Winter 2023 In Dance

Published by Dancers' Group, In Dance is discourse and dialogue to unify, strengthen, and amplify.


P.30 Adapting Instead of Excluding

P.56 Dancing Rivers

P.50 Artists in Exile


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THIS IS MY THIRD AND LAST ISSUE of In Dance as Guest Editor. Or, as I prefer, Quest Editor. Because it has been an adventure to seek writ- ers from all corners of our community and help them clear the path their pieces want to take. My quest is urgent. That’s my answer to a question posed by Liv Schaffer, who wondered in the previous issue “what it’s like to make something…knowing it may be the last of its kind that you make”? I felt an urgency to explore a theme that I believe is vital to our dance community and beyond: intergenerational co-creation. So


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I asked the writers in this edition to consider the concept of Sankofa. Sankofa is a Ghanian symbol, a bird with its feet facing forward, its long neck craned back towards its tail. An egg floats under its open beak. Sankofa roughly translates to, “Go back and get it.” We owe it to the future as we owe it to the past. I first learned about Sankofa at a cogenerational fellowship retreat that Liv and I both attended. Sankofa served as a metaphor for our cogenerational fellowship. And I thought it could be a promising theme for this beginning-of- the-year issue. The writers, writers across six generations–from 20 something, to 70–indulged me. And they delivered. Some invoke Sankofa tangentially: “She is covered in a many-hued garnish of boas.” Others explicitly: “Another interpretation of the Sankofa bird says…if we mis- takenly overlook the past, it is okay to retrace our steps and make amends.” I grew up with the movie Back to the Future from 1985. Marty McFly travels back in time to 1955 on a quest to change the course of history. At his parents’ high school dance Marty finds himself onstage with the band playing guitar. He launches into an 80s-style solo, on his knees, eyes squeezed shut, jamming with abandon. Everything stops. He opens his eyes to looks of shock. In reflecting on the power of Sankofa and the trailblazing artists among these pages, I can’t help but think of Marty McFly in his urgent, electrifying moment. When he realizes the room’s gone silent he blurts out this message of hope: “I guess you’re not ready for that. But your kids are gonna love it.” Ready or not, here we come!

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Accessibility in Nightlife by Octavia Rose Hingle

An email exchange between guest editor Rowena Richie and butoh legend Hiroko Tamano

46/ OMG Spill the Tea KHFRESH 2023

12 / If They Don’t Give You a Seat at the Table, Make Your Own Table by Olivia Winston and Madison Lindgren 18 / Afrimerica by Michael French 26/ Fourth to Fifth Generation Flamenco & Spanish Dancer by Tachíria Flamenco 30/ Adapting Instead of Excluding by Natalia Velarde 36/ Adaptar En Vez De Excluir Por Natalia Velarde

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50/ Artists in Exile

by Angela Arteritano

54/ at some point By Andersmith 56/ Dancing Rivers

Danielle Vigil

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In Dance | May 2014 |

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An email exchange between guest editor ROWENA RICHIE and butoh legend HIROKO TAMANO


beam ON THE PUT yourself



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RR: Hi, Hiroko. I recently saw you in The Jaws of All Are Red With Gore! [a collaboration between drag performer Silk Worm, movement artist Frank Leasing, and Hiroko Tamano]. I have attended a num- ber of Bare Bones Butoh shows over the years. And I’m guest-editing the Dancers’ Group publication In Dance . The theme of the next issue is “go back and get it.” Or, how do we engage with our past to shape the future? Would you be interested in contributing a piece of writing? What is on your heart and mind at the moment?

and practice potlucks. Why do I want to find a writer on YOUR page? To capture your thoughts! Who are you? What lights you up? Where do you want to go? I am moved to draw out this dancing Hiroko voice. 2 The equal point of dance is the start and end. The drop out of the womb. The drop dead. 3 100 years from now I imagine the bog buck moth will have flickered out. Their wings, like their habitat– the once flourishing bog buckbean fields–dust. And so it goes in the dance of life. One sheds, one exits, one adapts. Your turn! How would you answer your own questions (and a few others)? HT: 1 What makes you want to step out on the written page? When making a dance piece, words and noise-sounds build im- ages inside dancers’ bodies. Each alphabet has its own world. When the alphabets connect, they produce a common meaning. (It is a kind of Chemistry.)

3 100 years from now. What can you imagine of our World, our life?

Nutritious water lets the innocent seeds wake up.

Eager to exist like weeds. Dandelion! Wanna take a seat where you’re sprayed with the splashed water by a thirsty wolf.

As far as following those words and sentences, what makes everything connected?

8 Why are Butoh and Drag perfor- mance wonderful compliments?

Originally, there is no such thing as something belonging to something. Each and every life respects its own dew drop like life.

Vibrations )))))))))))))) That’s it!

Good & Bad are equal. So, carry no judgment. Zen-zen! (none at all).

Both have honesty and myth.

When I say something, the sound releases into the air and keeps spread- ing. Even though it gets thinner and harder to hear, the waves keep going. Finally, it reaches the skin of our Universe and bounces back.

