Tag Archives: Dance

Rebellious Daughter: A Tribute to Mr. Arthur Mitchell.

Death has a way of waking us up, for a while. Yesterday, after hearing about the death of Arthur Mitchell, I retrieved my daughter from kindergarten with immense gratitude and received her love in full return. I was talking to Mr. Mitchell in my head the whole time, saying that I was sorry he never met my daughter. He should see her feet! I imagined him standing with us in the playground of the Nathan Hale Elementary School. I said to her, “I know you don’t like to perform on demand, but this is Arthur Mitchell. He’s a very special person and you have to point your feet for him,” and if she resisted, it wouldn’t matter, because he had a way of making people want to point their feet!

And I thought about how different it is to be a kid nowadays. Little girls and boys are steeped in ballet culture from an early age. You can buy a tutu at Target for goodness’ sake, whereas tutus, back in the day, were a right of passage. You couldn’t just buy one, anywhere, like a gun.

My daughter, Colibri, and I have a book about a dancing brontasaurus named Brontorina, who experiences predjudice among other limitations, but who continues to follow her heart. Finally, a community of children convince one skeptical teacher to come to Brontorina’s aid. It is easy to see through a child’s eyes, but applying Brontorina’s message into the real world is quite another matter. We adults know that this is a story about racism, a word that fires the trigger hairs of every American.

Brontorina is also an inspiring story about overcoming one’s limitations with the help of one’s community, because nothing big can be achieved alone. And about opening our minds in a way that will allow us to include everyone. That is what Arthur Mitchell strove to do. He was a black man.

Now we have books about little black girls who take ballet class and become ballerinas. I am a girl in that story. I want us to remember, and for our children to remember, how people fought to make the art form accessible to all. And to remember that sometimes you have to believe in something with all your heart. Mr. Mitchell fell in love with ballet. He, a black man, gave the world permission to allow everyone to love ballet, that is, to see things in a new light.

I meditate daily on the cost of change.

***

When someone that you love dies, for a while, everything reminds you of them. This morning it was overcast. Suddenly the sun burst through the clouds, and it was Mr. Mitchell’s sun bursting into the room, into the studio, shocking, purposeful, burning, determined, relentless.

I remember that sunlight smile as he offered his hand to be led by the ballerina to center-stage for his signature bow at the end of the performance. For years, while in the corps de ballet of Dance Theatre of Harlem, I dreamed of one day being the ballerina to get Mr. Mitchell from the wings, and when that moment finally came, it was a cherished honor, a moment when all our disagreements vanished, and I was so proud to receive his knowing gaze.

Last year, we spoke on the phone for what I knew would be the last time. Even though his health was failing, his voice was as sure as ever. Hearing it made all my cells stand up in salute. He was organizing a performance and wanted me to return to dance Firebird. I laughed, as it’s been years since I stood on pointe. But our conversation was warm. He had softened over the years and so had I.

***

Dear Mr. Mitchell,

I know you can hear me. I feel you hearing me. I want to talk to you as never before, while you’re still around for a few days, overhead, making the rounds. I could not sleep last night because of all of the souls here on earth, especially me, who are trying to contact you now. A comedienne recently said that when she dies, she wants everyone who ever loved her to take off from work. It was funny, the way she said it. I took today off just so I could talk to you in a way that I never could face-to-face. You just had this way of overpowering everything around you.

Sometimes, talking one-on-one, you would drop your performer’s armor and I could hear you, like when you told me over and over again that I had to wear the mantle, and I tried to keep myself from buckling at the knees. I am one of yours. I didn’t know my father, so any male in my life was bound to be resented. I don’t have words to say how sorry I am. I was such a jealous daughter. You tried to teach me how to stand in my power. I came to you already broken. I was fighting for what was mine like a wild dog. I’m sorry for that. You saw me as “smart” and as a “pure dancer.” As a black girl, I desperately needed to be acknowledged for having something that was good. I’d been beaten. All I knew was how to beat myself and the others around me with my disdain. In your own words, you said you wanted us to look like hungry dogs, and I saw the beauty in that. I was like a Bladerunner, hacking at my weaknesses. I thought I had to break myself in order to understand where I began. You warned me, but I didn’t listen. I had yet to learn how to trust, how to love.

