The Dancing Way

By Australia Aging Agenda
Case Study
August 2009

Attempts to minimise the use of medication to deal with agitation and other ‘challenging behaviours’ in caring for people with dementia, have led to a body of research supporting the use of various alternative and psychosocial approaches such as reminiscence, music therapy and aromatherapy.

“We try to use psychosocial interventions and avoid the use of medication. We have our own dementia consultant, but we also like to consult DBMAS (Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service, offered by Alzheimer’s Australia WA) for help, especially when we are having diffi culties,” says Angela Lowe, Care Manager at Brightwater Care’s Edgewater and Joondalup homes in the northern suburbs of Perth.

Wu Tao Dance

By PureCalma

The dance movements in Wu Tao are specifically choreographed to stimulate the Chi flow through the channels known as meridians. This combined with creative visualisation and the music which is representative of the energy of the element, work synergistically to bring the energy flow into balance. Wu Tao really helps to balance our emotional and mental states. Feelings of anger, grief, sadness, worry etc can be transformed when you dance.

This is very important as feelings block energy flow as do negative thought forms. Once this energy is flowing again and the feelings have been released, you are returned to balance and your feeling state is one of inner peace, joy and love. It is a wonderful thing to go to class feeling stressed about something and to leave feeling completely free of it and blissful! This is a common occurance in Wu Tao.

Wu Tao

By Wendy McCready
June / July 2013

Combining movement, meditation and music, Wu Tao – or ‘The Dancing Way’ provides a workout for mind as well as body. Wu Tao (pronounced woo dow) is the logical fusion of founder Michelle Locke’s two great passions: healing and dance. When she was forced to abort her career as a ballet dancer because of a back injury, Michelle found that Japanese shiatsu massage offered better pain relief than other more conservative therapies.

Michelle had always been a dancer. Talented and dedicated, she joined the West Australian Ballet Company in 1983, working with the legendary Dame Kira Bousloff. She had everything to look forward to. In 1984, however, she suffered a painful back injury. The pain affected the whole left side of her body.

“To stop dancing was unthinkable,” says Michelle. “It was a huge part of my life and my identity.” Dancing despite her pain, she persevered for nearly two years but finally left the Company in 1987.

Having tried physiotherapists and chiropractors, Michelle found Japanese Shiatsu was the only thing to offer real pain relief and a return to normal life. “The pain never really went but Shiatsu made it bearable,” she says.

Michelle is obviously not one to just dabble. Like her commitment to the ballet, she threw herself into Shiatsu and eventually established the Shiatsu School of Western Australia in 1992, and personally trained around 100 practitioners. She sold the business following the birth of her second daughter. “I was interested in getting people to work with their own energy and balance their own chi without having to have someone else put their hands on them.” Wu Tao was the result.

What It Is

Wu Tao is a healing therapy which uses dance, music, movement and meditation to balance the Chi (life-force energy) in the body. It has its foundations in Oriental medicine and is a system of healing, with a holistic philosophy and practice, that restores balance to the person on all levels.

Michelle describes it this way: “Wu Tao is an alternative to doing a class in yoga, tai chi or pilates. Not only is it a physical workout, it is a healing one as well. It is a therapy for body and soul, and works on many levels, the physical, energetic and spiritual. This is all done without too much thought. Rather, by performing the dances you become focused and still, and openings are created that allow a natural balance to be restored.”

What Happens When You Go

Wu Tao is, in fact, a 25-minute choreographed dance routine. There are five dances, each expressing one of the five elements of air, water, wood, fire and earth. Each element corresponds to two meridians. For example, the kidney and bladder meridians are governed by the water element, the air element governs the lungs and large intestine, and the wood element governs the liver and gall bladder.

The dances are learned and then performed to music chosen by Michelle to complement the energy and quality of the element for which it is used. “It is a beautiful thing to do,” said Michelle. “It’s not hard to learn, and people can do their own interpretation of things.”

Michelle’s choice of music reflects the quality of each element. For example, Cirque du Soleil’s upbeat Saltimbanco represents wood, with its youthful feel and sense of growth, while Bill Douglas ‘Deep Peace’ was chosen to embody the earth. “The earth element is the last dance. It’s where everything comes together. It’s very supportive and nurturing,” she says.

