An Interview with Claire Turner Reid ~ From Ballet to Taijiquan (Tai chi)
Claire, what drew you to Tai Chi (Taijiquan)?
During my early 20's, I was having a challenging time and a dear friend recommended the practice to me. I was feeling lost at the time and was seeking a way to connect again. For much of my life I'd trained in ballet - which trained me in keeping energy quite elevated in my body. This was useful for helping me maintain good posture as a tall human in the world, but as I'm tall and not petite, training in this form for so long led to a big disconnect for me. I knew that I needed to spread my feet on the earth, deepen my breath, and take up space.
“..then, when I was a teenager my father taught me Qigong to help with anxiety I was experiencing at school. He also taught me how to consult the I Ching. These practices were like little oases of peace and spaciousness during my tumultuous teenage years.”
I know you've been training for years, how many and what did the succession of that look like? What keeps you engaged with it?
In the 80's my parents trained with a Qigong master who fled China during the Cultural Revolution. As a child I used to watch them practice together - sometimes with their Sifu in a giant gymnasium in Toronto, and also at our home in Guelph where they would practice together in our backyard or living room. It was fascinating to me... confusing because I felt something tangibly powerful happening, but had no words for it. As a child I'd try some of the moves I saw them doing... then, when I was a teenager my father taught me Qigong to help with anxiety I was experiencing at school. He also taught me how to consult the I Ching. These practices were like little oases of peace and spaciousness during my tumultuous teenage years. Then, later in my adult life, I joined Spiritwind Internal Arts where I began training with Sifu Dylan Kirk. I started classes in 2010, thinking I would take the occasional class to learn some slow meditative movement - but what happened was I dove down the rabbit hole. I signed up for all of the classes at the school with all of the teachers - Qigong, Taijiquan, Baguazhang, and Gongfu and took five or six classes every week. I just loved it all so much - it felt like I was being reunited with an old friend. Then, before I knew it, I was teaching some of the beginner level classes at the school. I recall my teacher saying that after 10 years of intensive, dedicated study of these practices, only then are you beginner. And I truly believe that. There is so much depth and richness in these practices and philosophies and I'm constantly and curiously engaged. Timing-wise, I suppose I'm just now a beginner!
“There is so much depth and richness in these practices and philosophies and I'm constantly and curiously engaged. “
What is your dance back ground? What kind of dance projects have you been working on lately? performance? teaching? What do you love about dance?
I started ballet when I was four years old and continued with ballet, modern, and jazz until I was sixteen. I quit because I had health issues, pointe work was destroying my feet and ankles, and my soul was not being fed. Then I met David Earle, who opened up the world of dance to me again in the most inspiring way - literally helping me breathe life back into my body and rediscover dance. Another big shift and influence has been the Axis Syllabus, which has helped me learn and feel into how my body is put together and has supported all of my movement and teaching practices in countless and bountiful ways.
In terms of performance, most recently, I was lucky to work with Andrea Spaziani in her work "Silver Venus" - an ensemble re-creation of the persona of Venus. I love how dance asks questions through embodiment. Often, society imposes and insists answers onto bodies... the dance I love, relishes in questions rather than answers and allows the whole bodymind to be at the roundtable in the conversation. I teach dance classes under the name "Collaborative Pathways" where I share my love of sequential movement that brings the body into collaboration - prioritizing communication between parts over aesthetic form.
How do you like to teach Qigong and Tai Chi? What styles do you teach? What styles or lineages will be introduced at the March retreat?
There are so many rich elements and various aspects inherent in these practices - energetically, anatomically, philosophically, and spiritually - and I love sharing from different lenses. I teach Yang style Tai Chi (Taijiquan), though with Spiritwind Internal Arts we practice both Yang and Chen styles. I teach some of the more codified Qigong forms such as the Ba Duan Jin and the Yi Jin Jing but I also teach some lesser known forms (I like to joke that they're forms you can't find on Youtube!). They were passed on through the lineage of my teachers - Sifu Chik Qadir Mason and Sifu Dylan Kirk. I also teach Radiant Lotus Women's Qigong developed by Daisy Lee. At this retreat, I'll be sharing Qigong along with Yang style Tai Chi practices - including Tui Shou (known as Pushing/Listening Hands), meditative form practice, and simple and effective self defense tools - all of which are integral parts of Tai Chi practice.
A few years ago I took a Radiant Lotus Women's Qigong workshop with you - what is that about? I am looking forward to having you come to Cedar Healing Arts again to share that with women.
I would love that, Sonja! Radiant Lotus Women's Qigong was developed by Daisy Lee as a healing and empowering self-care practice for women. The bodies of people sexed female have some unique attributes and energies so the forms and practices in RLWQ often work with the energy of the breasts, ovaries, and uterus. It is a deeply nourishing and powerful practice that has helped me immensely on my healing journey and I'm so grateful to Daisy Lee for this gift she's sharing with the world.
What does working with the elements and seasons mean to you?
To me it means attuning to cycles and phases that are present and at work all around us all of the time. It means understanding that we are all connected. It means honouring life cycles, death cycles, growth cycles, moon cycles, and on and on... it means being in the flow of change. It means cultivating listening so that we can bring ourselves into harmony with different energies around us. It means honouring all bodies and the earth - and it means understanding that all bodies and the earth are related. One thing that resonated for me when I started learning about Wu Xing/Five Phases theory is that Earth is the element that supports the transitions - it's the element/phase that is part of the wheel but is also the centre where we touch into during transitions. This feels so pertinent in the practices I do because to attune deeply, within the flow of all transitions, I always connect and come home to earth.
You are currently studying Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, what made you decide to do that?
Over the years, without planning it, I began teaching more and more Qigong. With much in life, I enjoy doing intensive deep dives into what I'm exploring and integrating - and in Canada, the main way that I saw that I could do this with Qigong, was to study the medicine tradition with which it evolved. This also coincided with Traditional Chinese Medicine becoming the primary healing modality that was proving most effective for me on a variety of fronts - for everything from acute injuries, to longterm chronic internal issues, to digestive and menstrual issues... it just continued helping me so deeply and effectively that I wanted to learn more.
What is your favourite Tai Chi form?
Oh, they can each be so special - like songs. But if I had to choose one, it would be the very first form I learned - the Yang 37-posture. It was the first form I became friends with and if I only have time to practice one form, that's the one I do. It also has this beautiful coiling section of leg sweeps, circling in all directions - the dancer in me loves that bit.
What does self care look like and mean to you?
For me self-care is cultivating deep listening, awareness, and kindness. It's not just one set of activities, behaviours, or meditations - it's a dynamic response to the deeply intuitive wishes of my whole self in relation to the cycles around me. Sometimes that manifests as doing my practice, taking a bath, dancing, cooking, napping, singing, studying... it can be so many things! Qigong is the main practice that has helped me cultivate this sensitivity, intuition, and deep listening.
“For me self-care is cultivating deep listening, awareness, and kindness. It's not just one set of activities, behaviours, or meditations - it's a dynamic response to the deeply intuitive wishes of my whole self in relation to the cycles around me.”
If you would like to join us, March 1 -3, 2019, for a beautiful Qigong and Tai chi Meditation and Movement retreat in a wonderful opportunity to learn with Claire please follow the link below for more info.