Q&A with Tai Chi/Qi Gong instructor Deborah Magallanes:
Community Fitness: You’ve got so many stories to tell – you were a construction worker, a singing telegram, an internationally-ranked weight lifter – which of your varied interests excites you most?
Deborah Magallanes: For a while now I’ve been really fascinated by nomadic tribal dances. It fits with my background as a dance teacher, and yet it’s something totally different. Tribal dance doesn’t have codified moves like ballet, for instance, or Bollywood. The dances are more organic, they’re holy, and most importantly, they tell a story. In Tibet, for example, they have only a small window to bring their cattle to graze each year. Dance is how they both decide, and communicate, when the time is right. We don’t have many nomadic tribes left so it’s important we find a way to hold on to that richness of culture.
CF: You’ve done some work internationally, right?
DM: Yes and no. I’m not much of a traveler, but I help bring world dancers to the Northwest. And I also teach Tai Chi classes via Skype to students in Latvia, Estonia, and Israel. You know, in those cultures, too, dance is just part of life. They’ll finish up a class with me and then just roll up the carpets in their living room and start dancing – both modern stuff and traditional dances.
CF: And what do you do when you finish a class?
DM: Well I’m not much of a hobbyist, but my favorite party trick is that I can make any key work in a sloppy lock. I use the principles of lock picking. Don’t worry, I’ve never picked a lock that’s actually on a door, but sometimes I like to lay different locks out in front of me on the table and work through them all. I was watching TV one night and saw Sherlock Holmes doing the same thing on Elementary!
CF: So let’s talk Tai Chi. What is Tai Chi/Qi Gong?
DM: You can think Qi Gong as “mindful movement” whether that movement is gentle or more vigorous. Either way, it includes concentration and breath work. Then Tai Chi takes that mindfulness and adds a combination of martial arts and Chinese medicine principles.
CF: And what can people expect from a class?
DM: Each class is different, but they’ll all involve movement – slower movements, movement that feels like exercise – it really depends on who’s in the room. We might even do front kicks! What is most important, and what is one the hardest things about Tai Chi, is that the class involves learning the principles behind the movement. You’re not just repeating a pattern. For example, we might be opening and closing our arms but I’m asking you to visualize a white crane spreading its wings. It might be a simple movement but you need to use the whole body and mind to do it. And meanwhile you’re seeking out your own goal – like to relax or to ease the tensions in your connective tissues. It’s kind of an exploration.
CF: How does Tai Chi complement the other classes our members are taking?
DM: Everyone can benefit from mindful movement, and especially from releasing tension in their connective tissues. As I like to say “the issues are in the tissues.” You’ll be amazed after class at how much looser and more energetic you’ll feel; how much more in touch with yourself. Spring is coming up, so we’ll be doing a lot of “Spring Cleaning” work in class to clear out your system. In Chinese medicine, the spring is the time of the liver, which is an organ that cleanses your body, so that’s the kind of important work we’ll do in the coming months.
Deborah teaches class, and shares her stories, every Wednesday and Friday at 4:30pm at our Flow studio. Check out the full schedule here.