RR: I love your Japanese lessons. More please! Are there characters for Honesty? Myth? Butoh? Drag? HT: Drag: 薬・ Inside of bushy tree, there is a happy bird singing. くすり・ This weekend we will review Koichi Tamano’s choreographed work “Swamp” (1979). We plan to dedicate it to SF Zen Center’s first annual Butoh & Zen Event.

The morals are in common. Trust leads to peace of mind.

What about many stories from masses of bodies?

4 Where does movement begin and end?

From the beginning, why do we have a body?

The sound keeps traveling back across the Universe and reaches me.

Starts at the birth of our

When light moves, shadows change the form to a two dimensional world.

Universe. Ends when the perfect silence meets the pure black space.

It takes about 200 years, about 7 generations of human life.

HT: Good questions read out good answers.

In our daily life, those strange two dimensional lives are connected to three dimensional objects. When I walk down a street, my shadow con- nects to the shadow of a tree on a sidewalk. So, I extend this black flat myself into Tree.

5 What is the origin of Butoh?

200 years later, my human body is already gone, so the sound affects my 7th generation children. I look back on my fortunate life. 200 years ago, who was my ancestor who said the words of love? On the other hand, misfortunes might be an appeal from our ancestors. It must be solved. That is why chant- ing prayers keeps existing for thou- sands of years. Panting happily, a girl shakes her body, seems to have just arrived over a desert.

I have questions for you.

Sincerity, Sympathy & Care. 愛 (ai): 3 legs spiral up to Heart (心). The 3 legs are Past, Present & Future. 心 ( kokoro) is the spinning disk in side of our chest. It has 3 fire flames: one in the center, and the right and left end have one each. When the 3 spaces and times spiral up into the heart, strong beams are released above. Put yourself on the beam.

1 What makes you want to step out into the wild field to find a writer on your page? 2 Dancing has lots of different forms, but what is the equal point? 3 Our World has been changing so much in the last 200 years, 100 years, 50 years, 30 years, 10 years even. 100 years from now, what can you imagine of our World, our life?


< Nice Rain Today

RR: It was wonderful attending the first-ever butoh performance at the Zen Center. My friend who is a Zen practitioner was really excited about bringing in a butoh performance because she said there is so much sitting in Zen practices, but not that much movement. How could this joint meeting open up both butoh and Zen practices, do you think?

Then, both agree we are the same.

Rewind: Three dimension – Two dimension – One dimension – Zero dimension…

Forward: Three dimension – Four dimension…

6 How have you resettled Butoh in the Bay Area?

Try to imagine a four dimensional myself.


Writing letters is good practice for Dancing & Life.

HT: Thank you for sending Wind to me.

RR: OK, this is exactly why I invited you to write – you challenge me! 1 What makes me want to step out into the wild field to find a writer on my page? We cut across diverse dance land- scapes and encourage new growth on these pages. The community is invited in through the kitchen door where they see dance makers’ raw ingredients–fresh verbs, process

In 1976, the “Japan Now’’ exhi- bition at SFMOMA was the first BUTOH appearance in the USA, by Koichi Tamano. In 1979, we settled in Berkeley, CA. So many people support each other…ALL we were YOUNG!

Three dimensional me must be a kind of shadow of the four dimensional me. It may be a floating Amoeba, a space Fungus. While sleeping, dreaming, imagin- ing, meditating…we travel through our own dark space to go somewhere or to something. Unexpected visitors come. Fifth dimension! Oh! I don’t know. Telepathy might be common sense there.

Words fall into the infinite depth of her body.

2 Dancing has lots of forms, but what is the equal point?

Writing is awakening my brain.

From the depth, words rise up, meta- morphose into many different matters. Strangely her body blows and shrinks. View “fissioning Moon” again & again = view my body getting kneaded up from one cell…then find the extraordinarily miserly in the back- room of a sheep-pen.

Dancers’ soles are on the Earth. Dancers’ heads are pointed to the sky. Gravity holds the dancer’s body on the surface (skin) of the Earth. And at the same time, an anti- gravity wave released from the core of this planet waves through the dancer’s body and extends out to outer space.

Zen Center’s gig was very good timing.

It was a clear step for each person. Zen is mindful and But-Oh! is windful.

7 What are your hopes for the future of Butoh?

Zen is a wild thing originally. Hi . I will send you more very soon. [later that night. Subject line “BUTOH:”]

Soil starts absorbing spring-sun and melted snow water. Winter snow melts, changes shapes and disappears.



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From the criterion of mythical, everything is acceptable.

My eyeballs are so easy to be tricked. I have been viewing a variety of illusions.

We enshrine something and do ceremonies and festivals.

