Celebrating Magnificence: Marla Waal – Her Beautiful, Dynamic Life Dance

By Sarah Hodges

December 2020

 

“When we move mindfully, breathing in a loving way,” says Marla, “it opens space for the healing to happen.”

An ELDOA and Buteyko Breathing teacher at Still & Moving Center since June of 2020, Marla Waal began her journey into movement at age 6 when she received gymnastics classes as a Christmas gift. She quickly became a focused, dedicated little gymnast, and started competing after just a few years. By age 12, gymnastics was her life. Perhaps inwardly sensing that some variety was needed, Marla decided to try dance classes. With the same laser focus that she approached gymnastics, Marla dove full-on into dance. Struck by inspiration when she attended a show by Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal at age 15, she thrilled with her vision of the life of those dancers: training together, performing in grand shows, dining together, and sharing invaluable life moments. Four years of hard work and diligence later, Marla made her way into that same dance company. Hard work can really make a dream come true!

Marla’s intense training continued. As a professional dancer, Marla learned the necessarily regulated skill of pushing past boundaries and pushing through discomfort and pain. “Being a professional dancer, the highs are very high, but the lows are very low,” she says. The dance performance world put more emphasis on fulfilling expectations and obligations of a dance career than on listening to the quiet – and sometimes not-so-quiet – physical, mental, and even spiritual needs that she felt. 

After a four-year run with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Marla reconnected with an old beau from high school, got engaged, and decided to return to Vancouver. Through this life shift, she came to realize that “between a busy rehearsal and performance schedule, I had to push through a lot of mental, emotional and physical challenges. As professional dancers, we didn’t often get time to stop and take care of ourselves.”  She came face to face with needs that she had pushed aside for many years to create a successful dance career. Something in her knew it was time to listen, and retune her mind-body-spirit connection. “There’s a great value,” she emphasizes, “in listening to your inner voice and hearing what your needs might be.”    

Back in Canada, Marla laid her dance shoes aside and attended meditation practices and yoga classes. “ I became more focused on nurturing and healing myself,” she reflects. There were no more mirrors to perform routines to, and her previous external goals gently shifted into an inward seeking. Once she was ready, Marla returned to dance, but this time with a more joyful, explorative tone: “I began to peel the layers back and rediscover the natural impulse to dance. I was again that carefree girl who could play in my movement, dance and spin freely.”

Pushing through challenges is a valuable life skill, especially when we need to exercise selfless resilience. Marla’s well-practiced ability to persevere serves her well as she cares for her children. She nevertheless remains attuned her own physical limits and needs: a beautiful and dynamic life dance.

Marla now shares her discoveries in body-mind-spirit movement with dancers and students of all levels and backgrounds through her practices of yoga, pilates, ELDOA, and Buteyko Breathing classes. “As a teacher, I aim to create a space where others can reflect and ask themselves questions, and have a quiet time to sense, feel and experience,” says Marla, one of only three Level 4 ELDOA trainers in Vancouver. Her classes offer a space to step out of life’s busyness, and for that hour, to slow down and go deep. 

Marla continues her lifelong journey of learning, currently training to be a full practitioner of the Buteyko Breathing Technique.  “The phrase ‘Waking up your wisdom is good’, but I think it’s more than that,” says Marla. “When we move mindfully, breathing in a loving way to spirit, we open the space for healing to happen.”

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