A typical Wu Tao class is comprised of stretches and warm-up, followed by learning and performing the dances. In a beginner’s class the dances are learned week by week. All five dances are learned over six weeks of classes. In a regular or advanced class the dances are done as a sequence and they are refined and perfected with each class. As the class develops, the emotional states, qualities and correspondences for each of the elements are explored and integrated into the dance. All classes end with meditation and relaxation.

Who Can Benefit?

Wu Tao has been designed so that mind, body and spirit are all enhanced. The dances have been developed so that the dancer’s chi is balanced and blockages are cleared. Health and energy levels are restored. The dance also stretches and tones the body so that the body becomes more flexible, muscle tone is improved and strength increased. Many dancers find that wu tao is excellent for dealing with stress – the music and movement calm the mind. According to Michelle: “It brings the pine elements of spirit and body together, allowing a blissful state of oneness to arise.”

How to Find a Class

Regular classes (including beginners) start every six weeks in the Perth suburbs of Fremantle, Cottesloe, East Fremantle, Floreat, Subiaco and Mandurah. Teacher training will be starting in Victoria and Western Australia in 2003, and Michelle hopes to take her program nationally. Contact her for more details: phone (08) 9335 1145; email:; or write to Michelle at 179 Healy Rd, Hamilton Hill 6163

(Wendy McCready is a health writer and full-time mother of three. She loves writing, not only “because it lets me escape from the daily chaos of domestic life”, but because she is passionate about health and environment issues that affect her family.)

Dancing Away the Pain

By Olga de Moller
Newspaper Article
February 2013

Artist Jan Swinney is dancing her way to wellbeing after battling a chronic illness which left her perpetually exhausted with debilitating joint pain. Diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) – an auto-immune inflammatory disease – four years ago, she turned to acupuncture and tai chi for relief but has found a dance therapy based on oriental medicine to be a remarkable stepping stone in renewing her zest for life.

Swinney believes Wu Tao (“The Dancing Way”) has been instrumental in the healing process by balancing her body, which has resulted in less joint pain, more energy and a greater sense of wellbeing.

“I started having acupuncture four years ago and took up tai chi, which I’d done previously, when I got better, but felt I needed something more,” she said.

“That’s when I came across Wu Tao, which has opened my body so the energy can flow through the meridians.”

“I may not be as graceful as some of the other people in my class and have to modify the movements to suit my abilities but it’s remarkably freeing and very balancing nonetheless.”

Developed by former ballerina Michelle Locke, Wu Tao is based on a series of five dances which balance the body’s chi, or life force, by activating and stretching the meridians, which, according to oriental medicine, are the channels through which our energy flows.

Each dance creatively expresses one of the five elements – air, water, wood, fire and earth – which each governs a pair of meridians.

Locke established the Shiatsu School of WA in 1993 after finding the ancient Japanese therapy was the only thing that relieved a painful soft tissue injury which forced her to give up her career with the WA Ballet Company several years earlier.

She has since sold the school to one of her students but went on to use her training in shiatsu to develop Wu Tao, which she teaches around Australia.

“It provides all the benefits of shiatsu without having to lie down for a massage,” she said.

“Some people take it up because they have physical problems but a lot come in simply because they love to dance and enjoy it as a form of exercise.”

Because diet was an integral part of oriental medicine, participants were also given guidelines on nutrition, with recipes combining Eastern and Western culinary traditions.

The dances consist of precise movements involving gentle stretching, swaying, bending and floor rolls, to open the meridians, which can produce a pleasant tingling sensation or warmth in the body.

In the air dance, participants visualize themselves as big birds flying through the sky to activate the lung and large intestine channels in the body. Locke said this dance, the first in the sequence, was designed to release grief and sadness, build a strong immune system and help relieve lung and breathing conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis.

The water dance was good for fatigue, back problems and releasing fear, while the fire dance was designed to put people in touch with their true self and develop healthy boundaries and clarity of mind.

In the wood dance, which frees the chi in the liver and gall bladder meridians, participants become the growing tree to release blocked and stagnant energy, balance strong emotions and improve the flexibility of mind and body.

