Beyond Words | Dance || Radcliffe Institute

Beyond Words | Dance || Radcliffe Institute


[RHYTHMIC TAPPING AND CLAPPING] [LAUGHTER] – Ho. [LAUGHING] [APPLAUSE] – Thank you, everyone. It’s so great to be here. Thank you, Professor Hisa,
and thank you to the Radcliffe Institute for the
opportunity to be here, and to be a part
of this conference, in this marvelous
place of learning. Boy, and my stamina
somehow left the room. And also, such an honor and
a privilege to both be here, but also to share the stage
with these extraordinary artists that I am blessed
to call colleagues. Ayodele Casel, and
Antoine Hunter. You have your
programs, so I think you can read more about these
extraordinary people there. And I’d love to just dive
in to this conversation about embodied practice,
embodied knowledge, and research in our field
that we’re pretty attached to, called dance. But if you find dance
somehow conjures up a bad performance of
some kind, experience that you were forced to
watch on PBS or something– which, I love those programs. But allow, perhaps the idea of
motion and movement, and again, this theme of
non-verbal communication to be conjured up as
we talk about dance. So what you just witnessed
was how we speak in dance. And we often talk
to our students about, writing in dance is
dancing, choreographing. Making a performance public
is our version of publishing. So thinking about our
practice in those terms. And you know, what
does embodied language look like for each one
of us in this room, based on our experiences? And for us as dancers, our
life experience, but also the teachers, and
the environments of learning that we came up
through, and the traditions, the challenges, the triumphs. And so I thought that’d
be a good place to start, is to talk about each of
their histories with dance. And so maybe we can start with
that, maybe Ayodele, to star. Wondered if you could tell us
a little bit about how you came to dance, who you’re
influential teachers were, or what your influences
were and are. What came to this moment
of our expression? – Oh yes. – Here at Radcliffe. – Well, what came to
that is my intense desire to communicate, and to be
in communion with people. Not just people that I
shared the stage with, but the people that
are here in the space. I actually started tap
dancing much later, as far as like, you know, most kids start
when they’re very, very young. I was a sophomore in college. I was an acting major at NYU. And my senior year
in high school, I became really obsessed
with old movies, specifically Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I loved them. And I wanted to
be Ginger Rogers. So much so that I even
bought a prom dress that looked like one of her dresses. And it didn’t really look
like it, but in my mind, I was like, I’m
Ginger Rogers today. But had that was my first
real curiosity, other than when you’re a child,
and you’re just dancing in your room for fun, you know. And so my sophomore
year, I had this chance to really take this class. I just was so excited. And I loved it. And it was the basics. It was my flaps, and my
shuffles, in my Maxi Fords. And I was the best in my class–
which is not saying a lot, because we were just a
bunch of actors in a room, and they didn’t want to be
there in the first place. But I was living my
dream, doing this very by rote sort of material. And then, about
a year into that, I met a young dancer
who was a freshman, his name was Baakari Wilder. And he had grown up dancing,
he was what we call, I mean, he was a hoofer. And he was working with Savion
Glover on a show called, Bring in ‘da Noise, bring in
‘da Funk, which was premiering at the Public Theater. And we had a mutual
friend, and he said– we happened to be
walking down the street, and he said, “Oh my
God, you’re both here. Baakari, you have
to meet Ayodele. Ayodele, you tap dance,
and you tap dance, and you all should
get together.” And I was so thrilled,
because I’m like, yeah, because I’m good, right. [LAUGHING] He goes, let’s get together. So we go, and we rent a space. And I’m putting on my shoes,
and he puts on his shoes, and he starts warming up. And what and this
is what I hear. I’m putting on my
shoes, and I hear– [SCATTING] And I just remember
going, wait a minute. That is not what I was doing.
