, palm up with fingers pointing inwards. Saying 1, you know the hand is up, at or above the height of the top of the head with fingers pointing out.
To help you remember you can notice the correspondances, how in positions 1 and 3 the fingers point out while with positions 2 and 4 they point inwards. With positions 1 and 4 the hands are high. With positions 2 and 3 they are low.
Now to really get a taste of the dance of shiva, try moving both arms into different positions. You'll call out two numbers with the first one for the left arm and the second for the right arm. You might find it helpful initially to have the right arm one position in front of the left arm i.e. 1-2.
Take it slowly with this practice. You could call out the left arm first, move it into position, then call out a position for the right arm. Then keep your hands in place, say the two positions together. Then drop the arms, and then move the arms back into the same postion but at the same time (calling out the position before you move your arms). As an example, call out 2 and move your left arm to positon 2. Then call out 4 and move your right arm to position 4. Say 2-4. Drop your arms. Say 2-4 and then move both arms to position 2-4.
If you have trouble with any single position, say you have trouble remembering position 3, then practice that position in isolation. Then using that position for the left arm, practice it in combination with the right arm. Keep moving the left hand to position 3 while moving the right hand into all positions in turn so: 3-1, 3-2, 3-3, 3-4. Drop the hands after each position.
Then do the opposite. Keep moving your right hand to position 3 while the left hand moves through all the positions.
Are you ready for the next 4 positions? If you know the first four positions without having to think about them, then you are. If not, take a rest, practice till you do, and then come back for the next four positions.
Where the first four positions where notable in that the palm faced upwards, for the next four positions, the palms face outwards.
For the second set of positions, which we I tend to call verticals, because the palm faces outwards, we also have a reference position. It is position A.
This reference position is kind of arbitrary. The most important point is that we have some reference point. It makes it easier to figure out where we are and where we are going.
For position A, stand with your arm reaching forwards with your fingers pointing forwards at about shoulder height. The elbow points out as does the palm. Hold for a moment and then rest your arm by dropping it to your side. Move it back into position A slowly and smoothly. See if you can connect the relaxed position to position A (and back again) with a smoothly connected path. Repeat a few times with each arm.
For position B, start from position A. Keep your upper arm in place. Allow your elbow to bend as you swing your forearm down and then back, bending your elbow so that your fingers point back at your chest with your elbow pointing forwards and palm facing outwards.
Repeat a few times moving forwards and backwards between positions A and B.
For position C, start from position B. Keep the upper arm relative still as you move the forearm up as if flicking your nose with your finger tips. Continue the movement of your forearm forwards so that the elbow straightens.
Position C is like position A but the position of the elbow is different.
Now your elbow points in but the palm faces out.
Practice moving between positions B and C, repeating with either hand or even with both hands.
When moving from B to C and back again try to keep the palm facing outwards at all times (or as outwards as possible).
Where in positions A through C the upper arm remained relatively stationary, for D the whole arm reaches back.
From position C, move the arm down and back keeping the elbow straight and the palm facing out. Stop the arm when it reaches back behind you, at sternum height. This is position D.
Move Forwards and Backwards a few times from C to D keeping your palm facing outwards.
To move to position A again just circle the arm up and forwards, keeping the palm facing out.
Repeat these movements a few times, alternating arms or using both arms if you choose.
As with the horizontal positions (1 through 4), practice calling out letters A through D randomly. Start with your hands down by your sides. Call out a letter and then move one arm into that position. If you choose to use both arms then call out the letter twice, i.e. A-A.
To make learning the positions easier, notice again the correspondances. Positions A and C both point forwards. B and D both point backwards. For C and D the elbow points inwards. A and B it points outwards.
As with the horizontals, you should be able to move into each position without having to think about what it is.
To further test your learning, call out any position, from 1 to 4 or from A to B. Starting with your arms by your side, move one arm into the position called out. Or move both arms into position.
As with the horizontals, further test your understanding of the verticals by moving both arms into different vertical positions. Use the same procedure as for the horizontals. And once you get comfortable with the verticals, you could mix it up further by having one arm in a horizontal position and the other in a vertical position.
One of the nice things about Dance of Shiva is that the terminology is simple and basic. Positions have names (1 through 4 and A through D). The movements also have names. A movement connects one position to another.
Moving from A to B is different than the movement from B to A. However, the movement from A to B is given the same name as the movement from B to C. That same name also describes the movement from 1 to 2 and from 2 to 3. That movement is called the Forwards movement.
The movement name captures the relationship between the positions it connects.
From 1 you move forwards to 2. From A you move forwards to B. And so it kind of makes sense that the opposite movement, from B to A, from 2 to 1 is called the Backwards move.
Given that there are 8 positions, there are 8 Forward movements and 8 Backwards movements.
Now you can get on with practicing them.