The earth dance, the last in the sequence, starts with a series of leg raises, knee bends and arm stretches. It is intended to give thanks for everything in life and encourages the inpidual to nourish, love, nurture and support themselves.

Locke described Wu Tao as both movement and stillness, doing and being.

“It encourages the development of these qualities and an experience of being in the flow of the life force,” she said.

“In Wu Tao, while one is focused on doing the routine with the music, the mind becomes still and the body poised and balanced.”

Ulla McAllister, who has been doing Wu Tao for a year, is a convert. She said the dance sequence engendered a great sense of rapport in her group and had helped her put life into perspective.

“I don’t worry about things any more,” she said. “It’s very powerful and relaxing.”

Pria Martin said she had taken up Wu Tao because she wanted something with more movement than yoga.

“I have found very real physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits,” she said. “It stimulates the meridians and internal organs while toning the whole body.”

Locke will hold a demonstration class at the East Fremantle Lawn Tennis Club, on the corner of Petra Street and Preston Point Road, today at 7pm. Dance classes start this month in East Fremantle, Fremantle, Cottesloe, Floreat, Subiaco and Mandurah. Inquiries to 0417 989 397.

Healing Steps

By Keith McDonald
Newspaper Article
February 2002

A career-ending injury saw dancer Michelle Locke step out in a new direction which has inspired the creation of a dance therapy. Keith McDonald talks to her about Wu Tao. At the age of 23, Michelle Martin’s world collapsed. On the threshold of great things as a ballerina with the WA Ballet Company, her career was ended by a back injury.

She damaged soft tissue during rehearsal and battled through her pain for almost two years, still performing on stage, before bowing out in 1987 after three years with the company.

“I used to get pain from the lower left back, down my left leg and up my left side to my neck,” she said, 15 years later. “It affected the whole left side of my body. I couldn’t turn out my left leg properly.”

Trained by Dame Kira Bousloff, the legendary founder of the WA Ballet, the aspiring young dancer – now Michelle Locke – says she wasn’t desperately ambitious but giving up dance was almost unthinkable.

“It was a huge part of my life and my identity,” she said. “I loved ballet probably more than anything else in the world.”

“I had to come to terms with the fact that my back wasn’t going to get fixed. You go through a long grieving process and I don’t know that you ever get over it. But I am a fairly positive person and got on with my life.”

She went to many chiropractors and physiotherapists but it was only when she discovered the Japanese therapy, shiatsu, that she got some real relief.

Shiatsu not only took away the physical pain and enabled her to have a relatively normal life, it turned into a new career as she established the Shiatsu School of WA and trained about 100 people to be practitioners.

Now she has moved on again. She has sold the business to one of her students and developed Wu Tao (The Dancing Way), a therapy which combines dance, music and Chinese medicine.

Shiatsu, with its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, is the thread that weaves it all together.

The touch and pressure techniques of shiatsu stimulate the healing flow of chi (energy) in the body’s meridians.

“When I first found out about it in Adelaide in 1987, I had a couple of treatments and felt an instant relief,” Ms Locke said. “It never totally removed it but it made the pain bearable.”

She also decided to learn the techniques.

“The whole process of learning it was very good for me and for my back,” she said. “Your awareness of your body is heightened.”

Returning to Perth in 1992 and setting up the school the next year, she has been instrumental in popularizing the therapy here.

But her daughter Isabelle’s epilepsy – she takes her to Adelaide every two months for specialist treatment – made it difficult for Ms Locke to run the school and look after her other daughter, Dakota.

So two years ago she sold the school and tried to develop something new based on what she had learnt from oriental medicine.

“I was interested in looking at how I could get people to work with their own energy and balance their own chi without having to have someone else put their hands on them,” she said.

The result is Wu Tao, a mixture of original dance and ambient music which she describes as “the ultimate way to indulge both body and spirit in healing, balancing and invigorating experience.”

“Not only is it a physical workout, it is a healing one as well,” she said. “It is a therapy for body and soul, and works on many levels – the physical, energetic and spiritual.”

