Gratitude and Giving Thanks


I am thrilled to be teaching Bija Beat classes up at National Dance Institute (NDI) in Harlem each Tuesday evening November. I hope you'll join us.

"Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time."

Marian Wright Edelman

Last month, leaders from the Associates of National Dance Institute (ANDI) gathered for our 2017 conference. It was inspiring to focus on the potential of our collective impact. Between the 12 organizations, we are sharing our extraordinary methodology with 100,000 children across the country, and over the past years have impacted millions - truly millions - by bringing uniquely engaging and motivating dance with live music into their lives.

A desire to live a life rooted in purpose made discovering NDI 26 years ago a kismet event.  The joy, creativity, community, love, and hope imbued upon working with NDI is positivity in motion. The past years have been filled with such unbelievably wonderful and affirming experiences - way too many to name. And, after working with NDI for over a decade, and teaching with NDI New Mexico on reservations and pueblos, I founded NDI’s sister program in Colorado, Celebrate The Beat (CTB). Having the opportunity to share this crazily effective and shockingly perfect methodology with talented artists has been the best gift ever.  As Marian Wright Edelman so beautifully articulates - serving others is life’s true purpose.  

In October, I directed a  residency at Place Bridge Academy, one of our 28 partner schools in Denver  - a school focused on responding to the needs of refugees. After the program’s culminating performance, a school administrator articulated a truth regarding NDI-inspired programs that I never tire of hearing: She said, “Now these parents can finally see what their children are capable of."

Giving students opportunities to experience themselves in ways they never dreamed possible changes their psyches and, as a result, truly does positively impact our world. 

Blessed, fortunate, grateful, overjoyed, relieved, ridiculously happy - these words can not even begin to describe how I feel about being able to share this work with those who most benefit most from it.


Tracy + The Bija Beat Family



one delicious meal with leftovers for an amazing salad the next day

simply delish baked chicken thighs
a package of hormone free chicken thighs
1 red onion chopped in chunky pieces
5 garlic cloves chopped
Maldon salt
olive oil (preferable Frantoia)

1. preheat the oven at 375 degrees and soak the chicken pieces in warm water, salt and lemon
2. dry with paper towel
3. put ‘em on tin foil on a baking sheet (zero cleaning this way)
4. cover those pieces with chopped onion, chunks of garlic, Maldon salt, pepper and olive oil
5. bake at 375 degrees until done and at the end put on broil so the top is crispy

baked butternut squash chunks
a package of pre cut butternut squash
1 red onion chopped
olive oil (preferable Frantoia)
Maldon salt

preheat the oven at 375 degrees, put the onions and squash in a pyrex, add the salt and pepper, slather with olive oil, mix it, bake it for about 45 minutes on 400 degrees.

forbidden rice and black beans
1 can of black beans
2 cups of cooked rice
1 red onion diced
6 garlic cloves sliced
Frantoia olive oil
Maldon salt

1. cook the rice following the directions on the box
2. saute the onions in olive oil for about 10 minutes
3. rinse the beans and add them
4. add the 1 cup rice (save the other for tomorrow’s salad), garlic, salt and pepper and stir and cook until every morsel is coated with olive oil

favorite leftovers salad
baked chicken pieces
baked butternut squash chunks
Raw Cashews


Bija Beat "Sweat With Soul" Event


Magic happens when like-minded people connect through passion and a common cause.

On Tuesday, January 17th, 50 amazing souls came together to dance with Bija Beat and the Manhattan Youth Ballet (MYB) at Manhattan Movement and Art Center (MMAC), and do good in the process. They experienced the same joyful, energetic approach to dance that is used to inspire thousands of children through National Dance Institute’s (NDI) transformational in-school and after-school programs, and it showed - in their infectious smiles, their laughter and their enthusiasm.

Led by Bija Beat founder and NDI artistic associate Tracy Straus, and accompanied by the lively piano playing of NDI music director Jerry Korman, the group mastered the moves of the class theme, “The 1920’s,” including the Charleston. Think age and previous experience are an issue? Think again. The dancers ranged in age from 8 to 58, and some had never danced before.

