Monday, June 16, 2008

A Liberated Booty is a Liberated Being!

Peace and booty, that's how I sign a lot of emails to people, personal or professional, I do not discriminate with booty blessings! Booty as a blessing, what a radical concept. I mean we live in a world where the booty is judged on all sides--it's a sin, it's too sexual, it's a problem, it's too big, it's too small, it's for sale--and the list goes on. What did the booty ever do to get such a funky wrap? I have my ideas of course, but you'll have to come booty shake with me to really grasp the sacredness of booty. I want to share with you the magic and transformation I experienced with a group of courageous women who joined me for my first "Booty Energy Dance for Women" a few days ago at the Emergence Community Arts Collective in Washington, DC. The Bootyism is on! In fact, while reading this post, SHAKE YOUR BOOTY!

We started the Bootyism with drawing our booties. I had music playing and handed out file cards and crayons. I wanted us to get out of the everyday humdrum and prepare the consciousness and the heart for diving into booty love. Honestly, I have never drawn a picture of my own booty. I picked up the crayon with no ideas in mind. I've seen my booty drawn by others because I've done figure modeling, but to draw my own...hmmm. So we sat quietly, regressing back into childs-play and crafting two-dimensional booties. Afterwards we looked at them, and passed our booties back and forth to our neighbors in the circle. Then closing our eyes, taking deep breaths, we visualized the image of our booties. I had big visions of doing a whole meditation, but my cell phone rang in the middle of some beautiful Japanese flute music, and two more sisters came to join the group, so I switched booty-gears.

Opening our eyes, and stretching out our legs we massaged our booties "walking" back and forth on our thighs. Already, as we're stretching, I am tired of hearing my own voice, but this group is quiet, and curious, and waiting for me, I assume, to tell them exactly what Booty Energy Dance is. And inside I feel like not talking, and just moving. It's always a balance, having to explain something for the Left Brain, but needing to experience the movement for the Right Brain. If you hadn't guessed, I am definitely more right-brained, and sometimes ignore the whole logistic breakdown of movement. I'm learning to balance, of course. So anyway, my lovely group of sisters seem to be relaxed and ready, so we stand and open up our hips and and feet and chest and arms with simple gestures. I really want everyone to feel comfortable, to move to their own rhythm.

I didn't explicitly say this, but I purposely don't "teach" people how to dance. I can't, even if I tried. Like I can't teach you how to make your heart beat, or how to breathe. Just so, the dance is inherent, innate. The breath is the first dance, I tell everyone. I use the words "teacher" or "students" to describe the dance workshops sometimes, but only because the general expectation is that I am going to show you how to do something. I figure if anyone is up for a new experience and comes to dance with me, she'll "learn" soon enough that her movement is her teacher. I'm just a conduit of remembrance. The reflection one might have ignored when he looks at himself in the mirror, and thus sees the light, the possibility, the life in me and my dance instead.

Booty Energy Dance evolves as play. My goal, if I can even have one, is to insight lots of laughter, sweat, and confidence in oneself. Everyone's booty is different and moves its own way. We can share movement all the time, learn someone else's booty moves, but so many of us never even experience our own booty's vibration! It's like never knowing what your own skin feels like, because you only touch others' skin to see what theirs feels like. So again, as I ask in each post, have you felt your booty dancing? Like really just put some music on and let your booty lead you to wherever? That's one of the games we played. I had burned a CD with all different types of music and every 45 seconds to a minute, I would switch the track. The music varied from R&B to hip-hop, to calypso, to classical piano, and on. I love to surprise people, and lots of new booty dances emerged on the floor.

We talked about our booty politics. How we feel about the booty in society, how we were raised to love or hate our booties, and more. The conversation was deep. My own mother talked about her negative booty feelings shaped from being teased as a child, and how she came to appreciate her big booty later in life. It's so hilarious that I am her daughter, you know, the bootyist that I am. You might think my mother was a card-carrying bootyist herself. But quite the opposite, she covers the booty religiously with blazers and skirts that are too long and jeans that are too big. On more than once I've pleaded with her to take the big, hot, shoulder-padded blazer off with that pastel outfit! But alas, I am really her daughter and it was powerful to share the workshop with my original booty shaker. Yes, your mother is your first booty initiator. Think about it, your mother and father were engaged in a sacred booty dance to conceive you, and then in a miracle, your mother "booty-danced" you out of her womb during labor. Booty dancing is essentially a return to the source of life, the origin of your experience. When you activate the booty, you allow yourself to be in tune with the life force energies! Look out around you, see the walking dead? Those not dancing, those not embracing the miracle of life within themselves? See their booties stuck and stiff, foul and molded over in fear and insecurities? Do humanity a big favor, bump booties with somebody. Save the world!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Lifelines on 57: Transformation

I always start the movement with the breath. We gather in a circle on Unit 57 at the Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF) with women who are in the Lifelines Program. We sit with our backs straight and feet rooted into the floor. This is the first moment of collective, voluntary stillness for the women since my last session a month ago. They greet me with open arms. They want to know how my show went, how's the dance going, how's life on the outside.

