Body Lessons

Damn, trying to get caught up on hella life here in Brooklyn. The summer is winding down. The stores are stocked with back-to-school ish and fall boots. I’m trying to just process and produce (working hard on “Say You Heard My Echo” which will premiere on Oct. 9 in New York). It’s been a lot of life-changing stuff in this last month or so and as life would have it…It’s changing so damn much that I don’t have time to figure out what’s changed…

Anyhoo, wanted to write up a blog about some of my experiences with the Makeda Thomas Roots & Wings Dance & Performance Institute, which was amazing. Some of the most top-notch dancers, choreographers, dance educators from across the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. To say that I learned a lot would be a severe understatement.

My first performances as a child were actually dance performances, and I also was much more inclined as a visual artist as a child, especially since when you’re a shortie, um, how much can you write after all. I trained as a ballerina up until high school, and over the years have learned from folks who are masters in Butoh, capoeira, t’ai chi, hula, flamenco, Afro-Caribbean dance, Dunham technique, got tips from b-girl friends, hit up the happy house parties here in Brooklyn, become a Yoga-aholic.

At this point, I couldn’t tell you what is my most practiced form, except for that I’ve learned so much from all of these different teachers – “Your eyeballs are a MUSCLE!” from a Limon teacher. “DON’T LOOK IN THAT MIRROR WHILE YOU’RE DANCING, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE PRETTY?!” from a Dunham teacher. How to free up the upper part of my torso to move and breathe from an Afro-Caribbean teacher. Many many different ways to use my lungs and control breath from t’ai chi and yoga teachers. How to use my hands on the floor from modern dancers, b-girls, and capoeiristas.

What I do know is that this has all made me a better writer and performer – and it was pretty amazing to immerse myself in a world of folks that communicate deeply and passionately largely without counting to any strong degree on words.

Going to the intensive made me think back to when I first moved to Brooklyn 7 years ago, and I assisted with the Urban Bush Woman Summer Institute providing poems and dramaturgy for their “Are We Democracy?” performance at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It was a hard couple of weeks of writing, dancing, performing, creating, shuffling notecards for story arcs. Typing up a script that included choreography and text generated from historical facts, my poetry, and from the dancers themselves. I remember in the whirlwind of happening upon Brooklyn and leaving all my people and my life in Chicago for what was basically the unknown…a pretty solid evening when I was in the bathtub and just soaking my muscles, feeling the grit at the bottom of the tub, that I could feel the weight and complexity of everything going on around me. It was awesome :)

So similarly, going to the intensive in Trinidad was an intuitive desire, and folks there were coming from vast dance backgrounds from 19-48, from recent BFA and MFA grads in dance to retired company members to folkloric dancers and multidisciplinary people like myself. In the seven years between the UBW dance intensive and this one, I guess I should mention that I was the choreographer/movement coach for my performance groups Mango Tribe and We Got Issues! as well as a collaborator and performer with VTDance, InSpirit, and a couple of other dance poetry projects.

Oh, so much to say and not enough room to say it — but each of the faculty members gave so so much from Chris Walker’s folkloric-inspired contemporary dance classes to Rennie Harris’ break-down of the emergence of house culture to Ananya Chatterjea’s disciplined fusion of orissi, chowk, and yoga to Patrick Parson’s Dunham technique classes to Dyane Harvey-Salaam’s help with turning around my attitudes about Pilates, Makeda Thomas infectious energy and ferocity, David Williams open-questioning of life and process, Arcell Cauberg & Shaneeka Harrell’s channeling of attitude and heart meshed with crazy skills, wonderful choreographic meditations with Ursula Payne and Sonja Dumas. It was an honor and a pleasure for me to be a part and to facilitate workshop on spoken word poetry for the dancers/choreographers of the Institute and the Port of Spain poetry community.

Super-dope stuff. To check pics, click here. So in brief it really made me meditate on the spiritual, cultural roots of dance, movement, and art in general, and realize that the quality of every artistic expression depends on a mixture of content, technique, confidence, and life experience. All technique and no life experience leads to pretty hollow stuff. It’s interesting too that dance at its core is a social art form — although as spoken word artists we share our work in a physically public place (versus publishing) — the actual creation of the work is solo. As a dancer/choreographer, you need to have bodies in the room, to learn from each other, to understand what your body can do expertly that someone else’s cannot. And as Jawole, the founder of UBW, says – it’s a dancer’s discipline that gets you through a lot. You must train, you must condition, and you must understand that your body is finite yet changing every day – and this all deeply affects your art.

Oh, so many other things that I wanted to say, I’m sure, but I’m a leave it at that right now…


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