‘Cause I had been doing– [VOCALIZING] And so that really quickly
turned into a private lesson. It was supposed to
be a jam session. But it was like, no, you
don’t know what you’re doing. But you know, he started to
tell me, like, oh wait a minute, you don’t tap. It was the first time that I
understood that tap dancing wasn’t a series of steps. And that it wasn’t
just vocabulary, that it was a mode
of expression, and a mode of communication. And specifically, that it
was attached to history, and that it was attached
to a legacy that I had been previously
unaware of. And so for me, it completely
turned everything on its head and I became super
obsessed with wanting to learn everything about it. And from an identity
perspective, as a black and Puerto Rican
woman, who in the ’90s– this is, we’re talking about
before the Latin explosion, before diversity and
inclusion was even something that was on the
tips of people’s tongues. I didn’t see much
representation. And so to find out
that this thing that I was so attached to,
and that drew me to it, was really heavily steeped in a
rich, wonderful, sophisticated, elegant, beautiful expression
of black people in this country. It really, it burst
open my heart. And I have been
with it, and trying to do my absolute best to
represent it as much as I can. But that is how I came in to
tap dancing in a nutshell. – Thank you. Antoine. – So for me, my story’s
slightly different. Well, just before I get started. I want you to copy me. Do this hand shape here. Now do like this. That means yes. Now do this hand shape. There you go. Now do this movement. That means no. So if I say, “Do
you understand?” You can say yes or no. So communication is
important for me. So do you guys
understand so far? All right, good. We’re on the same page. I was born in
Oakland, California. We had a value of community. And that community was
shared with language as well, as well as culture. My family identifies
African American. Oakland is home of the Black
Panthers, a lot of advocacy, rights movements. So it was difficult
and different for me to be the only
person who was deaf, and communicates
with sign language. So my single mom, she was
trying to pick up language here and there to communicate. Oftentimes I wouldn’t have
that access to signing. So whether it was a deaf role
model, or adults, or programs, I wasn’t exposed to that. So it was difficult for me. I couldn’t follow what was
going on on television. But I did see something
on television. There wasn’t captioning
at that point. People would be laughing,
and I’m like, oh, that’s my cue to start laughing. But not actually know
what I was laughing at, or be off-cue, and know
what’s actually going on TV. So I had that experience of not
being able to express myself. Then there was a chance I
went to the Oakland ballet. I think I was about
eight years old. It was so beautiful,
colorful, vibrant. The men and women, the
performers on stage. I laughed. I laughed so hard I
almost blurted out, and people were
all looking at me. And I saw, oh wait, they’re
laughing too, at the same time. I felt at home. Dance was a way for me to
communicate, to understand what was going on. My mom couldn’t
afford, at that time, for me to go to dance class. So I had to wait
till high school. And then it was at
Skyline High School. You know, it’s the
same, just by the way, it’s the same high
school Tom Hank went to. Just saying. So as a performing artist. I was so involved with all
the club activities and such. I tried to be very
involved and engaged. But it’s difficult,
because I was, again, the only deaf person
within the dance group. So think about that. So how would I be able to have
a date, develop a best friend. But guess what? Everyone in the
dance class, they were so focused on dancing,
so I couldn’t get a date. So check that off my list. I tried to just be a part of
the group and participate. My dance teacher at that point
wanted us to work on a dance, and we did some group work. So I was like, oh hey,
I want to work with you. No? Can I work with you? You? No one wanted to work with me. And they said, you know what? My teacher, said go
ahead, and why don’t you develop and choreograph a solo. So I had to pick
music at this point. You guys might know this song. (SINGING) And I will
always love you. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] So you know it? OK. So I had to work
on my interpreter, have him do that
vocal, but, you know. Who sings that song? – Whitney Houston. – Whitney Houston. That’s my wife too. Just so you know. So I was dancing to
that song, and I just felt so much
emotion, and a rush. And people were looking at me. And I just remember, something
changed in them as my audience. My dance teacher asked, “What
do you guys feel from him?” And I was nervous at that point. But the students say,
“We felt you were cold. I felt that you were evoking
that you were alone.” And that was that,
actually just it. I communicated, and I
had that connection, and I wasn’t alone anymore. At that moment, that’s
when dance was my love, and I just fell in love
with it, and continued with all different
types of dance. I realized through all
that different engagements of the different types of
dance, there is no limit. And I love it. And here I am today. – Thank you, thank you. What I’m struck by is the
themes of home, understanding, and meaning come through
what you’re talking about. And I think it’s a special
quality that dance holds. It’s a non-verbal art
form that can hold all of this space for all of this. There isn’t a limit to that,
which is a special thing. And thinking, again, about
this idea of language. How has language shaped
how you see the world, and how you approach your
creative artistic and aesthetic work? So language, it could be
the language of dance, but also because we
have multiple points of entry and relationships to
different kinds of language. So it’s not just
verbal language, but how has language
writ large affected your creative and aesthetic
and artistic work? – So the other reason I am also
really attached and connected to this art form is because
of my own personal struggle with language. When I was nine years
old, I moved to– I was sent to live with my
grandparents in Puerto Rico, and I did not speak
Spanish at all. And it was right as, I think,
a month the school year had already started. So I was also just taken
straight to school, and put in this environment
where I literally cannot communicate. I knew one word. I knew how to say
Hola, and that was it. And I remember the
