Vicki's Jumpstart Guide

Photo by Grayce Dello Joio, 1955

Autobiographical Summary

I've always loved to move. — My mother, who had been a professional ballet dancer, began sending me to different children's dance classes as early as when I was 3 years old. One of the biggest joys that I remember from that age was to improvise a dance while my father, a professional composer, played the piano.

In fact, it was customary that when my parents had friends or colleagues over in the evening, I would be asked to dance as my father played. I can remember even then, imbuing my movements with meaning, with story. For example, I remember one particular gesture in which I drew my hands from my chest and imagined scattering love from my heart to each individual in my "audience". It was with a shock of recognition that many years later I encountered a similar movement in Chi Kung which, I learned, was intended to emanate essentially the same thing.

Learning to access the cellular wisdom that I've always sensed each of us carries in our bodies, and exploring ways in which energy moves, have held magnetic interest for me all my life. In this pursuit the two strands of martial arts and expressive arts have always interwoven. Whether it was as a very young girl dancing in a children's Isadora Duncan ballet, as a student of various kinds of exercise from Yoga to aerobics, or as a dedicated practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan and then Chi Kung, my experience of "this feels right," of knowing instinctively that exploring physical movement in different ways was a right path for me, has been consistent. The various and seemingly disparate disciplines that I have immersed myself in for the last 40 plus years have each in their own way contributed to the formation of the philosophy as well as to the practices of the Way of Joy.

My first important teacher was Jack Romano, a Cuban Italian Jewish refugee who, in 1967, established The Experimental Workshop of America, a teenage repertory theater company in New York City. I was a shy, even reclusive young person before meeting Jack when I was in my early teens. My mother had encouraged me to take part in summer stock theater productions, and she eventually enrolled me in acting classes, believing that this would help me to emerge. Studying acting and theater with Jack, and, subsequently, performing as a principal in his company, was a transformative experience for me. I became more self-confident, even comfortable performing for people. Perhaps even more important, however, the theater company itself, a group of teenagers working together with the common goal of creating art, was a community, an alternative family, where each of us was encouraged to shine, to express ourselves through our creativity. It was there, I think, that my appreciation and understanding of the value of self-expression in the context of community was sparked.

While still a teenager, I attended a couple of summer acting programs. The first was at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh where I began to develop an interest in mime. I found that I loved the meticulous physical discipline required to execute this particular art. This led naturally to the martial arts when, in 1970, I attended the young actors program at ACT (The American Conservatory Theater) in San Francisco. The program included a course called Tai Chi for Actors and was taught by Master Wong, an old man in his eighties. Tai Chi was still pretty new to mainstream American consciousness at that time, and although I had not yet experienced or heard about the spiritual or health enhancing aspects of the art, I loved the movement of the form itself, and Tai Chi joined with mime in becoming favorite components of my education.

Upon returning to New York, I continued to study acting at the Hagen-Berghoff Studio (with Herbert Berghoff ) and mime with Michael Henry. Challenged by and fascinated with the improvisational tools that I was learning, I began to be exposed to the ways in which movement might become a means of both discovery and communication which could express that which words could not. During that summer of 1971, I also began to work as a professional in the fitness field, teaching calisthenics, Yoga, and stretch.

From 1972-1976, I attended Sarah Lawrence College, where in addition to my regular academic curriculum, I began to follow my passion for exploring different forms of movement disciplines, everything from Circus Skills to Martial Arts. It was at Sarah Lawrence that I met my second important teacher, Katya Delakova, who had worked extensively in Israel with Moshe Feldenkreis and who was one of the first people to bring his work to the United States.

I worked intensively with Katya over the next four years studying Tai Chi, Aikido, the Feldenkreis Method, and Yoga , as well as Katya's own unique method of exploring creativity through movement. Her way of teaching was integrative and interpretive, a blend of her years of experience and expertise in many different movement fields. She was a charismatic and inspiring teacher who synthesized different disciplines to create a technique that explored ways to access wisdom that is sourced in the body and then to express that wisdom creatively. She soon became a model for me of how to teach; that is, how to inspire and draw forth people's abilities to work with their bodies both energetically and creatively in an environment that was accepting and supportive.

After studying Yang style short form Tai Chi with Katya for a couple of years, she introduced me to its creator, Master Cheng Man Ching, one of the first Chinese masters in New York's Chinatown willing to open his school to non-Chinese. I continued my study of that form and also took the opportunity for some semiprivate advanced form-correction work with Ed Young, a senior student at that school. I then moved on to an advanced practice of Tai Chi pushhands and Ba Gua, an elaborate form done with a partner, with Master Franklin Kwong, in which I was I was the only non-Chinese student in the class.

