Lost Art: Wu Style Tai Chi


She began moving with unique fluidity but ….concentrating.

“What are you doing?”

“Tai Chi.”

“What is that?”

“It’s a kind of martial art.”

“Looks like a dance. How did you learn it?”

“We meet Wednesdays and Saturdays on 17th and 6th.”
imageI went to the next session and studied with Joshua Whiting for the next couple of years. Before he discovered a Wu style class in a Chinatown park, the master had been a professional dancer on Broadway. He would enter the studio in his unremarkable street clothes and change into Chinese white pajamas. And, when he assumed his place In front, he appeared positively ageless and ultra venerable. The master told us 20 somethings that he was more than 60.

To remember 108 Forms I assigned my own names to sequences and developed a dance notation. Joshua told me that only one other student did that a couple of years before and he became very famous for walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers : Philippe Petit.

The indoor class met at the Nadine Ravine Studio for Dance, so, once in a while some ballet types would try a post barre stretch with us. The pink Divas were dabblers but two black leotarded jazz dancers were already regulars along with Joshua’s girlfriend, Lev, an Orthodox Jew and two of his fightin’ Brooklyn buddies. Outdoors, we met under the Brooklyn Bridge. The classes always seemed sweltering no matter where they were.

Beginning was almost like performance, there was this moment when we started counting breaths that felt as if the curtain was about to come up. We sweated the details and exercised as one and after years the sequence breathed in my bones. On a secluded overlook in Mexico I stepped thru it perfectly. After that, the 1980’s dawned and I lost the practice.

With an incomplete set of notes, I practice on my back porch. I may never remember it all but, with the help of assortment of Digital Masters, I am reclaiming bits of this sense memory, this art.

Author: diane e. dreyfus

on the road until they put the lid down

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