舞 Bu: Spin & get trance 踏 Toh: Step on the sun reflecting on water and splash ! I have a big appreciation for this Land. It gives me a lot! I’m writing this on Thanksgiving night. Hiroko HIROKO TAMANO 1952: Born in Fukuoka prefecture of Japan, as the 2nd daughter of a farm family. AGE 2 , adopted by a Literature family. AGE 8, the family moved to Tottori prefecture. Snow country. AGE 18 , entered Art University in Tokyo. AGE 20, entered Butoh founder Hijikata Tatsumi’s studio. 1972: Dance debut in Hijikata’s work at Kyoto University West Auditorium. Hijikata’s work “27 Evenings for Four Seasons” in Tokyo. 1973: Started living with Koichi Tamano. 1976: A daughter was born. 1979: Moved to the USA. Settled in Berkeley, California. 1980s: Arch Studio, Mabuhay Gardens, Theater Lab, Eureka Theater, SFMOMA, Canada tour, etc. 1981-’85: Worked at Moon Basket Futon Shop under Fusako de Angelis. 1990S: Japan tour, Europe tour, SF Butoh festivals, “Camp Winnarainbow” under Wavy Gravy. 1995-2012: Country Station Sushi Cafe owner. 2017: The first annual “Life & Death Celebration” Butoh gathering. BUTOH WORKS WITH KOICHI TAMANO: “Fetus of Nature” (1988),“Piece on Earth” (1989), “MandaLove” (1992) and others!

Longing, unhappiness. (What an impiety to parents.) Want, corruption. Must go down into Hell! (No guarantee of safe return.) Vomit. Mock. Forget oneself. Easy to get flatter. Self-conceit. Self-righteousness.

In the program note, Hijikata praised him, “This innocent child was the gift from his parents to weave a beautiful Butoh tapestry with- out lack of ignorance and misery.” After he left his teacher’s studio he connected with Artist Union of Japan (mostly conceptual artists). He pulled Butoh into the Art scene. (In the early 70’s Butoh was totally underground.) In 1976 SFMOMA had an exhibition “Japan Now.” It featured many Artist Union members and the first appear- ance of Butoh Koichi Tamano. In the audience were seated Allen Ginsburg, Donald Philippi (aka Slava Ranko) and others.

Encounter with Koichi Tamano.

He was born one year after World War II’s end at the foot of Mt. Fuji by the big [Ooi] river.

His father was a piano tuner and mother was a spinner.

He was the 9th child of the fam- ily, but only 3 brothers remained in those days. After finishing junior high school, he started working as a lathe turner. Then, he moved to Tokyo, where a year before, the Olympics was boomed. While working at a cabaret, he saw a floor show which was beautiful & thrilling. That was an encounter with Butoh Founder Hijikata Tatsumi.

My eyeballs are so easy to be tricked. I have been viewing a variety of illusions.

Many flickers…they are my dogs, cats, friends, gold fishes, plants, Pa, Ma, Gran-Pa, Gran-Ma…they inspire me, raise me.

43 years ago, I cut through wind and landed on this continent.

The continent accepted me and gave me big time & space.

18 year-old Koichi entered Hijikata’s dance studio.

Saying “YES” to myself makes my life so wealthy. That’s what I keep telling myself. Because, I can regret it later, not now.

27 year-old Koichi’s recital was produced by his teacher Hijikata.


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In Dance | May 2014 |

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W ith its feet deeply rooted for- ward and its head turning back towards an abandoned egg, the Ghanian symbol of the Sankofa bird serves as a guide for connecting with the past to understand how we can positively shape the future. That is, to know our histories can help us to better understand our present selves and how we fit into the world around us. It is a reminder to keep moving forward while showing rever- ence to those in the past who have taught us how to sur- vive, grow, and uplift ourselves and each other. In the ballet world, this reverence is manifested through a fight for more seats at the table for ethnically, cultur- ally, and racially diverse dancers, choreographers, and


artists. This is in part because of the ever-growing number of people, like us, who identify with more than one ethnic or racial background and are exhausted by the privilege and entitlement of white voices dominating the space at the head of the table. The complexity of existing between two cultures becomes even more complicated in a dance world that glorifies Eurocentric ideals of beauty and upholds white supremacy. Along with favoring white dancing bodies, Western dance techniques are usually taught in an author- itarian manner, which creates a power dynamic between teacher and student and can foster an environment of abuse, fear, and discrimination.

1 A nod to Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives, who famously said, “If they don’t don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”


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Western dance ideals have had a strong influence on our training: how we receive and process information, prioritize individuality over community, experience feel- ings of belonging and representation, and regard teach- ers’ and other students’ boundaries. As our ideas of art- istry evolve, we endeavor to develop more awareness of the conditioned understandings and inherent biases that the white supremacy culture of the dance world upholds. Rather than respecting the physical, emotional, and cultural boundaries of others, we often see those in posi- tions of power fail to accept accountability for violating the boundaries of those with less power. These hierarchi- cal power imbalances promote a culture of perfectionism and emphasize individual thoughts over collective needs, instilling shame and fear in mistake-making rather than appreciation for the natural processes of learning. On the contrary, non-Western cultures often use com- munity as a structure and value inclusivity and diver- sity, giving everybody a place in dance regardless of who holds the most power, experience, and knowledge in the room. Differences are embraced, with the recognition of power with each other rather than power over each other. OLIVIA: “You have good legs and feet for a Black girl.” “Wow, you can actually get over your [pointe-shoe] box!” “You look too athletic for ballet.” “I thought you did hip-hop.” These and similar comments have been directed towards me and other dancers of color, by white people, and are rooted in the historic, racist belief that ballet is solely for white dancing bodies.

