Saturday, December 27, 2008

fly girl

sometimes when i dance
i feel like i'm flying
like if i take another leap
i'll defy gravity one more time
bite off a bit of cloud
leave my swirling trail of joy
in the sky and stir up a nebula
making new stars
with my finger tips
threading new paths across the globe
connecting hearts
one smile at a time
that light under my feet
feeds the movement
i spin i dive i thrive
on pleasure pools
and too the lessons along the way
we journeying we crying
we growing we loving
we dancing all the while
i do believe
that a dancing body
is the living body

what is it this time? i don't know myself. I find it amazing the number things i could talk to you about. is it about dance? is it about christmas or kwanzaa or love or lovers or dreams? is it about anything relevant to your life. if i had to pull something off the top of my head it would be about this: movement.

what about movement today? nevermind the dc movement scene, let's journey back to india nearly 3 years ago when i found myself amidst a crowd of beautifully rowdy men who challenged themselves and each other one by one to dance with me. i danced for some long period of time, without adequate water and i thought i might pass out right there on the dirt road in the middle of bangalore, but i kept on. and finally, just when even spirit had had enough of me, i said to myself "ok, last one." and he came. younger than all the other men, with a fiery, spastic dance that was akin to a fire cracker going off in a contained space. he bobbled his head. he did back flips across the circle. he loomed into my face with his own face and we synced some kinda way until there was no time and no space--just us. he could have kept going for another hour i'm sure, but i had used up the little reserve of water and my partner thought it best we find food and hydration fast. so i broke the circle, even though i wanted to stay dancing. but the people weren't done with me yet. they followed me in a procession. some grabbed my hands, some bowed. i said give thanks to them all. yeah, i felt for a moment like the guru, and i am, but in that moment i was new to my powers.

but what is also so pivotal about that moment was that it's when i realized my life mission: i want to dance with as many people on the planet as possible. plain and simple, and without any limitations or parameters. i feel that each moment, each interaction with another human being is an infinite portal of creative exchange. i believe any dance you do with me is unique and beautiful and that's all that matters, really, is what we do together now. my life is one of constant communion with the omnisacredness of life. come dance with me...the more the dance, the more the life!

(photo is binah @ the gulf coast of mexico, somewhere in louisianna, july 2006)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Love Dance

sometimes if you move for love, it makes the dance bigger. i mean, like dancing because of love, whether for yourself or for someone else, dancing for love only generates more love. i experimented with this love dance last nite. some really beautiful afro-peruvian music was on the ipod and i made out like i was a whole other person from some other country. not like i really ever claim america as an identity anyway...but for this new dance i was consciously someone Else. Else was like a flower blooming in the light of the full moon, undisturbed by crickets or branches i couldn't see underfoot. i was Else, and she didn't care about a thing except being inside the music. the voices in the music floated in and around my body. causing me to sway and rock. my hips plunged into the peripheries of my known parameters, pushing the limits of space, making the boundaries seem unimportant. it was not a dance of might, but one of curiosity. how many ways could i switch my hips, how long could i hold my balance with one foot in my hand and the other spinning on the ball of the foot.

the lighting was low and the shadows loomed on the walls. i caught myself, delicate as she was, a dense cut-out of darkness mirroring me and expanding my body to the ceiling. what if i was really that tall, i wondered, where then would my shadow go? i followed the line of my body on the wall, seeing where it rippled with the percussion in the music. my shadow, unlike me, was unstoppable. She leaped over the door knob, the molding of the door, the dresser, and even spilled onto the carpet without interfering with the dance.

i spun around a lot, finding something extremely invigorating about the wind of my lapa enhancing my momentum. Spinning is one of my favorite things to do, seeing fixed things become mobile makes the world more bearable. a new friend of mine, who first saw me dancing OSA in Chinatown a few months ago, admitted reluctantly that he thought i might be "a lil crazy". i laughed and told him no worries, in fact, i told him that i think everyone else is crazy for not dancing. he asked why, and i told him, that movement makes sense to me because the earth, the planets, the galaxies are all moving, even the sun erupts. all of nature moves, the clouds rain, the ocean waves the flowers blossom. Everything in nature moves, that's why we have this phenomenon called Life. Life, as it happens, depends on movement. humans, like us, are no less connected to all these other life forces, and as such--we must move too! the more we move, the more we cleanse, the more we heal, the happier we are.

i told him that to me, it's crazy to see masses of other living beings not dancing, or rather, moving through life with such low frequencies of movement. within all of us is an infinite range of motion, and we need each frequency for life. imagine if the ocean only expressed herself in low tide. this mono-frequency of ocean movement would mean we wouldn't benefit from high tide. can you imagine how this would effect fisherpeople, surfers, boaters? everyone depends on the ocean to express multiple frequencies of movement.

so too does the earth, does the whole world's constant vibration depend on the positive, diverse, expanding frequencies of its inhabitants. the next time you find yourself in your body, ponder this: how much movement have i contributed to this life, to this world?

(hint: there's no such thing as "too much" movement!)

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Go forth my beloved humans! Dance until your sweat showers you, laugh until your belly aches, and move every part in your body as if each discovery of a new muscle is a life-altering, epiphany from God! Journey deep into the crevices of your very life and express the movement that comes from there. Those delicate, subtle, but all the while essential moments that piece together the critical beat of the heart, the persevering pulse of the blood. Move with these forces and discover a new part of yourself, for with each moment is a brand new life. This energy, this dynamic and inevitable energy is how we all give birth to ourselves every moment of our lives. This is why the dance is so vital to exploring and expressing ones most intimate awakenings, even if it is only for the Self to experience.

No one can do your dance but you! That's why it's YOURS! This dance, this movement is so amazing, so fresh, so infinite, and soooo YOURS! I cannot do your dance. Your mama cannot do your dance. Only you can do your dance. People can teach how to perfect other people's dances, but the movement that comes from your body is all yours. Claim it as such. Love it! Celebrate it! You are the dance you want to experience in this world! Never doubt that the movement coming out of your miraculous body is valid, is important, is beautiful, is powerful. Imagine how much we could do for our world if everyone believed in his or her dance?

Place your hand over your heart, feel the vibration of your own body sending healing energy into the earth or the air around you. Fall in love with your dancing Self. Know what it is to be elated with your own body. This love is unconditional, it doesn't matter the size of your jeans or the alternate rhythm of your feet--whatever you do you do! you don't like how you look, close your eyes! you don't like how the clothes fit when you dance--take them off! Whatever your blockage, whatever your excuse, release it, the movement is moving!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dance Guru

I've been called many things, and I am always brainstorming new names for my art, for my works, for myself. I am always unimpressed with the usual names like "founder," or "director." Instead I wanna be "Host of the Galaxy" or "Dance Magician"...but then I worry if I'd be expected to do magic tricks. Some people really think I am doing magic with my body, unknowable feats and rhythmic journeys of spine and pelvis. I, of course, am "just dancing." Sometimes I write the thoughts down that come to me in between the movements. Deep philosophical ponderings that one might expand on over tea or something with other get the picture!

Today's thoughts came after I took myself to a new OSA spot, the Freer Gallery of Art on the Mall. I'd never been there before and it was rainy, cold, and I was under dressed, as usual (I don't like clothes or shoes!) The place was quiet with dim lights. I wandered around looking at all the "art" pilfered from indigenous peoples all over the world until I found a big enough room to dream, dance, and write.

There is something refreshing about light.
It opens up a space, gives the illusion of more space.
Space is like the breath, the more the better.
Big vast luminous space is illuminated by light.
Big windows let lots of sunshine inside.
Bigness Vastness Expansion
Love expands like light.
The heart grows bigger with compassion.
What is forgiveness?
Is it like opening the shutters or the blinds
in a place that's been in darkness too long?
What is acceptance?
Is it like embracing the shadows
that loom even in the abundance of light?
So much light. So much space.
Why be cramped up anywhere, ever?

Shoes feel like shackles
to me
confining constricting
prohibiting movement

Happy feet love being free
to dance wherever
they want to be!

I am spatially oriented. When I feel there's lots of space. I feel good. I feel like dancing, like spinning, like imagining new things. Today, I surrounded myself with lots of art and space. First stop before the Freer Gallery was the National Museum of African Art. It's one of my top five OSA spots in Washington, DC. I stared at the same art for nearly two hours, noticing all it's nuances. I didn't even look at the name or artist info because I didn't want to be biased. Every now and then, I would stretch my back and my arms. In the process of doing that a grand idea came for me for a movement presentation I have to make to some middle schoolers next week. But anyway...these are more of my raw genius rantings:

Sometimes if you stare at something long enough, you will begin to see it. Really. It's depth, its texture, its luminosity. You will see where it curves and where it also bends and varies. You will see its patterns and symmetry, embedded even in the folds of asymmetry. When you stare long enough you will see what is flat and stable and what too has spilled on the floor and splattered on the ceiling, but with deliberate placement of some design all the same.