***

I remember the time my complications first met up with your complications…I was at DTH in the summer of 1987, at the age of 17, dancing with the Ensemble under Nancy Shaffenburg. We were finished for the day, so I went upstairs to watch the main company, as had become my habit. You stormed out of studio 3 after raging at the dancers. You spotted me in your crosshairs and shouted, “Oh, you’re the one from Madame Darvash! (like that wasn’t a good thing), and marched abruptly into your office. Thank God for Sharon Williams-Duncan for saving us in those days. She has glory, under God.

***

I didn’t know your middle name was Adam, until yesterday, but how fitting. You were the first. I can’t imagine what that cost you. In yesterday’s New York Times article, Jennifer Dunning wrote about your premier with New York City Ballet. She said it was in Western Symphony in 1955. She writes that, “Years later, Mr. Mitchell recalled hearing gasps and at least one racist comment from the audience when he entered the stage that night.” (Arthur Mitchell is Dead at 84; Showed the Way for Black Dancers. nytimes.com)

But I remember you telling that story very differently. In my recollection, your premier was in Swan Lake. You’d asked Mr. Balanchine not to write a press release. You didn’t want there to be any controversy stirred up before you hit the stage. I think that was a brilliant move on your part by the way. Besides, dancing Swan Lake is hard enough. I’ve seen people piss their pants with fear. Anyway, when you stepped out onto the stage, someone shouted, “Oh my God! There’s a nigger on the stage!” And then some patrons started to exit. Some of the Balanchine dancers were quite young, and their parents had them removed from the company, because they didn’t want their daughters to be near a black man. That’s the way I remember you telling it, and I want people to know. We have to tell our own history or it will be erased.

By the way, you were right about it being a mistake for me to go to Boston Ballet after DTH went on hiatus. I couldn’t understand why you felt so betrayed at the time. Honestly, it surprised me. I see now that being in a white company was never the point. The point was to continue to celebrate what we had in the hard times. You needed me then, but I was too caught up in my own agenda to understand that. You know how hard it is to let go.


Broken, full of dreams

“Summary: First performed by American Ballet Theater on April 22 1948, Fall River Legend is the story of Lizzie Borden, the Massachusetts spinster who was tried for the ax-murder of her father and stepmother. Although Lizzie was actually acquitted, in the ballet she is convicted and hanged. De Mille creates a portrait of a shy, sensitive but receptive girl, turned into a murderess by her father’s psychological abandonment in favor of his second wife, a sour, jealous, manipulative woman who frustrates Lizzie’s budding romance with her minister. Gothic in tone and deeply perceptive in its depiction of the consequences of love thwarted, Fall River Legend reveals a truth deeper than reality.” From http://agnesdemilledances.com

Fall River Legend is one of my favorite ballets. The masterful choreography by Agnes de Mille was matched with an epic score by Morton Gould. Fall River did the thing that art can do at its best: be a vehicle for feeling. Fall River articulated the hush of hidden things, longings, humiliation, humor, frailty, the dream of the mother.

And those goddamn consecutive pirouettes, from fourth-to-fourth, that changed direction. Fall forward! Put on the brakes!

For me, Virginia Johnson of Dance Theatre of Harlem, defined the role of Lizzie Borden. Of course, she managed to make those damn turns look easy, as one skipping into the throes of first love. Those turns…not perfect, never perfect, but so fully alive. Virginia spoke to us in how she picked up the axe. Picked it up and hid it in her skirt. The horror of realization. The chill up the spine.

How does one make sense of the need for sexual love in a world like Lizzie’s, that is, 19th century religious New England? How does one meet that need within when something about you doesn’t meet the society’s standards of worthiness in that area? How does a spinster feel good about her need for sexuality, when, at least externally, she has been stripped of it? How could Lizzie love herself when love was not reflected to her? How do you see past the reflection, or without a reflection? These were some of the underlying issues that Lizzie faced. I was fifteen the first time I saw Fall River, hardly a spinster, but for different reasons, outcast. As such, I was also desperate to make sense of those questions.

Lizzie falls in love with the pastor, and in doing so, reveals herself to be more than her pain. She is a sexual being. For this, she is punished by others for reflecting what they had denied in her and denied in themselves, through her, which was of course, her beauty. Her beauty, unique in this world. Her beauty, broken, but still full of dreams. Just like all of us. (Blade Runner 2049 airhorns!).

Where was I? Lizzie was punished by the preacher, whom she felt betrayed her. She was punished by her jealous mother-in-law. Lizzie was punished by her father’s indifference. And it doesn’t end there: she was punished by a community that tried to console, but lacked the togetherness of spirit and rituals that give a warm coat to the cold night of grief.