It’s a well-known fact that Black and Brown artists have struggled and continue to struggle with recognition and acceptance in society, and it is glaringly obvious in the bal- let world. The subtle and sometimes outright blatant rac- ism in this elitist artform makes pursuing a Western dance career a challenging and often discouraging experience for dancers of color, which is why there is still a struggle for many of us to feel like we belong. Ballet is stubborn in its attempt to remain in the 16th cen- tury by upholding Eurocentric ideas and traditions. But with the growing racial tension and divide in the United States due in part to police brutality and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is increasingly important that companies give voice and representation to all different people, and reflect the diversity of society. Fortunately, there are organizations like Nashville Ballet that are doing the work to, “abolish racial inequalities in ballet,” and individ- uals such as Lauren Anderson, Katlyn Addison, and Misty Copeland who have broken barriers. But as a biracial Black woman, somewhere deep inside, is always a fear that there is not a place for me in this Eurocentric art form. I was adopted by white parents and grew up in a pre- dominantly white neighborhood, so I have always existed between two worlds. I have often felt the challenge of being pulled in two directions while also being pushed away and never completely fit- ting in: not white enough for some, not Black enough for others. The ballet studio was a place where it seemed like my Blackness stood out the loudest. I didn’t have any peers who looked like me and even at summer intensives, I was usually one of only a handful of dancers of color in the program. I sometimes found myself wondering if I was there because of my talent or to fulfill a diversity quota.

“Ballet is woman,” but in Chloe Angyal’s book, Turning Pointe, she expresses that isn’t the whole truth: “Ballet is white woman, or, perhaps more precisely, white wom- anhood . Ballet is a stronghold of white womanhood, a place where whiteness is the default and white femininity reigns supreme.” The first time I was surrounded by dancers who looked like me I was sixteen years old. I was attending the LINES Ballet Summer Program and it was the first time I had a Black ballet teacher, the first time I was encouraged to

as a dancer is a constantly evolving journey into my heri- tage and how that impacts my work as an artist. In a world where full-time company positions are fleet- ing, with only a small percentage of dancers making it into the “protection zone” these positions offer, I’m starting to think more broadly and creatively about other ways I can build a career as an artist. I was recently given the opportunity and space to explore my own choreography, which gave me firsthand experience as to how dance can be a vehicle into other expressions of art-

embrace my ethnicity, be comfortable in my skin, and to use it to inspire my artis- tic self. Prior to that summer I had given in to self-doubt and the entrenched, exhausting racism of ballet, and had taken a break from dance. I remember feeling for the first time that I was a part of a bigger community. And with that came a renewed confidence that I belonged in that creative space. As a dancer, one of my goals is to determine what I have to say as a cre- ator and a human being. In order for me to do this, I have to understand and embrace what my history is and who I am. I have to explore the complexi- ties of a biracial identity, pair that with the complexity of being an artist in a racist world, an artist pursuing ballet,

istry, and how I can connect modalities of other dance styles into my own prac- tice. It is so easy as an artist to do what I already know, but there is so much outside of this small bubble I train in that can feed and inform my work. When I have exhausted my own cre- ative devices and habits, I can look to a different form of dance to help me expand and play with the expressivity of the language I already know. For example, I can gain inspiration from cultural dances such as the Tinikling, the bird-like national dance of the Philippines that carries deep historical meaning, characterized by rhythmic sequences of hops between two bam- boo poles. I can then research how I can reignite my own creative instincts




and bring my unequivocal uniqueness to my creative pro- cess. I am just beginning to understand what it means to be a Black woman in society and in the dance world, and the privilege and responsibility that I have to continue the work of those who have come before me. I am also learn- ing that people have the power to make their own tables – to transform their history, their culture, and their otherness into beautiful and intriguing stories. In order to build my table I need to do the work to create my own community and provide a safe and inclusive space for everyone to con- tribute. While this may be daunting at times, I know how much representation has meant to me, so I owe it to those who come after me to continue in this work. MADISON: As a second-generation Filipino-American, I am con- stantly reconstructing my own cross-cultural identity and navigating the spaces I fit into. Ethnic identity is at the core of how many third culture individuals define their experiences and think about their future ambitions and desires. “Third culture” refers to the dual identity an individual experiences when they are influenced both by their parents’ culture and the culture in which they were raised. Embracing the liminal space between overlapping American and Filipino cultures and exploring my identity

with this dance that has a distinct cultural context, with its own original properties, by reframing the steps I’ve learned and considering them differently through the lens of my own movement practice, while honoring the Tinikling’s ori- gins. Paying tribute to long-standing traditions of my past by giving them a place in my current work allows me the opportunity to express a unique identity while also honor- ing my family who has supported my dancing dreams. T hroughout history, Philippine folk dances have been performed to show reverence to ances- tors, celebrate significant life moments, and build relationships within and across commu- nities. Today, folk dance is used to rediscover and preserve the rich history of indigenous cultures in the Philippines. It is a way of physically encrypting the stor- age of information, generating awareness, remembering the past, and making the body a repository of both knowl- edge and memory. What interests me most about com- munity-engaged practices like folk dance is the potential to address social issues and spark dialogue by amplify- ing many culturally and ethnically diverse voices through movement and collaboration. As I continue to develop my artistic voice, I aspire to detach myself from the self-serving aspects of dance and