When I had found my spot at the Freer, I took my shoes off and started reaching up and out and over into the thickness of empty space around me. I spun in slow motion a few times, trying to catch my reflection in the glass panes protecting ancient Japanese screens. The lighting was too dim for me to see my reflection and so I stopped looking for myself. I found I was content just moving my body.

I started experimenting with trying to spell my first name with my arm, and then my head, and then my shoulder, and then my foot. Then I thought to try spelling my first name with my right arm and my last name with my left leg--a great brain challenge for sure! While twisting and contorting in the empty gallery room, lots of thoughts swam through me. I started thinking about how I am often confronted with the common objection to dancing: "I don't dance/I don't know how to dance/I don't like dancing." I think it's impossible to not know how to dance; you don't know how you're breathing, but you find yourself breathing all the time. A thought popped up: "The Movement is Inevitable." After dancing for a while longer, I sat down and wrote this:

The Movement is Inevitable
the dance is already happening internally,
and has always been happening there, if no where else
The blood dances through your heart and veins
The oxygen leaps through your blood,
All the movement within you gives birth
to the life you are living on the outside
The body is the container of an ancient
magical dance--and what, what are you
gonna do with it?
The dance belongs to all of us, even you.

(A Kamoro woman from East Indoneasia prepares for a ritual dance, Bali, May 2006)

Monday, November 17, 2008

cold feet diaries

no, i did not leave anyone at the aisle.
i did however, dance on the frigid mall betweeen the capitol and the monument on a brisk november sunday. i am so proud of myself, for pushing myself to go out and dance in spite of the cold and the wind. it was a blessed time, keeping myself warm in the winds of change. people passed by. rodrigo from portugal asked could he take my picture, and i said sure. he says he'll email when he gets back home. he caught me in the perfect sunlight that pours out between passing clouds. he captured moments otherwise swallowed up in the memory of time. he grabbed my dancing body with his camera, and so did some others, but they did not ask my permission.

i was wearing my special five-finger shoes one of my sponsors got me. so i wasn't barefoot, but my feet were cold by the end of my 75 minutes of OSA. and i was so happy, so excited that i had danced, that i didn't realize my feet were numb until i walked away and into the national gallery of art to warm up and put my other socks and shoes on.

whenever i go into the national gallery of art it's like returning to the scene of a crime. over 18 months ago, the OSA project as I've been presenting it to the world was birthed there, in the East Building. i was with a dear friend, Celeste, and we danced for two hours, without interruption. crowds of people passing by stopped to explore our movement with there eyes, including a group of 40+ middle schoolers. it was one of my favorite OSAs of all times. it was upon leaving (we were putting our shoes and coats on), that a gallery guard came over to us and said (and I quote) "you can't be doing no ballet in here"--and from there I was fired up to liberate all public spaces with movement.

i thought it was all so ironic, that all the guards had watched us dance for two hours. that they had repositioned themselves around the gallery so that even on their breaks they could watch us. i thought after all that, when we were finished, no less, a guard comes to tell us to "stop". how can you stop movement? would you be any more successful containing the ocean? and which ocean could you contain as all of them are connected and flow into each other, and if not into each other then to some gulf or river or something. see, the movement too is just as elusive. it is not something to be captured, rather something to allow to flow through you because it is bigger than you and me and everyone else. the dance is so big that any request to "stop" doing it is absurd to me. would you ask god to stop loving, would you ask mothers to stop giving birth, would you tell the clouds to only send down one drop of rain? the dance too is too big to control, and why would we want to? it's much more fulfilling to be a participant in the movement, than to attempt to be its obstacle. such efforts are a waste of life force energy. come now, my dear living beings...let's dance!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Wishing Womb and other dreams

I am writing and dancing in my head all the time. "The Wishing Womb" is a segment of the I am the Mother Project that I'm sharing at an audition in a couple of weeks. This is really major because I don't audition for anything. I don't believe in competition when it comes to artistic expression. I believe everyone's creative contribution is valid and welcome, and who is anyone to judge? So all that said, I'm pushing myself to audition because it is an area outside of my comfort zone...and one never knows what might happen...right? Also, planning, organizing, choreographing, and all that jazz—not my first mode of action. A lot of my movement is born in the moment and I don't spend a lot of energy trying to archive it or remember it for later. I trust more movement will come and it always does.

Of course, sometimes I do want to remember the dances I do, and because I don't often take the initiative, I thought an audition adventure would be a good exercise for me in doing the things I never really do.

So now what? Here I am at the fertile portal of infinite possibilities and I find myself thinking and envisioning the dance, but not actually doing it. I find excuses like eager children on an Easter egg hunt. I’m tired. I’m cold. I’m thirsty, I’m hungry (my favorite reason)—and on and on, until another day has drifted by and I’ve still not worked on the dance. And what is “working on the dance” really mean to me? It’s a developing concept. I really am still learning about me and how I create. Some people write it down. Some draw pictures. Me…I talk to myself, I sing, I run in circles, I make believe the world is really an intergalactic galaxy with lots of other beings that want to dance with me. As you can see there’s no systematic approach to my creativity. It’s like wandering through a forest and then happening upon a clearing in the woods. And there, in that space, I can begin.

Sometimes I’m drawn to the clearing space by a dream. I awoke this morning reflecting on a series of interesting dreams I’d had. One was about running into an close friend of mine from my studies in Ghana, Clara Yaa Nsiah Asantewaa. She was walking on U Street in DC and telling me how she was working off the record as a babysitter. She told me she was homeless and I gave her all my info and told her to come and stay with me if she wanted. And then, in another dream, I was sitting with these little girls and one of them asked me: “How many people are you?” And I thought, what a profoundly deep question, coming from a child. But should I be surprised, the children are the smartest of our lot.

So anyway, I answer her that I was a teacher this morning, and now I’m going to be an actress, and that tomorrow I’d be a model, and then a dancer. And then I told them to dream really big, and that they can imagine the world in any way they want to, and to not think there’s anything too silly or too farfetched about their dreams. As I went off on my passionate sermon of dreams, I realized in that delicate conscious “observer” space, that I was talking to my inner child. I was telling myself to dream big, to not feel inhibited by anyone or anything.

I woke up to a buzzing cell phone; it was LaDiosa calling to update me on her life in the past 24 hours. We hadn’t talked the day before because I get no cell phone reception on lovers lane. The first thing I said to her was an account of all of my dreams, especially the part about the little girls. LaDiosa agreed that it was really special that they’d asked me “How many people are you?”

It reminds me of the character Lissie in Alice Walker’s Temple of My Familiar, because she narrates all the different people that she has been. And then it made me think of my creative journey with the I am the Mother Project. Sometimes when I’m dancing, I’ll start to “tune in” to one of the mothers. I might start singing a song and realize it captures the spirit of one of my great-grandmothers, or I’ll be doing a gesture and feels it’s connected to the movement vocabulary of another aunt. It’s a fluid process. At times it seems as effective as trying to hold a piece of the ocean with your hands. The creative opening is so delicate and fragile, and just as you can only hold water for a second, sometimes the creative “ah hah!” moment seems just as fleeting.

Whatever way I interpret its origins, I have to ride these moments to fullest when they come. I have faith in the ever-abundant creativity, of course. But there are times when the dance seems stuck or delayed, like a faucet that spits out gurgles of water. Imagine being thirsty for your dance or your song or whatever and grabbing onto whatever little bit of inspiration floated past you. That is how I’ve been feeling lately. It’s interesting, no judgment, just observing. Wondering what vision the next dream will bring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

King of Kingz...

I love dancing with black men. Well, if you know me by now, then you know I love dancing with everyone. Of course, there's nothing like stumbling into a substance abuse recovery program only to find there are no women present today at group. Hmmm, I thought, stunned at the luminous masculinity prostrated before me, this is going to be a group like no other.

Do you need a visual? Use your imagination and in a big pot stir in a few characters from the tv show The Wire, mix in the location like the small, cramped, dingy doctor's office on the Westbank of Post-Katrina New Orleans, and add to it the anticipation and anxiety of a waiting room in a paternity test clinic. This is our sanctuary today. Its gray walls and boxey cave is a step up from the green dungeon downstairs...but still, we'll have to really surrender to the movement to penetrate the dismal environment of recovery.