feeling of isolation, and the anxiety attached to
feeling, having thoughts, and having emotions, and
not being able to say it. And even if I said
it in English, it wouldn’t be understood. And so that was, I
remember that journey, of even my grandmother really
teaching me how to speak again. Going through the alphabet. [GOING THROUGH ALPHABET IN
SPANISH] And I remember
just that struggle. And then, of course, like
children, we learn language. We pick it up quickly. And so I became
really good at it. I was there for six years. But then I moved back
to New York City, where I hadn’t been
practicing my English. And I went into 10th grade,
a public school in the Bronx. And I had the same
experience, where I felt very isolated and
fearful of saying anything, because I didn’t want to
mispronounce something, or just say the wrong thing. I remember I was playing
Trivial Pursuit with my mom, and the thing said,
it was silver screen, because you know, the silver
screen Trivial Pursuit. And it said, “What couple had a
famous ‘rendezvis’ at a thing?” And my mom was like, what? Said, “What couple had a famous
‘rendezvis?'” And she was like, let me see that. That’s rendezvous. And I just remember feeling
like, oh, this sucks. But I became really
obsessed with like, not wanting to
feel that anymore. And I got a pocket
sized dictionary, and a pocket sized thesaurus,
and I carried this with me all the time, just so that I
could not have that barrier. So when I found tap dancing,
I didn’t realize initially that that was the other
thing that it had given me. It gave me an opportunity to
express myself in this way, without having to say a word. So that I could be in any
room, in a room like this, in any room. And I can go– [SCATTING] And like, what you
would connect with would be the feeling of that,
you know what I mean? And not the words. And I think that
that is something that is really powerful. I think that what I love about
that kind of communication and language, when we
choose to communicate in this way, nonverbal, is
that there’s no barrier. I also think that rhythm is
innate and it’s in all of us, and we connect to it. And I think that we– I think tap is magic. I think there’s something in it. There’s something
in that exchange, and that listening of rhythm
that people are really curious about. And I want to think that
everybody wants to try it. That there’s nostalgia
there for many, many folks, and that there’s curiosity. And I’d like to tap into that. And I think that I have seen,
in my personal experience, it’s the one thing that
crosses gender, age, ethnicity. Yeah, it’s like
it doesn’t matter. We all can connect on
this, the power of rhythm. – Thank you. Antoine. – For me I could be– can you guys understand me? Ah. I know there’s some people,
it’s like, yeah, some, but some. All you guys, obviously
you’re from here. But sometime when I speak,
people just start going– I can’t understand, you know. People sometimes didn’t
want to take the time to learn sign language. It’s a beautiful language. It’s just all [INAUDIBLE]. So me trying to
connect with people, it’s so difficult for like,
a monologue, you know. And I already mentioned
before, before the solo I felt so alone. I forgot to say that it was
that low moment of my life, where I could have took
myself out of the world. I felt very, very
suicidal, because I couldn’t connect with people. And people were making me
feel my deafness was a curse. What’s wrong with me? Deaf, and a man of color. But growing up, it was supposed
be bad, when it should be, really, the biggest gift to me. And my ASL, oh, it’s so
beautiful, it get me ahead. Let me tell you how it
get me to understand myself a little bit better. If you put your hand like this. And it goes– [VOCALIZING] Fire. That represents fire. Take your hands like this. Here’s the motion. That is water, or the ocean. Now do this, and this movement. That is the air, or wind. Now do this. These two hand shapes
together represent earth. So for me it is so important
to know my history, to know my roots. As you know, well-rooted
in African dance has such a rich meaning. And it’s the same thing with
my language of American Sign Language. And I’ll show you. Did you feel it? – Yes. – This was part of me
finding my own identity, that journey through dance
has just communicated. It’s part of my DNA. It is who I am. As well as my rich roots,
and African American history, and those traditions. Got it? Do you understand? – I love how this also
feels like a motorcycle. Yes. [LAUGHING] So it’s to state the
obvious to say that dance is a nonverbal art form. It’s a field of practice,
it’s a field of research. And it could be said that there
is a certain kind of economy to nonverbal communication,
when compared to verbal communication. And so I wondered if you might
talk a little bit about what for you are the unique
opportunities for communicating through and with dance or
embodied communication. And is that something you think
about when you’re making work, or even in your teaching? – Yes, I mean, I think
like I said before, it closes the gap between people. I tend to use literal words too,
in my work and storytelling. I feel like, I want
people to get it. I feel like tap dancing is
one of those things that, because of its history,
sometimes like, the minstrelsy, and how they would depict– like Bill Robinson just
like, grinning and smiling. And it’s the entertainment
portion of something. People look at it as like
a circus act sometimes, like, it’s like that fun
thing that people do. And sometimes when I speak
to people, they’ll go, “Oh you do the–” you know,
and they sort of make fun of it in that way. And for me, that is not cool. Because I know just
how deep, and what was at stake, and
why it was created. And so for me, I feel
like every opportunity that I get to dance, and to
create work, and to show work, I feel a responsibility
to bring its dignity back. And sometimes I
don’t want that– I don’t want it to
be misinterpreted. So I will not only give you the
seriousness and the complexity of the rhythm, but I want
you to know these names. I want you to know
that this is history. I want you to know
what this came out of, that this is an
American art form, that it’s an African
American art form. That it came out of African
people being brought here, and their communication,
their drums being taken away, their source of power. The fact that black
people could start revolts across plantations
through rhythm. And that when that was found
out, they were silenced. And what happens