Here the goal is the same as with learning the positions. For any movement from any position you should be able to do it without having to think about what that movement is. So that you can do that it can help to practice starting a sequence of movements from different positions. So if you are practicing the forwards move through the horizontal positions, don't always start with position 1. Instead, practice starting the sequence from 2 (and end at 2), then from 3 and so on. Likewise with the verticals.
Starting with the horizontal positions, you can practice the forwards move with both arms. Start in position 1-1. Say 2-2 and then move your arms to 2-2. Then say 3-3. Move your arms to 3-3. Say 4-4. Move your arms to 4-4. Then say 1-1. Move your arms to 1-1. Then drop your arms, rest and repeat a few times.
Repeat the process with the vertical positions.
For a challenge, you can use these starting positions for the horizontals: 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4.
So you'll practice the following four sets of movements:
Take your time with this. One option is to move your left arm first, and then your right arm.
Another option is to practice one move, repeating it a few times. So for example, moving from 1-2 to 2-3. Go from 1-2 to 2-3, then drop your arms. Start again at 1-2 and repeat. Once that is smooth, then try 2-3 to 3-4. Repeat a few times. Now, before moving to the next move, try 1-2, 2-3, 3-4.
You can do the same thing for the verticals. Use these starts:
A-A, A-B, A-C, A-D.
So you'll practice the following four sets of movements:
Once you are comfortable with these movements, you can move on to the backwards movements.
You could also do the above set of movements but using these starts:
A practice set would then look like this for the horizontals:
It would then look like this for the verticals:
The backwards movement is simply the reverse of the forwards movement. And so to practice the backward movement, do the same steps as for the Forwards movement but with the movements reversed. You can use the same starting positions.
For the horizontals (Backwards):
For the verticals (Backwards):
One of the notable points about the forwards and backwards movements is that you repeat them from any position 4 times in order to return to the position that you started in. In dance of shiva there are four movements (for one arm) in total that have this quality.
There is another type of movement that simply moves between two positions. This could the thought of as an Acyclic movement.
The idea of the dance of shiva is to be able to move from any position to any other position. We have a movement that allows us to connect forward adjacent positions (i.e. from 1 to 2 or A to B) and backwards adjacent positions (the reverse). How do we join non-adjacent positions like 1 and 3 or A and C? For that we have the Transquarter.
Where in the Forward and Backwards movement the idea was to keep the hand facing horizontally upwards or outwards as you do the move (did I mention that?) here the idea is to keep the fingers pointing in the same direction as you do the move. So moving from 1 to 3, keep the fingers pointing out. From 2 to 4 (and back again) keep the fingers pointing in. Likewise for A to C and C to A, keep the fingers pointing inwards. For B to D and D to B keep the fingers pointing back.
To practice the Transquarter using both arms you can use these sets of starting positions:
Because these movements are acyclic, you'll only have to do a movement twice to return to the start. And because of that you need four more starts to practice all position movements.
Note that it might be challenging to jump into the transquarter movement using both arms, so if you have trouble, practice it one arm at a time first. A bigger challenge may be remembering the starting positions.
So now you've had a taste of the dance of shiva. The initial goal can be to learn all of the movements. From there you can then work at learning combinations of movements. At each stage the benefits of the dance of shiva arise when you learn the movements, or sequences of movements, to the point that you don't have to think about the movement to do them, you simply know them.
What you then begin to see (if you can't already see it) is that dance of shiva is about learning options. You learn all possible movements from any position. No movement is any better than any of the others, it is simply an option. Also notice that positions and movements are clearly defined. What you can then practice is discernment without judgement. (i.e. noticing differences without the tendency to label one as good and the other as bad, they are just "differences".)
Another important feature of the dance of shiva is that it is easy to check for mistakes. The idea isn't to check for mistakes while you are doing it, but to be able to notice mistakes when looking back. So for example, if you repeat a sequence of Cyclic movements four times but you don't arrive at the start, you know you've done something wrong. You can then look back to see where you went wrong. You can then practice the particular movement you got wrong to the point you can do the movement correctly without having to think about how to do it.
What this gives you a taste of is two mental states. One is flowing, where you simply focus on moving without thinking. The other is analyzing or looking back.
Note that in order to flow you have to have practiced. You have to "know" the movements (and the positions). But another advantage of dance of shiva is that you can break it down so that you can practice with a minimum of thinking. You can get a taste of flow by practicing simple movements till you know them.
And that's the advantage of the thinking mode. You can choose how to break things down to make practicing easier and affective.
For a guide to learning the practice check out the dance of shiva ebook with optional videos. ($32 ebook only, $58 ebook and videos, $50 videos only).
I should point out here that the way I teach the Dance of Shiva varies a bit from how I learned it. And that may be in part because I was interested in figuring out the dance of Shiva for myself.
It's because I broke down the movements and clearly labelled them so that I could then come up with all possible movements using both arms.
And that is perhaps how the way that I tend to teach this practice is an aid to practicing "first principles."
Get your guide to learning the dance of shiva.