As part of my college work, I went to Paris in 1974-5 where I pursued my interest in mime, studying with the late Etienne Decroux, the man who laid much of the contemporary groundwork for that discipline, including being the teacher of Marcel Marceau. I steeped myself for two years in his highly meticulous technique of using the body and the art of mime as a language of physical vocabulary.

During this period, I also took the opportunity while in Paris to enroll in a school of Commedia del' Arte with Jacques Lecoq, to study dance and to learn a new form of movement originating in the solar plexus with an eccentric old woman named Elle Foster, whose exploration of the body was based on the study of classic Greek sculpture.

I supported myself by teaching exercise classes and by figure modeling for artists. (It is with some dread that I imagine that in some small park in France there may be a statuette of me "reclining"...)

Before leaving Europe, I assisted Katya in Germany in a month long experimental workshop on non-verbal communication through various movement disciplines, where, in particular, I began to teach Tai Chi.

I wrote a senior thesis for my BA called "Studies in Movement," which was an interdisciplinary project through the departments of psychology, anthropology and religion. Its focus was the uses of movement and non-performance oriented dance and was based on my study with Decroux and on the Yaqui Easter Festival which I attended in Tucson and where I first saw movement used in a spiritual context in ritual. In the course of working on that project, I began the practice of what has become a life-long fascination of pulling together threads from different disciplines and weaving them through an interpretation of their meanings.

After graduating, I moved to Baltimore and commuted once a week to Sarah Lawrence to teach Katya's classes in Yoga and Tai Chi while she was on sabbatical. I also taught Tai Chi at The Baltimore School, an alternative school for adults, where I soon became a part of the staff. By this time, I had quite a lot of movement practice under my belt, and I began to explore and develop a class that was a combination of a kind of meditative stretch and joint mobilization that I later named Meridian Stretch. The experimental class was a success and I was encouraged to learn that my students continued to practice and self teach for several years even after I left Baltimore.

In addition to teaching, I was also a member of a radio collective, the Great Atlantic Radio Conspiracy, that produced weekly half-hour political programs about anything from the politics of love to in depth examinations of giant multinational corporations.

I returned to Paris in 1976 for another year to continue my study of mime with Decroux and with Ella Jaroscowicz, leading performer with the Polish Mime Theatre. During that year I joined with two male partners to form a small troupe with whom I toured briefly in Switzerland. I soon realized that my heart's desire would be to return home to the US and to begin to work with women and creative expression, through theater, mime or some other form.

On my way home, I worked as a guest exercise instructor of Tai Chi, Yoga, and Cardiovascular health at the Rancho La Puerta, a health spa in Mexico, where I returned to teach several times over the next several years.

I finally settled in San Francisco where, in 1979, I became a founding member of the San Francisco women's theater collective, Common Threads. I worked as director, choreographer, co-writer, producer and performer with this company for the next six years. In 1981, I began my study of Kajukenbo Kung Fu, a hybrid system from Hawaii based on Karate, Judo, Jujitsu, Kenpo and Chinese Boxing, with Colleen Gragen with whom I studied for seven years. Increasingly interested in exploring new martial arts, I also took Judo classes, and was introduced to Chi Kung through some of the Martial Arts Camps I attended. I supported myself during this time with what became a 20 year career as an aerobics and fitness instructor, continuing to develop my work with Meridian Stretch and to teach private lessons in Tai Chi.

In 1984-5, Common Threads toured Europe with our show, In The Niche of Time. Before the tour began, three of us in the company attended a Women's Martial Arts and Fighting Camp in Holland where I taught a daily Tai Chi class and the three of us co-taught a workshop in self defense based on Kajukenbo. It was at that camp that I first met Master Khaleghl Quinn, who was teaching Chi Kung as well as Self Defense for Women, and who was to become my third important teacher. I was particularly delighted to find another martial arts teacher who was approaching her material interpretively, as I had been finding myself doing with Tai Chi, and who had brought that interpretation to such a highly refined level.

One evening, the camp held a talent show where we performed a scene from our show, in which much of my choreography was based on martial arts. As a result we were invited by several women, interested in both martial arts and eager to produce a feminist-oriented theater company, to come to their city or town to perform our show and to teach workshops in martial arts and self-defense.

In what seemed like a flurry of good fortune, we managed to set up an impromptu tour that took us through Germany, Holland, France and Switzerland for the next six months.

This time of traveling in a troupe in a van, performing theater and teaching martial arts and self-empowerment techniques for women was a highlight in my life.

I loved living in a nomadic community with a common purpose in which the content of both our show and workshops was integrated and expressive of issues that continue to be important to me today.

