Things are looking pretty “yellow” — as in “yellow tier” — around the Bay Area lately as inoculation numbers rise and counties lift business restrictions. After a year without traditional performance arts, public gatherings or even hugs, people are itching for creative catharsis. It’s time to see a movie, link with friends, hit the scene!
But putting our bodies out in the world again without distancing orders in place isn’t easy. For white-collar workers, a year of remote work in cramped kitchens, bedrooms or (maybe) home offices — a year of life without its usual rigor — can be taxing.
As we see crowds swell and businesses allow in more and more people after a year of relative isolation, it can also be mentally strenuous to re-engage with folks unknown. Navigating a conversation can feel like a juggling act, and a simple outing with friends now bears the complexity of a tango.
There are mountains of articles with advice on socialization, reinventing the self and “getting back out there,” as so many of us feel dissociated from our bodies and their proximity to others, how they move and engage with each other. Now is the perfect time to confront what the body, the soma, does for us every day, beyond serving as a productivity machine.
The Bay Area has no shortage of artists and performers who have made their careers of mastery of their own bodies, communicating through the mediums of dance, circus arts, multidisciplinary performance and more. They’ve been in quarantine along with everyone else, and some want to share how they’ve been coping over the last year.
This week, the Presidio Theatre launched three wellness classes for those who want to reexamine their connection to breath and movement as we move through the tiers that will bring us back to “normal.”
Instructors Sonja Riket, Johnny Huy Nguyen and Lance McGee will guide attendees in their own uniquely cultivated pedagogy of wellness, informed by decades of experience in a range of performance arts, from tango to breakdancing to the circus.
Classes will be held in-person on the theater’s outdoor plaza, immersing participants in arboreal serenity and the trill of songbirds. Classes range from $90-$175, though scholarship and drop-in options are available at the Presidio Theatre website at https://www.presidiotheatre.org/.
Somatic Movement Meditation with Sonja Riket
2 p.m. Mondays, through June 28 (skipping May 31, Memorial Day)
Sonja Riket knew she wanted to be a dancer before she was 5 years old. Her passion would take her across three continents in a 30-year career as a dancer, educator and now somatic therapist certified in Feldenkrais and BodyMindCentering somatic healing methods. Her class focuses on self-examining flexibility, alignment, coordination and self-awareness through guided, low-impact movements done supine on mat, with some sitting, standing and walking.
The first class has a drop-in option, but Riket hopes to cultivate participants for the duration of the class to offer a more cumulative meditative experience. After a year forcefully separated from our usual routines, Riket wants to help people recalibrate and appreciate the “stillpoint,” where “the rhythm in the body comes to a pause. A spaciousness forms where anything is possible. I hope the participants come in touch with their own resilience and choices to find new patterns of being.”
Dance for Pleasure Activism with Johnny Huy Nguyen
1 p.m. Tuesdays, through June 22
Johnny Huy Nguyen began his dance practice in the street, so to speak, breakdancing. The hip-hop-informed dance form was broader than its gravity-defying moves might have you think, and Nguyen was entranced by how it empowered Black and Brown communities to organize and celebrate their cultures and bodies. Nguyen has also studied contemporary dance and martial arts, all of which inform his class and approach to wellness, which starts with addressing the unseen and unsaid.
“A lot of my work is concerned with healing,” he says. “Society has an antagonistic relationship with our bodies, and you can’t heal from something that’s not addressed; we bring stories through our bodies. That’s the path towards joy.”
And joy is the goal of the class, as well as languishing in the pleasure of social movement and reimagining gravity as a force that informs us of our bodies’ needs, rather than raises hell on our joints.
Mindfulness and Play with Lance McGee, a.k.a. Unique Derique
1 p.m. Wednesdays, through June 23
In Lance McGee’s “Mindfulness and Play,” it’s OK to clown around — Lance certainly does. Raised by a mother who practices transcendental meditation and tai chi, he was bound for a career traveling the world and performing as his clown alter ego Unique Derique, sometimes on a unicycle.
After settling in the Bay Area, McGee went back to school to study counseling psychology to become a drama therapist and counselor, later working with teachers in Oakland Unified School District to address traumas they may face in the workplace. His class is all about (accessible) cardio and stretching, as well as connecting with fellow participants.
“I always say your health is your wealth, no matter what,” McGee says. “We’re doing something that’s good for the psyche, the soul, and therefore, that is a benefit. We have this wealth of understanding of how to sit with someone who’s really going through whatever stresses and challenges, but to be empathic for them and hold that space, and offer a conversation that might guide them to have some new insights on how to manage whatever they’re going through.”