If you’re not familiar with the NDI approach and perhaps are saying “I could never do that,” here is how it works. The group learns choreography inspired by a specific decade or theme, with live music from that same era. In the case of our “Sweat With Soul” event, it was The 1920’s. Tracy divided the choreography into four segments, or sequences of steps, A through D, using games to help the dancers to pick up and memorize the steps. She built the dance as she went.

The ‘front’ of the room changed constantly so that no one was left in the back for too long, and we. To promote the joy of mastering the choreography, students repeated the sequence many times, getting a solid cardio workout in the process.

Best of all, proceeds from the event went to help at risk children experience the magic of National Dance Institute (NDI).

“Thank you for such a wonderful event! And there is a buzz! The head of our parent committee mentioned that some parents were too shy but I know we can fix that!

I had some of the advanced students that took your class in my ballet class today and they said how much fun they had and that they were sore! :)

I’m feeling great! It felt good to dance and sweat it out in such a great community of people!
— Erin Fogarty, Director of Programming, MYB

Keep an eye on your inbox for news about our next event at MMAC. We’d love for you to join us!

See the magic for yourself!

Cuba: A Land of Contradictions & Inspiration


My passion for learning, curiosity about the world we inhabit,  desire to make positive change and love of music drew me to say “YES!” to the opportunity to join 11 others on a cultural “Volunteerism” trip to Cuba. 

Of course, I’d seen the news and knew that in many ways the nation was frozen in time – specifically the 1950’s – but like so many expectations we hold about life, mine about Cuba were turned on their head.  Here is what I took away.

"Instead of doing things better, do better things”.

Twelve Americans from California, Colorado and NYC, led by Lisa Rueff, the visionary founder of YogaVentures, listened in complete awe and admiration to filmmaker and writer Miguel Coyula as he shared his perspective on Cuba’s history and current reality. This was but one of many exchanges we had with prominent, groundbreaking leaders in Cuban art and culture.  Coyula addressed the fact that presently, “Havana has a housing stock that is aging and crumbling. The average building age is 75 years – an entire city getting old at practically the same time. Every day, 3.1 houses crumble in greater Havana; hurricanes exacerbate this. Quite a problem for a country with a law that says ‘no homelessness,’ so Cuba has had to build shelters.”  He addressed the fear Cubans have – that should free trade come to his country, Havana could become another Beijing, a city so polluted one cannot breathe.  How will the people of Havana handle freedom when it is given?

A country of contradictions.

Complicated does not even begin to describe the extent of the contradictions I experienced. The most stunning architecture falling down. The most talented people having few outlets to excel. Highly trained doctors make $40.00 per month, while taxi drivers (and “ladies of the night”) make double that in one night.

Beauty abounds, and there is free health care and decent schools – but the lack of abundant food, opportunity and the freedom to be creative and/or to emigrate are the tough realities of life in Cuba, which is perhaps why last year 60,000 people risked their lives, attempting to escape the island on handmade rafts.

Americans need what Cubans have – high quality, free health care, little violence (zero gun violence and very little domestic and/or child abuse), free housing for those in need – and Cubans lack what middle class Americans have in excess – material goods and the freedom to create, to go anywhere and to do anything. How does the excess at home - of the ability to get exactly what we want when we want it – impact our spiritual lives? It was refreshing to be in a place where the focus is not on materialism.

A little more history.

 Through my work with Turnaround Arts, I was able to attend to a rehearsal of Malpaso – the dynamic contemporary company directed by Fernando Saez. The company rehearses in the Sephardic Center of Havana where a Holocaust Museum is housed.

While there, I became friends with the 78-year-old retiree who hosts visitors to the center. He informed me that Anti-Semitism does not exist in Cuba and that only 1,000 Jews remain in the country. The other 15,000 left during the revolution when their businesses were taken over by the government. With the intention of helping the poor, businesses were stolen by the revolutionaries.