Lizzie kills her father and step-mother. Please, understand, I am not advocating killing anyone, but why is it, that when men kill the bad guy, they are seen as heros, but when women kill the bad guy, they are labeled, shunned, imprisoned, burnt at the stake?

The towns-peoples’ rejection of Lizzie is a rejection of themselves. They are unwilling to look at their own failure in the matter, or to even recognize that they have a responsibility towards Lizzie, and so they chose Lizzie as a scapegoat. In other words, they choose to reinforce an idea of separation between themselves and the “other.” That’s how we hate. Lizzie had no one. Her tragedy points us in the direction of love.

I could not have articulated all of that upon my first viewing of the ballet in 1985 at age 15, but I could feel the mystery that it stirred within me. That first experience of Fall River was one of the few examples I remember then, of seeing a complicated, thoughtful woman character, through the medium of art, that looked like me, inside and out. For the first time, I saw myself onstage, especially through Lizzie, but also through the predominantly black community portrayed by Dance Theatre of Harlem’s version, dealing with issues about being human in the way that only stories can.

If you’re not in the story, you’re not fully in the collective consciousness. So art, and in this case, Fall River danced by Dance Theatre of Harlem, put me in my own narrative. Dig that.


Finding Your Voice

“The final statement is not a deliberate one. It is a helpless one.”–John Cage

I’ve always been drawn to visual art. As a child, I poured over my mother’s art books. I had an ability to project myself into a scene, to inhabit its world and to immerse myself into a story. This was during a time when we were not so innundated with images. Art was an entry into the magical parts of my own being. It allowed me to experience emotions that, at that tender age, had yet to be named. I think the way art stimulated my imagination served me as a dancer.

There were two paintings in particular that captured my attention: Rousseau’s “The Dream,” and Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” In the first painting, I was drawn to that mysterious woman lying on a couch in the jungle with the tiger lurking in the bushes. It appeared playful, sensual, yet dangerous. It was very exciting to my young mind. I wanted to know what was about to happen. I wanted to be the convergence itself of woman, jungle and tiger.

The Bosch was more complicated. I couldn’t figure out, based on its vision, if the world was a good place or a bad place. It seemed to be both. This terrified and confused me. I stuck with it because I so desperately wanted to understand the nature of things and this painting seemed to hold some kind of truth to my own life.

Now, in the art world, from the beginnings of one’s education, the necessity of finding your own voice is emphasized. You can’t go around doing splatter paintings and expect to be taken seriously. Jackson Pollock did it already. You can be inspired by Pollock, but you have to dig deep into the recesses of your own soul and speak from there.

As dancers, however, this search for one’s own voice is rarely emphasized in traditional training. Most dancers, it is assumed, will be interpreters of another’s vision, namely the choreographer. We are trained, rather, to take direction. To listen. To fit into the line and stay there. To match a previously held standard.

As a teacher of ballet, I try to encourage this individual expression. In my attempt to do that, I have to take a moment to apologize to the great ballerina Sylvie Guillem whom I’ve often used as the butt of a joke: I will often quip that her perfection of line and extension ruined it for everybody. But now I look at Sylvie in another light. She has in fact freed us. I’m not saying you should not get your legs up. I’m saying don’t try to be Jackson Pollock. Leave your own mark.


Letter from Peter Martins (and my response)

April 6, 2015

Dear Tai,

Greetings from the School of American Ballet. I am writing to invite you to become part of a very important program at SAB.

As a new component of our ongoing diversity initiative, we are currently in the process of forming a committee consisting of a select group of alumni who are active in the dance world. Members of the SAB Alumni Advisory Committee on Diversity & Inclusion will be asked to provide input to help shape and enhance SAB’s ongoing work to broaden recruiting, outreach, and student life programs, with the ultimate goal of increasing diversity on ballet stages around the globe.

I believe that your experience and insight into SAB and the broader dance world will be an invaluable addition to our efforts and sincerely hope that you will accept this invitation to become a member of the Committee for its 2015-2016 inaugural session.

SAB’s Diversity Program Manager, Leah Qunitiliano, will reach out to you next week to discuss in more detail the goals and expectations….etc.

With warm wishes,
Peter Martins
Artistic Director and Chairman of Faculty

*

Hi Leah. I have been giving the matter of whether or not to join the Diversity Committee some thought. With all do respect, if the School of American Ballet is serious about diversifying, they can start by hiring me as a ballet teacher. I am great.

