Trained in ballet and modern dance at college, Shellrae Garnes has taught the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi for over 30 years. During that time, she also taught and then directed the Sun Valley Center for the Arts Dance Program from 1973 to 1980, and teaches for Footlight Dance Centre in the Wood River Valley.
A Hailey resident, Garnes recently returned from a two-week cultural immersion in the Szechuan Province of China where Taoist monks continue to teach this ancient practice involving subtle energies of the human body.
As a Westerner devoted to Eastern traditions, her visit to the Qing Cheng Mountain Monastery and pilgrimage center marked a return to the source of her art.
The tour, which Garnes took to China, included several other Westerners studying Chinese martial arts and medical Chi Gong. In addition to the training at Qing Cheng Monastery, the group took time to visit teahouses, calligraphers, an acrobatic performance and a silkworm factory.
"Beijing was like L.A. or any other city," said Garnes. "The Summer Palace was amazing and the Great Wall was just what you've come to expect. But Qing Cheng Monastery is said to be the oldest monastery in China, and it was still being built by hand."
The head of Qing Cheng Monastery was a Taoist woman named Master Zhang. "I've realized at times that I need guidance," said Garnes who received personal, private meditation instruction from Master Zhang. "At Qing Cheng I learned that the core of meditation only begins at a quiescent place. Only then can you begin to truly go inside yourself."
In addition to Tai Chi, Garnes also studied a form Chi Gong, a movement practice used in Chinese medicine as a health discipline. Chi Gong is similar to Tai Chi, in that it requires a developing awareness of the energy systems of the body recognized by Chinese medicine and philosophy. For practitioners of Chinese medicine, the proper flow of Chi energy through the body is considered to be of great significance in maintaining bodily health. There are no clear parallels to the science of Chi in western medicine.
"The postures of Chi Gong and Tai Chi enable people to slow down and cultivate internal energies," Garnes said. "They begin to feel what Chi energy is. They recognize it, although they may have called it something else in the past."
Garnes will be offering Tai Chi and Chi Gong classes this summer at the Blaine County Fitness Center in Hailey and the Sun Valley Athletic Club in Ketchum.