Letter from the Director
by Renée Tillotson
‘All good things are worth waiting for,’ is a maxim I’ve seen unfold many times in my life. Hah! After 61 going on 62 years, I guess I’ve had a lot of opportunities!
Doris Morisaki is one of those people I’ve always seen as outlandishly talented. And yet she’s been on her own time line in terms of unfolding some of her many talents. That’s OK; learning to move in Natural Time is one of the important teachings in Nia.
Doris and I were both Nia students of the same teacher, Kiwi Heilman, who first brought Nia to Oahu and who encouraged me to take my Nia White Belt training. I took it in 2003 and began teaching. A year or two later I collected students and brought an official Nia trainer to the island. Doris was in the graduating group of that first White Belt I ever produced, and she was oozing with teaching potential and artistic skill.
The training, however, was a bit stressful for her, due to the personality of that particular trainer. Moreover, she was completely devoted to the daily care of her young son, Josh, a preschooler at the time. I encouraged Doris to begin teaching Nia, and she very politely – and FIRMLY – declined and continued to take class as a student. Eventually, there were a few times over the years when I was running late for class that I called Doris and she kindly agreed to play some music and do a bit of warmup movement with the students. It made her nervous.
I continued to produce Nia trainings, even bringing the Founder of Nia – Debbie Rosas – from Portland to Honolulu to give some of the trainings. Doris would happily attend the trainers’ public classes, but she always refused to take any of the trainings.
On September 6, 2013, Doris came to her first hula class at Still & Moving Center with our kumu hula, Mālia Helelā. I think that was a real turning point. She immediately was hooked and became a regular student of hula in addition to Nia. Josh was in middle school by this time, and we were now getting to see a lot of Doris on the dance floor!
As her hula skills advanced, so did her confidence in Nia. One day she came to my class very excited about hearing a song on the car radio that inspired her to create some choreography to it. She hadn’t actually DANCED it yet, except in her head while driving. So she and I found time to play the song and try out her moves. With a little extra listening to the song, finding the verse, the chorus, and the solo sections, we were able to nicely fit her choreography to the music. That’s what Nia TEACHERS do…just sayin’.
We spent a couple months practicing her song privately, until it was a well-polished little gem. How could we keep a jewel like that hidden?!? After some coaxing, Doris agreed to lead my Nia class for three and a half minutes with her newly choreographed piece.
Turns out, Doris is a self-admitted showboat. Once she put on the head mic she could hear her voice fill the room, which was thrilling. She had a great little song by Taylor Swift to teach and she did it beautifully. My buttons were bursting with pride!
Meanwhile, over on the hula side, Doris was making her way more to the front center of the hula ‘auana class, where her ability to memorize choreography was making itself known. Once the teacher starts stepping to the side and allowing students to dance on their own, all eyes begin looking for the fellow student most like to remember the steps….and that turned out to be Doris!
Josh entered high school last year. Doris, it seems, had a secret bucket list item that she prepared herself to accomplish. One night she and her husband Mark attended a concert by the local band Na Leo. Doris waited to see whether see they would play one of her favorites, “Waikiki”. Confident in the choreography that she had learned from Kumu Mālia, Doris actually stood up from the audience and made her way to the stage when the first notes of the song came on. For those of you readers who are not from Hawaii, it is a well-loved tradition of the islands, people share the hula they know when the musicians share the music. So there goes Doris, in front of several hundred people, dancing her first solo performance, unannounced. How I wish I had had a seat in the audience to cheer her on. Evidently the band played at half the speed Doris was used to, so she danced the entire hula in slow-mo. Wow! I can only imagine the crowd applauding wildly as she left the stage!
At least I did see Doris perform hula with Kumu Mālia a couple months ago in front of three thousand people in a Waikiki hotel ballroom for the Transpac celebration. That was impressive.
Back on the Nia side, Doris had been cautiously watching all of the trainers that I brought to the island. She finally felt safe enough with Winalee Zeeb to take her Blue Belt training in February this year, more than a decade after taking her White Belt training. And she even began subbing Nia classes.
We’re not done yet. There are a lot more Nia belt levels for Doris to take, and she has yet to offer a regular class of her own. In hula, she has also begun subbing and students devoted to Kumu Mālia actually agree to dance with Doris! So far, she is learning modern hula, ‘auana, and has yet to dance the ancient hula, kahiko. The future is ripe with possibilities. Now that Josh is driving his own car and pretty self-sufficient, who knows where Doris will go, in her own time?
All I know is that it’s been well-worth the wait to see our ‘late-bloomer’ begin to blossom! Doris has taught me a lot about living in Natural Time.
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!