In La MaMa Great Jones Studio 6, I take 3 workshops one after the other: Marissa Perel’s “Rename and Unbody: Somatic Awareness and Language for Who and What We Are,” 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,” and mayfield brooks’ “Rupture: Improvising In The Break.” These workshops together cost a total of $12. I feel very lucky to be there.
At the start of all 3 sessions, we say our names. In my notebook, I write each one down in order in the shape of our circle.
(1) Marissa /Kosta / Josie / Awilda / Gabrielle / Keiko / Elliott / devynn / Coco /Amelia / Juliette / Kat / Randy / David
(2) Ni’Ja / Awilda / Gabrielle / Maura / Marissa / Kosta / Judah/ Victoria/ Josie /// ( a cosmos of ancestors)
(3) mayfield / Gabrielle / Kosta / nyx / Maura / Josie / Randy / Rachel / Bex
I may never see these people again, but I mark and hold them. I appreciate and know them like folks you only see late night at the club.
We create and enter sacred space together.
* * *
Funnily enough, I almost didn’t go to Marissa Perel’s workshop. Would suppositions about the body alienate or segregate me? Would I be the only black person in the room? Would I be too fearful and shut down for somatic awareness? I signed up, telling myself that if it felt wrong in the morning, I wouldn’t have to go. I woke up before the alarm with a gust of wind in my chest. It was hope. To my delight when I arrived, my friend Awilda from Puerto Rico was already there. Like me, she had decided to try all 3 workshops as well. It was a day of coincidences and continuities of community.
Marissa’s workshop was a good call. I am brave. In our introductions, when she asks about injuries, I mention having a broken heart. It was my first time ever saying that out loud. Later in the session, I make a major discovery. For months, I have been highly functional and deeply disassociated. Trying to return to my body is deeply necessary and deeply painful. Marissa stresses that integration isn’t the goal. How can we be present in our brokenness or fragmentation? What do we need that is most impossible? How can we make the unknown a home?
These questions offer crucial somatic grounding for Ni’Ja’s workshop. All along Ni’Ja has been my magnet. I had never met them, but their title had made me gasp. Their workshop description had made my heart keen and flutter. I read it and reworked my class syllabus and got on a plane. I was not disappointed.
In real time, we activate the technology of the circle, resurface our contact with the earth to re/connect with ancestors. We generate an enclosure of energy in the room that radiates, permeates, and envelops us all. . .
At one point, while I was trying to channel my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandfather shows up. This is especially amazing because he died when my father was two. Who are you? I ask. Who do you think? he answers. I’m the one that made all this possible for you! Sweat pours, clear snot falls from my nose, and tears run down my face. Sopping and streaming, I stumble to the bathroom. Standing in front of the paper towel dispenser, I can’t figure out how it works. I can only go back, lie down wet and surrender.
In our discussion, Kosta mentions that people he didn’t know had shown up for him. Inside, I knew. Some of my ancestors had dropped by to check him out. This was confirmed later in mayfield’s workshop when near the end of his solo, Kosta picked up a stray piece of paper and placed it on the wall. He withdrew his hand and it remained there pressed. That piece of paper held my name.
The ancestor energy of Ni’Ja’s workshop is a cocoon and a sheath. Ni’Ja tells us that warrior practice is healing practice. This seems crucial, but I’m not sure I understand. I fear how protected I’ve become around my heart. This protectedness seems connected to numbness and my state of disassociation. They clarify that it’s not about being guarded. Rather, we need to be armored, taking on tools to be ready for the psychic warfare against us all around us. This resonates again in the wake of Orlando, Baghdad, Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, MN.
mayfield’s workshop offers radical openness, intimacy and trust, the release of the head into another’s hands while rising up and folding back down into the ground. We stretch and massage each other’s bodies. We bobble our heads across the room, practice falling and getting up. This reminds me of the movement practice of SNCC protesters in the freedom movement, of Lénablou’s bigidi, the stumble dance of Guadeloupe, how to swerve and catch yourself, rising and falling. This is armor and pleasure too. We laugh and wail and speak in tongues. We become an improvised, improvising corps.
* * *
I may never see some of these people again, but I love them.
I mark and hold them. They mark me and hold me too. At a key moment when I start to feel afraid and unworthy of touch, Rachel pulls me into the dance. nyx twirls me into a duet. On a break, Josie shares bits of her dark chocolate with Awilda, nyx and me. She tells us that she and Kosta are from New Zealand. They are dismayed by what they see in America. They’re trying to get a grip on this side of the world. Me too. devynn mentions my broken heart in their festival writing and I feel seen, heard, and remembered.
I think about how fugitive communities can form in a dance class or workshop. The workshops become an enclosure within the festival’s “porous enclosure for caring, rest, silence and celebration.” How beautiful it is when that enclosure can be heterogeneous and non-normative. How different it is when the wisdom of the space, when the bodies in the room emerge from black and brown bloodlines. nyx talked about this in mayfield’s workshop and Maura wrote about this in her festival writing. This was a powerful thing for me as well.
The presence of these bloodlines brought me to the festival in the first place. Moreover, it mattered to everyone, that our brown bodies were there. Together we were all part of a synthesis of energy that would address, enclose and envelop, overlap and fuse queer / somatic/ black/ ancestral/ knowledge/ movement/ healing / laughter / pain.