This is not about me, and it is about me. Please tell Peter Martins that true diversity means the whole structure has to change. Is he ready for that?

Sincerely,
Tai Jimenez
Former Principal Dancer of The Dance Theatre of Harlem
Former Principal Dancer with the Boston Ballet


Shared Music

I am a truthful man from this land of palm trees.

Before dying I want to share these poems of my soul. –Guantanamera

People are always telling me I’m too much in my head. I think I know what that means now. I think it means that I hold myself apart from things as they happen, from people, so that I can analyze the moment while it’s happening. The majority of my being is focused on this analysis, instead of being in the moment, as they say. It’s like, I don’t trust myself to simply respond to things as they arise, but you can’t look at it and be it at the same time. Wave vs. particle.

Sometimes, I could let go and be it when I danced. I think I do that when I’m teaching dance class as well. I can clearly see when the dancers are too much in their heads. But when the music stops, back in my head I go. Maybe it would be useful to think of everything as a dance. Well, it’s one thing to think it and another to dance it. Thoughts are things but they are not the thing, I’m learning.

Tomorrow, I’m going to try that. I’m going to have my coffee like it’s a dance. I’m going to go to work like it’s a dance. I’m going to listen like it’s a dance of sound. I’m going to eat a turkey burger like it’s a dance. I’m even going to let my thoughts flow like they are dancing.

Maybe that’s why people listen to music with their earphones all the time these days. They want to be in the dance. The only quarrel I have with that is that it seems a bit isolating. You are not dancing with others, but I think that’s when the dance gets really interesting.

I did an ayahuasca (shamanic drug) ceremony once and I could feel how energy moves in waves. I could actually feel it moving through the room and could witness its affects on people. By observing others, even the dog and myself, I could follow the energy’s path and see how it connects us all. We become individual expressions of the wave but we are connected by it at the same time.

I never wear headphones because I know about the wave. I want to see it coming. You can’t do that with headphones on. I mean, talk about being in your head! I don’t like being out in the world, yet cut off from it at the same time. We have to stop and ask ourselves what are we cutting off?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of things I’d like to avoid in this crazy rag-tag world of ours, but I just don’t think that’s useful or healthy in the long run. What we resist persists. And as one of my teachers, Ken Ludden, said: “The lessons we avoid in life come back around with interest and the interest is pain.” Yeah.

I look upon those ever-present ear-buds, generally, as a numbing mechanism. Same thing with those hand-computers we call phones. Sure, they are useful, but we are often on them with no real use in mind other than to escape. Everybody, Tai says put down your phones. Put them down. Well, it was worth a try.

There is something in me that wants us all to look in the same direction, even if it’s just for a moment. But oh, what a moment it could be. Like when Michael Jackson first did the moonwalk. Like when Obama got elected. Like when the wall came down. Maybe in that terrific moment we could all just look at each other. Really look. The music that unites us is the music that is shared.


Prayer for Dancers

 

Dear Universe,

 

Help me to love myself as I am.

 

Let my dancing be an expression of that love.

 

Help me to recognize the Light in others without diminishing my own Light by falling into jealousy.

 

Help me to move through doubt, fear and self-hatred into the dance of Love.

 

Help me to love every part of my body without exception.

 

Help me to practice recovering quickly from my mistakes,

and to honor my limitations with patience

so that I may uncover the gift in the disguise of that limitation.

 

Help me to see through the obstacle of the Ideal Image and to trust that my best is good enough.

 

Help me to nourish myself mind, body and soul so that I may be a vessel for Grace,

and help me to let go so that I may be One with ecstasy.

 

Thank you for this day of dancing.

 


Initiation

As a dancer, there were certain things I had naturally and other things I had to work at. I expected there to be a certain amount of pain. While working to develop my flexibility for example, pain became a sort of daily ritual meditation.

At times, I was overwhelmed by the level of sacrifice the art demanded, but I knew I wanted to go all the way, where ever that was, where ever that led. That journey was stressful, terrifying, confusing, ecstatic, spiritual and devastating, not necessarily in that order, and sometimes all those things before lunch.

I think my failures outnumbered my successes, which made the successes more meaningful.

Now I can look back on that journey and see it as a kind of initiation process towards becoming an artist. Certain things in life can’t be gotten at without going through the door of transformation, no matter how gifted you are, and it usually doesn’t feel good when it’s happening. The struggle of the butterfly to emerge from its cocoon is what strengthens its wings and enables it to fly. The struggle is inseparable, and, as Malidoma Some suggests, equal to the gift that awaits you.