By now, we'd been coming to facilitate a creative writing, spoken word and movement workshop for about 7 months with an either co-ed group or women's group. Today's all-male ensemble is completely throwing me off. So much so that I do not hear the dramatically loud brother greet us: "Peace my QUEENS!" In one ear and out the other, all I am doing is counting them and rapidly reconfiguring all that I had loosely planned for today's movement. I believe that I can dance with anyone--the breath being the first dance, the movement is inherently inevitable. But just like everyone needs to eat for nourishment, we can't all eat the same things. My challenge in the moment was to quickly reorient my plan to eliminate all excuses one might create in order to not partipate.

"Excuse me! Oh...oh I guess you deaf or something--I said 'Peace My QUEENZ!'" I turn to face a tall, very brown-skinned, bald man with eyes big enough for two moons. He is beautiful and radiant and loud...did I mention that?

"Hello...yes, thank you," I stammer out, just hearing him for the first time.

"Oh, they gonna dance," Dominic, who remembers us from previous groups, says with an exasperation, slapping his leg like he just missed the last bus home.

"We're gonna dance--" I begin to correct the misinterpretation that we're going to dance for them--but I'm too late, Anthony has already made the leap.

"What! Dancers! Like a lap dance--" Anthony bellows out.

"No! It's not like that!" Dominic attempts to clarify but Anthony is well into his fantasy.

"No, WE are going to dance together," I reemphasize. "There'll be no lap dancing!" Of course, I am baffled: WHY ON EARTH would anyone possibly think that his drug treatment facility ordered lap dancers?!?!? This moment definitely gets recorded in the "wildest most triflingnest things I've heard while dancing" archives.

When it's time for me to lead the movement, I have still not figured out how we will spend our one hour. All I immediately know is that we must at least all be standing. Trying to incite movement from a reluctant, seated group is as effective as boiling water without turning on the burner. We are already in a circle when we rise and the first thing that comes to me is to do a "we're not really dancing" activity. A "we're not really dancing" activity is like sneaking the vegetables into the spaghetti.

We're going to make a collective rhythm. Everyone adds a beat or sound into the circle one-by-one until we have one groove session going. Some laugh; they think this is silly, but at least it's not some complicated dance step. Some make a small beat that's barely audible even unto themselves. The men pick and prod at each other, joking and teasing and sometimes making references to their former lives as drug dealers and users. Some encourage the shy ones to be louder. All dart their eyes from brother to brother to unlikely sister-facilitator, asking the same question, What is this?

As the sound makes its way around the circle from hands to chests to feet to mouths, I am aware of all my judgements, stereotypes, and assumptions that I am making about my group. On some level, I am open to them like I am with any workshop, approaching these men with the same freshness and infinite possibilities that I would with my charter school students or the women at church. But on a very real, I-won't-lie-to-you level, I am assessing them and everything they say critically. I am making assumptions about how they feel about me as a woman leading them. I am conscious of my clothing, grateful that I'm dressed like a pink and purple nun in a pretty dress that is loose with adinkra symbols today and opted out of my tight jeans. I am engaging with them as if there's no possible way they could be attracted to me or sexually interested in me--even though the lap dance comment has already ousted that illusion.

As they speak and ask me questions, I am conscious of my language and the words I use to talk about our dancing. I don't want to sound like I'm talking over them or use terms like "movement vocabulary" that have limited relevance to all of us. I am checking out their clothes, who has cell phones, who has teeth, who sits straight in the chair, who fidgits, who moves his chair further out of the circle. All of these things flow in and out of my head, as if factoring them in boils down to the perfect dance activity that will accomodate this diverse group. Inside my brain is frying over these details, but if you were watching me, you'd think I was as cool as a polar bear's toe nail. (A very dear one gave me that corny analogy and I couldn't resist throwing it into this article...haha.)
How am I so cool? Despite all my assumptions and judgements, at my core I really do believe that we're all dancing beings. I see every human being as a person to dance with. And my mission in life is really to dance with as many people as possible on the planet. As such, I never pass up an opportunity to dance with another person, no matter his story, his background, his anything. I trust there's a magical healing moment in each dance I share and the only way to experience the healing is to be present with the opportunity.

Now that I've gained the trust of the group, I feel myself more in tune with the flow, and less concerned about whether or not they'll participate. In truth, they were all already dancing with me and following along with me. It's like when you need to get a car moving that's been stuck and you push and push until it rolls on its own--you can't stop it to see if it's really moving, you gotta just let it go.

That's how we are now in the group. I am tired of the circle formation, and so lately I've been experimenting with other spatial arrangements during workshops. My latest fascination: the Soultrain Line. While we did do the Soul Train line at the jail with the women the previous week, I am not feeling like it'd be a good move here. These brothers are still warming up to me. Instead, I have them pick a partner in the opposite line so that we can play Mirrors. Each person takes turns being the leader and the follower, dancing to the music I've turned on.

Participating and observing is hilarious, beautiful, and emotionally moving all at the same time. It's rare that we come together as community and dance. But especially today with so much violence and despair saturating the lives of black men, it's powerful to see these brothers choosing--even if only for this one hour--to share in a collective, creatively-stimulated healing space together.

There is so much intimacy generated in dancing together. Even without physical contact--and there was NO physical contact in this workshop for a number of possible reasons to consider (like notions of accepted masculinity, homophobia, unresolved traumas around physical violation, limited exposure/experience with touch, and the list goes on)--a lot of energy still exchanges between us. Eye contact communicates so much. My awareness is split between my partner and the group as I make mental notes of how everyone's responding to each other. Some pairs are really into each other's dance. Others are less comfortable looking at each other and focus more on making jokes about their peers. Some pairs take turns leading each other in side-to-side steps. Others create pseudo-competions and challenge their partners to complex twists and squats, as if preparing for the 5K marathon.

I am in love now. That's another way of saying, we're in the Love-Joy now. This is the moment, ripe with infinite potential. That magical portal that opens when we're all dancing together. When even I, as the facilitator with my supposed role, release all expectations and celebrate in the miracle that a room full of African-descended men in a drug rehab center Baltimore (which has got to be one of the most challenging cities to have to live and successfully recover from addiction) are finding home, love, and power in each others dance. This is historical, this is healing, this is groundbreaking--can someone call CNN and FOx and all the other naysayers? This is the transformational work that turns our forgotten communities around. The intimate, moment-by-moment gestures of love coded as dance, or as laughter, or simply as a smile is the cleansing. Self-determination: This is the proper way to flush out old wounds that have festered for too long, covered over prematurely with the bandaids, "increased police presence," and failed welfare programs and "poverty reduction" campaigns. Dance is one of those ways of life that activates the individual as the facilitator of his own change, his own healing. Moving our bodies, little by little, has a profound impact on how we move along the paths we choose in life. It is no coincidence that ancient rituals of humanity across the globe dance through the processes of life. So too, must we all dance through our recovery, drug addiction or otherwise.

This dance is prosperity building, abundance affirming, a guided meditation of love in motion. Whenever I have the chance to dance with black men and boys in our communities, I am extremely sensitive to the reality that for some of them, I am the only woman who has shown them real love in a long time, possibly ever. I am not cursing them out, hitting them, accusing them, or abusing them. I am only asking them to love themselves as much as I already love them.

There is a drought of love in the consciousness of many, and for me, blessed I am to have grown up with lots of love in a supportive community, I know it's my responsibility to pour love where the hearts have run dry. Yes, truly, this is all our responsibility, and I have merely tapped into my method through movement. I wish we could dance all day this day. It's always like this for me; I never want to leave my Love-Joy. I have everyone dancing, even the loud one expecting to be entertained has contributed to the circle, finally. But still, I have to trust that the love we generated today will feed all our seeds. I must have faith in the this because the dance will always move me on.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Underbelly

Yes, I dance. Sometimes I dance less frequently than I want to. For whatever reason, I may feel blah, I may feel tired, I may feel funky. It's all real. There are times when I am not dancing at the vibrational frequency I believe fully activates the Love-Joy. It is in these moments that the reserve energy of all the dance I've done motivates me. It's like looking in the fridge for frozen stew when you don't feel like cooking or you didn't grow enough greens. You usually don't want the stew, but it's food, right? It's sustenance.

Such is the mood I've found myself in this October. Deeply introspective, in my head way too much, pondering the body movement, but nevertheless not moving my self. I'm confessing to you great world of humanity, fellow light beings, I have been dancing on a low vibration. Sometimes I judge this decision of mine, and others I think about what I have been able to do and feel and learn in this low frequency of movement. I call this phase "the underbelly," because it infuses my dance evolution just as much as the extroverted manifestations of my creative power.

