Urban Bush Women came at a time in my dance career where I needed a sense of introspection and internal strength. While I had accomplished many of my academic goals, I found that I had acquired a sense of restlessness. UBW gave me an avenue that pushed me outside my comfort zone. Exercises such as the ping pong ball helped me to explore the crevices of my body that I had neglected. Rediscovering my “mother tongue” gave me a sense of the movement that I consider to be home, whether that be party dancing or ballet. And transcribing music into movement, helped me to acquire deeper listening skills and pay attention to the minute sounds that form a symphony. Our instructors – Amanda, Courtney, and Love – were inspirations in their own right. Their spirit brought a level of comfort and magic into our dancing space. I trusted them and my fellow dancers in a process that required a level of vulnerability. Their suggestions were always good-hearted and helped me to become a more conscious dancer. I grew more confident in my body. Recognizing and honoring how amazing it was that my body carried me every day and fulfilled every movement I wished to convey. My fellow dancers were just as inspiring. They pushed me to let go of my inhibitions and present to the space my most authentic, genuine self. We not only created art, but we created a family. From the warm up party to our pelvic exercises, class was a place of solace. I am very grateful for UBW’s mentorship and know that the philosophies I learned will carry me well beyond the marley we danced upon every Wednesday and Saturday of this spring semester.
Giant steps is one of the many phrases that we learned with UBW this semester. It is structured around Giant Steps by John Coltrane, a jazz phrase that starts immediately with an upbeat cadence. After learning the standard phrase, we were asked to choreograph our own number. At first, I was hesitant. For the past eight years, I had always been self-conscious about my choreography. With many songs I would choreograph a whole dance in my head, toy with the idea of performing it with my group, and then scrap it before anyone could see it. Dozens of could-have-been dances lie in a graveyard section of my mind. Sometimes it is laziness. Not wanting to go through the effort of aligning each movement to a beat enough for me to teach it. But most of the time it is fear. The fear of having my choreography critiqued or judged, interpreted or seen. Despite these reservations, YDT crafted a space in which I never felt such a fear. When were given half an hour to choreograph I released my mind to the music. Feeling an ease that comes once in every dozen attempts. Elements of ballet, hip hop, west african, and contemporary naturally crept their way into my combination. I had no idea what it looked like, but it felt like me. Not to forceful, not too technical, and not too complicated. And when Courtney and Amanda asked me to perform my combination again, I was a little shocked. For the first time in a while I had allowed my choreography to be seen. But by making it with my comfort in mind, I had managed to make it something that everyone could enjoy. Having faith in the art you make takes time and confidence. It takes a level of fearlessness and the power to let go of all reservations. I thank UBW for giving me the mental and physical space to reach this realization.
For a majority of our UBW classes, Amanda, Courtney, or Love would ask our circle of dancers, “What’s on top?” In the moment, it was many things. That problem set that I started too late in the week (again) and would have to stay up late to finish. The meetings I had to plan or the emails I had to write. The soreness in my shoulder. Or the person who was being unresponsive and dismissive for a reason I couldn’t target. In the first minutes of class, that question absolved all of my worries. As we went around the circle, all of my fellow dancers were honest and candid. We released our worries into the space and promised ourselves that we would dedicate the next three hours to the art, one that was healing and therapeutic. It was in these moments that I realized that YDT and UBW were more than just dance classes. In the middle of my stressful/busy routine that is Yale, these classes cleared my mind and centered my focus on something greater than the minutia of everyday life. It brought me back to the beginning. The beginning of class also signified a type of check-in. Amanda pushed us to be honest about what were feeling. It was okay if we weren’t in a great mood. Or if we were sleep deprived or tired. In many ways, those negative feeling became fuel for a more productive and inspiring class. That despite the things we carried into the studio, we were capable of placing them aside and putting our best selves into the movement. This was just one of the lessons I learned, and I am very grateful for developing the ability to acknowledge what is one top.
Wow. Within a few sessions, things have really picked up in YDT. I feel excited but also challenged with the new combos we are doing. I find it funny that movements that felt awkward at the beginning are ones that I am starting to embrace more and more. From scooping the pelvis to picturing a ping pong ball inside of me, UBW is guiding me to explore the untouched crevices of my body movements. The ability to harness and target areas that I once neglected feels liberating. Overall, I think it’s a tricky balance between doing what you know and performing what is you or your truth. Learning to fall also helped me to illustrate how hesitant I am when it comes to taking risks. Mentally I have the mind to fall, but my body stops short and I feel like mastering this quality will involve me surpassing my visceral reflex. Another activity I have enjoyed is with giant steps. Although it is originally with music, there was a magical moment when my group was told to do our phrases sans music. Everyone had different dynamics and emphasis but the beauty came when my group all stopped at the same time. There was an innate sense of rhythm one that, to my surprise, didn’t require music.