Parashakti finds freedom through the Dance of Liberation
“For the Kabalah, the Jewish mystics, dance is the deepest expression of joy. Where silence and music meet is in the field of the body.”
These thoughts are shared by Rabbi David Ingber, founder of the Jewish community Romemu (whose mission is to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice) in the documentary feature film Dance of Liberation. Rabbi Ingber spoke about shamanic practitioner, mystic, teacher, dancer, yogini and subject of the film Parashakti Sigalit Bat-Haim. Parashakti Sigalit lives dance as her deepest expression of joy. Dance is her spiritual practice. Teaching dance is her calling, particularly the ritual Dance of Liberation she has developed from decades of immersion into traditions from around the world.
Dance of Liberation
During a Dance of Liberation session, people tie on blindfolds (all the better with which to see the inner world) and then dance accompanied by music with trained facilitators holding the space and making sure everyone is safe. The dance is not about outer performance but expression of the inner heart. When it comes to musical accompaniment, Parashakti favors world music with trance-inducing beats and without English lyrics that initiate a story in our thinking brains. Even better: live drums to connect bodies to earth-based medicine.
Dance of Liberation is far more than a blindfolded rave. There is a deep reverence to it. And the practice spills over into life beyond the blindfolded movement. Parashakti identifies what she calls the Seven Foundations of the Dance of Liberation. They are the following. Sacred Space/Discovering Your Ground. The Power of Intention. Embodied Breath. The Blindfold/Inner Vision. Therapeutic Rhythm—Music/Sound Healing. Dance. And the seventh foundation which includes Returning Home/Retrieving Your Soul/ and Service. Anchored in these, Parashakti has trained teachers around the world.
Movement in a Shamanic Journey
Dance of Liberation is the movement-based manifestation of the cross-cultural shamanic journey that is her life. She is an embodied example of the student as teacher, a guide who shares, with great joy, the feeling of liberation through dance. Teacher, workshop leader, shamanic practitioner and lifelong student, on screen in Dance of Liberation, in person in a class or workshop, or one-on-one in a healing session, Parashakti is a bright light transmitting wisdom. And transmitting encouragement for the dancer to find their own wisdom within. It is a quality obvious to me when I first met her. I noted the deep ease, grace, and vibrancy with which Parashakti inhabits her body. She lives up to all of her names, both Sanskrit and Hebrew, respectively: Parashakti (goddess of life), Sigalit (a bright violet flower), and Bat-Haim (daughter of life).
An Immersion into Dance
Parashakti’s immersion into dance began during her childhood in Jerusalem. Dance became both refuge and a means of interacting with the world. She used dance to negotiate the challenges of learning disabilities and feeling lost in a classroom as well as a strained relationship with a father who divorced her mother to pursue a spiritual immersion in Jewish Orthodoxy and start a new family. From the age of four, Parashakti dance was her vehicle for learning and for communicating with spirit. Her time in the Israeli military was even spent in the entertainment corps, serving through dance.
After completing military service, Parashakti pursued dance at Santa Monica College with a goal of becoming a dance therapist. In her life, the medicine was also poison; a serious and seemingly career-ending injury left Parashakti thinking she might never dance again. It was a heartbreaking crisis of identity. A dark night of the soul.
The Invitation to Yoga
Then she was invited to yoga. There she found other ways to express her beloved physicality and unite body, mind, spirit, and health and well-being.
Yoga practice led to a two-year stay in an ashram and the completion of yoga teacher training in Integral Yoga founded by Swami Satchidananda. She was given the Sanskrit name Parashakti. Next she was led to more teachers, one of whom, trance dance facilitator Wilbert Alix, introduced her to dancing blindfolded. Wilbert was not the only teacher to tie a blindfold on. Native American teachers shared this technique.
During more more than a decade of study with elders, Parashakti continued a powerful inner journey. She was able to enter what she identified as different states of consciousness through yoga, meditation, dance, spirit guides, and medicine helpers. One of her teachers, Wakia Un Manee, speaks of this dance in the doc Dance of Liberation. He says the blindfold “allows a person to see back at themselves.” He says, “This is a strong Native American teaching, to see beyond seeing, to see with not just the physical eyes, but to look with the heart and see what is inside.”
Seeing what is inside and expressing it through movement allows Parashakti to find the medicine within the movement. In addition to facilitating experience groups at festivals, retreats, and in workshops, she has worked as the spiritual director at Breathe Life Healing Center, a treatment center for addictions. Her work includes guiding people to listen to the voice of the inner heart, one that may be all-to-quiet, one that we may not know how to hear. She also offers spiritual counseling and facilitated holistic experiences for individuals and groups. An adapted version of Dance of Liberation for people in recovery is in the planning stages.
The Art of Personal Practice
For Parashakti, personal practice is paramount. On the mat (she cites Kundalini classes with Tej as a part of her routine), the meditation cushion, and especially, on the dance floor on a regular basis. She says that one of the benefits of LA is that there are ecstatic dance experiences available daily. When she doesn’t venture out, she dances alone. Dance, and her prayers, have also been invaluable for her ability to reconnect with her Orthodox father, to find the common ground of spirit, prayer, love, and family. It’s a touching story told in the film. And is a story that illustrates how Parashakti connects to her identity, hard-won, as an embodied universal being who continues to find her own way to pray. And to teach.
Felicia Tomasko has spent more of her life practicing Yoga and Ayurveda than not. She first became introduced to the teachings through the writings of the Transcendentalists, through meditation, and using asana to cross-train for her practice of cross-country running. Between beginning her commitment to Yoga and Ayurveda and today, she earned degrees in environmental biology and anthropology and nursing, and certifications in the practice and teaching of yoga, yoga therapy, and Ayurveda while working in fields including cognitive neuroscience and plant biochemistry. Her commitment to writing is at least as long as her commitment to yoga. Working on everything related to the written word from newspapers to magazines to websites to books, Felicia has been writing and editing professionally since college. In order to feel like a teenager again, Felicia has pulled out her running shoes for regular interval sessions throughout Southern California. Since the very first issue of LA YOGA, Felicia has been part of the team and the growth and development of the Bliss Network.