In our culture, we are taught to lead with ego, to always look cool and to avoid vulnerability because it equates with weakness, but Some also teaches that Spirit can only work with us when we are in a vulnerable state. He says, “Sometimes your not-knowing cooperates better with a process than your knowing.” These are hard words for modern people to embrace, we who want to know the outcome of every step before we take it, we who have invented insurance for our insurance, we of the homogenized beauty, of the entitled, we in the “Yes, we can,” demanding change under the guise of security.

Security is an inside joke; you can’t find it on the outside, get it? Hahaha.

Ah, what can I say? My brother is the comedienne of the family. Anyway, now that I’ve hung up my pointe shoes, another initiation is on the horizon: parenthood.

So far, so good: the little tea-pot is kicking and appears healthy. I am quite comfy in my maternity jeans and enjoy food in an almost orgasmic way. I’m talkin’ peanut butter and butter and jelly. I have boobs for the first time in my life; I have to lift to get up under there and wash. Ladies, y’all know what I’m talkin’ ’bout. And I feel a kind of immunity from the cares of the world, like I’ve just won a challenge on Project Runway and cannot be eliminated for the next round. There’s a sort of energy of respite that confused me at first, but that I now wallow in quite contentedly.

Mostly, when people find out that I am pregnant, and at six months it’s hard to miss, they are sincerely congratulatory, but then there are those others, the rainers-on-the paraders, who take the opportunity to unleash their cynicism about parenthood under the pretext of giving me a head’s up. Thanks. They complain about how unhappy they are, stopping just short of out-right blame towards their kids followed by an insincere chuckle and an awkward silence.

Maybe I caught them at a bad moment but it seems…maybe they’re missing the point? They cannot see the bigger picture and place their experience within the context of initiation. They cannot see the hope of unconditional love.

I’m not saying that there’s not an appropriate place and time to express one’s heart-ache over parenting. Of course there is. But I suspect our above mentioned cynics also lack a context for expressing grief. Maybe we don’t have to choose between the image of the new-agey, bullshit, eternally cheery positive thinker and the cynic.  Maybe we can let ourselves off the hook by honestly accepting how we feel, without resistance, without labels. By resisting our humanness, we become trapped in a prison of expectation, a maze with no center, no exit and no reward. And I only know about the maze because I’ve been there. I guess getting lost is sometimes part of it. We forget that it’s not who we are.

I often look upon the Spiritual journey, of which parenting may play a big part for those who choose it, not as a process of gaining special psychic powers or existing in some perpetually blissful state, but as a process of becoming fully human. And don’t worry. If you don’t choose parenting, initiation will find you some other way.

And then there are those, many of whom are quite accomplished in other areas of their lives, who say, without doubt or hesitation, that parenting is the best, the greatest thing they’ve ever done.

Ashe.

Here we come to welcome you, Little Big One.


One Dance

Hip-Hop is one of the most influential cultural movements of our time. Its presence has touched everything from ballet to Sesame Street.

Growing up in Queens, NY, a strong-hold of hip-hop, I always loved the music, but while teaching at the Boston Arts Academy, a public arts high-school, I began to fall in love with the dance aspect. Many of my students came to the study of ballet whose only prior dance experience was hip-hop. (I’m using the term “hip-hop” here in a generic way to include various forms of street dancing, ranging from popping and locking to krumping and etc).

These extraordinary dancers taught me a lot. Their movement had an aliveness, a spontaneity, a freshness and built a community that I often felt missing in the concert dance world.

I wanted to touch that aliveness in myself and after much deliberation, worked up the courage to strap on my hot pink Nikes and take a beginner class. My fears proved to be unfounded. There was every sort of person in that hip-hop class, from experienced dancers, to children, to the middle-aged housewife, to the aging hippie, to the Japanese business man. On certain Saturdays, Ms. Jimenez could even be found taking “popping” classes privately with her own hip-hop guru and historian, Jose Eric Cruz.

I did not have any delusions about joining a dance crew in Brooklyn or South Central in order to gain some street cred, but I was having a lot of fun dancing again. It was like a whole new world opened up for me. I found my swag.