to you when that’s taken away, what happens? That violent, violent act. What do you do? What do you do when you can’t
hit something, what do you do? [TAPPING] You do that because you have to. And so to me, if there’s
something at stake every single time. So it’s a time step, but
it’s not a time step. It’s a flap but it’s not a flap. To me, you have to do that. And I don’t want that
to be confused with. I mean, that’s
pretty too, right. But that’s not all
that it is, you know? And so I find myself having
to literally say these things, so that there’s no room
for miscommunication. And so my work tends to just
talk about the history a lot. So that we don’t
forget those names. So that it’s not just– because
who is the most famous tap dancer, you think? Fred and Ginger, right? That’s like most people think
Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly. They think, we think
Eleanor Powell, some people even
say Shirley Temple. [LAUGHING] And they are certainly a
part of the history of it. But for me, like, I want
people to know “King” Rastus Brown, and John Bubbles,
and and and Bill Robinson, and the Nicholas Brothers,
and Gregory Hines, and Jimmy Slyde,
and Baby Lawrence, and Sammy Davis, Jr, and on and
on we go, and Savion Glover, and boom, boom, boom, boom. And then for me, the
issue in that list is that there were no women. [LAUGHING] And that was problematic for me. And so then now, I would
say, like the last– what I find myself doing
in my work, to be clear is to let you know
that there were women. And I had to go through a
deep, deep, deep excavation to find these women,
specifically these black women. Because I knew
Ginger Rogers, that’s how I started tap dancing. But I wanted to know
who looked like me. Because that’s a
different experience. And there was no
YouTube at the time. I had to really go
through that search. – Was it in New York City
Public Library, did you go? – Well, I’ll tell
you I happened to be, I was on the cover of
this Village Voice thing. And the article was
called “The Hidden History of Black Women in Tap Dance.” And I called the paper, and
I got the author’s number. And then I called
her, and then she told me that one of the women
in the article, Jeni LeGon was still alive at the time. And Jeni LeGon was the only
black woman to dance with Bill Robinson– other
than Shirley Temple– the only grown woman. Like, no other woman had
ever been paired with her, other than Shirley Temple,
who was a child, and white. And then she was the
first black woman to be signed to any
major Hollywood studios. She was signed to MGM,
first black woman. And she was alive. She was in her 80s,
and I called her. I was like, “Jeni, Ms. LeGon. My name is Ayodele, and I’m
a tap dancer from New York.” And I was able to go– she was so surprised
that somebody had reached out to her. And I found her, and
I went to see her. And then I found other women. And I don’t want to talk
forever and ever, amen. But I just, because
I have to bring their names into
the space, I want to tell you who else I found. So I found Jeni LeGon, Lois
Bright, Louise Madison, Juanita Pitts, Mildred
“Candi” Thorpe, Baby Edwards, I found Ludie, Jones. I mean, I found Alice Whitman,
I found Juanita Pitts, I found Cora LaRedd. I found all of these women who
were right there with the men. And more, than I can’t– I mean. But that was just, it’s
really important to me. It’s really important to me. So when you see me
dance, I feel like I want people to acknowledge
that it’s not just me, that I come with a legacy. – Thank you for bringing
them into this space. Thank you for that. [APPLAUSE] [INAUDIBLE] I can do 10,000
tendus, over and over. I believe in the
technique of the work. But I don’t want people
to trivialize it, and say, oh, this
deaf person can dance. No, there’s work behind it. Work. As opposed to just being
viewed as someone who’s deaf, there’s so much more
for you to share. The Urban Jazz Dance Company,
they have a deaf dancer. And he does on point, more
of a theatrical dance. A lot of professional
trained dancers, and there’s very high
expectations for them. But sometimes it’s
a lower expectation, and say, that’s OK. But if you want a
job to dance, you want to dance for
these larger companies, you’ve got to work at it. You can’t be passive
and just accept that one view of being labeled
as someone who is deaf. So again, thousands
and thousands of those tendus, till you bleed. What I would say was,
I think dance saved me, being a black deaf dancer. But I remember one time,
there was a front page article that I came across. And the headline says,
“Antoine Hunter, leading man.” His body is incredible. Look at those
muscles glistening. He did an incredible jump. And also, he had
some sloppy feet. And that was real. It was pretty bad, actually. [LAUGHTER] Didn’t have that great footwork. But it was because prior, no
one at that point previously, had been able to address
me directly, and give me that feedback. It’s a huge deal in your
profession, in your craft. But no one told me the truth. People wouldn’t hire me
because of that item. So I had to work
at it, tirelessly. And I try to bring that
back to my dancers. When children come
to my class, I don’t singly just praise them. I say, I want more. Put your hands like this. Copy me. This is another sign in American
Sign Language, represents more. You know how you teach
those little kids that. But it’s a great word. Just say, hey, you’re doing
great, but guess what? I want more. So it’s one of
those things where we want to be taken seriously
as our hearing colleagues, and not be viewed as
just a deaf person. Therefore, my product, my
craft will be inferior. My dance will be inferior. I want to be on par
with those colleagues. Just the fact that we dance,
and can do so at a high level, as a deaf person,
now you can see the meaning and the
metaphors behind my dance. One time, I
choreographed a dance about a deaf person going
through the justice system. But they couldn’t see the
message, because all they saw was, oh, it’s a
deaf person dancing. And didn’t see the meaning. But after that, I
acknowledged, OK, do they really
understand the message, and how critical it was? I don’t want to use
the term greedy, but yeah, no, I want more. I want more. Does that make sense? OK, all right. Thank you for reaffirming that. – I love that, especially with
students, the work of dance is also, that’s a
nonverbal equalizer. That the seeking of that
work across a whole host of different ways that
people come to dance, that that is a very powerful
nonverbal piece to what we do. So when you’re
developing choreography, what is the process of creating