This may shock a few, but it's true, sometimes I do sit still. Well, actually, I don't sit still, I fidgit, find other projects to start (like ressurrecting my sewing machine...yaaay!). In the meantime of my personal dance-meter's volume turning down, I still wind up sharing the movement with others--teaching and facilitating, etc. I wonder at this, you know? Like I share dance from the reserve-Binah sometimes. Is this okay? Should I only share the freshly prepared Binah, or can't humanity get something from thawed-out creative energy stored up for just this occassion?

These are the ponderings that come at times like when a friend of mine asks last-minute to co-lead a poetry and movement workshop with her at Howard University. I say sure and meet her there for the evening session. A group of about 20 students, mostly undergrad, are in quiet circles doing a quiet icebreaker. At the time I arrive, I am exhausted from bus and metro hopping all day, stuffed from so-so Jamaican (supposedly) vegetarian take-out, and clueless as to what the group is meeting about.

I decide to sit, and listen. It's the African Student Union and they're meeting as a part of a week-long series of events committed to raising awareness about the wars and human displacement in the Congo. Chi, my friend, begins talking them about five elements of hip-hop after the introductions, and then turns the group over to me. Hip-hop...hmmm, not my likely starting point but when they throw you the ball, you gotta run with it.

I gather the lot of students in a circle. This takes way too long. How much time it takes a group to make a circle often indicates the energy level I'm working with. Because I'm so tired, working on that reserve-Binah, I have to psyche myself out. I have to have enough energy for me and all 20 of us, whether they give it out or not. I have to dance from the position that we're all energetically activating space together, else I'd be too sleepy to dance with myself.

This "fake-out" is common. I would have added "unfortunately," but there are no unfortunate realities of the dance. Each frequency of movement from the breath to the levitated spin is welcome and sacred. Sometimes this is where we are, and we have to just be here. So anyway, pretending that there's more energy present than apparent is how I'm steadily awakening this group. We do a machine-sound-movement icebreaker that's fun and easy for anyone, whether you want to be dancing or not. We do some breathing, we play another game that gets us out of the circle and into the vast space of the room.

Afterwards, I grab my "magic scarf" from a big bag of thrift store goodies (I am so in love with recycled threads!). I tell them we'll take turns throwing the magic scarf to each other, and whoever has the scarf leads the dance. I play some Fela music and the leader rotates around the circle. Some make us dip side to side, others pull movement from the cannon of retro pop-culture, some use this chance to make us all do something big with our arms. All the flavors are different, and enjoyable in their own ways.

I make sure everyone has had a chance to be the leader. By then time is up for us, and we scatter back to our seats. I wander around looking for water because I have to share a piece for the open mic. I have no idea what I'm going to do. Usually the "it" comes upon me, and I'm ready to dance. I don't perform, I share. What am I sharing--that'll be born in the moment.

I decide to do "noise dance." Noise dance was born three years ago when my dear sister Samaa and I had to dance for a world peace gathering in Takoma Park. The "audience" (and I use that word loosely and only for quick familiarity) makes sounds; they are the paint. And the movers, the dancers in the space, are the canvas through on which the sounds inspire movement. Because the theme is about the Congo, I ask them all to make sounds drawn from their awareness and sensitivity around the things we know other people are experiencing in the Congo: the war, poverty, fighting, fear...whatever stimulation will bring forth the paint for my bodily canvas.

I invite them to make noise while I dance. Chi makes some noise with her mouth. A guy on the first row taps his feet and it's barely audible. The rest of the crowd is quiet, with big eyes and I keep dancing but I'm already running on "E", dancing with them from the Underbelly. I really need their energy, their noise. So I do something I never do--I stop dancing and call for "MORE NOISE PLEASE!" Out of breath for real, panting, and a lil' demanding, I implore them to really make noise, to scream, to put their heart in it, to imagine all the sounds you might be hearing were you in the Congo yourself.

Round two is much better. I swing my body through their sounds, catching his howl and their claps. In an instant we have ecstatic praise and pain all manifesting visually on my body. The energy raised, I move us into the next part of our dance. Now that we've raised the spirit of what's problematic in the Congo, let us use our collective energy to reimagine our world with more movement.

"Who has a word or an idea of something they think is needed to heal the situation in the Congo, and around the world for that matter," I ask. Silence at first, and then someone calls out "Understanding." Great! I think, I ask him to come forward. Chad is reluctant but his peers encourage him to come up, laughing at him because they think he's on "the spot."

I explain to everyone that we're going to make a movement sculpture for "understanding" and collectively energize the change we want to see in the world. I ask Chad to pose as "understanding." He clasps his hands in front of him, looking like a preacher whose frozen in space on the pulpit. I join his sculpture by touching his shoulder as I reach up and into the beyond. From my sculpture space I tell them all one by one to join in. Once hesitant students are now eager to fit in to our understanding movement prayer. Only a few people sit out, the MC takes pictures of us. I feel the excitement of the group; "what's next" they're wondering. I am relieved, this is it, I'm thinking.

"Without moving," I tell them, "look around and see what other parts of our sculpture look like. Now let's take a few breaths together to energize our vision of understanding." We do this and there's a stillness that descends on what was once restless. We all say "Understanding" together before taking a collective inhale and unwinding as we exhale.

Part of me wants to stay and dance more. They're all ready for the next thing. But of course, my physical body is eager to pass the torch to the next presenter because I am litterally spent. Dancing in the underbelly brings blessings all the same, I just have to be even more mindful of proper rest and nutrition, else I'll deplete the reserves before I build them back up.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Moves

I am a work in progress. I am spiraling through, evolving every second, pulsating with the breath, expanding the heart, growing. I am perfectly whoever I am right now, and of course at times I too feel that I am still not enough. I feel like I should be doing more of this, less of that, be here more, less know the drill. I am also a virgo and really analytical (so they say!).

So today, I did something really challenging and atypical of me: I told my extremely beautiful, wonderful, amazing, wise, supportive, loving partner that I wanted some "space". Yeah, that vague concept of breathing room, time-to-myself thing. Spirit guides are telling me to do a "lock-in" at the Love-Joy, focus my energy on healing myself, developing my self-love rituals, and grounding myself in Binah. Year 25 was turbulent--yes, it did bring me awesome lessons that have opened my eyes to all my powers (see "The New Binah" post). Still though, I am healing from a lot of intense experiences and processing all I was awakened to. While I am aware of my ability to heal myself and the world with my dance, I sometimes feel like it's all overwhelming--balancing life, the dance, family, lovelife, the teaching, travel, finances, transportation--aaaarghhhh! You see how I could feel real bananas sometimes.

The first priority of healing myself is...MAKING TIME FOR MY SELF! (Wouldn't you know it'd be something so basic?) This is not as easy at it seems. I began OSA to make time for myself and be artistically stimulated at the same time. Of course, that's my realm--dancing! But making time for my SELF to be still, to breathe, to meditate...hmmm, not really what I wanna do! I resist it like brussel sprouts and cod liver oil. Sometimes the thought of being still turns me off so much I just busy myself even more--dance, phone, tv, computer, cook, eat, talk...anything but stillness! I am that grown-up child who still hates nap time! Except now, "nap time" is that essential, self-preservation, rejuvenation time and I can't afford to skip out on it if I'm to really experience and activate all the blessings of the Love-Joy.

As it would be, I, of course, attract myself to a person who is so committed to that Self-Love "ME-time" that sometimes I've heard "No Binah, let's link later, I have to meditate". I'm thinking, What! Move over meditation...I'm Binah! As you can imagine, I am not the happy camper when my beloved wants to "go to the mountaintop" alone. I resist, complain, interject myself into the supposed-to-be solo space and smile all the while. But then when I really overstay my welcome and have no choice but to leave, I drudge back into Binah-land with a pout on my face, only to meet my inner child who is upset that I only come to visit her when I have to. She is my last resort; she is the one I run to when I've exhausted the world's distractions. This habitual neglect of my inner child, my SELF, is not serving the sacred work of the Love-Joy. I want and need to make new moves for my SELF.

"Where to start?
Here, with me.
I think the journey will only illuminate itself to me
as I keep moving forward

After an emotionally volcanic weekend, lots of tears poured out in solitude, and the stench of old wounds I thought were healed, my intuition told me to go even deeper and commune with Binah in a new way. I fretted and frowned over what I felt spirit was telling me to do. I did not want to take space from the person who's energy has been a divine catalyst in me owning my healing process and transformation. And at the same time, I knew that my attitude of resistance--because "I don't feel like it..." or "I don't want to!"--was blocking me from experiencing all the abundance of the moment. Whether it's my dance, or my family, or my relationship, any resistance hinders my growth. Spirit was telling me to sit still in a new way; to get up early every morning and meditate, to schedule more times to dance and follow through, write more, to clean my space and organize, to get rid of junk, to finish my children's book, to develop strategies for my dance programs--lots of work! Work that I've been running from, or dodging, or half-stepping--work I've been resisting for too long.

