Monday, February 10, 2014

Dancing the Mask Part 1

In the last week I remembered how I’d been working with a stage director ten years ago and she remarked “Oh I forgot you don’t like to move too much, can you do a crawl instead then?” While I welcomed the note then (mostly because it was the truest thing ever), I consider now how changes have taken place in my life that have caused me to appreciate the role of dance and movement as a transcendental thing; as communication, as memory, building community and a celebration of life. This was not always the case for me, it was something I regarded as ‘outside myself’ and admittedly not belonging to a person with a certain amount of poise, my own snobbish bias.

This attitude of mine might have come from a number of places, but I can point to my immersion in Western Catholic values as one of the primary sources. Even though I boast of my unusual folk training as having come from my (relatively rural) church, with drumming and African dance classes and Ella Andall (Yoruba) music, I must confess that even though I had all of these experiences, my understanding of modesty and the expectations of a ‘pure’ young woman constantly conflicted with this New World African female body, considered vulgar and ‘wrong’ by nature. (See: Saartjie Baartman)

There is an unruly-ness that we have historically associated with African dance, which extends itself to our Carnival traditions in the Caribbean, classed as overly-sexual and profane. I had played mas for many years as a child, up until I ‘became a woman’ around the same time I couldn’t find a band that wasn’t intended for much older patrons and had the kind of fabric coverage I desired as a Christian woman. In other words, I wasn’t down with the bikini movement (still am not actually), but still had a certain respect and admiration for the mas as a whole. In my teenage years, I refused the whole clubbing scene and partying, mostly because these types of environments made me feel both uncomfortable (the fete as a predatorial lair) and awkward (I don’t dance, I don’t drink, I don’t like talking that much, what I going there for?).

It was interesting what my Brooklyn experience was able to bring to the table. The issue of safety and uncomfortability was often eliminated by the fact that my friends were the ones hosting these parties, and in their homes, safe spaces. The issue of awkwardness is also taken care of by what I call ‘dancefloor autonomy’ where I was now free to dance and move on my own ground without being constantly interrupted by a male (or even female) presence inching their way up to me trying to ‘take a wine’ (notice how they take, don’t ever ask). In fact, ‘wining’ (contrary to what most Caribbean people might want to believe) is actually not the only genre of dance that exists in the world, on a dancefloor. This was another relief to my own sensibilities. Here I feel like I do not have to compromise my faith or my Christianity to enjoy myself with people I actually care about. I have much more control over my space and who is allowed to share it with me.

Additionally, it would be important to note that I am at a place where I am now at home in this body after years of struggle with weight and what I look like, and (almost) every young woman’s superficial crisis of whether I was beautiful enough. Acceptance has ushered me into a state of freedom and David-ness where I acknowledge the human body in all its amazingness and form and ability. I am fighting the disconnection between mind and body. I am relearning how the feet can move, how the hands are made for praise and how the heart is the first rhythm of the body. I found God in an afro jazz song last night, and I thanked him for giving me these abilities to hear, to feel and to move!

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