It’s about human connection.

Sitting in the front seat of a bright green Model Ford, I engaged my taxi driver in conversation. He told me that there is very little violence against women. In fact, the women are tough and respected, and any actions against them are punishable. When I mentioned my love of vegetables and fruits he asked if ever I had been to one of their markets. When I said “no," he took me. Just like that. He was so kind and generous with his time and energy. Sadly, the oranges I bought were neither sweet nor juicy but....

This, in a way, is a microcosm of life in Cuba. It's about the experiences, not the stuff you get – be it the food or much else. It is the human exchanges that highlight everything. And the truth is, that's the core for everyone, globally, which is perhaps why time there feels so precious. Daily life allows for ample time of quality time with community.

A reality check.

The drive to Muraleando, a most inspiring children's art center, offered another unforgettable exchange. Fernando, the brilliant driver, quoted Emerson, Thoreau and Walt Whitman, and in fact he had tried to visit America just to visit Walden Pond (the Cuban government laughed at his request). This man's intelligence and love of poetry was extraordinary. Trained in medical school, he became a Cuban doctor and, following medical school, did his required two years of service work in Zambia, Africa as part of the medical school contract. After working abroad for two years – healing victims of HIV/AIDS, malaria, etc., he felt ever more passionate about his work and intended to remain dedicated to it. But when he returned to Cuba in 1991, the "special period" had begun and, because he makes more in a day as a taxi driver than he makes in one month as a doctor, I had the great good fortune of having him drive me. My mind was reeling.

Taking creative control.

When I arrived, my visit to the community arts project Muraleando was truly inspiring.

A band played fabulous dance music and the local artists sold their work to support the cause. The percussionist stole my heart: he was playing a totally unique, handmade instrument that gave a wild groove to the experience. The creators of the project – local artists of Muraleando – had transformed their community into a “People’s Art Gallery” which is what every darn school in America could be. They accepted what they saw as an invitation to solve community problems with their own efforts and succeeded in doing so.

Percussionist at Muraleando - Community Arts in a Havana Barrio

Percussionist at Muraleando - Community Arts in a Havana Barrio

Bringing the experience back home.

How does this apply to what I do with Celebrate the Beat in the States? Appreciation for human contact and collaboration – for what we can do when we work together – nothing in life comes close to the satisfaction we experience when we, as a team, work together, no matter the circumstances, to create beauty. 

This is the spirit I hope to imbue our CTB students with: the profound effect of taking control of one’s own body is symbolic of the power we all have to make choices that promote positivity rather than destruction.

I’m enriched and inspired by having met beautiful human beings who create loving, meaningful lives in challenging conditions. The focus is on the spirit – on things money can’t buy. This resonates so deeply with me because this is the soul of CTB: teaching our children to appreciate music, the movement their bodies can enjoy, the satisfaction that comes from trying your hardest and never giving up. These are hard won qualities, but so worth the effort.

Favorite Story.

Without knowing the intended recipient, Lisa Rueff had brought along a saxophone. 

One day, while we were walking the beach at Veradura, a gorgeous tune wafted our way and led us to a fabulous saxophonist who was playing at a seaside wedding ceremony.  Lisa invited him to play for our yoga class the next morning, and Yogi was magnificent. We learned that, although wildly talented and a pro since the age of 12, the sax he made sing actually belonged to the hotel where he played.

And so, celestial choreography brought us to him, and Yogi now owns the sax.

Lisa Rueff, Yogi and the saxaphone

Lisa Rueff, Yogi and the saxaphone

What All Teachers Can Learn from National Dance Institute

Photo Credit: Melissa Sherwood

Photo Credit: Melissa Sherwood

This September, I had the good fortune to work with outstanding artists/humanitarians at Arts in Action (AIA) in North Carolina as well as Ballet X’s Dance Exchange in Philadelphia. I love bringing National Dance Institute’s (NDI’s) methodology to artist educators and teachers who share my commitment to creating artful positivity in our schools.

