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Celebrating Magnificence in our ‘Ohana: Georgia Ortega: Somatic Dance & Yoga Teacher 

Interview by Sharonne Gracia

Georgia Ortega’s diverse and excellent teaching enriches our dance and yoga community, providing something for everyone. Georgia has been teaching a variety of classes at Still & Moving Center since 2022, including Modern Jazz, Contemporary Dance, Ballet Barre, Hatha Yoga and Somatics Bartenieff Fundamental.

When did you start dancing?

There were not any dance studios where I grew up, so I danced on my own… in the woods close to Mount Rainier in Washington. My formal training began in California. I attended college dance classes, and in my mid – twenties I was accepted into a pre-professional training program and company. This is where I met my ballet teacher and mentor.

Which came first: dance or yoga?

I performed (improvised) at an event when I was 5 years old so yes, dance was first. I owned a copy of Iyengar’s Light on Yoga in the 70s and practiced with the book. I also attended Vipassana (Insight) Meditation retreats in the 70s and beyond. Yoga certification came later in the 90’s, in Classical Ashtanga with Baba Hari Dass.

About Your Teachers:
Looking back on your teaching career, can you tell us about a teacher who truly inspired you and made a lasting impact? What did you learn from them? What specific qualities did this teacher possess that made them such a great mentor?

I have been blessed to study with many excellent teachers. The two who were most impactful are my mentor, business partner, and ballet teacher, Jody White, and later in life, somatic modern dance teacher, Bill Evans. Ms. White instilled in me a love for the art form and recognized and supported my desire to teach. She was wise, generous, creative, and interested in training the “whole person.” Mr. Evans continues to inspire me. At age 84, he still teaches, performs, and offers certification in Evans Somatic dance technique. He advocates for teaching the whole dancer, and invites us to learn from the living body, to be curious and to “teach what you want to learn”.

Do you have any advice for aspiring teachers or students of the movement practice?

My advice would be to order a copy of “Teaching What You Want to Learn” by Bill Evans. You can buy it on Amazon, and it’s a rich resource for movement teachers.

Your teaching philosophy:
You mentioned in our phone conversation a “go with the flow” approach. Did this philosophy develop over time, or was it always present in your teaching?

I was actually talking about how I tend to flow through life… I trust and have faith in innate goodness. As for my teaching philosophy, I believe in teaching the people in the room, and I strive to be present and inclusive while offering a range of movement possibilities. So, “going with the flow” may mean adjusting the lesson plan, the choreography, etc.

As Mr. Evans has said, “We are all in this together, but each of us is having a different class.” When I first began teaching, I “covered” my whole lesson plan and I used specific dance and anatomic vocabulary. I did not use very much imagery or many opportunities for students to explore their own personal uniqueness. Now I incorporate improvisation and give time for self-reflection. I would like to be better at offering more imagery and pathways for self discovery.

Your teaching experience:
Throughout your teaching career, did your openness to possibilities lead you to unexpected opportunities or paths within the world of movement and dance?

I am very fortunate to have been offered teaching and choreographic opportunities through recommendations, and I haven’t often applied for work.

I saw a colleague at a hardware store one summer, and she asked whether I would be interested in taking over her position for nine months. She didn’t return, and I ended up staying for twenty years!

My interest in many dance styles led to performances with a Brazilian Dance company and teaching in Brazil, and my choreographic collaborations with Indian Bharata Natyam and Kathak dancers, which led to touring with Zakir Hussain and the Rhythm Experience. But I do wonder sometimes… What if I had committed to that Directorship in Alaska or taken that job in Maui years ago?

What are some of the most rewarding moments you’ve had as a teacher? What are the things you enjoy most about teaching?

Each day is a gift, and I enjoy sharing movement possibilities with others, so if the class ends with everyone glowing, that feels good. I have also enjoyed hearing from many former students —- some are dancing in college, some are teachers, some are professional dancers. Many tell me they are thankful for their dance experience, and some tell me, ‘I am not dancing but I still practice yoga.’

In the nineties, I formed a pre-professional dance company, and part of their training was in Ashtanga Vinyasa. I choreographed “Vision Quest Journey” — a balance between the energy of modern dance and the meditative quality of yoga asana. The program was featured in Yoga Journal and I received many letters from all over the world, with questions and offers to guest teach.

As Director of Dance at a college preparatory school, I incorporated Hatha Yoga in the curriculum and created a yoga club for an after school physical education requirement. Yoga was also a consistent offering in a Dance for Men course I designed. It grew to four class levels and many students danced all 4 years.

I also remember the many creative movement classes for 4 and 5 year olds that I taught and how rewarding that was: Their joy, giggles, and hugs… and I acknowledge what a big responsibility it is to be a child’s first dance teacher.

Thank you Sharonne, for the conversation. And a big thank you to Renée and all the faculty, staff and students for welcoming me into the ‘ohana.

In this beautiful chaos that life is, I’m inspired by Georgia’s art of flowing on the ever-moving river of experience and opportunities.

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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)