As hip-hop movements started to find their way into my contemporary ballet choreography, I began to find startling similarities. Ballet has its own term for swag. It’s called aplomb. Aplomb is the attitude, the carriage, the scent of ballet. Just as an opera singer must always sing with vibrato, a ballet dancer must always move in the universe of aplomb and a hip-hop dancer must always move with the somewhat aggressive self-assurance that is swag in order to be convincing.

Another surprise was that teaching hip-hop to dancers mostly trained in ballet highlighted their weaknesses in ballet. What I mean is this: in a sense, there is only One Dance with many faces. Musicality, dynamics, presence, grace, articulation, expression are qualities found in all its forms. So, for example, if a student was having trouble finding the heavy and obvious down-beat in a hip-hop movement, it usually highlighted a lack of listening in general.

The issue of dynamics, in particular, has suffered in ballet in recent years, due to the emphasis placed on high extensions. Let me explain: nowadays, I find that the dynamics of a movement are often sacrificed to emphasize or accommodate the time it takes to lift the leg very high. I’ve seen conductors stretch a phrase of music to allow more time for an extension to the point where the musical tension was rendered to mush. Some artists tend to prioritize the pose at the end instead of the overall flow of movement. A certain speed and attack are lost. This is a general observation that I see in ballet and of course is not true in every case.

When I was dancing, I was swept up in that trend and often made this same mistake, but now that I’m watching more than dancing, I see it as a kind of sin. When we are dancing, we have to make a lot of choices, but, to me at least, there is a certain hierarchy to those choices and MUSIC TRUMPS EVERYTHING. The dynamics of the music must be respected as holy and mirrored in the body. In that way, I think my own understanding of dance has come full circle. Before I had any training, before I aspired to look like this or that ballerina, I danced, as a child, because of the music. I wanted to be the music.

There was a dancer I loved (now an ancestor) named Mari Kajiwara who danced with the Ailey company for many years before dancing with Ohad Naharin. Mari had an amazingly solid, earthy, supple, fluid movement quality. She also had an extraordinary extension, but her use of extension was always in service to the movement quality, not the other way around. So when she extended, it always felt like the right surprise.

So, I am learning a lot from hip-hop and stealing outright whenever possible. Conversely, I see how ballet has influenced hip-hop, in the fluid, graceful turn-out and port de bras of Lil’ Buck, a true dance pioneer. I know we are all familiar with the platitude that anything’s possible, but when I first saw Lil’ Buck bourre-ing around on the toes of his sneakers, I became a believer. And I cried. One Dance, y’all.

Maybe next we shall fly.


10 Spiritual Insights for Dancers

I have wondered a lot lately whether ballet is part of my contract for being here on this earthly plane, something to which I agreed upon prior to birth. Is my contract with dance or ballet in particular? Have I fulfilled my obligations to ballet and is it time to focus on some other way to dance?

I went into meditation this morning and what I’ve written here was my answer. The funny thing is, while investigating how to get greater readership for my blog, I often came across advice to make lists of ten which I immediately shunned as tacky and simplistic. Then this! Well, I’m learning.

I invite you to take what serves you and disregard what doesn’t resonate. I don’t think this is comprehensive. I don’t really trust things that claim to be comprehensive. I wrote this with love for my students, for myself and for the dance goddess, whose love has shattered me. I’m sorry, my darling, that it has taken me so long to embody the one who could write this. Ashe. I love you, still.

1. Technique/Practice. I’m finding lately that in our modern age, the idea of technique (to those who don’t yet have it) is starting to be interpreted as a sort of magical door that once clicked will give you access to the golden room of dance. Students are looking for a shortcut. There is no such thing. Even when given the most detailed explanation, you still have to do the work. I prefer to use the word practice instead of technique. One who has a good technique is in other words one who has practiced consistently with discernment over time.  It is a living, growing changing process of increasing subtlety. You may become well seasoned. You may become masterful, but beware of impeccability. There are no absolutes. We in the West interpret one of the Wabi Sabi aphorisms as “everything is incomplete.” This translation misses the mark. It is closer to describe this precept as “the master is one who embraces an infinite path,” or “a master is one who has practiced the newness over time.”

2. Parallel and Harmonious lines of energy. Generally, when we speak of line in dance, we are referring to the external plastique. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a line of energy that comes through your eyes, through your heart, through your fingertips and through your feet. These lines must move in harmony and awareness of each other or in a conscious disharmony which is sometimes used to make an artistic statement . You may think of these lines of energy as musical notes that ebb and flow, but must be sustained throughout the phrase of movement. You are dancing, channeling, these lines of energy. They come through you from the other world and the lines of energy, especially through your eyes, are rooted to your ancestors.