the movement vocabulary? We talk about nonverbal
communication, and we have physical vocabulary. How do you create that
movement vocabulary? Do you have a unique aesthetic
that you work with each piece? Or is the body of your
work a certain aesthetic, and you develop the
vocabulary from there? How do you develop vocabulary
when you’re making new work? – I would say for me, I’m
fortunate to have American Sign Language, which has an
inherent movement to it. You guys saw with fire,
wind, earth, those elements, how I was able to incorporate
that within dance. Music itself is a language. I do a lot of jazz music,
hardcore, Miles Davis. Dizzy. You know those folks. Folks I looked up to. So I would be at home,
turn that music up, and I would be jamming. I would then incorporate
that to my soul and my body. And then I would move. Some people would say, oh
yeah, as a deaf person, you can tell the
vibration, right? But when you’re
dancing, you cannot. You don’t have that advantage. Especially if you’re
in a leap or a jump, you’re transitioning in air. You don’t have that ability. But it has to be within
you, and then go with it. So that’s part of the work
that we have to incorporate. It’s another way of just
taking the experience of the community, and kind
of just breathe it in, and expressing that language. So it’s kind of just a
reflection of what’s happening globally, and within society. It’s about just being honest
and having that real dialect. Not just the superficial,
and the fairy tales. But those icebreakers
to really get down to that real nitty-gritty,
to have those conversations. There’s a lot of things that
we don’t want to talk about, therefore we can’t
talk about it. But if we start moving. At one point it was a
very dark process for me. But dance has the power to
heal, from my perspective and experience. It has the power to bring
a community together. The language of dance. I mean, I can go deeper
than that, for sure. But that’s what it means to me. – Thank you. – I love that. Yeah, I love the music aspect,
and I love those references of jazz because. Tap dancing and jazz
grew up synonymously. I mean, right next to each
other in this country. So yeah, music informs a lot
of how we start, what groove, what feeling you want to convey. When I work with other dancers,
I always ask them who they are, what culture they come from,
what are their traditions. And I like them to explore that. I, having grown
up in Puerto Rico, Latin music is a huge
influence in my life. I love dancing to it. And because it brings
me so much joy, I tend to want to
work with it a lot. I think that that’s
another way that we reveal who we are in our medium,
is by actually bringing in our traditions,
and how we grew And finding those commonalities,
and exploring that. And there’s power
in that exploration. I worked just recently, I did
a show called Diary of a Tap Dancer, and there was a young
tap dancer, super talented, his name is Andre Imanishi. And he’s Japanese and
Jamaican, born in the Bronx, but grew up in
Japan, and came back. And he has all of these things. And he’s young, and
he’s trying to process. He’s an incredible
tap dancer, he’s processing all these things. And I asked him, I said,
what do you want to bring in? And he hadn’t
thought about it yet. And so he thought,
there’s the Taiko drum. And he explored that. And then, by his exploration,
then he shares it with people, and that’s just another
way that we all connect. So I think who we are,
literally who we are, what our experiences
are, I always try to bring that to
what I choreograph, and the work that I make. I don’t know any other way. I think it’s so interesting. I love asking people
where they’re from. Hopefully I’ll get to know
all of you after this. But I love that. I just feel like so many people
don’t make the effort to have an in, to make that connection. And all it takes is just to
say, where did you grow up? And then see what
happens from there. – Thank you both. And I’m reminded of a quote,
I think it was Yo Yo Ma. And maybe he was borrowing
the quote, but in any case, heard it from him,
of art is borderless. So the experience of the young
dancer you’re working with, dance can– it doesn’t even observe
those boundaries. Those are sort of fake
structures of commerce, as opposed to the power
of what you’re both talking about in dance. – If I could add a comment. – Certainly. – For me, the language, it
took time to really develop. Sign language and dance move,
two combinations together that people get
like, distracted. You saw the Africa, what’s
a little bit easier, because that’s in
my DNA for sure. The fire, earth, water. It’s already in African Dance. Now ballet, on the other hand. Well, that’s like this. [LAUGHING] So I incorporate a lot, and
I try to develop the twine, and make sure I mix
that to deaf culture. You know, like, pure, my
language, which you saw. Power, gentle, area, make
sure it’s very clear for that. And then plus, hearing
people, to try to get it, have that respectfully, respect
the technique and the form that I learned traditionally. You know, like, respected
like in a emotional way. Honor that past. You know what I mean. But I had a lot of
training from Paul Taylor. [VOCALIZING] And I’ve never really
want to just do it my way. No, he gave it to me, and
want to make sure that there. And my language too in
there, but respectfully. That takes so much time. I fight with myself with that. It’s a debate, where who do I
want to please in my language? Community or me? Sometime I have to
say, I love you guys, but it’s about me now. And then oh, I want
you guys to learn. OK. Fire, water, and that. I don’t understand it. Ah, I understand it. You understand it? You know what I mean. Just to continue teaching
myself, and teaching people out there. I think it’s really cool. But whoa, it’s
just a lot of work. – It is. Well, and I think that’s one
of the interesting things that dance can offer in terms
of nonverbal communication, is relationship to time that
is different than our sort of speedy, phone, digital
culture can offer. It is a different relationship. It takes so much time
to craft this language. And it’s analog. No matter how able the body, it
takes the time the body takes. there’s no app to
develop what either of these two extraordinary
artists are talking about. And I think that’s something
that we in particular can offer as a kind of antidote
to the speedy, you know, the sort of lowercase i in front
of everything in our lives, you know. I have two final