"The breath is the first dance," I tell them. Closing our mouths, we breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, "haaa." After several rounds, a calm surrounds us. I smile at the women, knowing that now we have begun. We hold hands in the circle, connecting everyone's energy. I love the array of facial expressions. Some women have grown to trust me over these few months, and are open to the unknown. Others stare at me not understanding why we're breathing and holding hands. Others still chatter with nervous energy because stillness is a scary place they haven't yet embraced.

With our hands connected, I begin to pop my shoulders up and down and the group follows. When I squeeze my sister's hand to the right of me, she'll take over the movement. This process is all about intuition, listening to our individual rhythm, and also feeling the rhythm of the group. I tell them we won't talk during this process, but spurts of laughter and protests about what the body can and cannot do interjects the intuitive experiment. I decided a while ago not to make a big deal about people's perceived body limitations. The more we keep dancing, keep breathing, keep playing, the less time there is to speculate and ponder what's wrong, what's stuck, what's stiff, what's broken. As the facilitator, I have the power to keep the group's attention on what we are doing, rather than what we assume we should be doing.

After a few more movements that get the blood flowing, we begin Movement Sculptures. In the spirit of "Transformation", I introduce this process as a way to imagine our actual Selves as part of the change we want to create for our lives. I pick the first theme that comes to mind, "broken".

"How many of us have ever felt broken?" A forest of hands shoot up in the air, along with a chorus of "um humms" and "amens." I ask someone to come into the center and embody "broken" with her body in a pose. After she comes, three more sisters come one at a time, adding to the base with variations of contact. The only parameter is that you make a physical connection with the existing body(ies) in the space. When the four bodies have merged as one sculpture, the surrounding circle calls out what we see. "Pain," someone says. "She looks like she's beat down," another says. A few more sentiments come out. For a moment I wonder if "broken" wasn't too heavy an idea to start with; I don't want to depress the women.

"Now, what's the opposite of broken?" I ask. "Healed!" a sister yells out. "Okay, now before we morph into "healed" we have to take a collective breath in"--the four women inhale--"and as we exhale, I want you to shift into "healed." Slowly, with the delicacy of a flower opening up to the sun, the women become "healed." The energy of the group changes as everyone celebrates the transformation of the few symbolic of the whole.

We do three more transforming structures. From "fear" to "secure", and "weak" to "strong" and finally "empty" to fulfilled." Every time we morph into the positive the women cheer. We say what we see and feel through all stages of the process. Afterwards in a seated circle everyone reflects on what it felt like to experience the transformation in her actual, physical body. "I really enjoyed this because it gave me a chance to dance with my grandmother." My mind is connecting the dots, but my ears are in disbelief! "Yeah, she continues, that's my grandmother, and my mother's locked up here on another unit. Dancing with my grandmother remind me of when I was little and we used to play together."

If I do nothing else here, it will be okay, I think to myself. I've reunited a granddaughter and grandmother with a dance process. It feels amazing and saddening at the same time. To think, three generations of women from one family are all in one prison is mind-boggling. And then I wonder if this is more normal than I know.

I am so new to the world of prison, or rather the hell of injustice. Everything seems outrageous to me, and yet so familiar to others. On my first tour of the prison, a senior prison exec informed us that women are shackled when they are giving birth. I was so distraught to hear of this, but even more disturbed that the prison employee was a woman herself and wasn't disturbed at this heinous crime against a mother and the child coming into the world.

There are so many things I witness in the prison that I have no words for. Senseless acts of inhumanity that don't phase many people. As a movement worker, I am very sensitive to energy, physical, spiritual, and emotional. I use dance as a thermometer of temperaments in a space. Our dance indicates where we are, individually and collectively. When we allow ourselves to move, we peer into a portal of awareness.

Look around at America! Where are the dancing people? Inside cages of nightclubs, behind boxes on your flatscreen in the latest reality competition, or sweating bullets in the mirror because they don't look like the dance instructor. Really this marginalized movement is not good enough, nor is it serving the individual or society. The planet needs everyone's dance. Even in prison, we are experiencing liberation in pockets of dancing time. So again, America and everywhere else, I must ask you, where is your dance? Without it, there'll be no transformation.

(All photos Copyright 2008 Rebecca Epstein.)