As I explored my future in dance, I feared there would not be a seat for me at the table. The table. What is the table? I’ve always thought of the table as a symbol of a place where people are given equal opportunities to be respectfully heard and have their opinions valued – a catalyst for change. But who is given a seat? Who is being represented? After years of being the only Black person in the room, I came to believe the table was only occupied by a myriad of whiteness, a place where I would never be welcomed. A place in ballet where success- ful and perfect dancers, according to Eurocentric beauty standards, get to sit. Balanchine once said,


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unify strengthen amplify unify strengthen amplify

44 Gough Street, Suite 201 San Francisco, CA 94103

and share inspiration and imagination. We are currently in our second and final year of the LINES Training Pro- gram, and for this past year and a half we have bonded over our similar experiences as biracial artists to which few of our classmates can relate.

not only a table of their own, but also a table for others in the community who are otherwise unseen and unheard. Another interpretation of the Sankofa bird says: it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot; meaning, if

we mistakenly overlook the past, it is okay to retrace our steps and make amends. Solano elaborates, “Now you’re not just responsible for your art, you’re responsible for people’s living cultures. The process of learn- ing and unlearning is not about the mistakes, but rather about the oppor- tunity to make change, because you can’t change the past.” He acknowl- edges what he didn’t know when he began his dance journey at age 15, and recognizes how he can still change today to continue to improve his ways of learning. “The world has changed. The access to information has changed. The access to the village and culture-bearers has changed, so we also need to change our process to keep the cultural integrity of the


However, this feeling of otherness is not all that drew us to each other; we also hold comparable morals, work ethics, and excitement relating to dance and future ambitions. Cultivating relationships with men- tors, teachers, and peers that foster understanding, encouragement, and guidance when mistakes are made is necessary in the development of an artist. We believe it is important to have a community that supports one other to impact change and make more seats available at our table. “Creating your own table will take a lot of work, a lot of courage,” Solano reflected. “You can be put down, you can be ignored, a lot of doors will close, guaranteed…But what’s

delve into the core values and potentials of the arts to help others. Community-based work is often an entry point into becoming artist-citizens–responding to the interests and needs of the communities around us by connecting who we need to be, with who we intrinsically are. I believe art can be/should be a reflection of the human condition, so it is our responsibility to utilize our art to make genuine efforts towards change. I am seeking spaces and opportu- nities to build relationships with other artist-citizens. T o gain perspective on community-oriented practices and how they relate to my dance path and cultural lineage, I interviewed some- one who is a true embodiment of an artist- citizen: Parangal Dance Company Artistic Director and choreographer Eric Solano. Born in the Philippines and raised in the Bay Area, Solano uses Philippine folk dance as a vehicle to uplift the identities of over 30 indigenous communities in the Philippines and to more deeply understand his heritage. “Our work is centered on past cultures and traditions and how they serve as a pure understanding of who I was, who I am, and what I want to do in moving the community forward and giving back to those we have learned from,” Solano told me in an interview. As the company continues to transform, Solano balances his own ideas and visions with maintaining the integrity of the original movement he learns from indigenous people during immersion trips to the Philippines. Solano explains that the company goes through a review process in building trust with the communities, adjusting until they receive a final blessing from the elders to ensure the performed dance

remains as authentic as possible. He vocalizes his respon- sibility to pay tribute to tradition rather than replacing or erasing it, critical when redesigning dances for perfor- mance. In centering community-engaged projects, Solano says, “Our work is not about me. It’s more about acknowl- edging the talent, skills, and commitment from the mem- bers of the company and leveraging that to help them develop into their own artistic voices and potentials, not just for the company, but also for the communities they work with.” Rather than looking at the artist as an individ- ual, they are a part of a whole community. Solano speaks about navigating a distinctive cross-cul- tural identity of both American and Filipino cultures and how that informs his aspirations as an artist-citizen. “On paper I am American, because I need to be able to survive and adjust to the rules of this country, but my heart, my mind, and my soul are Filipino, [which impacts] the proj- ects I do, how I’m going to help people, and how I can uplift communities.” Solano also discusses the racism towards and within the Filipino community. One of the pieces Parangal is cultivat- ing for next year embodies the Tarog Ati people of Guim- aras, an island province in the Philippines, and the discrim- ination and exploitation they experience because of the color of their skin. Relating it to the symbol of the Sankofa bird, he says, “This is who we were, this is who we are still, and this is who we are going to be, so what has to change if we are going to keep moving forward?” These Tarog Ati communities don’t have a seat at the table, a space where they are recognized and accepted. Solano strives to advo- cate for more visibility for these groups and their stories. Through their work, Parangal Dance Company has created

