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Wu Tao – Nature and Health

WU TAO by Wendy McCready
Nature & Health
June / July 2003

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 divine 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: michelle@wutaodance.com; 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.)