Soon after we returned to the U.S. in 1985, I contacted Khaleghl, who was living and teaching in Santa Cruz, California. I began to commute weekly to take classes in Chi Kung and Taoist Yoga with her. I particularly appreciated her blend of poetry, psychology and philosophy and her skill in blending Eastern with Western principles in a way that made them both accessible. Her interpretation of the Chi Kung forms is brilliant, and she has a special sense of how to apply the practice to our daily lives. Her profound understanding of how energy works and her exquisite ability to demonstrate the movement of chi, helped me move to a new depth with my own practices as well as learning the new Chi Kung forms which were to become a major part of the springboard for the Way of Joy Chi Kung system.

Photo by L.A. Hyder, 1988
  Concurrently with this period, after Common Threads disbanded, I created and performed a one-woman show "A Mime's Eye View" at the Theater Rhinoceros in San Francisco in 1988. My practice of Chi Kung became an integral part of the creation process, giving me the inspiration, courage, and stamina to embark on doing solo work.

With Common Threads I had had the opportunity to express artistically as part of a community. This solo project, fueled in part by Chi Kung, allowed me to move to a new level of artistic exploration by expanding the limits of my own personal creative expression.

I studied with Khaleghl for several years, and also organized workshops for her in the Bay Area. In 1990, a year after Khaleghl moved to England to open a new school there, I began, with her encouragement, to teach Chi Kung in San Francisco and Berkeley.

During my year-long preparation for teaching, I kept a solitary daily practice of two or more hours a day seven days a week. In retrospect, that probably saved my life because it was during that time I was hit by a car traveling at 30 miles an hour as I was crossing the street. I was thrown a great distance. This experience with near death deepened my spiritual connection with Chi Kung as it not only gave a context for the experience itself, but was an essential ingredient in restoring my health and vitality.

In 1992 I moved to Oakland, and in 1994 I established the Way of Joy Center. I continued to invite Khaleghl back to the Bay Area to teach my students and to further deepen my own work. During this same time, I also taught creative theater classes, improvisational movement, aerobics, and Meridian Stretch, as well as working as a creative coach, exploring the worlds of collage and writing. Except for occasional short gigs, my work as a performer went to the back burner as I devoted myself more and more to my Chi Kung practice and to the ways in which I could apply that practice to different areas in my life.

During this period it seemed that the more I practiced and taught Chi Kung, the more the Chi Kung forms themselves, along with the ways in which my students were applying the work, began to teach me. The stories and information about the Chi Kung forms introduced to me by Khaleghl's teaching began to expand and go in new directions. In addition, I found myself integrating information, understanding, and experience that had sprung from other disciplines that I had worked with and was teaching.

Then in 1998 I joined the Acts of Reconciliation Playback Theater Company, an improvisational performance group of actors and musicians. In the performances, members of the audience are invited onstage to tell stories from their lives and then the actors and musicians enact them on the spot. The Acts of Reconciliation Project: Healing the Wounds of History also uses arts and theater as a therapeutic tool, particularly to bring together polarized groups such as: sons and daughters of the Holocaust and the Third Reich, Japanese, Chinese and Koreans, African-Americans and European-Americans, Palestinians and Israelis, Deaf and Hearing cultures, in order to transform the pain of shared historical legacy into constructive action through the expressive arts.

The Playback Theater Company has also worked in the San Francisco City Jail with the RSVP/ Man Alive program where violent male offenders serving time are enrolled in a program to unlearn violence.This final piece of incorporating into my life a method of performing whose purpose is healing and restorative has been, along with the continued expansion of the Way of Joy school, my own reinforcment of what Joy is to me.

The system that I now call the Way of Joy has evolved into the nine principles, laws and practices that form the philosophy and springboard from which I continue to expand. Because of the nature of my background, training and experiences, the Way of Joy is integrative as well as evolutionary.

My goal as a teacher is to provide people with tools to feel empowered, to access their own internal sense of guidance and to express their own uniqueness in whatever ways best serve them. I believe that we hold wisdom within our very cells and that the Way of Joy Chi Kung system can provide a means or a key to access that cellular wisdom. As writer/poet Monza Naff reminds us, the origin of the word "discipline" is "disciple" and we can learn to become disciples of our greater or wiser self.

At the same time, I believe that individuals exist in relationship to a larger community and the world. So part of what we explore in the Way of Joy is how do we interact with our communities, how do we bring our unique talents, observatons, wisdom to the greater whole, whether it be in the context of family, chosen family, work life, community or social-global activism.

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Way of Joy Center, 5175 Miles Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

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