Circles of Women

Our recent women’s event was in a beautiful space at the Bargehouse (part of Oxo buildings, Southbank), well heated and well attended – with 5 models, and about 10 artists. Poses from 1 – 15 minutes, some with movement. We began dynamic and expansive, and perfected the art of very slowly opening up from an enclosed pose (3 and 5 minutes). In 3 minutes, they had moved so slowly, that when time was up, I found they had hardly opened at all! So I decided on a second round, longer to allow them to complete the movement.

All artwork from the women's session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15

All artwork from the women’s session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15

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The artists sat in a circle, some drawing in sketch pads, others leaning a board on a chair in front, one or two with their own mini easels set up. Within this circle, the models had a sheeted and cushioned area in which they created their own circles from time to time as they posed.

In daylight before we began

In daylight before we began

We created 5 minute poses for each element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Beautiful ensembles with flames, blowing in the wind, waves, and the solidity of Earth.

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Hands reached up in a blaze of flames

There was a mix of experienced models including Ursula (a full time model and performance poet), and Claire (professional model, writer and feminist artist from the 80s, returning now with mastectomy), and Paula (relatively new). New models included an opera singer, who sang with Ursula in a sonorous pose; also another totally new model.

operatic notes on a page

operatic notes on a page

That was an impromtu inspiration as the singing model was clearly keen, and we have done that sort of thing before at A Human Orchestration a couple years back, so it felt enjoyable to revisit musical models. Really adds to their presence, and in this case, her voice was so powerful that the room shook. I’m not joking, and I wasn’t even next to her, touching her, so I can only imagine the vibrations in the inner circle. At least one artist was moved to tears, and several said they drew differently as touched by her tones.

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Artists familiar, as well as some from the drawing symposium (we were a part of the Southbank Festival of Creativity) made their marks.

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A real pleasure to return to my perhaps most passionate area of Spirited Bodies – the sacred women’s space! Though I don’t make much of any spiritual angle, keeping the session within life art/performance narrative, there is an extra element of care and consideration that is about feeling safe, to be all that we are. We are aware, as women together, some of us nude, that we could have body hang-ups, and maybe sometimes we do. But in that space, we are supporting each other to move past that, and enjoy the bodies we are in. We create solidarity, without judgement for ourselves or each other, embracing difference. And that is all that is needed, together with listening to each other, to make a very special warm, shared healing experience.

bending in the wind

bending in the wind

We don’t have to have been especially hung-up to benefit immensely; we all gain from the shared liberation, and witnessing each other being and blossoming. Creating a helpful, proactive, responsive community as well, as we connect more, building friendships. In the end, it is the love between us that grows our collective power, beauty, resonance and connection.

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There is space within poses for individuals to practise their own spirituality possibly. Over years of modelling, I believe I have learnt how to very quickly access a meditative state, it is second nature. I smile automatically when discomfort prevails, as doing this alters my mind state to strengthen me, minimising pain. What is more tricky is the muscles reminding me subsequently, that it was not such an easy pose I had fooled myself so well of!

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I also talk some of the time, during the session to point out how poses do or don’t work, to guide the models as well as instructing artists, in a different sort of life class! I played a bit of music too, but at the start, I instinctively wanted to let the silence take hold, bringing peace to all of us who had braced ourselves through the city to get there that evening.

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I love circles of women. Last night I danced to the full moon with sisters in a church in Vauxhall. I vary in how much I am feeling it each month, but yesterday was very serene. The DJ, Sarah Davies, gave a little talk on body language which felt very pertinent, it spoke to me. How we hold ourselves affects the way we feel, and vice versa. So we can use this to make ourselves feel stronger, even when we are not necessarily there yet emotionally, or mentally. Create bold, confident shapes with our bodies to empower ourselves.

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I have noticed over the years, that I had to let go of jobs where the artists were too proscriptive about poses, as if I am not in control of them, it can more likely damage my well-being emotionally (as well as physically).

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I love how the full moon women’s dance is run by a bunch of women, tending to be about 10 – 12 years my senior I reckon. They and many of the dancers, are yoga, dance, alternative healing practitioners and artists, so a lot of strong energy in the space, and quite a few run their own women’s spaces. The chairs are cleared from the space and I set to hoovering crumbs, leaves and dust off the massive carpet. It takes a goodly amount of time, especially as I am enjoying being inspired by my moves with the vacuum cleaner! About two thirds of the way through the task, the sound system has been erected, and music begins to fill the church. Housework gets me into my first dance.

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A pair of artists unravel and place items on an altar, immediately in front of the church’s own, which is behind decorated gates. After I have stocked up the toilets with paper, and put the moon pictures up, Sara hands me her palo santo to be burnt, and wafted about to cleanse or smudge the space.