questions, one perhaps we can spend a little time
on, and then a preface to the second question. Ayodele, I know that you’ve
been doing a lot of town halls, especially with young people
and speaking about identity, and owning your story. And Antoine, I know
part of your work is working with abused
women in your community. And so I wondered if you
might both speak a little bit about how you’ve
used dance in what can seem like an unlikely way. How have you used this language
to transfer beyond the field itself? – That’s a good question. It all seems so connected. I just feel like– I mean, it’s kind of like
what I was saying the last, about Andre, for
example, young dancer. Always, for me, when I
work with young people, especially young people of
color– black, Latino, brown– I’m constantly. Jeanine Tesori, who’s one
of my mentors and friends, when she won the Tony, she
said, you know, for young women, you have to see it to be it. You know, you have
to see it to be it. And I think that I’m
so aware of like what my own experience was,
growing up in the Bronx, and when I came
back to New York. I remember going to my
guidance counselor, and saying, I want to go to NYU. And the first thing
he said– this is a person who’s
supposed to like, guide me to the next thing,
and encourage me. He said, oh, that’s a very
hard school to get into. And I also remember– so when I got in, he was
the first person I went. I was– bam. Take that. But because society was
constantly telling us that we weren’t as intelligent,
or our communication skills weren’t great. Our language wasn’t enough. The way we looked, we didn’t
measure up to what was popular. There was no representation
whatsoever on screen. Or very, very little. Rosie Perez was the only
Latino actress at the time. And that was my only reference. I would talk, and
people would say, oh, you know, you remind
me of Rosie Perez. I don’t think I look
like Rosie Perez. Nor did I think I really
sounded like her exactly. But I just felt how
limiting that was. How limiting it was that that
I kept getting these things. And so, not wanting that to
be anybody else’s experience. And also having seen my
life, and where my life has gone despite all of that. right despite those stereotypes,
and despite those expectations or lack thereof. I feel like every
time I get in front of a room with
young people, I hope that I am that
person that they go, oh, I’m not just my
corner of my block. I’m not just the string of
bodegas where all they offer is, you know,
$0.25 potato chips. And you know, there’s
no Whole Foods in sight. You know, our communities
don’t look like you know wealthy communities. And so I want them to know
that they can be anything they want to be, right? And then part two
is that they already hold that dance, social dance. Those kids, they have it down. I mean, they teach us. You know, we were downstairs
doing all kinds of nae naes. But they have it in them,
they have it in them. So I feel like I’m always trying
to let them know that they are their own source of pride. And that anything
that they create will most likely be
copied, because I feel like a lot of black culture
is co-opted very, very quickly, and brought to the mainstream. So I think that’s in short. – I’ll try to be really short. I remember there was a
father, that my son is a boy. And, he was like, “I’m a girl.” Well, father, no,
my son is the boy. And everyone’s coming
out of nowhere, jumping in the conversation,
jumping in the conversation, and going, ladies and
gentlemen, boys and girls. They decide you when
to create a ba, ba, ba. You come over here, you come
over here, you come over here. I’m here to tell you, it
don’t have to be that way. You can choose
your own identity. You can be he or she or it. Or maybe a spider, or maybe a
butterfly, or maybe a unicorn. Because with that
connection with yourself, it helps you understand
yourself better, able to love yourself better. That ability can connect
parent to children, teacher to student, boss to worker. Connecting, the beautiful thing. To learn about
yourself is growth. When you take the time
to listen, and listen, you grow together
in the community. Then that understanding,
there won’t be so much war with each other. And with ourself, because we
keep telling, fight, fight you, my identity. This is who I am,
that’s who I am. Listen to me. They decide to try to tell
me I’m hearing impaired, I need to be fixed. But I say, I’m deaf,
and I’m beautiful. That’s who I am,
that’s my identity. Please love me for who I am. That father, he
had a second look. He had the time to think. I don’t know what the
change happened after that. But I saw a process, you
know, something going on. Because he was so resistance. The movement in
me, with the dance. I think, better than hearing
it, he saw, bah, bah, bah. And it have to be grow. It was outside, it
outside the show. And having the communication. I hope something positive
came out from it. That’s one example. – Thank you. Thank you. To give a little context
to the final question. We’ve been talking about
our collective mission, both here at the Dance Center,
but also these two colleagues have helped to advance
that mission here. But also, this is a collective
mission that we share, and sort of our calls
to action collectively. So to give context to
this last question, we’re thinking about what
creates the conditions and spaces for humanity,
equality, and dignity for all. What constitutes
welcome in a space? What is what the ICA
now, and many people are calling a radical welcome? What is the embrace look like? Not in a singular way at
a learning institution, or where we’re teaching. But what is embrace look
like for everyone we want to embrace, which is everyone? Thinking about how does
dance make a true incursion into the culture? How do we support,
champion, advocate, activate, expand, foster– and that word always reminds
me of Professor Deborah Foster who is here in the
audience, who’s a phenomenal artist
and educator– fostering progressive cultural
change in the field of dance, and in the greater culture? And how can we learn
from this enterprise? How can this
extension and exchange through and with our field
expand knowledge in our field, create the change in
our field, and create greater cultural change? And then promoting agency
for students, artists, student artists, professional
dancers, choreographers, audiences, communities,
citizens, our fellow neighbors. And a few quotes. From Dr. Cornel
West, “Deep education requires a habitual
vision of greatness.” I would say these
two exemplify that. And I know we’re short
