Rare Nepali Dance Sponsored by Tara Dhatu Bay Area Circle

Helen Appell is one of the foremost instructors in the exquisite art of Charya, an esoteric dance form developed by the Newars of Nepal. It is based in Vajrayana Buddhism, the dancers embodying deities of the tradition’s profound practices. Helen lives in Portland, Oregon where she has been instrumental in developing Dance Mandal, a traditional Newar vihara and training center together with her teacher, Prajwal Vajracharya, a priest of Newar Buddhism and a master of the sacred Charya dance.
The Bay Area workshop was sponsored by the Albany Tara Dance Circle. Rev Jacquelyn Sendak Zavaleta, one of the organizers and a Tara Dhatu Level 2 Student Teacher, writes…….

Helen was pleasantly surprised to find her first dance teacher Barbara Framm attending the workshop. Years ago Helen had studied Indian Classical dance with Barbara, opening the door to immersing herself in the yogic arts for eleven years. This was a big transition from her training as a Zen priest at Green Gulch Farm.

Attendees to her Albany event were a wide combination of experienced dancers, Tara dancers and some having no experience at all. Helen’s teaching style was all embracive and everyone had a chance to experience the essence of Charya.

The dance practice began with hand and feet rotations, flexes, and various movements that stimulate the energy points connected to major organs and body parts. Prajwal teaches that these exercises keep dancers and musicians young. Helen’s youthful appearance and demeanor are a testimony to this rejuvenating spiritual practice.

We then learned movements and chants for a beautiful Refuge and
Bodhicitta prayer dance.

The basic steps and mudras were explained and demonstrated slowly and clearly. Helen instructed us to visualize being like a Redwood tree, rooted and nourished from the earth, the life force shooting straight up towards the sun, crown reaching into the limitless sky in order to meet our full potential. This uplifted feeling helped us to experience transcendence but still be grounded. “Through our arms, like a bodhisattva, we offer our essence, like a tree offers fruit from its limbs,” Helen added.

She encouraged us to consider our body’s left side as the female energy which is transcendent wisdom. The right side is the male energy, the active gestures of skillful means, just as these two energetic sides are displayed in the iconography of deities and their mudras.

Helen then introduced the movements of the 16 Offering Goddesses. We ended our practice session with a Dedication dance.

Some of the dance movements were a challenge to those just learning, but Helen said not to get discouraged, with practice it will come. We were all enthusiastic and look forward to inviting her back to share more of this exquisite tradition.

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