It is a 25-minute routine that creatively expresses the five elements of air, water, wood, fire and earth.

“Each element governs a pair of meridians or channels,” Ms Locke said. “That’s where the energy flows. For example, the air element governs the lungs and large intestine, while the kidney and bladder meridians belong to the water element.”

Her choice of music reflects the quality of each element. She said Bill Douglas’ tranquil Deep Peace captured the abundance of life which was embodied in the earth.

“The earth element is the last dance that we do,” she said. “It’s where everything comes together. It’s very supportive and nurturing. It’s like a prayer of gratitude.”

Wood, on the other hand, governed the liver and gall bladder and is like the energy of youth or a tree growing. The music – from Cirque de Soleil’s Saltimbanco – is much more upbeat, giving a sense of growth.

Ms Locke feels that Wu Tao will help people “feel at home in their bodies and be comfortable with the energy of being here.”

“It’s about reconnecting with your body and the earth in a way that’s beautiful,” she said.

“A lot of people try to escape the body. We blame the body for a lot of things – the physical pain we might feel, even emotional pain. But a lot of it is in our mind.”

“Lots of religions talk about having to transcend the body to become enlightened or released. However, I think that if we were truly to engage in the body and our physical existence, there’s a real bliss there that we probably miss.”

Ms Locke is starting Wu Tao classes this month at Churchlands, Fremantle, Cottesloe and Melville, and she says they are suitable for all ages. No previous dance experience is necessary.

“If you do all five dances, you will work up a bit of a sweat but it’s not excessively demanding,” she said.

Oriental Medicine and The Tao

By Michelle Locke
Magazine Article

All practices of Oriental Medicine, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shiatsu, Tai Qi, Qi Gung and Acupuncture, are based on principles that relate to the understanding of Qi and all have aims of harmonising and balancing the flow of Qi, in order to have the highest quality of life, which includes good health, longevity, happiness and peace.

In Oriental Medicine, there is no separation between any aspects of Life. There is only the ‘One’ with all parts of the ‘One’ being intricately connected to each other part, in a glorious tapestry of perfection. The original practices of Oriental Medicine began with Taoism. Tao means ‘the way’ or ‘the path’ and is considered to be ‘The source of all things’. From the Tao comes everything in the universe.

Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoist thought), says this in the Tao Te Ching,

“It has no voice or shape, it is eternal and indestructible. It does not exist in anything, and it is independent of everything. Therefore it may be called the mother of the world”

Within the Tao are contained all differences and opposites, what is known as Yin and Yang. Yin is the deepest substance at the core of all living function. Yang is the outer action on the surface of life. Yin and Yang are the two dynamic forces that support and balance each other in a dynamic dance of opposition and difference. They exist in everything, all aspects of life, and the energy that contains Yin and Yang is called Qi.

The Five Elements.

One of the main principles of Oriental Medicine is the Theory of the Five Elements. Put simply, this is an understanding that the elements that make up our physical universe, air (metal), water, wood, fire and earth, are all inter-connected and part of the ‘whole’. In Oriental Medicine, each element has specific correspondences, such as a colour, emotion, organ/s, direction, taste, smell and function We, as human beings, having a physical body and living on this planet, are also made up of these five elements.

Within the context of Wu Tao, the aim is to give the participant an experience and awareness of these elements within their own body and psyche, and hence to integrate and balance the Qi flow through the body, harmonising spirit, body, mind and emotions.

Wu Tao Dance

The dance aspect of Wu Tao, is what distinguishes it from other forms of Oriental Medicine therapeutic practices such as Qi gung and Tai chi. Dance can be a powerful healer. It is a unique form of expression, which can reveal subtle nuances of feeling and emotion. When you dance, the body becomes the vehicle for the soul to speak and as such, it is felt very deeply in the dance itself. The spirit does indeed soar through the body.

The beauty of dance lies partly in its ability to combine so well with music. If you can allow it, your body and its movement will connect with the music and a synergistic merging will take place. The music will carry you, indeed, take you, into an altered state of consciousness and into a different mode of awareness Any music, if you can merge with it, will give you this experience, but it is the experience of merging with music that uplifts the soul, that Wu Tao embraces.