Was my partner the a blockage to my process? No! I am the only one who can hold me up or move me forward. That said, I jumped out on faith and told my beloved I wanted some space to "do me," to create more balance in all areas of my life, and turn over a new leaf in my self-renewal process. I wanted to stop resisting the stillness and embrace the blessings this concentrated, self-awareness brings to me. I'll spare you the details of our conversation, but it wasn't easy. On a very, deep, heart-felt level my beloved understands the critical nature of me claiming my space and supports and loves me through whatever. I felt tension but also lots of warmth and love as we hugged good-bye. When I said "I love you," as I got out of the car, there was silence and averted eyes. All I can do now is trust in the same divine love that interwined our paths in the first place.

In an effort to move through all of these heavy emotions, I took myself on a spontaneous dance date to the roof of the Kennedy Center. I usually don't go there so late in the day, but I crossed town in rush hour (something I never want to do), and caught the sun setting in time for my Love-Joy communion. I took off my shoes and felt the warm concrete began to soothe all the mind's chatter. I spun around, swung my arms, hopped from leg to leg, pretended to be a bird, a rain drop, a statue, a tree. I dug up my imaginary sounds and created songs that I danced too while passerby speculated on my purpose for dancing by myself in public. I jumped up and down, I froze my limbs in complicated ways, wove patterns of torso undulations into the invisible space--I just let loose.

I wasn't trying to dance about anything in particular. I just wanted to keep my body moving. I bent this way and that. I stretched into the clouds, willing them to move on so that the sun showered over me without obstruction. I heard poetry coming to me for a new piece I'm working on for The Saartjie Project (check out called "Womb of Saartjie." My freeforall moves evolved into a beautiful choreographic vision.

Some women came out onto the veranda for a chatty smoke break. I migrated away from them to a clear spot. I started to dance again but it felt stale. I was bored with my own movement. I felt like I'd done all those moves before and wanted to experience my body anew. Suddenly, I had this enthusiastic idea to discover a new dance move every day during my healing ritual time. (Right now, the next 21 days are committed to a daily ritual combining meditation, movement, and writing.) I felt excited, challenged to experiment with rhythm, levels, shapes, everything! Just think, the whole world over, there are people dancing in different ways and I want to intuit them all! It's like being a movement satellite for the globe, picking up on the collective signals of humanity with dance.

This new process lifted my spirits instantly. There's something very healing about the surge of creative energy, however and wherever it hits. I scanned my body for areas I don't usually engage. I locked my arms above my head; I usually have my arms free and wild. Then I jumped up, but kept my legs together like a mermaid; I usually have my legs separated and wide, so I can cover lots of space. I tried this "bounded leaping" several times and realized how new it felt. Ah haa! I thought, my first new movement for my body. I wonder at all the movements I'll continue to unmask in the Love-Joy. There's no rush, or finite expectations; just an eagerness to be present with my SELF enough to experience the new moves.

I trust my process. I trust in the power of love. I trust my creativity. I trust the healing is the celebration. I trust that when we acknowledge our feelings, however chaotic, or confusing, or painful, or weird or whatever--we acknowledge our true selves. I trust that love is all there is and it's all we need. Join me world! Send your love to me as I heal myself. Send your love to my beloved and yours too. They are the ones holding space for us whenever we doubt our own awesome abilities. They are the ones loving us unconditionally and reminding us to love ourselves and "not be so hard" on ourselves. Send lots of love to everyone, we've all got moves to make.

Friday, September 26, 2008

for little black girls who just wanna dance

for Sjada
and Daneisha, Shanai and Shanay
for the girl at the Y in New Orleans
for the one in Chicago
whose name I don't remember
for Erica and Desiree who asked me if I was
because I was dancing outside
for the little girls at Hope in kindergarten
for Melka reaching to the moon
even when she couldn't see it
for Mary from Cameroon
who is dancing and learning English at the same time
for the ones who followed me
hungry for more dancing
for Toni and Toya
for Kayla and her twin
for Nana's granddaughter's in Ampento
for letting me teach you the Electric Slide by lantern
for Holy in Semiyak
dancing with me and all the women
for the eyes that followed me in the dark
from the river to the temple in Hampi
for Nena and Alliyah and Chloe
for Daeshawna
for the smile that sneaks onto
your face
watching me dance for the 90 bus
so it can hurry up and
take us home
for all the little black girls
who just wanna dance
and who dance even when no one else will
dance with them
for all the ones who
reflect back to me
I am dancing
in the first place

Yes, her name is Sjada with an "S" in the front. That is silent. I met her on the eve of her 4th birthday. I always remember it because we have the same bday. By the time our paths crossed, she had already lived in two very different homes. Rural, peaceful Texas and now, chaotic, Post-Katrina New Orleans. Her father decided there would be work in New Orleans after the storm and moved his whole family--wife and three kids--to the last hold-out of low-income housing on the Westbank of New Orleans, The Woodlands. In the few months I was there, Sjada attached herself to me and would stay up under me even after I was finished working with the other youth. We blew bubbles, colored chalk on the sidewalk, and managed somehow to carve out a bubble of peace in what was a violent and scary village of displaced Americans.

I was new to my powers as a dance healer while in New Orleans. I didn't know why Sjada had picked me to be the source of her creative activities; I just knew I was. The other girls at the Woodlands would dance with me too. When I showed up they would run to the car and start singing and dancing, ready for us to start right there in the parking lot. I wanted to be there more often, but I also wanted to work with other youth in other New Orleans neighborhoods. And so it was, I wandered in and out of a lot of young people's worlds for the few months I was in New Orleans.

I often think about all the beautiful young people I've dance with and wonder what their world is like now. Such memories of Sjada and all the other little mamas I've been blessed to dance with skate through me as Holly, the Alexandria, VA Children's Fest volunteer, sends a group of chocolate girls to me. I am standing in the middle of a field, dancing by myself because no one has heard the announcement that I'm here to "dance and do storytelling." I figure, if I dance, the people will come. It's a diverse crowd; parents and children from all backgrounds. I am expecting to dance with everyone, but instead, the movement brings me into private counsel with a host of long lost African princesses.

First of all, I love dancing. Secondly, I love dancing with people, especially young people. And so I am overjoyed either way. But I always feel extra excited when I get to dance with little black girls. Mainly because I am fascinated by our shared experiences of growing up black/brown/dark/chocolate/nappy/chubby/ashy/or whatever else we find ourselves to be. A lot of my art is inspired from processing the irreconcilable and intangible moments of my childhood: the burns of the hotcomb every two weeks at Ms. Smith's, why my belly seemed to stick out further than my breasts, how come Rosharon was light-skinned and skinny and I was dark and chubby and ashy--and on! I used to pray to God to make me light-skinned and have long hair. My grandmother thinks it's so funny that I keep shaving my head now because all I wanted as a child was long, flowing hair like Barbie. (Once my father did offer to cut all my hair off and replace it with Barbie's. I tearfully declined.)

So when a sea of brown faces, braids, cornrows, and lollipops join me on the sunny field, I know I am home and the dance work can commence. At first I think, "This is so funny! Here is the whole world, and only the little black girls have come to dance." But then I reoriented my thinking. I thought, "How AWESOME that the little African girls chose to share a moment with me! Of course they have come to me; here I am there dancing mama--of course they have come! Let those who want to just watch sit there, but for me and my girls, we're gonna dance!"

I started us off in a circle so that we could play the Name Game. The circle grew one by one as curious faces gathered first at the periphery, and then eased their bodies into the group. The names and postures came like recreations of "my favorite BET video". Hands on hips, twist the neck this way and that, slide and dip down the torso. I don't judge or critique. I simply celebrate them all, for being there, for participating, for speaking up with their names and being bold enough to dance in public space with me.

It takes some time to get all the way around the circle. I am the last one. I always make my name dance bigger and wilder than the others when I'm with young people. I want them to see that thinking waaaaaaaay outside the box is fun and opens us up to new things we would have never imagined otherwise. I take a big leap and shimmy down and say "BINAH!" The girls repeat my move with energy, with big voices, with laughter. I give them permission to be silly, to do something different and be liberated.