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Low-lit by highly hung chandeliers, the whole church resonates to the ska, hiphop, dance, world, ambient and darkly gothic music. We are moving through waves, rhythms of our feminine expression, of lyrical, flowing, chaotic, staccato and still bodies. I get a lot from this group. I take my friends there, and gradually get to know some of the women I meet there. It is a source of shared knowledge and deeper friendships.

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For me, the instructions through the mic from the DJ about how to move (just suggestions), and what we may be feeling, are often jarring with my own inner journey. I am well habituated to getting into my groove. I discovered at 18 I think, on the dance floor at Slimelight among other venues, how to reach ecstacy through dance, and I wasn’t always on drugs believe it or not! It was a passion, and I knew movement (beyond the everyday) would always be part of my life. I trained in physical theatre at Rose Bruford drama school, in South East London in the early noughties. I wasn’t a great student, but I did appreciate the variety and intensity of some of the outlandish practitioners we immersed ourselves in.

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Still, I do appreciate how having an MC helps to bind the group at times, as well as nurturing some of those who may be newer to dance or being part of such a group. It’s lovely to be in a group that is run by women, repurposing the church of a monthly evening, a church which in fact lends itself to a number of new age groups. At one particular phase of the evening, all the women start howling into the air, for a long long time. So happy to hear their voices, and to be taking up space as Sarah wanted.

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Another women’s space I would like to bring your attention to, is run by Calu Lema, as part of her Naked Movement project. She describes her philosophy, background and intentions very well, and – Details of her next women’s (naked) space, are here.

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I have naturally often thought, how good it would be if the full moon dance was also naked! I wasn’t thinking that yesterday though. The heating was blasting, and we were moving fast some of the time, but it is a big space, so didn’t feel cosy for nudity. Not that that’s really an option here… even in Summer. I also appreciate how it would be highly unlikely that you would get that many women at a naked dance, sadly at the moment. It is very cool to be with so many women dancing though.

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My own next women’s event is on Sunday 13th December, at Tanner Street, close to Tower Bridge, from 11am – 1pm. For trying life modelling and/or drawing, with some gentle exercises to get comfortable with posing, as well as explore how the poses we choose may enhance ourselves and others. Nudity is optional. Naked, we may open up more to each other, face more of ourselves beneath the layers, and appreciate our natural beauty and body shapes. But it’s not for everyone. Artists are usually clothed, and sometimes, after a few years or so of coming to Spirited Bodies, artists pluck up the courage to bare all themselves!

a sea of bodies

a sea of bodies

 

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The Warmth of Women

I am so glad we decided to make a workshop at Sh! This is a special environment where women may explore their sexuality in a totally welcoming space. It is much more than a specialist sex shop; it has an ethos to reach women where they have not been touched before! It is an intimate space downstairs where we created Spirited Bodies magic within this new setting. Surrounded by dildos, vibrators, whips, paddles and lubricants we eased into poses on the pink oval couch that had a fetish feel. One of our artists was very comfortable directing poses due to her frequenting of fetish clubs; I took full advantage. Not that I am shy, but when you can see someone flowing with inspiration for ideal use of props and the angle of each limb, it is a gift for all to let that unfold. Thelma and I just tweaked some of these poses according to our knowledge of modelling, and making allowances for the newness of these models who want to try a novel experience more in some cases than have a realistic experience of life modelling.

Here are some pictures from this unusual workshop which hopefully we will try some time again.

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I initiated proceedings with a 6 minute pose; the average pose was 5 minutes

I initiated proceedings with a 6 minute pose; the average pose was 5 minutes

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I made suggestions to models about levels and relative openness or closedness of the body, as well as direction of limbs, and as well they found their own postures to fit with the other model’s shape.

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dynamic and fun

dynamic and fun

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These fabulous felt-tip pen line drawings are by Lily Lemaire

These cartoonesque felt-tip pen line drawings are by Lily Lemaire

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Most participants came primarily to try modelling, and a couple preferred drawing, but they too had a go at posing. They said that it helped them understand the models’ point of view.

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Collection of underwear models, or a ridiculous all girl band as one of them observed!

Collection of underwear models, or a ridiculous all girl band as one of them observed!

Colourful finale pose

Colourful finale pose

Artist Khadijah likes to use oil pastels I believe

Artist Khadijah likes to use oil pastels I believe, bringing out tone more than line

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a pink feather boa connected the models

a pink feather boa connected the models

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The costumed model presents different considerations for the artist; clothes draw attention to other features and shapes which the nude does not.