on time, so I’m trying to truncate on the fly here. Dr. Cornel West
also says, “You have to be a thermostat rather
than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes
the climate of opinion, a thermometer just reflects it.” Rabbi Joshua Heschel,
“Our goal should be to live life in
radical amazement. Get up in the morning and look
at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal. Everything is incredible. Never treat life casually. To be spiritual
is to be amazed.” Two last dance quotes. Judith Jamison, who is a dancer,
choreographer, and director. “You have to dance unencumbered. There is no other way to move. The idea of dance is freedom. It is not exclusiveness,
it is inclusiveness. Dance is bigger than
the physical body. When you extend
an arm, it doesn’t stop at the end of your fingers,
because you are dancing bigger than that. You are dancing in spirit.” And I would say, in an
ecumenical non-denominational way. And then lastly, Pina Bausch,
who’s a choreographer famously said, “I’m not
interested in movement. I’m interested in
what moves people.” And so to that end, I ask
you both what moves you? [LAUGHING] – Those quotes. – I mean, first of all, get
out, get out there in the world. And just copy me. There. For me, this is a way
to tell the world, and to state emphatically
about inclusion. Being part of one energy. We don’t have to be isolated. But together, being one. And together, not single
flames of a candle, but together, being
one fire of energy. As I’ve said before,
dance is a way to communicate to the world,
communicate with ourselves internally, no matter the
demographic or the dynamic. We have to be careful in knowing
there’s so much to learn, whether it’s movement, that
dance that we all can express is individual. It’s individualized. Therefore it’s
unique, so you have to have a relationship with it. You have to embrace it. So take time to
listen to yourself, have a conversation with
yourself through art. Do you understand? – Thank you. – I love that so much. I love that so much. I was going to say, I
think what moves me– and I don’t think I’ve ever
really articulated this, but I feel it often. What moves me, I
love, to this day, I love putting on my tap shoes. I get like a little
kid, I can’t wait to like lace it
up, and hear what the first sound is going to be. I’m that in love with it. But what moves me is
the power that it has. To know that we enter
a room, and that nobody knows what’s going
to be experienced. Some people are
skeptical, or tired, or you know, maybe not
really into the dance thing that’s going to happen
after such a long day. And that by the end of the day,
by the end of that experience, and that exchange,
that you lean in, that you lean into what
it is that we are sharing. That A, you see
yourself, and you see that it sparks
something in you. And that that you start to look
at art and artists differently. Not as this thing,
this performance thing that’s out there, but as
something that we share, and that we’re all
in it together. I love that. – I’m moved by both
of you, and truly, to have this
opportunity to be here. Thank you once again. And I think we can turn
it over to a few questions from the audience. Should we make sure that we can
translate or interpret properly with questions? Well, there’s a
mic here, perfect. And perhaps we can use– choreographer Liz Lermon is a
big inspiration to all of us here. And she has a process called
critical response process for artistic process. And in giving feedback,
and asking questions, I wonder if we might consider
not having an embedded opinion, but offering an opportunity
to answer a question that would be an exchange. So fire away, anyone
that has any questions. – Hi. – Hi. – You mentioned
that dance was very helpful for you in learning
how to communicate, but also a way of
feeling less isolated. And I’m just wondering
what you think the relationship between dance
and mental health could be, or potentials you see in that. – Do either of you want to– – Great question. I think it would have
a tremendous impact. I can recall one woman, and
she had very unique challenges in trying to find
strategies for coping, and for managing her
stress and anxieties. So she started in movement,
just weird movements. Not really choreographed,
just movements, sporadically. And I spoke with someone
earlier here today, actually, sometimes that
we just over think things, and you’re just in the hustle
and bustle of the city. But thinking outside of this
urban, crazy, hectic area. Just visualize taking
a peaceful nature walk, just away from
that hustle and bustle. Just something as simple as
that can have such an impact, and be so helpful, just for
an individual to feel free. Free to move, not to be judged,
and not to be restricted. And be able to evoke
those various emotions. And it’s powerful, whether it’s
happiness, joy, sadness, fear. And if you don’t, it’s almost
like a feeling of being insane, and you need to
express yourself. And it’s so helpful
for so many people when it comes to mental health. I’ve seen people who are
trying to physically learn to walk again, they’re going
through physical therapy, and perhaps it’s not
being successful. But guess what, here
comes that movement. I’ve seen it. And that starts that process. And then, walking
again because of dance. – I would say it’s also a
community practice for the most part. There are times when we get
in the studio and work alone. But I’ve seen the effects,
both even as professionals, even for us to get into
the room and start moving helps our mental health too. I think being in motion
actually sometimes helps to clear some of
those thought clouds, and the anxiety around thinking
about what might happen. And especially with
students, I would say it’s particularly impactful
for being a de-stressor. Because you’re with
others, and there’s a kind of vulnerability,
and a tenderness to being in that
physical practice with other people in
a safe environment. That can be really helpful. And I think that’s
transportable. You don’t have to be
in a particular place to create that with a group of
people, it could be anywhere. Do you have anything? – I echo both of those things. I agree, dance. – Hi. I’m very, very
grateful to all of you. I’m an artist also, I’m
a classical musician and a pianist. I also improvise in other
styles, and I love dancing, and I totally agree
with it rhythm is at the bottom of so
much of what we are, and how we connected the
universe, and to each other. I also grew up as an
oppressed minority member where I came from. I’m an Armenian from Turkey. And I got into