When you join music (that you resonate with,) and movement, you will have a dance that affirms your life-force energy, lifts your spirit and helps you to connect with the innate healing power that resides within and around you.

In the practice of Wu Tao, the dance that balances the Air element, works specifically on the Lung and Large Intestine channels (meridians) in the body. The dance itself is a slow, flowing movement that embodies lightness, freedom and release. It focuses on the qualities of release and letting go, and corresponds to the season of autumn, the colour white, sound of weeping and the emotion of grief. The image to use when doing this dance, is that of a big bird flying in the sky, carried along by the wind. The music also reflects the qualities of the Air element.

To open up the Lung and Large Intestine channels, try these movements:

  • Stand with feet apart, feet underneath hips.
  • Swing one arm around in an arc, (a back stroke motion), watching the hand.
  • Repeat this movement with the other arm.
  • Now swing both arms back, together.
  • As the arms come down, link your thumbs together and drop your body forward, arms pulling up, knees slightly bent and head and neck relaxing as you hang forward.
  • Stay in this position for a moment or two.
  • To come up, drop arms, bend knees and gently roll up through the back.

The Water element governs the Kidney and Bladder channels. It relates to the function of building and storing Qi, the colour blue/black, the season of winter, sound of groaning and the emotion of fear. An image to use when doing the dance that balances the Water element is that of a seed, buried deep in the ground, full of potential. It is dormant and cold, awaiting the warmth of the spring sun to call it into life. In Oriental Medicine, the Water element governs the deepest structures of the body, including the bones, marrow, sexual organs, central nervous system and brain. The Wu Tao dance works specifically on the areas of the body that relate to the Water element, including the back, kidney and bladder areas and the backs of the legs.

The Wood element governs the Liver and Gall-Bladder channels. It is the season of spring, the colour green, sound of shouting and the emotion of anger. The Wood energy is strong and vital, focused and directed, it helps to shape your visions and dreams, through creative self-expression. The Liver in Oriental Medicine, assists in maintaining the smooth flow of Qi and blood through the body. Imbalances can cause stagnation of these substances, manifesting in symptoms such as headache, premenstrual tension, and irritability. The Wu Tao dance that balances the Wood energy, helps to release blockages in the Liver and Gall-Bladder Meridians by opening and stretching them. The dance itself is energetic and vibrant, allowing for free self-expression. It gives strength to the sides of the body (Gall-Bladder channel pathway) and the insides of the legs (Liver). It frees up blocked energy around the shoulder-blades, releasing tension and long held, stuck emotions.

To free up the Wood energy in your body, try these movements:

  • Bend your knees, sliding your right leg out.
  • Bring your arms out to the sides.
  • Stretch your legs and stretch both arms up to the sky.
  • Swing your body to the right side, stretching out and straightening the right leg.
  • Repeat this movement to the left side.

The Fire element governs four channels. These are the Heart, Small Intestine, Triple Heater and Pericardium. The season is summer, the colour, red, the sound of laughing and the emotion of joy. The energy of Fire is warm and inspirational. Radiating out from the centre, it is the ability to know ones True Self or Spirit, while living purposefully in the world. It also helps to separate out the impure substance from the pure, both physically and energetically.

The last element, and in some ways, the most important, is the Earth. The Earth governs the Stomach and Spleen channels. It is the season of late-summer, the colour, yellow, the sound of singing(?) and the emotion of pensiveness or worry. Here, in the element of Earth, everything comes together, which is why the Earth is often depicted as standing at the centre of all the other elements. It has the energy of stillness, meditation and gratefulness. In the Earth element, a time of harvest, you receive what is yours and acknowledge what you have. The abundance of Life and its gifts of nourishment and support can be palpably felt in this final dance of the Earth. The dance is centering, meditative and blissfully peaceful.

As a therapy, Wu Tao has healing as its purpose. It is also deeply satisfying to experience the oneness of Life in one’s own body, not just as the mind’s desire for it to be, but as an all encompassing wisdom of knowing, that is felt in every cell of your being.

By Michelle Locke.

Michelle Locke has a background in professional dance and Oriental Medicine. She teaches Wu Tao classes in WA and holds regular workshops throughout Australia.