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A light touch; it is so warming when participants get into the spirit of friendly posing with each other they have not met before

A light touch; it is so warming when participants get into the spirit of friendly posing with each other they have not met before

I thought afterwards, coming into this shop for a class, these women would not be likely to be phased!

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Pleasing parallel lines and angles

Pleasing parallel lines and angles

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While life or clothed modelling is not necessarily sexy, it can be. Above all we want to promote women being comfortable and confident in their bodies – sexually and otherwise. Often being at ease with one’s form may enhance sexual confidence, in a truthful way that is not about doing what is expected of us, or what we think we ought to do, but by being ready to sense our own desire and act on it appropriately. Being able to appreciate ourselves allows us to appreciate others more, and be appreciated by others. While the body can be a very sacred place, we easily become disconnected from it in our mentally driven lives. But if we take time to tune into what is going on inside, and learn to move our bodies however we can to enjoy them, we begin to intuit more the language of the body.

As I move from pose to pose, especially but not exclusively the quick (and movement) ones, there is hardly any time in between poses when I am working, to recover the body to its natural equilibrium, to eliminate aches and cramps. My body tells me which limbs to work as I form a new shape; more than the alternation of muscle groups (though that is part of it) its language is subtle and beyond logical. It knows I am performing a sequence, that there is a climax mid-flow of muscular tension when I will pass through a pain barrier and I will surpass artists’ expectations of what I can hold. I push myself because I am like a gymnast aiming for gold, I take my modelling seriously because I love it. It is my gym, my yoga and sometimes my dance. It strengthens my core and warms my very being. It takes me to places of trance, of deep joy and wild amusement I cannot possibly describe to you because it is so in the moment, the way it lights my smile challenging the artists to catch it! Sometimes it is tantra too and it turns me on, and if I were a man I would have to master myself quite heroically not to offend people and risk not being booked and getting a tarnished name. As a woman I can hide it if I want though sometimes my sexuality is discerned – naturally I am being closely observed, and enjoying it. That is even turning me on too; part of a pleasure loop of enjoying myself, being enjoyed by others. But it is not deemed offensive; though it affects me physically this is subtle compared with a man. Instead I am likely to wear a translucent glow and my pheromones reach the artists subliminally (or not). I am sometimes booked because I am sexy, though not in an obvious way, because that is not my style. I mean, it is pleasing to artists consciously or otherwise that I am in tune with my sexuality and I know how to handle it. It makes me confident and that is attractive. It is about my physicality and my nature. I know that life modelling has enhanced this for me. It was always there, a big part of me, being very sexy; but after becoming closeted a few years for social and personal reasons, the liberation afforded by life modelling was strong and so welcome. Now I share that as best I can with others.

Working so closely with my body and my beauty daily, I am acutely in touch with my cycle. I bring different energies at different times to modelling, from the highly charged and emotional, to the light and easy going, to the blatantly desiring, and commanding. Through meditation with energy work (visualising the flow and store of energy within the body) I aim to master better the hormonal drives in me. I have become so aware of my enslavement to a feminine cycle of emotions and desires, that I look to overcome this through deeper analysis, to channel all that powerful energy to put it to best use. Not to move beyond sex, but rather reach a higher source of sexual power, which is ultimately more feminine, unbound by time or undue strain.

I will add that there are many different types of life model and I am just one. Our individuality is the beauty of our game.

One of the women who participated on Thursday evening wrote to us the next morning;

“Thank you for a wonderful evening last night. I thoroughly enjoyed the modelling and the theme was right up my street 🙂 I am absolutely interested in modelling again in the future, I think my preference would be all women groups at least for the first few sessions since I am a newbie! I am not so keen on the drawing side as my skills in drawing are so inadequate!”

Thelma responded, “Thank you 🙂 It was an absolute pleasure and to see you ‘warming up’ to the experience. That is why I like SB – there is an indescribable feeling of fluidity, freedom and togetherness – spirited bodies, like minded embracing ‘the nude’, our nude in a practical, loving, flowing into unconscious way – if that makes sense! I fully understand about the drawing side – when I draw I try and do a ‘small bit’ or part of the pose or just try and get the positions to practice perspective.”

Finally the young woman wrote, “I am exploring and learning so much about myself and the world through my body and its empowering and  incredibly freeing. I have always been very comfortable with my body, but unfortunately have been surrounded by a lot of people who aren’t! That can really limit who you are when trying to be sensitive to other people’s hang ups.

I am delighted to have been in the space of women who love and appreciate their bodies as they are :)”

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Nude modelling giving women confidence ~ my talk with Women on Fire

On Tuesday 23rd April I will address an audience of women at a Women on Fire event; it is part of their A Woman Cubed series. I will be speaking about how modelling nude may bring women confidence.

I will draw from my experience as well as that of some of our Spirited Bodies.