important is the progress you have made in that journey, and if we’re lucky enough we have the people by our side to join that journey.” Our hope is that artists become so valuable to their com- munities, and communities become so valuable to the art- ists amidst them, that we are able to protect each other and continue to improve the condition of the arts in Amer- ican society. As our understanding of what is possible for the future of a life in the arts evolves, we strive to become more in tune with our pasts. We intend to have a positive impact on the present and future generations of artists, and look to the Sankofa bird as a guide for gaining under- standing from the past to collectively shape the future. OLIVIA WINSTON is a dancer based in San Francisco. Originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, she received her training in the Ballet West Profes- sional Training Division and is currently in the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program. Olivia has had the opportunity to learn and perform works by Kameron Saunders, Keelan Whitmore, Penny Saunders, Carmen Rozenstraten, Chuck Wilt, and Mike Tyus. She has received additional training over the summers at Hubbard Street Dance Company, American Ballet Theater, Ballet West, Houston Ballet, and ArtÉmotion. MADISON LINDGREN was raised in Lubbock, Texas where she began her training at Ballet Lubbock. She then continued her education at the University of Utah and the Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA Program at Dominican University. Madison is presently in the LINES Ballet Training Program, where she has had the opportunity to perform new works by faculty and guest choreographers, as well as explore her interests in her own choreography. Madison has also trained at programs such as the Jacob’s Pillow Contemporary Program, School of American Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

work.” For instance, Solano staged a bird dance back in 1993. Today, the dance is still being performed, but its cul- tural integrity is now better preserved through research and guidance directly from indigenous communities. As for the future of dance, Solano aims to continue to decolonize the system and encourage self-identity through his art. Parangal is the first Filipino folk dance group to be awarded a New England Foundation for the Arts National Dance Project grant, and Solano also dreams of more funding to better pay artists as well as continue to prioritize indigenous community members in his work. Furthermore, he anticipates a “cultural revolution,” a term coined by Cirilo “Sapi” Bawer, also known as Papa Bawer, a culture-bearer of the Kalinga community. Solano hopes that through the medium of dance, more Filipinos embrace and take pride in who they are. “We have a lot of work to do, and hopefully the younger generations join the mission so that we can continue in our cultural rev- olution and in the renaissance in Philippine art, culture, and our own people.” Through exploration of my own responsibility in this cul- tural revolution, I am committed to the process of nurtur- ing my artistic intention to advocate for social change and elevate the culturally diverse communities around me. MADISON AND OLIVIA: Dance can be a competitive, demanding, and inequita- ble field, but we are fortunate to have built a close empa- thetic friendship in which we challenge one another, give each other the courage to uplift our individual identities,


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IS THERE any place on the planet more misun- derstood, more misused, unknown, mistaken, proclaimed, mytholo- gized and unresolved than the continent of Africa (the answer is ‘no,’ btw)? When you throw the blurry vision and the blurry romance of the African diaspora into the mix, who, despite our best inten- tions, despite how hard we try to resist, still hold onto a dream that one day, one day , we will all be back together again and everything’s gonna be alright, then you have a journey and a conversation that has no end in sight. For the time it takes you to read this article, the extraordinary artists of Gbedu Town Radio will be our guide and our conscience as they leave the concrete of Oakland for the concrete of Nigeria, and wade through the thorny history of where Africa and America merge and separate, and then merge and separate again. I’m no genius, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s gonna be quite a ride…. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I SURVIVED 13 YEARS IN PRISON, but I am not free from my experience of prison. I have nightmares of being thrown back into the system. I am hyper vigilant, often secluded, and wake up most days still amazed that I am not incarcerated. Every second of every day, I accept that my reality consists of the version of me that is free, and the version of me that will never be free.

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TO BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING… In what now looks like an age of reckless innocence, 2009 to be exact, as Obama wrestled with Wall Street and the three-headed monster of the Great Recession with a nobility that was quaint at best, deluded in truth, Nkeiruka Oruche, Tossie Long and Kola Shobo were con- juring up Bakanal de Afrique. Bakanal was a street based revelry of art and culture that celebrated the Afro-urban experience in all its raucous diversity. The reaction from their east Oakland community was immediate and explo- sive. Then came Afro-Urban Dance Experience, Gbedu Town Radio, and a whole host of classes and workshops. Suddenly there was a wild fire of programs and perfor- mances that somehow found the sweet spot between social justice, education, and pure artistic expression. With each event the word of mouth grew louder and louder. Sometimes it came with the hollering of Black American music from the 60s, Afrobeat, Soukous, Funk or Highlife. Sometimes with the waistlining hips of coupe decale, or dancehall, or ndombolo, or poppin’, or

Michael: And you told me this trip is only part of a larger project…..?

steppin,’ or boogaloo. Whatever it was and whenever it was, the hunger for it was clear; A fuse had been lit, a conversation started, and it was ‘let’s kick out the jams brothers and sisters’ all over the Bay Area! Fast forward to 2022 and blow straight past all the program developments: the design and tech fellowships, Onye Ozi, Black Box, kids camps, the ‘Notable & Noto- rious Nigerian Women’ coloring book, writing work- shops, ‘Mixtape of the Dead and Gone,’ and the creation of Afro Urban Society. Actually, let’s back up a couple of steps to Afro Urban Society for a minute. Says it all, doesn’t it: AFRO URBAN SOCIETY! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Nkeiruka, the founder and artistic director of Afro Urban Society, created the company to house the expanding pro- grams and events and give them somewhere to go, some- place to be, a home. Says it all, doesn’t it: AFRO URBAN SOCIETY! This is why in 2022 with America strug- gling to believe that ‘This is America,’ the only thing that made sense to Nkeiruka when looking out at the horizon was to pack up their bags, gather their instruments, their

promises, their hopes, their unanswered prayers, and unanswered dreams, and head 8,000 miles east to Nigeria. Says it all, doesn’t it. The only thing that made sense was a journey back to Nigeria to reconnect with the dance and Igbo 1 cultural tra- ditions of their ancestors. As with all ideas of true and spiritual

The only thing that made sense was a journey back to Nigeria to reconnect with the dance and lbgo cultural traditions of their ancestors.

