Life at the Center, by Renée Tillotson
Listen! Can you hear the sound of the silent one? – Carlos Rosas
In this 100th edition of Life at the Center, I’d like to tell you the best piece of advice I ever got about running a business. I believe that it has brought thousands of wonderful people into my life and created the beautiful community we call Still & Moving Center, with all the good it’s brought in its wake. We dedicate this edition to the cherished memory of Mr. Al Harrington, a bright star (in every sense of the word) who came our way, a dear friend and champion of Still & Moving Center, who recently passed. Al helped me to see the future at a critical moment when Still & Moving Center stood in the balance.
So, what was this great piece of advice? My friend Kate Nash with a Nia studio in California told me this: “Listen to your business, to its needs and to your own.” And I have always done my best to truly follow that advice.
As I begin to write, I realize that I will only be able to mention a tiny fraction of all the amazing people who have added so much to this endeavor of creating Still & Moving Center, and I apologize to everyone I don’t mention. I at least want to recognize Alòn Sagee, my original yoga business coach, for inspiring me to begin writing these Life at the Center letters 99 editions ago – about three years after we opened and I started figuring out that it was going to take more than just running classes and printing schedules to get folks to know and understand this place. I also want to recognize my current business coach, Tony Bonicci. Both of them helped me to hear Still & Moving Center’s needs when I simply did not know our next step.
The First Circle
Still & Moving Center told me in 2010 that it needed to come into the world – very loud and clear. I HAD to do it. Once my husband Cliff decided this crazy scheme of mine might actually be a worthwhile endeavor, I knew we needed a contingent of enthusiastic friends to give vision, shape and energy to this creation we were calling into being. I first called upon my multi-talented friend Marta Czajkowska, who had the artistic chops, can-do approach, and skills to help me create the name, the logo, the interior and exterior design, photos and the website for Still & Moving Center. Meanwhile, a wise, long-time mentor of mine, Jim Tepfer from the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, helped me to craft our Mission Statement, which conveys the living essence of this center.
I called together as our “First Circle” the relatively few friends I had on island, who were mostly teachers and students of Nia, the practice that led me to my life-changing decision to open a movement center. From that time onward, each person who has interacted with Still & Moving Center has planted seeds that have influenced its growth as a caring community of lifelong learners, sharing mindful movement and thought from cultures the world over. I didn’t actually realize when we started, how difficult creating and sustaining this place would be over time. Nor did I realize how much strength from others Still & Moving Center would call in over the course of time!!!!
Sometimes when the road feels rough, I think about my beautiful friend, Nia mentee, and First Circle member Sandra Moreland, who cheered me on and who continues to this day to share the warmth of her steady confidence in what Still & Moving Center stands for. Come to think of it, Sandra is the one who eventually introduced me to Al Harrington and his dear, energetic wife Rosa. Krista Hiser, a fellow second degree Nia Black Belt and Nia teacher, initially helped craft the concept of Still & Moving as a place for families, where parents could bring their keiki to take one kind of class while the mom and dad took their own classes. And she is still teaching for us! My friends from Singapore, Joy Lee and Ed Soon, are classy, well-traveled people who crafted our initial press launch and instantly elevated Still & Moving Center to the status of an international hub for wellness. Valerie Sanchez attended our first press launch and Nia demo launched herself on a Nia journey and eventually became one of our Nia teachers. My Nia friends Shar and Brad Bliss provided the grounding of a local couple willing to help a newcomer break into the Honolulu scene – and Shar still teaches aerial classes for us. This First Circle group responded to the call from Still & Moving, held the vision with me, and gave me the confidence that the Center could make it into the world.
Our brilliant young real estate agent Jessica White found a venue for us at 1024 Queen Street, then Cliff gutted and remodeled it extensively. Then remarkable teachers started arriving to instruct the classes for our opening in March of 2011.
Calling in Teachers – Traditional & Beyond
For years prior to opening Still & Moving Center, my attempts to study with traditional hula teachers on island had crashed with a resounding thud. Then, three weeks prior to our grand opening, I met a kumu hula named Mālia Helelā and her mother Mary Bird teaching a baby hula class. I KNEW at that moment that Still & Moving had to have Mālia as a teacher. Ever since then, Mālia and Mary have extended to me and to the studio’s entire community the TRUE spirit of aloha. With Mālia offering authentic, non-commercialized hula dance classes to adults, babies and children, and housing her hula halua (traditional hula training school) at Still & Moving Center, we gained the reputation early on of being a place where a sincere person from any country on earth could come to learn real hula, oli (Hawaiian chanting), and ukulele. Such a person could also get a genuine lomilomi massage, old school style, and eventually learn to give lomilomi themselves under Kumu Mālia’s training. Our Hawaiian cultural program has grown to be our strongest department, with many students from Japan, including an elite group of hula teachers who will someday graduate from Mālia as kumu hula in their own right. Mālia and Mary’s seeds root us in the native soil of Hawaii.