3. Perfection vs. Imperfection. Perfection is a paradox. We must strive for it, while keeping in mind that it is not the goal. Union with the divine is the goal and that does not require perfect turnout, perfect proportions or a perfect smile. Perfection can lead us forward, but we must not let it lead us astray. Our perceived imperfections are the doorway to our humanity. As a dear friend of mine once said, “Nobody gives a damn about seeing you dance. They want to see themselves through you.” Our humanity, our striving for what is unattainable, our vulnerability, allows others in. Perfection is superficially attractive, but ultimately alienating, sterile and boring.

4. Magic. There are two types of magic: that of the magician and that of the shaman. Both must dance together. The magician’s magic is that of creating an illusion. Drawing the observer’s eye toward what you want them to see. A principal dancer is not one without flaw. She is one who has mastered this art of illusion. Your dancing is not only about you. It is about what you can point to. This requires an active imagination. If you are preoccupied with thoughts of yourself, you will not be able to take the audience very far. You must create a whole world, a whole universe, and then take them there. Often, I will give a step in class and people will start doing it in a headless sort of way without giving a thought to the illusion. They want to do it right, but if you are not creating an illusion, no matter how “right” you do the step, it will not be dancing.

The next kind of magic, shamanic magic, is the magic of change. It has to do with moving energy around, drawing it into you, transmuting it and sending it back out again. Not only do you create the universe with your imagination, you are the universe. The shamanic magic cannot be so easily described. It requires faith. It requires one not to just imagine there, but to actually go there, to burn yourself completely and leave no trace, or, stated differently, to become a vessel to that which burns.

5. Fear. There are two kinds of fear: paranoia and authentic fear. The first kind is to be avoided. It is the fear that says you are not good enough, worthy enough, pretty enough,thin enough etc. It is the kind of fear that the media instills in us through doctored, medicated images of perfection which become exacerbated by a dancer’s natural vanity and obsession with the mirror.

The second fear, authentic fear, is good. Make friends with it. It is the kind of fear that leads us forward. It calls us to become our highest Self and may indicate that we are in the presence of spirit. It is the little voice inside of us that says yes when other external voices say otherwise. Say yes and see what happens. Do not make a problem out of authentic fear. It is not necessary to rid yourself of it prior to a performance. It is only required that you move through it. “If you go forward you die. If you go backwards you die. So go forward and die.”–African proverb.

6. Faith. As my teacher, Ken Ludden said, faith requires action. Faith is doing the thing you know to be true, even when you do not know the outcome, and even when you do. Faith is the essential ingredient that moves us forward in life and in dance. It is what must be present in order to transcend fear.

7. Stillness/Silence. We often think of dancers as people who move beautifully, but what is equally important is the degree to which we can cultivate stillness in movement and in our lives. We have to take a note from musicians who must be as equally aware of the sounds as they are of the silence.  The movement, the sound, is what frames the stillness, the silence. And it is the space in-between that allows our presence to shine.

8. Compassion and Forgiveness. Have compassion for yourself, your teachers, your fellow dancers and everyone. A moment of compassion heals the whole world. Try to free yourself from expectation and learn instead to flow with what is. Compassion will soften the inevitable struggle that is dance. Forgive what might have been when it comes to the big moments in life and the little ones that occur in performance. Forgive your father, forgive the goddess of dance for her fickle, cruel nature, forgive being off your leg in that pique arabesque. Forgiveness is a big part of The Dance. If you can’t recover from a mistake, you can’t dance.

9. Competition. I have heard many people say that there is a good aspect of competition. If there is, feel free to write it here. I haven’t experienced it. Competition disconnects us from our internal voice and makes us reach outward. It makes us un-centered and breeds jealousy. It makes someone a loser and someone else a winner, but that is never the truth. It’s ok to want something that someone else has. It is good to feel inspired by others. But when that wanting leads us away from our own path, we get lost. Our purpose, our medicine, is unique in the world. It is our job to bring it forth, with the help of our community, nature, our ancestors and other invisible forces. Our culture spends a lot of energy cultivating competition instead of focusing directly on helping people manifest their purpose. Competing in a competition may indirectly point you in the right direction, but why not have healing as a starting point? Competition is therefore a primitive and inefficient means of moving forward. Love and nurturing make better flowers.