Nkeiruka: Yeah, Obi-gbawara’m . The literal translation is ‘I am broken hearted,’ though my alternative title is ‘What happens when you die.’ Obi-gbwara’m is a project about learning and teaching traditional Igbo practices around death and grieving. Y’see, that’s the thing, there are some

beauty, there were others thinking the same thing, and so it was that Afro Urban Society’s travel exchange for creatives to experience Africa’s dynamic cultures was born. As Nkeiruka said, ‘A time comes when you have to Pull Up, Show Out.’ TO BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING AGAIN… With little more than two weeks until they step aboard their flight to Lagos, I sat down with Gbedu Town

things that can’t be told, y’know? No matter what we say or do, there are just some things that cannot be told. The artis-

tic part of the trip – the dance, the music, is almost an excuse for the spiritual part, and the spiritual part is doing the critical work of learning and documenting the Igbo practices that folks here and folks there have dis- carded or taken for granted, and you can only do that on the ground. Roshonda: I came to Afro Urban for the dance, but I always knew that it would be not just dance, that there’s more to it than that, that I’m gonna learn….. Nkeiruka: If you’re going to be a vessel for the informa- tion, a carrier, or the representation of the work, you have to cut out the middle person at some point, the translator, and have your own experience with the source. Uzo: Yeah, for me, this is the first time I’m going home with a different hat on. I’m going as an artist and I’ve been dreaming about this since I was, I dunno, since I came to this country – that someday I’ll be able to go back to Nigeria and study dance and my culture in a way that is seen as valuable. Nkeiruka: Y’see, everyone who’s coming has their own responsibilities, their own context and that’s the beauty of the project, that there’s a diverse group of experiences, ages, and relationships connected to their African sensibil- ity. We’re all going to be seeing the same thing, yet expe- riencing separate things and so you have to be there for yourself. Otherwise, by the time it comes to me, comes to you, it’s a placebo, right? Michael: Ha! That’s funny. I hear you – So, Jameelah, Roshonda, you’re the only ones that have never been to Africa, right?

Radio members Nkeiruka Oruche, Kanukai Chigamba, Ebonie Barnett, Roshonda Parker, Uzo Nwankpa, and Jameelah Lane for what is likely to be just the beginning of a very long conversation. Michael: Okay…. So, you’re going to Nigeria to reconnect with the dance and Igbo traditions of your ancestors, and I get that, makes sense, but Why now? Nkeiruka: Ohhhhh! Okaaay…. There are so many responses… I’ve reached a boiling point, both personally and in society, y’know. I’m daily thinking of the mortality of my parents. The loss of loved ones is not just about people, they also take with them the questions that you can never ask, the mysteries that you can never solve. Some of the ancestors are gone with them as well. I can’t wait another day! Right now, I don’t have anything to offer to my children. I’m too ill- equipped. I don’t have the muscle to embody ancestral ways. 1 The Igbo People are an ethnic group in Nigeria. They are primarily found in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo States. Traditional Igbo religion includes belief in a creator god (Chukwu or Chineke), an earth goddess (Ala), and numerous other deities and spirits as well as a belief in ancestors who protect their living descendants.

Jameelah: Yeah.

Gbedu Town Radio Ensemble (L - R) Yung Phil, Kanukai Chigamba, Ebonie Barnett, Uzo Nwankpa, Moses Omolade

Michael: How does it feel to know that – and I’m going to put my word in here, that you’re finally going?


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Jameelah: I’m excited to see the people… I feel like a strong calling, like there’s this miss- ing piece to my story, a piece to a puzzle, just about our ancestors and slavery, so I’m feel- ing like, um – also the similarities, as a Black woman in America, just going over there and seeing how we all move together…. Michael: Is anyone frightened that they’re going to get there and find out that damn, I’m too American for Africa…… ?

way that we have and I’m gonna be in that way….