Some teenage girls contemplate joining us but instead stand on the side to see what their little sisters and cousins are doing. Parents also look into the circle, humored by their daughters' choices of movement to represent themselves. Perhaps they are wondering at how brave their daughters are to be dancing in public and not be embarrassed or shy. After the name game we pretend to be different elements of nature. Then we assemble ourselves into a make-believe car that can travel all over the globe and to out of space. I ask them all where do they want to go. "Hawaii," two of them say. "Europe, to the Eiffel Tower in Paris," Melka says. "To the Moon," I say.

We journey through all these place on our little plot of grass. People walk by and some even ask me what are we doing. I have no costume, no microphone, no stage. I am actually in my favorite element: just being with the people, no frills. There's this delicate space of infinite creativity that we dance ourselves into. Here we are surrounded with hotdog stands, face painting, guitar band--and yet, we still dance our own story for the moment. I am so happy right now, sharing the Love-Joy with these beautiful girls. My movement is full today, recognizing the dance of all the little black girls is still my own.

Picture guide: 1. Dancing at the Dryades YMCA in New Orleans, LA July 2006 2. My kindergartners freestyling it May 2007 3.Sitting with girls in Kroboland in Ghana Spring 2003 4. Dancing with Holy at a club in Seminyak, Bali Indonesia May 2006.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Black Luv, The Dance

I love dancing with my people. When I was in Ghana five years ago I fell in love with communal dancing. One of my favorite dance experiences of all times was in a small village called Adalku in the Volta region of Ghana. I danced for five hours from sun to rain, from dust to mud. The musicians created rhythmic escapades with recycled metal, tire rims, scraps, and more. There were no traditional drums or instruments, just found objects. I was amazed at the improvisational genius of the indigenous human spirit. Art is everywhere, I remember realizing for the first time. After that experience of organically jamming with the whole village thru the thunderstorm, I wrote a poem that began to articulate what would become my movement philosophy. The opening line captured it all: "The most beautiful dance you do is the one you do with your people."

I really felt I had tapped into the source that would feed my whole movement evolution. "My people," as I have come to know during this growing period is everyone--Afrikan folks, women, youth, DC people, environmentalists, womb activists, healers, mothers, writers, elders--everyone, like I said! I realized that the most important thing about dance to me is that it brings humanity together. That it gives us a space to share, to commune, to grow, to heal, to love each other even more. And this is what I have put my energy into as I have been spiraling into my movement these past years.

I was reminded of the critical role of community in my dance when I attended Washington, DC's annual Black Luv Festival yesterday. The sun was blazing, the children were running, the elders were nodding, and the MCs were working hard to keep the energy high. I relaxed on a blanket, looked up at the sky, and thought, "I am home now." This is my ideal space: grass, sun, music, family, veggie food, peaceful vibrations, and dancing. What more did I need? I felt so good and full of love.

The crowd was sparse early in the afternoon. They wanted people to get up and dance to raise the energy. Ususally at that type of request, I am the first person up. But today I am grounded in my spot on the blanket, as observer--(I also know that I'll eventually be dancing later on and once I get up, I never sit back down until I'm at home). Instead, I took pictures of the growing momentum, chatted with folks I hadn't seen, and rested in the warmth of the sun. One of the MCs wanted to amp up the energy when he saw the crowd filling in. He sent forth the word for what I call the "Black People's Right's of Passage Dance in the United States"--the Electric Slide. This dance is not complicated or very different from other line dances. In fact when I was dancing with survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I learned other dances similar to the Electric Slide. Nevertheless, around these parts, the Electric slide is done at every family reunion, wedding, barbeque, graduation party, and caberet (I even taught this dance to children in Ghana, African Diaspora dance exchanging all the way!). There's no escaping it--and why would you want to? The Electric Slide is the chance for everyone to dance together. This is when all the shy people join in, when all the elders groove on the periphery so as not to get knocked over by the super-inventive youth who've incorporated a back flip into the standard choreography. The Electric Slide is, essentially, everyone's dance.

The power of dancing together is so transformational. That is what I tapped into while studying and dancing in Ghana. That is what I experienced in India and Bali, and in West Philly at the Trinidad and Tobago Festival, and countless other places. It's magnetic, this space of communal dance. Everyone feels loved, everyone feels welcomed, everyone feels celebrated. When we are activating the love energy, then we also activate peace, compassion, forgiveness, joy, creativity, and more. The dance is not merely social, it is survival. It is a prerequisite of healthy, stable, thriving communities. That is why we dance all these years, through every revolution, shift in humanity, the dance continues.
After the Electric Slide, the next dance we did together was the all-mighty Soul Train Line. The MC put out a call for some of us to start the line and this time I bounded up to the front. I was "ON" now, ready to agitate more movement for the masses. Several others joined me in forming two lines facing each other so that we created a "runway" which we would dance down in pairs. This is so fun because you get partnered with whoever is on the other side of line and you make the dance work between you. Talk about facilitating more peace, cooperation, and understanding in communities--the Soul Train Line captures all those themes in an instant. There's no holding up of the line. You can't not go because you don't like your partner; you must simply dance. And your cooperation sustains the momentum of the community dance. We learn so many skills for strengthening humanity in the dance. How could we not be dancing?

When we finished the Soul Train Line, the go-go band Mambo Sauce came on. Mambo sauce is a combination of condiments that you can only get in DC carry-out restaurants. Some have tried to ponder what it is, but why would you? It goes with chicken wings, and back when I ate meat, yes, I too was a Mambo Sauce connoisseur. Anyway, go-go music is also unique to DC, so the band named themselves after the one thing you can only get in DC. Go-go is DC's ancient-future indigenously relevant contemporary Afrikan music. It's syncopated, layered, ecstatic and reflects the hearts of the DC people. Growing up in DC I LOVED go-go music, and still do. So when Mambo Sauce took the stage, and the crowd was already hyped up, all factors were in place for our communal spiritual dance explosion.

I had lost my shoes long ago and was barefoot on the warm cobblestones. Encased on all sides by everybody, I let go everything. I jerked and jumped, slid and spun, bumped booties with whoever, screamed and laughed at the beauty of all of us dancing black folks. We're dancing despite all the drama and deaths, the despair and financial worries, the fear of losing something or someone--we're dancing together in this moment that is all we really have. It is in these moments that I am happiest. Cameras wove in and out of gyrating bodies, the crowd roared along with the band (because we all know the words even if we don't "listen" to go-go"). I danced with sisters I know and those that I don't. It was a beautiful moment of infinite black love. Imagine the wondrous potential of all the globe's inhabitants to generate that much love in a dance we do together. Such is the intention of the Love-Joy, and we're just beginning.

Vintage Binah: March of 2003, dancing in Adalku with village dance ensemble

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spinning Mary

Love is Dance
sweat falling
in place of tears the sun breaking through
to ancient membranes
sacred spaces
rituals from before
carried out in the now
wild womb warrior
willing her way
to move
to evolve
to transform the galaxy
mother make me a
I got places to go
and I got to take my babies
with me
on the road

I love spinning until I get dizzy. I feel like it's a catalyst to reaching that space where you're "out of time," you know, neither here nor there. I stumbled into a spin yesterday at the National Arboretum while easing my way into the Love-Joy session for the day. I didn't have any particular intention for the dance work when I arrived, rather a spectrum of projects that I needed to plan out--mainly outlines for several dance workshops coming up this weekend and the next few weeks. In addition, I have started developing movement for "I am the Mother"--a series of dances exploring the lives of all the motherwombs I come from as reimagined by my intuitive self. So far I am developing story-dances for my mother, grandmothers, great-grands, and a few more aunties. I'm at about 13 women. This is my soul's core artistic project right now, outside of planning workshops for youth, elders, community groups and so on. And so, even when I have other work to do, I often wander deep into the dance of my mama's mamas.

I started the movement with stretching out on the warm earth. I love grass; it's the best floor to dance on. The sun was warm, the wind refreshing, and I wanted to soak it all in. I reached my arms above my head, letting the sun melt into my belly and activate all of my creative energy. Closing my eyes to the sun-pierced clouds, I relaxed into the organic art process of the Love-Joy that was soon to come.

Upon rising from the grass, I bent my back around to all the sides to see how flexible I was today. Rotated my knees, loosened up my hips, and did an all-around body scan. I started singing a Native American chant that I want to use in the dance for Malissa, my grandmother's grandmother who was half Cherokee. The song opened my lungs and my voice transitioned to the old gospel song that I am going to use for Mary Rand, Malissa's daughter and my grandmother's mother. The song, "I'll Fly Away," is one of my favorites from growing up in my black baptist church. It's imagery of flight inspires me and I find myself singing its verses random times.