10. Fun. If I could change one thing about my career, it wouldn’t be to have had more roles, to have made more money, to have better feet, better extension, more turns, or any of that crap. It would have been to have had more fun. Laughter is great medicine for body and soul. It takes many lifetimes to master an art. We have a long way to go. Make fun along the way. It will keep your love for dance ALIVE.


Loving through Anger

I grew up in a family of politicos whose views extended as far left as the eye could see, with the exception of my brother who briefly flirted with Republicanism, mostly out of rebellion towards my mother. Family dinners were a stew of heated debate. Though I sat mostly listening, silently enthralled, I never seemed to develop a political bug. I was an arteest.

I have always hated to watch the news, all doom and gloom. I’m sensitive. But at some point, art becomes political. Spirit becomes political. With all the stuff brewing in the world right now, I just can’t look away.

Funny thing about the news is there is so much obvious stuff that doesn’t get mentioned. Anchors tip-toe around the pink elephant in the news room, exhaling a sigh of relief when it’s time for sports and weather. Today, Hilary Clinton denounced the murder of the four white tourists yachting off the coast of Somalia as a tragedy. While I’m sorry that those people lost their lives, isn’t the real tragedy here, um, Somalia?

I don’t know the whole story of Somalia’s history, but I know the story of colonialism in Africa. My Somalian-born neighbor, Usef from up the street, gave me some gory details that made me sympathetic to the so-called pirates. Not the pirates responsible for the recent murders, but the Somali pirates in general. From his point of view, foreign colonizers and business interests were the real pirates. They started this fight. I’m not that smart, but if I was rich and white, or just rich, or just white, or just anybody come to think of it, now would not be the time to take a private cruise off the coast of Somalia.

And another thing, harumph, the corporations, as they have for decades, are trying to get rid of unions in order to get more power. As if they don’t have enough. Why isn’t the emphasis on taxing the rich instead of taking away a teacher’s friggin’ pension? People argue that high taxes push business away, and no jobs will be created, but those people have a short memory. That’s not how it started. Business left this country out of greed in the first place. Now, not only are they not paying their fair share of taxes, but they are also not creating jobs. And debt is the state workers’ fault? Well, we may not have a dictator to overthrow, but we got some seriously greedy business booty to bust. And they’re not armed. Yet.

Now that I’ve gotten myself all riled up as perhaps you get watching the evening news, it might be a good time to point out that, while I’m angry, I don’t want there to be a violent revolution here. I want there to be a revolution of love and consciousness. And I believe, as I’ve stated before, that, no matter what, everyone gets to grow. I don’t want anyone to be punished, not even corrupt politicians and corporate bosses. Let’s not waste any more time on that. I want us to expand our consciousness towards compassion. I want us to lead with love and consciousness instead of fear. Without that, we will eventually end up right back where we started.

Perhaps, since the time of “civilization,” we’ve suffered from the effects of CFG (competitive, fearful grasping). In politics and business, it’s things as usual. But I have the sense that something is changing. It’s not just that people are fed up. Something is changing in us spiritually. For the first time in history, people are becoming empowered to listen inwardly and develop a spirituality separate from organized religions.

While there is evidence everywhere of many structures falling apart, there is also evidence of things coming together in new ways. For instance, there is a stereotype of people who take yoga as being kinda granola-y. There is a stereotype of people who do hip-hop as being urban, mostly black, youth. But, I see the same demographic of people taking yoga as I do in my Saturday morning hip-hop class. And guess what? The demographic is everybody, all ages, cultures, sexual-orientations and colors. There was a time when that just would not happen, in Boston or anywhere.

Our inner voices are telling us that it’s ok to love what you or others previously held apart. We are listening and trusting that inner voice more and more. Even after over thirty years dancing, it’s still a little scary to show up to a new class. I can only imagine the courage it takes for someone who has never danced before, as is clearly the case for some. When I see a middle-aged, Asian business man for instance, strutting across the dance studio gettin’ his swag on, I think, wow, now that’s my nigga! Somethin’s changin’ y’all. And maybe things like yoga, spirituality and the arts are leading the way…

“What are you doing?” I ask Mr. Octopus.

“Gettin’ my krrrump  on!”

“Oh, I was worried you were having a seizure.”

“Don’t hate!”

He’s right, as usual. It’s ok to get angry. To feel hurt, betrayed, but, God, Spirit, Ancestors, please grant me/us the grace, to, even in the throes of our anger, leave hate and love.


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