And they have planted those seeds in a hothouse of diversity, while remaining absolutely true to their Hawaiian cultural roots. Still & Moving Center soon attracted other foundational teachers, such as our teacher of traditional Chinese tai chi, Jerry Punzal, and our teacher of the classical Indian dance Bharatanatyam: Sonja Sironen. Overwhelmed as I was with getting the place going, I nevertheless took the opportunity to study hula, tai chi and Bharatanatyam dance from all three of these remarkable teachers! They laid the groundwork that established Still & Moving Center as a credible institution of learning, with teachers of traditional movement practices who had each devoted decades of training to their discipline.
Along with several other strong, long-experienced teachers – such as Master Jonah Chin and his wife Lina who bring their ancient lineage of Korean qigong to our center – these teachers of traditional practices have formed the educational super-structure that Still & Moving Center requires to grow a diverse faculty into the future. Wonderful teachers soon found their way into Still & Moving Center, such as Claudia Castor and David Sanders for yoga, Willow Chang for belly dance, and Eva Geueke for Feldenkrais, all of whom remain to this day.
Meditation & the Mind
When Still & Moving Center pretty much named itself, we planned to offer “still” as well as “moving” meditation practices. However, finding a suitable, non-denominational teacher for sitting meditation had been elusive, until Miku Lenentine found us a few years back! Miku brings old wisdom in a young body, with a willingness to teach meditation at no cost, which I’ve always been taught is the only way spiritual practices should be shared. Miku often accompanies her meditations with her Native American flute playing. Her Buddhist Kwan Yin compassion meditation holds ongoing appeal and – along with the many oli aloha that Kumu Mālia chants – sets the compassionate tone that Still & Moving Center wants to send out into generations to come.
In addition to caring for the human body, Still & Moving Center also seeks to cultivate a rich life for the human mind. David Sanders has for years attended and helped lead our Sunday Satsang conversations about the inspirational quotes for the week in the Still & Moving Center Almanac. David brings philosophical curiosity and a depth of insight into the human predicament, with a wry sense of humor. Jim Tepfer and Maurice Bisheff from Santa Barbara helped me launch our Gems from the Wisdom Traditions conversation circle once we brought our classes online last year, to cultivate more learning from great teachers and collective wisdom, as well as bring out each participant’s own inner wisdom.
In 2020, the Academy of Mindful Movement asked to be born as a sibling of Still & Moving Center. Douglas Groesser, a lifelong academic married to our Turkish belly dance teacher Murat Demirtas, helped me to birth the Academy and its extensive curriculum. Our first set of 7 Trainees just graduated in September! Our newly certified Mindful Movement Instructors teach hockey, yoga, Pilates, belly dance, hula, personal training, and contemporary dance. This program will be seeding movement teachers, coaches and trainers throughout the world, who will, in turn, bring more awareness and care for every athlete, performer and mover in their charge. They will honor long-term physical, mental and emotional health in an even broader range of movement practices than Still & Moving Center already does.
Still & Moving Center also seems to insist upon having brotherly and sisterly connections with our extended ‘ohana, such as Sooriya Kumar of Mouna Farms with his Whales for Peace project, Blanche McMillan creating the tiny house village Hui Mahi’ai Aina for the homeless of Waimanalo, Raj Kumar of the Gandhi International Institute for Peace, and Roger Epstein with the Hawaii Forgiveness Project and Voyage of Aloha project. As you’ll see in the article below, Still & Moving Center has supported the good work of Ho’Ōla Nā Pua since 2017. Still & Moving Center is drawn to these sibling organizations by the compassion that inspires them all.
Healing the People & Earth
The ‘moving to heal’ element of Still & Moving Center’s mission radiates out and pulls in teachers, trainers and students from around the globe. The founder of the Nia technique, Debbie Rosas, and Nia trainer Winalee Zeeb have graced us with numerous Nia teacher trainings, Daisy Lee with Radiant QiGong trainings, Kay Nelson with Shin Somatics trainings, and Jody Hassel with Trauma Sensitive Yoga trainings. For ALL of the hundreds of movement teachers who have taught classes to our tens of thousands of students, ‘moving to heal’ is a key component for thriving, healthy human beings. That’s who Still & Moving calls to.
