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The new Kush workshops

The brainchild of renowned dancer Melisa Yavas, Kush (Turkish for ‘bird’) is a unique series of workshops that aims to empower women through bellydancing and complementary activities. At yesterday’s launch in Islington, founder Yavas and her Kush team of experts, yoga instructor Alex Hanly, sound therapist, Laura Valenti, meditation specialist Elif Clarke, and percussionist and dancer Guy Schalom, shared their expertise and demonstrated how the women-only sessions will improve their understanding of, and relationship with, their minds, bodies and others. The new Kush workshops will be running monthly at London’s Sadler’s Wells from 26 February 2013. Centred around bellydancing and fused with complementary activities such as yoga, meditation and sound therapy, each two and a half hour session will address a specific aspect of a woman’s life, helping to enlighten, invigorate and empower them.

Melisa Yavas said, “At the core [of Kush] is female wellbeing. We start by focussing on a woman’s relationship with herself, her feelings about her body and her ability to deal with her different emotions, as well as the wider world. We are all different, but through the energy of bellydance, we can all let go and express our feelings. This ancient art has been used by women through child birth and to celebrate their femininity. Today, with related therapies, bellydance can help women better appreciate their bodies, helping them to relax, and be more accepting of themselves and others.”

Middle East musical and dance maestro Guy Schalom added, “Kush is ground-breaking. It’s about giving women the knowledge and the techniques to help them find their natural rhythm. It will impact on their lives in ways they cannot imagine, from the way they walk to how they breathe, and even sex!” Held in the Winter Room at Mem & Laz, the launch gave media and guests a practical insight into how the Kush concept will work through short demonstrations from the Kush team. Playing his darbuka, Guy Schalom got guests to experience how simple Middle Eastern rhythms can help locate “the pulse in our feet”. Melisa Yavas then showed guests how bellydance helps to connect with various parts of the body, to improve control and co-ordination, while helping women to lose their inhibitions as they shake their “boobs, hips and bums in public.” Former lawyer Laura Valenti shared her personal story of how cancer transformed her life. Through holistic therapies and the mantra “I want to live”, she found her own voice and now uses sound therapy to help others. Her session involved evoking calming emotions through the power of different sounds, as well as singing using sounds that connect directly with the heart.

 Alex Hanly specialises in yoga linked to lunar and women’s menstrual cycles. She drew gasps from the females present when she described menstruation as “a gift for women”, saying “those who experience pain should see this as an example of imbalance in their body”. Through bellydance and yoga, which “get the belly out”, women can move beyond the pain to “enjoy what it is to be a woman, finding more balance and comfortableness within and outside of themselves”. Cognitive behavioural therapist Elif Clarke ended the session leading the guests in meditation. Women of all ages are invited to attend the Kush workshops. They should be in reasonably good health and open to the benefits of alternative therapies. Kush currently only runs in London, with Melisa Yavas and Guy Schalom featuring in all the sessions, together with a different expert therapist for each workshop. The first three are titled ‘Relationship’ (meditation with Elif Clarke), ‘Acceptance’ (sound therapy with Laura Valenti) and ‘Naturally Balanced Female’ (yoga with Alex Hanly). Each workshop is priced at £30 or £35, with a £10 discount if all three sessions are booked together. The number of attendees is limited to 25 persons per session. More information and bookings are available on

Melisa Yavas,

Melisa is one of UK’s best known and respected Turkish bellydancers, fusing Oriental styles and techniques to deliver some of the most exhilarating performances you will ever see. She has performed professionally for the past seven years, sharing the stage with the likes of Algeria’s king of Rai Abdelkader Saadoun, Jazz star Ilhan Ersahin and the Bollydance Superstars. Her new venture Kush draws on her professional and academic experience in psychotherapy, her ethnic Turkish background, dancing career and interests in spirituality.

 Guy Schalom, Kush percussionist,

Solo artist, session drummer and percussionist, Guy has over 20 years of musical experience and is described by Songlines magazine as "one of the UK's leading percussionists".Specialising in Klezmer and Arabic music, he recently presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary on Egyptian music and dance called 'Bellydancing and the Blues'. He also performs and teaches Yiddish Barn dances, and is one of the few UK male practitioners of Saiidi – an authentic male stick dance style originating from Egypt.

 Elif Clarke, Kush Meditation Instructor

Elif is a fully qualified cognitive behavioural therapist (CBT) that has worked in the NHS as a psychologist and psychotherapist for the past 13 years. She integrates mindfulness and other types of meditation into her professional and personal practice to promote self awareness and peace in herself and in her clients. Elif has lived and trained as a yoga teacher in India, specialising in the Sivananda style.

Laura Valenti, Sound Therapist,

Laura is a qualified sound therapist helping those on “a path to empowerment, awakening and transformation”. The former lawyer’s personal journey overcoming cancer through a combination of conventional and holistic therapies convinced her that the body can naturally heal itself. She uses movement, sound, voice work and drumming as tools to achieve a healthier state and a spiritual life.

Alex Hanly, Yoga Instructor,

Alex defines yoga as “having the focused strength to grow and evolve, whilst being able to accept, allow and surrender…a beautiful dance between what is and what can be”.Accredited through The British Wheel of Yoga, she first trained in India at the Satyananda School of Yoga and returned to study Ashtanga Yoga with guru Sri K Pattabhi Jois. She has practiced Shamanic dance based work with the School of Movement Medicine.

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