I am still picking my mother and grandmother's brains about who Mary Rand was. What I know of her now is that she was a hardworking woman who had four children. Her husband died cancer of when she still had young children to raise. I know she spent long periods of time far away from her home and family in Wake County, North Carolina and "scrubbed white people's floors" in New York. She was tall and commanded a strong presence. My grandmother, Mary Malissa, was her only daughter. I began to envision her story of one where she's speaking of moving within the confined realities of a life of hardships. I started to imagine movements that reflected the energy of breaking out of a cage, but simultaneously expressed the sensation of being stuck.
I had already developed Mary Rand's gesture for the "I am the Mother" project, but had not fleshed out how I would relay her story. A swirl of ideas continued to flood me and I spun myself around to feel something different other than confusion. That's the blessing of movement. It allows you to experience emotions in an alternative way. The mental juggling of my great-grandmother's life leaked into my body as a spin. And as I was spinning I realized, "I haven't gotten dizzy in so long!" I remembered how much I loved to spin and get dizzy, and so I spun and spun for a long time, forgetting for the moment my preoccupation with how I was gonna dance Mary Rand's story.

And that's when it happened. Inside the spin I got the grand plan for introducing Mary to the world as a dance. I imagined her movement morphing from the stiff postures as I narrate her story about cleaning countless houses for little pay, being evicted from the family land, being separated from her children and on. And that as she begins singing "I'll Fly Away" she starts to spin and then comes into the dream space where the movement expresses her hopes and visions. Through movement I can expand on things she didn't get to physically do with her own life, things I intuit as an extension of her in the present moment. Of course, today's Love-Joy journey was just the beginning. There's so much more dance to which I must surrender before I know these mothers' life-movements. A surrendering that will ultimately lead me through my own life's dance.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Leap into Love

The Love-Joy: A dance of infinite possibilities is my movement entity. It's a whole world where anything and everything is possible. The Love-Joy is my mobile sanctuary, my temple-on-the-go, my dance laboratory that can manifest anywhere I am. The Love-Joy is the space I surrender to, the place where I dive into my creativity and trust whatever comes out. I strive to commune inside of the Love-Joy as often as possible because it makes each moment of my life more purposeful.

Every adventure to the Love-Joy is a miracle unfolding through whatever I happen to be doing. This weekend I attended the "Women & Courage" conference at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. It was an amazing experience and I wanted to leap into the Love-Joy from the very beginning of the journey.

We are a sea of women, mostly strangers to each other, all gathering at the New York City Port Authority Trailways gate #26 for the shuttle to the Omega campus in upstate New York. Thanks to a one hour delay--rain, broken down bus, Friday traffic (and because it's New York!)--we had ample time to bond before reaching the conference. I, surprisingly, wasn't in the mood to talk to all my new potential sisters. Instead I found myself rotating my hips in a circle and singing a song to myself. Why was I randomly booty shaking? Because I had stuffed myself with food and had gas and didn't want to take it on the long bus ride. Yes, a lot of times, the entrance into the Love-Joy is merely an attempt to conquer digestive blues.

"Excuse me," a voice from the woman behind me calls. "Is that some sort of exercise you doing?" A common question that I hear all the time. Most people ask me "what type" or "what is it"? I'm continuously exploring this fascination with labeling and categorizing because it is such an anti-Love-Joy process and yet I am expected to deliver an answer. I change my response everyday. Somedays, I just say "yes" to whatever people think I'm doing: "Sure, it's yoga!" or "Yeah, it's belly dance."

Today, though, I'm inclined to actually tell the sister about Bootyism and how I believe in activating the power of the booty for the optimum life experience. She loves it! She starts shaking her booty with me, right there in the line. We introduce ourselves; she's from the Bronx and she's on her way to the conference because there will be a screening of a documentary about the alarming phenomenon of black women diagnosed as HIV+ in which she's featured. Chavelle is bright, bold, and definitely eager to explore this booty dance that I tell her will relieve menstrual cramps, prevent fibroids, release stress and anger, and--she adds enthusiastically--give her more creative ideas for lovemaking.

"Yeah boo!" Chavelle screams into her cell phone with hips a-shaking. "I am doing this Bootyism right here in the bus station...It's good exercise for me, this woman says...Yeah, I'm gonna have some new things to show you when I get home!" Chavelle is ecstatic about her newfound booty motions. I ask her how she is feeling, reminding her to be gentle with her body, honoring any discomforts or pains that might come in the knees or the back. She slows her booty rolls down so she can carefully scan the movement in her body.

I am swelling with joy as I connect with Chavelle during her booty discovery process. It is such a delicate, beautiful, and sacred journey to bear witness to someone's consciousness expanding around the power of her body. This movement exchange is especially powerful because I am with a woman who has been stigmatized and judged because of the very choices she made with her body.

A man passing by us stops to leer dramatically because he assumes our booty movement is an invitation to some sexual thing. I, of course, am used to this misinterpretation of my booty expressions because I do this dance all the time and get lots of reactions. I usually ignore it and keep dancing and they move on. Chavelle, my dance partner for the hour, flips my script.

"It's exercise!" she screams out at the man. "That's right, it's exercise. Not what you thinking!" It's so comical to me because I never engage in such dialogue. And yet, in using her voice, Chavelle clearly tells the man to "step off" with humor. Later, one of the Port Authority employees stops to question the booty energy. Chavelle is now the official Bootyism spokesperson. Even if I wanted to get a word in, I can't! She is explaining the philosophy and power of booty to everyone passing by and encouraging them to booty shake. Her girlfriend, Lizzy, comes back with a sandwich for her and Chavelle doesn't miss a booty roll. She keeps moving and updating me on how she's feeling all while picking apart a spicy chicken wrap that has too much rice.

Energetically, I feel the space is now warm. With our booties, Chavelle and I have activated the space, created our makeshift sanctuary, and transformed the potential of what would otherwise be a frustrating, idle time. Now that I am deep inside the Love-Joy, my movement begins to expand. I begin singing again and exploring movements for a dance I am creating about my Grandmother's grandmother, Malissa. Occassionally I swing back into a booty roll as I move through lots of different gestures and movement phrases. I am not writing anything down or trying to remember exactly what I do. Rather, I am intuiting movement from the emotions I imagine Malissa would have experienced at different times in her life.

I am so grateful for the fertility of this Love-Joy moment. As I dive into unchartered movement a woman and her young sons sitting across from me are following every move. Chavelle is chatting away with Lizzy as she experiments with rhythmic variations on her booty rock. Other women who I'll soon be at the conference with come up to me to ask me what I'm doing; some of them throw me a booty bump in support of the movement.

I can always tell when I'm inside the Love-Joy because I am worried about nothing. All seems well, feels well, and I don't feel any pressure to move on to the next thing. I am completely absorbed in the movement, in my interaction with the people and surroundings and observe everything as a happening, a miracle that otherwise would not exist without the convergence of all these factors. When they finally signal that we can board the bus, I am ready for the long bus ride (a daunting place for someone like me who wants to be up and moving around!) I simmer my movement down, returning to my slow booty rolls to accomodate the heavy bag propped against my right hip. I smile at the opportunities ahead, excited about all the beautiful kindred beings who will share in this Love-Joy with me.

Ps...a vintage Binah pic: Me leaping in "girlchild in the promisedland" for my senior recital at The College of William & Mary in mother loves this picture!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The New Binah

This year for my birthday, I hosted a “Celebrate Binah Festival.” It involved three consecutive days of dance, celebration, and community gatherings. I wanted to leap into my 26th year with gratitude, enthusiasm, and of course as much dancing as possible. I really believe I have to be living the dance in order to be blessed by the dance.

The first day of the festival, which was also my actual birthday, I held a “Dream Dance-a-thon” at the Kennedy Center, my favorite OSA spot. For five hours I kept the sacred space of my dance laboratory that I had carved out of the open space of the Terrace. The sky, the beaming sun, the scorching concrete beneath my bare soles, and the occasional guard asking me for my phone number all came together to support the opening of the Celebrate Binah Festival. I invited the world to join me, physically, mentally, spiritually—whatever fit your fancy. My dear sister Samaa came to the sacred laboratory after a few hours and took a nap in the shade while I willed myself to dance, even when it seemed as though nothing was coming today.

Frustrated I was that I had allotted this concentrated five hours to dance magic and had yet to stumble across my next choreographic genius. I moved in circles, sang songs, chanted ancient sounds, waved my arms, bent my knees into funky angles, shook my booty to the sun—I did all these things and still three hours in, I didn’t “feel” the dance taking my over. I didn’t feel myself inside the groove of galactic, transformative movement that I was so sure was coming because it was my birthday and I had scheduled myself to be there for my creative awakening!

