Simply Today

Race Stories Through Movement

Posted on: June 18, 2012

Sometime this past spring a former dance member (Kara) of the dance ministry team approached the group as well as other members of the church or former members to gauge our interest in a performance she was hoping to put together. Combining her interest in dance as a form of communication and her passion for racial justice she came up with the working title “Race Stories Through Movement,” and it stuck. Three of us on the ministry team said ‘yes,’ and five other ladies from the congregation and community at large joined as well. We were chicana, black and white. From the initial proposal right through the end I knew this initiative was larger than any one person or even the group. The work being done, the experiences being shared were combatting racism, even if at a micro level.

We gathered for weekly meetings, multiple months, first being given questions to reflect on, and then taking some of our answers and the images that were invoked, started working on choreography. The two prompts I ended up focusing on were “What does white privilege feel, taste and sound like? What shape is it?” And “Write an “I am” poem, using references to the five senses.

To the question on white privilege I wrote briefly that, privilege feels like a synthetic, transparent skin I was dressed in at birth, not by God but by white mankind, that is a faint enough memory I forget that it exists sometimes, a lot of the time…The shape of privilege is (being inside of the) circle.

And my I am poem:

I am the stench sent off the lake breeze, risen up from the sandy, seaweed floor.

I am before and after the cracks in the sidewalk and unknown constellations.

I am soft fingertips.

I am the echo hiding in eaves, flying down to join a whisper or a song.

I am sugar and spice, dimpled pie-crusts and pumpkin filling.

Guided by a professional dancer in our group who headed up the creative component, we started brainstorming how to translate my short response on white privilege into a four or five minute dance. Immediately she and Kara took to the idea of being within the circle, after an exercise that had produced the idea of having a figuratively backwards birth (one in which awareness was not there), and being stuck inside of the circle. They wanted a spotlight creating the circle, and me in it, with various levels of awareness and various attempts to get out. Yes! That jived with what was in my mind. They liked the backwards birth too. So, throughout the following weeks I worked on the dance and then eventually the creative leader suggested I use the images from my “I am” poem to extend the dance once I was out of the circle. It was a hard process. The type of movements I was using were not usual to my set of skills honed through liturgical dance at the church. Also, though I had solely choreographed dances before, this  one told a harder, more intimate story.

What follows is the blurb I submitted for the program, once the dance was fully choreographed:

Jessica ——- is a life long member of — and the current — Dance Group leader. In this three part piece, she explores the various levels of awareness she has come into, regarding white privilege. Questioning that privilege, dialoguing, and remaining an active thinker can be scary and does not come naturally to her, but initiatives like this performance encourage growth in these specific areas.

Here are a couple pictures, and if you would like to watch the grainy video, e-mail me and I will give you the link, username and password to view it, because I can’t putting it here.



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