Healing the Earth resonates deeply within Still & Moving Center. Lizabeth Kashinsky and Phyllis Look have led nature meditations and Forest Bathing, while Krista Hiser has hosted an EcoSattva sustainability training. In these Life at the Center letters, we celebrate Magnificent NonProfits that support living in harmony with Mother Earth, which is so essential to our wellbeing for times to come.
Creativity for Progress
Still & Moving Center seems to attract creative, inventive people – those who will move us forward. LiSi Yang showed up one day with a beautiful wooden piece of equipment called the Fitness Cue, which she had not only invented but also patented internationally. I loved the initiative she brought, and I hired her on the spot to teach fitness classes. Jivatama Messageur and Daniel Tsukeyama each came to Still & Moving Center as massage therapists who liked working on people with their feet. Then about 5 years ago, they began using our discarded aerial silks as body slings for their massage practice. They now train massage therapists in America, Europe and India – including one of our current therapists – in their trademarked Sarga Bodywork technique
In a similar vein, the actual mother of aerial yoga somehow intersected with the Still & Moving Center orbit and has blessed us with a number of her AIReal yoga teacher trainings. As an aerial performer for Cirque du Soleil, Carmen Curtis realized from her yoga teacher background that the aerial hammock could serve as a tremendous prop for attaining yoga postures. A number of our other teachers have created their own movement practices, typically melding two or more existing practices for a unique approach. This spirit of inventiveness and creativity flowing over traditional lineages of teaching keeps new life and growth thriving.
Speaking of Cirque du Soleil, I recall a time about four years ago when I ‘spoke’ to Still & Moving Center and said, “Listen, I’ve been your nurturing mother for a long time now, taking care of you in so many ways. It’s time for you to grow up and go to school now and let other people help take care of you. If you want to stick around, I need you to pull in some people who can do that.” And sure enough, in not too long, Neela Vadivel, Artistic Director for Cirque du Soleil, showed up and made a proposal to work for Still & Moving Center. She quickly discovered that we desperately needed someone to TAKE CARE of our daily operations. Her experience at doing such a thing in a large-scale global company like Cirque carried us to new levels of organization, community building and customer service.
Good thing we were organized by the time the pandemic hit! Neela and our brilliant staff (including Janine Oshiro, Doris Morisaki, Kendra Linker, with Emily Hunt and Kevin Capretto – both from Cirque) responded to Still & Moving’s needs of the moment, as we temporarily closed our physical doors on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, and opened for online classes on Sunday, 5 days later. Our gifted teachers’ responsiveness, combined with our staff’s outreach and support to students across the globe, exceeded anything we had been able to provide in the past.
Once Still & Moving asked for a new website to reach our international audience, Sarah Hodges and Eriko Jones stepped in to facilitate that process, in both English and Japanese. The new site opened at the start of 2021. Until the pandemic, I never knew that when Still & Moving Center first asked me to create a hub in the middle of the Pacific for trainers, teachers and students of mindful movement practices from around the world that it would become a VIRTUAL hub as well as a physical venue. Yet here we are hosting instructors of movement practices from all over the world – from Italy and Germany, to Canada and the US mainland, to Japan. And now they can teach for us without commuting to Honolulu!
Moving into the Future
To return to Al Harrington, let me say that at about the same time I asked Still & Moving Center to find people who could take some of the burdens of its daily care, I also asked for some sort of indication that I should keep going with it. On my less inspired days, I wondered whether Still & Moving Center was ever going to ‘take off’.
It was 2018, Neela had just recently arrived, and we were holding our 7 Year ReBirthday celebration. First Mālia and Cliff surprised me at a very deep level by presenting me with a Declaration from the Mayor, saying that March of 2018 was officially Mindful Movement Month for Honolulu thanks to all the years of Still & Moving Center’s work! Wow.
Then Al took the microphone and began to speak. He told everyone how Still & Moving Center had become an institution for the people of Hawaii, that it was a special place, and that it was valuable. He teared up as he told us these things. And he somehow ended all my inner conflict about whether to keep going with Still & Moving Center. I’m so grateful for the support of Al Harrington and his wife, Rosa. I think he was able to hear the voice of Still & Moving when I had somehow lost touch with it.
Just as a heads up, the most recent request Still & Moving has made has been for a coffee shop. More on that development later!
Never quite knowing what Still & Moving Center might say next, I continue to listen, moving forward into the future, appreciating all dear teachers, trainers, students, and friends that Still & Moving Center collected together as its contribution to stilling the mind, moving the body, finding center, and finding Joy.
Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.
– Parker Palmer
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!
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)