classical music partly because Armenian identity was
so suppressed, and oppressed, and co-opted, I think. I mean, this is making
me think of that. But I also do agree that
it is possible to express all the universal feelings and
experiences through any medium that one works on
and tries to master. And I have I do have a question. A problem I have since becoming
politically more aware and more active is that I find myself
often compelled to get into the verbal arena,
and want to investigate, want to look at things,
you know whether it’s– usually it is hidden,
deceitful things– whether it’s at the town level
or at the national level. It’s not what is obvious
that everyone is discussing, but little things that
are being glossed over. And I find that distracting
to my self as an artist, as somebody who
just wants to be. And I also like to write about
science, but that’s different. That’s kind of it
connected thing. I just want to
know if any of you have felt a similar
conflict of expressing political involvement
verbally, and in an alone way. And not only through your art,
and how you have resolved that conflict. Thank you. – Thank you. – I mean, I think
there’s probably not a person in this room that can’t
relate to that feeling of going down the rabbit hole
of social media, where you start engaging with
people you don’t even know. You want to let them
know what you think. [LAUGHING] Next thing you know, your
hair is standing on end, you’re like, who am I? And I think that that’s
just part of life, and how can you avoid that? But I will say that you
have to go back to your joy. That’s how I do it. I have to physically remove my
self away from the computer, and into a space that
I know is healthy, that will reinvigorate me. And that will just sort
of fill up the joy meter. Because along with that is the
sanity, and the love, and the– I don’t know. You can’t ignore that. And you can’t neglect
that, that’s what I mean. You can’t neglect it. And so always go back to–
go back to your music. Because I feel like that’s– when we operate from that
place, is where we can actually make the most change, right? I feel like we can’t really– if you’re tight,
it’s hard, you know. If you’re open. – Yeah, joy is generous. I think we have time for one
more question as the clock goes zero. – First I just want
to say thank you, just to witness not just
the technical proficiency, but beyond that, the
exuberance with how you dance was a joy to behold. So thank you for
sharing that with us. I’m a psychiatrist by trade. And one of the
things that I do is I work with professional
musicians that have dystonia. And when that happens, there’s
a break in the ability to play. And since artistic communication
through music for them is an inherent part
of their identity, I wanted to draw the parallel
for, as a professional dancer, for you. What if come tomorrow,
you all of a sudden you lost the vehicle of your mode
of communication, your identity. You couldn’t dance. How would you tap into that
same exuberance and joy, and that mode of
communication would you use? – It’s a great question. Do you want to– It’s a scary question too. Oh you’re thinking. OK. No, it’s OK. – I mean we don’t have to
think to dance, but move. Move. You know, to breathe is to move. Like the fish, when it
sleeps, it’s still moving. The gills, they’re still moving. You know what I mean? So the molecules in
everything, it’s alive. There earth’s constantly moving,
whether you hear it or not, whether you feel it or not. It’s still shifting and moving. I think awareness,
whenever the challenge is, continue to look at
what’s happening. Keep looking at that. What’s that feeling,
what’s that growing? My community, with people
with disabilities, who’s deaf, we’re constantly exploring our
own movement, our own words. When you find it,
that’s your truth. That’s your key. People trying to take
my sign language, and that’s the way,
say, that’s not dance. But the truth is, it was mine. I had to own it, and
teach then, why it’s mine. You know what I mean? I’ll leave it like that. – I mean, I think finding
community would be– joy is not career-specific. So I think it would depend
on the ability, could be continue to move or not. But even then, that feeling,
that soul craft of joy, you know it when you feel it. So to find, maybe it
would be a redirection, but it would be community. And I think we cultivate
that so much as dancers of our community, and wanting
that to extend beyond it as well. So I think finding
those shining eyes that resonate with the
same kind of joy, I think it would be
something in there. But thank you for
the opportunity to think about that. It’s at once daunting and
vulnerable, and also important. And I think with that, I’ll hand
it over to Professor Kuriyama once again. But thank you so
much for being here. Thank you for the opportunity
to be here, Ayodele and Antoine. Thank you to our interpreters. Thank you also. The floor is yours. [APPLAUSE] – So to conclude, I want to
teach you one Japanese phrase. Probably most of you
haven’t studied Japanese. But if there’s one phrase– it isn’t sayonara. [LAUGHTER] It’s a little more complicated,
but you can repeat it with me. Ichi-go ichi-e. – Ichi-go ichi-e. – Ichi-go ichi-e. – Ichi-go ichi-e. – And what it means,
it’s an expression from the tea ceremony. And it literally means one
encounter of one lifetime. And it expresses the
idea of the tea ceremony, where, your tea
master serves tea to a small number of guests. And sometimes they’re
the master’s friends. But the idea is that you
serve, and you concentrate in the ceremony as if this
is the one and only time that you’ll be able
to do this, right? And you treat each encounter
as a precious thing, as lasting for a lifetime. I think this last
session exemplified precisely that spirit. And I think it’s true
for all of our speakers. And I’d like to first
thank all of our speakers for being such wonderful
presences with us today. I’d also like to thank
Becky Wasserman, who, you can’t imagine the
incredible other work that she put into making this possible. So I’d like to give a big hand. [APPLAUSE] I’d like to thank all of you
for coming, and certainly for staying to the end. I know many of you have
wanted to discuss more with our presenters. And so I’d like to invite
you all now to the reception to pursue further
conversations, and engage more with our presenters. So thank you all very much. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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