I will look at how nudity has changed in its status through history, how it has become incredibly sexualised where it used to represent purity. Indeed the naked body has been of the highest spiritual significance.  There is of course a political element; it may be convenient that a population ashamed of the natural human body is a society living in fear. In fear how easily are people subjugated and controlled? I may not have time in the talk to cover this element, but it is related.

I will discuss what is unique to life modelling; as well as the nudity, the usual silence and stillness. Shed of our daily trappings we have an opportunity to reexamine who we are.

This is a women only event.

About Women on Fire: “Women on Fire is designed to link up the women of the world who make brilliant things happen. It promotes women as decision makers, especially in the many areas that have a direct effect on the wellbeing of all life on earth. It aims to embolden, uplift, inform and inspire women in all circumstances to live their power – but without the loss of lovely, feminine tenderness.”

Women on Fire founder Judith Seelig is a shaman and change maker. She will be talking about women letting go of judging ourselves and comparing ourselves to others.

To book tickets for this free event, register here; it takes place at Kings College London, from 7 – 9pm.

Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy

Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy

Judith by Tracey Fahy

Judith by Tracey Fahy

Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy

Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy

I first came across Women on Fire at a women’s business networking conference a couple years ago. I was looking at ways to take Spirited Bodies further; we had done one event and I was preparing for the second, which was called ‘The Ages of Woman’. One of the speakers at the London Women Mean Business event mentioned Women on Fire, so I checked them out. They had a big event coming up with some very inspiring speakers from Camilla Batmanghelidjh to Polly Higgins, covering many areas of life. I decided to go to their regular meetings and stay in touch. I am thrilled to be asked to take part in next week’s event!

Related articles:

Feminine Transmission

Fire Power

Life Drawing Therapeutic for Older People

Today I modelled at Jackson’s Lane community and arts centre in Highgate, North London. The group is for older people, 55+, but most are in their 70s and 80s.

I was touched when Edna, an 87 year old with a dowager’s stoop revealed her unexpected joy at coming to life drawing. A few years ago her spine had suddenly started to crumble, literally one day she felt it go. Formerly 5′ 6″ I think, she lost several inches and now walks with a frame. She said, “It feels like for the first time since my body became broken, I am facing that fact through examining another body. I can see what’s wrong by looking at another body that is functioning. The doctors never show you, and they don’t look at you nude either, (except when operating) though they have to treat you. No one wants to see your body when you are older; relatives don’t even take photos of me any more.”

Despite this sad tale, Edna expresses a lot of happiness on her smiling face and in her twinkling eyes. She has lived a lot throughout her life so far, working as a psychotherapist, travel writer and latterly a photographer. She used to climb mountains and dance a lot. Fellow artist Sheila suggests it is better not to look back because it may remind us what we have lost; better to look forward as life is always full of surprises!

Liz who runs the class has gotten to know the members quite well, and they feel safe talking about painful feelings sometimes connected with families who are unkind to them. One woman describes her children’s greedy interests in her home… and their lack of sensitivity or consideration for her preferences. She says she enjoys coming to the groups at Jacksons Lane where members are ‘pre-internet; they actually sit down and talk, tell stories.’ Her family dismissively say, ‘why would you want to hang around with that bunch of disabled people?’

Sheila and Edna both clearly have some experience of life drawing, and an artistic sensibility. As I photograph their work, they ask what for, so I explain about Spirited Bodies. I mention the 73 year old woman who had had 2 hips and a knee replaced so only posed sitting down, and did not tell her judgmental family. I also recount the recent appearance of 82 year old Arleen who is a life model (who has had a mastectomy), at our Southbank event. Edna and Sheila are all ears, asking where can they find out more? When will there be an opportunity in North London? It is as if I have poured a drop of hope into their midweek afternoon. The class awaits more funding to be resurrected (today is the last session in a series) and I sincerely hope it is.

my 1st pose is about 10 minutes with a bit of a twist

my 1st pose is about 10 minutes with a bit of a twist

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By the 3rd pose Edna has revealed her excitement at confronting an able bodied form, and how it is helping her understand her condition. I decide a spine view is in order

By the 3rd pose Edna has revealed her excitement at confronting an able bodied form, and how it is helping her understand her condition. I decide a spine view is in order

after a break of some coffee and cake, longer seated poses are decided on. It was very cold today, so I wrapped my coat round my shoulders

after a break of some coffee and cake, longer seated poses are decided on. It was very cold today, so I wrapped my coat round my shoulders

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the coat becomes part of the pose

the coat becomes part of the pose

I love this luxurious final pose!

I love this luxurious final pose!

Some lovely drawings by a very sweet group; rarely does life modelling feel so much like it could help someone.