Kanukai: That’s the biggest thing for me, just being grounded in knowing that I have all these amazing women with me that are gonna help me stay in myself so I can show up in a very respectful way… Some of the places we’re gonna go are very sacred, so how can we show up – not every Nigerian, not every Igbo person is allowed to be in those places, y’know. So, how do I show up without the ‘I’m African, I’m Zimbabwean, we’re cousins and I should be allowed to go in here because we’re doing research,’ y’know? That’s where I’m at. Michael: Talk ‘bout complicated, but it has to be, right! I mean, I’ve never been and so I only have an idea of Africa, but there’s a truth that must hit you the minute you step off that plane, I imagine. There’s no way this trip can just be about dance or even about Igbo tradi- tions, is all I’m trying to say… Going to Africa can’t just be about any one thing…. Kanukai: Yeah, but some things are just cultural, y’know? I don’t know if this happens in Nigeria, but elderly women [in Zimbabwe), they can literally, just randomly, come up and touch your boobs, if they like you…

Jameelah: Yeah, When you originally asked the question I said ‘no,’ ‘cus I was thinking about this idea of blending in, but listening to Ebonie and Nkei speak, I’m like, yeah, I coming out there like a California girl, but I’m not gonna be like some boujee bitch, y’know! Hahahaha…

Uzo: But you will be, hahahah!

Jameelah: No, yeah, right!? Hahaha! I started thinking about that too, hahaha… Like, when I went out to Haiti they had a different way of doing things, like washing clothes! It took me all day to wash my clothes and they were like, ‘do you want me to do it for you?’ and Imma, ‘No! I got it,’ hahaha…..!

Jameelah: Nooo…..


Roshonda: The Africans here look at us dif- ferently, so I’m sure they’re going to look at us differently over there. Michael: An African American friend of mine told me that the only place he’s seen as American is in Africa.

Michael: Uzo?

Uzo: Yeeaaah….

Michael: Hahahaha, I like that tone…

Uzo: This is so interesting ‘cos I struggle with the identity issues too. I speak one of the languages, but even with that – I’m not fluent, I do my best, but there’s all these dia- lects and it takes but two seconds before they

Ebonie: I agree.

(Everybody Laughing)

Michael: Speak on that.

Kanukai: It’s nothing sexual, but ….This has happened to me in Zimbabwe and Togo, and they were just checking to see if I’m okay…. y’know, babies…. (Everybody REALLY laughing!)

go, ‘Oooooh, she’s not from around here – Imposter!’ Hahaha! So, then I have to prove that I am, prove that I’m not, depending on the spaces I’m in… Some spaces I wanna flex, y’know, because it gets shit done, but then other places you don’t want them to know you’re American so the code switching is real! It brings up a lot of insecurities for me – ‘Where am I from, for REAL!’ Michael: Kanu, it must be different for you as I assume you go back and forth pretty reg- ularly….

Ebonie: When I went to Africa the first time there were maybe five Americans, including myself, some Africans, and there was also some Black folks from around the diaspora. The Americans and the other folks from the diaspora got along, the Africans got along with people from other parts of the diaspora, but the Africans didn’t like the Americans. The Africans from the continent didn’t under-

The loss of loved ones is not just about people, they also take with them the questions that you can never ask, the mysteries that you can never solve. – NKEIRUKA ORUCHE

Nkeiruka: Hahahaha! The one thing I would say is that in Nigeria the respectability around women is really high, so I definitely have some anxiety around like – what’s the pre- sentation about how we dress, what our hair is gonna look like ‘cos I know that – this group, they will look at them and be like, ‘Oh, these are prostitutes,’ I just know it. The role of women in Nigeria is to present yourself in all these pro- scribed manners so you don’t get disrespected – class also plays into that, depending on where you are…. Here, like, you can be of any kinda class, you can look any kinda way, but obviously it’s worse and worse the darker you are. I mean, rich white men, obviously, can be whatever, but over there if you’re not presenting yourself as a “Madam,” people in the street feel they can treat you any kind of way.

Roshonda: Mixed emotions, of excitement and uncer- tainty…. Like, um, like not scared, but, um, what’s another word for scared?

stand why I knew what they knew, which was interest- ing…. but the Africans from the continent did the stuff that we do here in America, does that make sense? Dancewise, they were doing poppin n lockin and shit, but they didn’t like that I could do African movement, yet their main style of dancing was poppin n lockin, but they had no under- standing of the culture behind it. I’m not going there with no kind of anything, I feel like I’ve done that before – last time I thought it was gonna be a ‘coming home moment,’ and niggas was like, ‘Errrr….? ‘ What the fuck! Hahahaha! So, it’s like, I dunno what to expect, hahahha….. Nkeiruka: It’s gonna be interesting because going there with this group – I’m not going to be there with my fam- ily, y’know, where I’m just one of many and not really noticed. I’m gonna be vibing off what we have and be in that comfort zone – it’s a way, y’know what I mean? It’s a

Jameelah: Anxious?

Kanukai: Um, Um, Um, I’m looking forward to, um, I’m trying not to have too many expectations and I’m trying not to have the confidence of ‘I’m African….’ Michael: I love the way you put that – ‘Trying not to have the confidence of I’m African…’ Kanukai: I know we’re gonna have moments where we shouldn’t have said something, but I’m really excited to be in Nigeria with all Black women, I’m not gonna lie –

Roshonda: Yeah, that too…. I was going to go to Angola for dance, but the pandemic hit and my flight was canceled.

Jameelah: It’s just now feeling real…. when my passport came yesterday…… It makes me think about my parents, my siblings, the folks who have never traveled in my family…. Ebonie: This will be my first time going with folks I know. The first time was to Senegal for dance and I didn’t know anyone.

Michael: Uzo, you wanna throw in a quick thought on this…?



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