Anxious. Tired. Weary. Wary. The last words in my notebook prior to Ni’Ja Whitson’s Being A Body Out Loud: Trans-Indigenous and Political Practices for Artists and Activists Seeking Radical Moves in Their Work, Art, Lives workshop at La Mama’s Great Jones studios during the Healing Action day of the 2016 Spring Festival. We begin by announcing our names and preferred gender pronouns and then sharing why we were there or more specifically: What did you move through in order to say “Yes.” The perfect question. I moved my body to get through my brain. Despite many mental forms of resistance my body had kept moving through space to simply show up. Too often just showing up has been the best or most we can do, but after that work and mayfield brooks’ Rupture: Improvising in the Break, I felt renewed and mobilized, as well as joyfully ripe with nausea and a headache. Cellularly and spiritually changed indeed. Getting there included moving through fear and history and opening up as to ancestors with Ni’Ja. And, after mayfield led us through substantial destabilizing to get off center and an uproarious session of glossolalia and belly laughing, I eventually dropped anchor and found myself steeped in connections and a community I hadn’t been able to express an overwhelming desire for.
Ni’Ja’s work serves as a conduit to action. In service of hosting the histories and complexities of both warrior and healer, they engaged exercises from resistance-based physical practices and creative cosmologies to move beyond sorrow, rage, grief and, for me, inaction. In a variation of Deidre Sklar’s 5th premise, there are things only the body knows and once the body can find itself activated, the spirit can find its power. I arrived weary and wary, would have called myself weakened and worn down from extensive engagement in the very specific hierarchies and oppressions of public higher education in NYC. But, after the group circled and rocked and rubbed and crawled and sweated, I found deep in the body my pelvic floor and from that floor, my voice. And, from that voice, my loud. And, from my loud, action. In vocally getting loud, I realized that my earlier inclination for quiet had been from a need to protect the self. So, for me, I couldn’t know what I know or remember what I knew until my body could remember that it knew how to act. A fellow attendee pointed out that it wasn’t just physical practice that activated the power centers, but intention. With that final ingredient, I realized there is still much work to be done, to be loud for those who are not listened to. And, to remember, that the quiet is good when it is practiced with an intention to observe, but not hide, and the loud is required when my intention is to serve.
mayfield’s work on Improvising While Black informed the later afternoon workshop, though it was only mentioned briefly in the beginning and at the end. We were asked to share with the group something that we really, really wanted. Some wanted ginger tea. Someone wanted real healing. I wanted clarity. We were also asked to share with a partner what it was we hoped to rupture or disrupt. In the moment, I expressed that I wanted to disrupt my behaviors of obligation (perhaps, obedience) of behaving responsibly and appropriately. My partner didn’t have a word for it, but “white female performance art” collected some of the ideas and systems, ze were negotiating with. After lengthening, condensing and releasing our heads with our partners, we spent a lot of time letting our heads guide us in and out of the space. We’d cross the floor or circle in and out and sometimes rupture the improvisation of another by connecting with their hips and following the rotation of their hips or redirecting it ourselves. We built up tremors in the body, faced each other, began speaking in tongues and found ourselves in rousing bouts of laughter. There was a regular stream of bodies laying on the resting place mats in the corner and some of us gathered bits of our work into short “rupturings” that we shared. I shook and gurlged and kept my head off center and spun and teetered til I dropped and found in the pocket of sunlight my answer. In the bright, I found the clear. When the group gathered and shared last thoughts, my first partner spoke of the power of improvising in a room filled with people of color. I welled up and realized, I had not gotten as loud as I’d thought after Ni’Ja’s workshop, because I hadn’t even dared to express that want so explicitly to myself or the group. But, thanks to the festival’s curators, the safe and supportive space that Ni’Ja and mayfield established and the strong and present work of my fellow participants, I found myself well.