In both settings, I kept the ideas and words of our beloved star educator, Shelly Harwayne, close at hand. She beautifully articulates what every teacher can learn from NDI. I hope that you are one of them.

· Never ask students to do things that you are not willing to do yourself.

· Provide students with real-life reasons for working hard.

· Never underestimate the power of demonstration.

· Have high standards and expectations for all.

· Marvel at what students can do.

· Provide lots of ways for students to excel.

· Value second language learning as a strength, not a weakness.

· Teach with voice. (Value passion, humor, and metaphor).

· Offer assessment-driven instruction. (Always keep your eyes on the students).

· Provide supports for “extra-time” kids. (Empower children to take on the role of teacher).

· Create a caring social tone.

· Value the importance of making your teaching public.

· Give children a world-view.

· Trust that intellectual curiosity can be contagious.

· Enrich students’ lives with the visual arts.

· Be joyfully rigorous at all times

· Have zero tolerance for passivity.

· Help children imagine a life doing interesting things.

· Carve out ample time for celebration.

· Appreciate the power of rites of passage in a school.

· Value professional growth as your life-line.

· Don’t teach what you don’t value.

· Embed the teaching of routines into content.

· Communicate clear expectations.

· Demonstrate independence.

· Build strong content knowledge.

· Respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline

· Comprehend as well as critique.

· Understand other perspectives and cultures.

Break Time Brain Boosters

Break Time Brain Boosters (BTBB) are a result of the Turnaround Arts' urging and my work with brilliant professionals from both Celebrate the Beat and National Dance Institute. Last February, I was joined by extraordinary artist educators Jerry Korman and Ellen Weinstein to lead a two week arts infused residency to introduce these BTBB to teachers at Bethune Community School in Minneapolis, MN, where the population is rife with the challenges that poverty brings: intense anger, wild emotional swings, learning disabilities, and 5th graders at a 2nd grade reading and math level.  

Here is a heartfelt testimonial from Jody Lazo, Instructional Specialist and Arts Integration Coordinator at Bethune Community School:

"Every classroom teacher had the opportunity to participate in the Break Time Brain Boosters being introduced and modeled with them at their students.  As a school that supports Responsive Classroom, this strategy for student engagement with movement breaks, and arts integration aligns perfectly to our goals and beliefs.  The students had fun learning the BTBB, especially Fruit Salad and Positivity Poses! 

The teachers love playing Fruit Salad with their kids when a movement break is needed, and they have also used it as a tool to improve comprehension and understanding of key vocabulary and concepts by replacing the fruit names with content language and defining poses. 

In addition, the Positivity Poses have been invaluable in creating internal change with our students.  Unfortunately, a lot of our students face extreme challenges and the Positivity Poses help them to positively state and pose a representation of themselves; and in turn, rethink their self- image to a more powerful state. The benefit of this is personal to each student, yet teachers can attest to the shift in attitude and behavior as a result of this work.

Overall, the BTBB have been successful for promoting and encouraging movement breaks in a structured environment, furthering increased comprehension through a mind-body connection, and increased confidence evidenced by attitude, effort, and behaviors."

I’m now sharing them here for teachers and parents alike:

View the LINK.

Download the PDF version HERE.


Tracy + The Bija Beat Family

Hamilton's Javier Muñoz

"I have this joke — if it’s funny or not funny, I don’t know — but the joke is that I have died several times already, and that’s how it feels. My life completely and drastically changed in 2002 when I was diagnosed with H.I.V., and then again last year with cancer. And you can’t unknow what you know. Life is not the same after that. But I’m alive, and I’m for all intents and purposes healthy and well. And I’m grateful for that."

Javier Muñoz -


A true inspiration for so many reasons, Javier recently replaced Lin-Manuel Miranda to step into the title role of the biggest Broadway show in years, playing the nation’s first Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton. 

Read the full New York Times interview HERE.