I knew this much: creativity comes organically and the only way to experience it is to be in the present moment. I thought I was pushing myself too much, so I lie down next to Samaa trying to get comfortable in the shade, and still was restless. I closed my eyes, pretended to meditate, still nothing. For a moment, I almost talked myself into leaving my own celebration early because it wasn’t going my way.

After a few minutes, I realized something really that seemed funny to me. I felt like I was waiting in the clearing of a big forest for a big miracle to drop on my head. It was like I was expecting some external sign to bless me with what to do next and in the meantime, I was missing out on the abundance of the present moment. Here I was, healthy, happy, whole, loved by everyone, blessed with birthday wished galore, in a huge space without any constrictions or limitations, and able to try any dance I wanted—and I wasn’t diving into the infinite possibilities of it all. The “ah-HAH!” moment for me was when I realized I was already inside The Love-Joy. The Love-Joy is what I am calling my movement; it’s not a company, or a troupe, or a school—but the “dance of infinite possibilities.” I thought to myself, “DUH, Binah! This is it! You’re in the Love-Joy! Dance! Dance! DANCE!”

I closed my eyes and saw that I was not in a forest waiting for a message from the Divine about my next creative project, but that I was in the fertile galaxy of my dance and every and anything was mine to craft and mold into a physical expression of my emotions, my stories, my relationships, my life. I saw light beams coming at me in all directions; I saw images of everything I want to do, all my dreams floating at me and all I need to do was reach out and grab it. I felt a surge of energy flow up from the ground and through my whole body. I started to run, to laugh, to play with lots of movement variations. I made myself the every-ready canvas and found new dances underneath old muscle memories. I began to have fun with myself and new I had finally arrived at my celebration.

Samaa awoke to me bounding from corner to corner, spinning, yelling, singing. I had tapped into my abundant creative zone and she came to dance with me for a bit before heading out to meet my mother at the grocery store to purchase surprise goodies for my birthday feast the next day. (Samaa is an amazing chef!)

I was soooooo happy to have embraced the power of the Love-Joy on my birthday. This is the space of limitless opportunity that I surrender to everyday as acceptance of the creative vessel that I know I am. Joy flooded my being as the dance flowed out easily and abundantly in my newfound awareness. And so it came to me to do a dance that honored the challenges and triumphs of my 25th year of life on this planet and Samaa recorded it for me. There’s so much more coming, and I am here, I am present, I am excited to be alive inside The Love-Joy.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Baby Mama

I came to an empty play room that I was supposed to turn into a dance space. The women I came to work with at the shelter for women and children were not there, but I could here their voices floating in from down the hall. I thought we'd do some breathing first, to center ourselves, and then some stretching, and then some movement games, and of course, by special request of the social worker, some Booty Energy Dance. I rolled over the flow in my mind, finally got my burned CD operating via the DVD player, and was all set. Enter 4 women with newborns, infants, toddlers, strollers, and an exasperated "hmph" as they all sat down. I smiled at them and said hello, introducing myself over chatter that seemed to ignore my presence. What, I wondered, were we going to do?

"Let's all stand up," I offered. Nothing. Blank expressions, an adamant declaration from one sister that she was not going to dance, complaints of tiredness, and curiosity whether this was belly dance and were we going to do downward dog? I said yes to everything, you know me, all dance is one dance! "Sure! We're gonna do it all, so let's all stand in a circle." Still nothing.

Onto introductions then! So I asked who they were and to introduce the babies as well. I was at a loss in terms of what to do. Two mothers were standing, one was cursing out some imaginary foe, and another was fighting with her son over keys. I said, okay, let's start seated then, so we could breathe. The purpose of the breathing is to transition the mind from the activities of the day, the frustrations, the anxieties, and so on, and come into the present moment. Of course, the present moment for these mothers had not miraculously morphed into peace and tranquility upon entering our makeshift dance sanctuary. For a mother with a newborn, her awareness is not on a deep breath, but a little one who depends on her for everything. Even as I struggled to think of what to do to bring unity to our group, I realized I had not only never had to dance with mothers and babies, but an even bigger realization hit me in a new way: I've not yet had to be responsible for anyone's breath but my own. I was suddenly humbled before this group of courageous women, and surrendered to the opportunity to learn from the ones who have the most laborious job of us all.

Every moment was like an unfolding experiment. I literally did not know what to do from moment to moment. Everything I had prepared seemed to not be relevant. A little boy discovers the DVD player, sisters are oooing and aaahing over each other's babies. I began to realize, these "distractions" weren't tangential to the movement, they were the movement. This group's dance had to incorporate all of these elements that I had not initially acknowledged as real factors in these women's lives. There were instances when I thought I had been thrown into a circus without my next queue. And that is how life teaches us new things...right?

So you get the picture that this was not a typical dance workshop, I'm sure. One of the biggest things that threw me off from the start was a sister who was angry about something and cursing out some invisible enemy and threatening to “kill her”. The others kept telling her not to worry, everything would be okay, but I didn’t know what was wrong. Her anger was so intense she refused to participate at all and eventually broke down crying. Pryor to the crying, I was attempting to engage everyone else with movement. I realized we couldn’t move on without acknowledging whatever was wrong, so I stopped the music, and we all gave our attention to her. Someone else who didn’t know what was wrong asked and I finally knew what was wrong: someone on Myspace has posted a comment saying that her baby girl was ugly. It was one of those moments when just when I thought I’d heard it all, I soon realized I hadn’t! It was an incredulous thing—I’m thinking, Are you serious? Myspace! But yes, she was serious, and crying, and hurt. So many things were running through my mind, like how small the world must seem to her because a random comment from someone she will never meet has brought her to death threats. I was baffled, and still aware that I had to be sensitive and not judge her. We had to honor her pain collectively or there’d be no dancing—this much was clear. Everyone hugged her, assured her that her daughter was beautiful, and reminded her that the person on Myspace was a stranger and stupid and to forget them.

While the intensity of her anger saddened me, I was excited to use this as an opportunity to finally center the group. Everyone was quiet, and in a circle, at last! I asked everyone to hold hands and I introduced myself again and explained again that I am here to share some movement. I reiterated that the only way to benefit from this type of exercise was to actually participate. From this point on, we had better synergy and we actually got to the dancing!

The most energetic participant also had a one month old son. She nursed him in between dances and continued to encourage her peers from the sidelines. I showed them one of my favorite booty dances that also works the thighs like you wouldn't believe. One mother asked, "Why the booty?"--my favorite question of course. So we talked about booty power while we danced different booty moves.

After the booty energy we moved onto movement sculptures. One of the most memorable moments was when we made a group movement sculpture for “home”. Movement sculptures is a process where in we embody an idea with our bodies, literally. There are many ways to do this, and I decided to try it a new way since I had a new group. I had everyone draw a square on one side of the paper, and a circle on the other. Inside the circle you write your dream in one or two words, and in the square you write whatever is the biggest obstacle to that dream. For instance, some put lack of money and education in the square, and family or career in the circle. To make the movement sculpture, one person comes to the center and makes a pose with their body to represent the idea on her paper. We start with the obstacle idea. Others who want to support her in the process join the sculpture by representing the same idea in her own way, and attaching some part of her body to the root of the sculpture. After three or four bodies have created the sculpture, the unit takes a collective breath and morphs into the pose for the dream idea that was written in the circle. One by one, we went through the obstacle/dream pose for each person. Then at the end, we did one group pose for the idea of “home”. Everyone was eager to do this because the idea of home is so present and vital for them. I wished I had had a camera to capture their collective bodies in “home.” I was so thrilled; we’d come such a long way from the beginning of the workshop. And even more, I could see they felt empowered by the process of activating their dream of home together.

This workshop was one of the most challenging I ever had to facilitate. I appreciate all the insights I gained from the opportunity to work with these beautiful women. My ideal dance space when sharing a workshop like this would be without the presence of children, because the movement and breath work is an essential part of relaxing the mind and body, and tuning into the self. I would have prepared a mother and child workshop had I realized the strong likelihood the youth would be there. I continue to learn with each opportunity. This workshop opened me up to improving my communication style, resolving issues in the moment, switching gears to better serve surprise circumstances, and of course, remembering to laugh and have fun. If I’m having fun, we’re sure to have a good time. I am always more interested in creating a space where people are laughing, and enjoying themselves. I don’t “teach” dance, I dance with people and each time is different because the people bring new things to the process. This group brought me humility, as I was honored to be in the presence of mothers. Despite whatever course of events landed them in the shelter, they are still mothers, and are to be revered for their love and sacrifice. It was a joy to dance with them all.

More of us should have babies, become mothers, practice loving unconditionally--the world would be a happier place!