A Healthy Movement

By Michelle Wranik
Newspaper Article
October 2004

A new way to find balance comes to Randwick. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi enthusiasts will be interested in a new spiritual discipline heading to Randwick this week.

Wu Tao (“The Dancing Way”), created by Perth mother Michelle Locke, is an exercise therapy that combines dance, music and meditation to reduce stress and increase overall wellbeing.

Wu Tao is based on the principle of releasing qi (pronounced “chee”) through a series of five dances expressing the elements of fire, water, air, wood and earth.

According to ancient Chinese wisdom, the human body succumbs to sickness, pain and health problems when the qi energy cannot flow freely. To combat blocked qi, Ms Locke developed Wu Tao, a form of movement based on her knowledge of a number of disciplines.

“I was trained as a professional ballet dancer originally, but I had to stop doing that because of a back injury,” Ms Locke said. “Then I started practicing Chinese medicine and I’d been doing it for such a long time, I guess it was just an extension of that – it was a way for people to get the benefits of the work I was doing without me having to put my hands on them.”

Within the first week of teaching the practice three years ago, demand grew from one weekly class to six. “It’s had an amazing response over here,” Ms Locke said. “It’s a very enjoyable way to do exercise and movement.”

The demand for Wu Tao has been so high that the dance movement will soon be available at various locations in Sydney.

Any skeptics should take heed of Ms Locke’s advice. “Through Wu Tao, I have learned to go with the flow and to embrace every experience, challenging or otherwise,” she said.

Randwick classes will begin at 7pm on Wednesdays at the Randwick Literary Guild, 60 Clovelly Road, Randwick.

For more information, phone Michelle Locke on (08) 9331 1604.

Hip & Healthy: Dance for Fitness

Newspaper Article

From Salsacise to Capoiera and Hip Hop, dancing is a fantastic way to work up a sweat. Many of us have imagined ourselves being able to dance perfectly; gliding over the parquet, arms held just so, and impressing the daylights out of friends and family.

And a quick look through the Yellow Pages in all capital cities confirms that this national craze for rhythm and the right moves is far from being a fantasy.

But in many cases, it’s not the Strictly Ballroom ethic that prevails – there’s a bewildering line-up of dance disciplines, from cardio belly dancing to Latin salsacise, many of which claim to be “better than the gym”, enticing people of all ages to swing or sway their way to becoming fit and toned. One of the main reasons that dance – whether it’s based on an ethnic tradition or a combination of elements, such as body focus, which blends capoeira, a Brazilian martial art performed to music, pilates and yoga – is making a strong comeback, is that gyms and fitness centres are taking a fresh look at their classes so children and parents can plan to do their exercise programmes together.

Also, many people don’t have the time or the inclination to enroll in lengthy Asian martial arts courses or pump away at aerobics three times a week. Dancing is also a more social and a free-form way to express yourself and is suitable for people of all ages. It’s hard not to communicate in a belly dancing class when someone who is an accountant by day starts to pop her fingers and shake her hips as the teacher urges: “Feel the music”.

All the Right Moves

Newspaper Article

Yoga and pilates classes are two of the most popular forms of exercise for many women, not only because they improve fitness and tone, but because they help to reduce stress and restore wellbeing. Now there’s a new kid on the exercise block. Wu tao, which translates as “the dancing way”, is a holistic exercise therapy invented three years ago by Michelle Locke, a former ballerina with the Western Australian Ballet Company. Based on traditional Chinese medicine principles, Wu Tao uses dance, music and meditation to energise the body and balance core energy.

Five dances, choreographed to express the elements of earth, water, wood, air and fire and set to appropriately themed music, are designed to unblock your qi (life-force or energy flows). Each dance element governs a pair of meridians. For example, the kidney and bladder meridians are logically linked to the water element. After learning the five dances, you can then progressively attain a flowing, energy-releasing dance experience that, according to Michelle Locke, people find addictive. Wu tao classes are now available in all states and territories in Australia.

Exploring dance as a therapy for symptoms and social interaction in a dementia care unit

By Nursing Times (UK)
Journal Article
August 2009