Why Hello There 2016!

Happy New Year! 

               I’m so excited for 2016 and look forward to what this year has in store. I took a long hiatus from my blog but I’m back and ready to continue posting about my dance journey. This year I would like to take more dance classes (more ballet, musical theater, hip-hop, contemporary and of course dance forms from different cultures), choreograph, have more performance opportunities and teach dance more! I would also like to travel 🙂

2015 Recap

  1.  Traveled abroad for the first time to Panama with Movement Exchange
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At the University of Panama 

Check out previous posts from the exchange!

     2.   Performed for the first time on stage with Ajna Dance

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I participated in the Bollywood and Bhangra and Semi-Classical Performance Intensives

     3.    Volunteered with Dance to Unite (<<<check out this cool video)

            And went to an amazing Around the World Benefit for Dance to Unite last June (where we ended with a cypher !!)

STAY TUNED FOR THIS YEAR’S BENEFIT!

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Professional Ballroom dancer and Dance to Unite teacher Monica, performing with her partner for the benefit.
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 Professional Kathak dancer and Dance to Unite Teacher Vaishali, performing for the benefit.
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Anh-Tuyet, President of the Board, speaking to the crowd

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Board of Directors

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Dance to Unite volunteers

     4.   Becoming a dance major at Hunter College and starting Ballet!

I’ve always held on that it’s not too late for me starting dance later in life. There are a lot of negative, misguiding messages in the world that tell people how to think about themselves and their lives, and I think it’s important to realize that your own thoughts about yourself and your life outweigh those of others…because in the end, no one can live your life except you. It’s personal power to decide if you want to live by other people’s definitions and/or ideas of possibility or your own.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

Eric Roth

Movement Exchange 5 Part Series: Part 3

Monday, June 8, 2015

Day 3

Today we are at the University of Panamá!

Olivia and I
Olivia and I

Before Hayley and Kate teach a class we go on a tour of the university. I love that there is so much beautiful and cool art on the walls!

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Outside the dance studio we see a board describing Black Ethnicity Month

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Soon class starts, and after a brief warm-up, Hayley begins with a Brain Dance exercise involving three partners. Then we do an awesome combination across the floor called “Running Man”. Shout out to Hayley for helping me, because I had a hard time catching on!

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 Then Kate leads a really cool activity where we have a balloon and we have to keep it in the air while dancing. We do this solo and then with partners. I love the activity because it makes me think how to use my body creatively!

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 Then Hayley continues the class with some awesome choreography. It is really hard for me to catch on quickly, but I try not to be hard on myself because I started dancing last year.

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Class goes by so fast! For the most part I am present during the whole session, there are a couple of moments when I become really self-conscious. I have a chance to briefly talk to one student! I wish we could have a pre-session where we do community building activities and get to know each other first. But, it was SO cool dancing together 😀

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Post dance class we go to the cafeteria and have lunch (rice, lentil beans and meatballs with passion fruit juice…mmmMMMm)!

Afterward we head over to Malamabo, an all girls orphanage outside of Panamá City. When we arrive we go on a tour of the orphanage, stopping in the baby and toddler wing and then each house arranged by age.

We split into our teaching groups. Hayley and Olivia lead the name game and warm-up ( I love introductions!) and Kim leads across the floor!

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 I teach the Bellydance choreography I learned in the Dance to Unite class I assisted this past year with teacher, Nooshi. I am really nervous and mess up a little, but Tinna and Olivia help me by translating. The girls learn the choreography quickly and ask for more. I’m really happy they like it! They ask me to perform for them and at first I’m really nervous and feel awkward, like I’m taking up time that should be used for something else. But, they keep asking so I do the whole dance. Afterward, one of the girls asks me questions about Bellydance, about the music I played and if she can see a photo of Nooshi. I think, how cool it is that girls in another part of the world are learning the same dance students in our Dance to Unite Bronx class learned! I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be here, to teach and learn from the other volunteers 🙂

I feel like the girls wanted to see more because maybe they have not seen Bellydance or heard Arabic music before. The moment I was performing I felt like Dance to Unite was shining through me because they were being exposed to a dance form they possibly (because I don’t know) had not seen before. Being exposed to another culture through dance can cause people to become curious and want to learn more about that culture.

During NYC Dance Week, I took a Classical Japanese dance class at RESOBOX in Queens!

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Just taking one Classical Japanese dance class has encouraged me to learn more about Japanese culture and history, and connect with Japanese people.

 I’ve had friends from many different backgrounds, but I haven’t had many Asian friends (from Korea, China, Japan). As a kid I didn’t learn about any Asian cultures (and that’s why I am a strong advocate for multicultural music, art, literature and general education during early childhood) and so I grew up being around Asian kids in class but I did not know anything about their culture. I grew up in disconnection, whether disconnected from knowledge, disconnected from interaction and even just plain exposure. It wasn’t until recently that I started asking why is that? For example, I’m obsessed with traveling, but I initially shied away from traveling to some Asian countries. I asked myself why, and I think it’s because I was never exposed to different Asian cultures in school, home or saw images of Asians on television and movies. Now that I recognize this, I want to travel to different countries in Asia (and find media outlets that focus on different Asian communities)! But, even before that happens, there’s plenty to learn here in New York City! I want to continue to take Classical Japanese classes and visit the Japanese Society this summer.

Cheers to Dance to Unite and Movement Exchange!

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OMGG NYC Dance Parade 2015!

On May 16, 2015 I went to the NYC Dance Parade. I really really LOVE this parade. I woke up that morning excited and nervous because I was prepared to dance in the parade. I was so pumped, so ready to go. I had to be at Broadway and 21st street by 12pm and when I arrived at the ferry terminal I found out the 11am ferry was cancelled.

I panicked for a second and then decided to play around and document my experience before the experience haha. The day before, I listened to an interview with an entrepreneur who talked about going with the flow in life. The day before that I read an article about going with the flow and being open to the unexpected (because, you never know the unexpected could be better than what you planned). Two days before that I switched my cellphone screensaver to a picture with the words:

“sometimes you have to just let go and see what happens”

When I finally took the ferry and the 4 train to Union Square and walked seven blocks (it felt so long people, so long), I turned left onto Broadway and was overwhelmed with joy at seeing all the dancers preparing and practicing in their different costumes.

About fifteen minutes later I got a phone call and found out my group would be late and couldn’t make the parade.

At that moment I didn’t remember A DAMN THING about flow and being open to blah blah blah. My heart sank and the world closed shut with a bang.

Before I found out I couldn’t dance in the parade, I met up with Dance to Unite volunteer Vaishali, who teaches Bollywood and Kathak. When I told her about my group she invited me to walk with her and another dance-service organization she volunteered with, House of the Roses. I was so grateful for her invitation and for the group leader’s invitation as well.

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The day didn’t turn out as I expected, but I still got to be a part of the parade! I can’t wait until next year! If you live in the NYC area or plan on traveling to the city next year sometime in May, I highly recommend dancing in or attending the dance parade!

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dance parade 2015

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(sources: Gog in NYC, Village Voice and Gothamist)

Creating A Dance Vision Board

“Dance is Life”

That is what one of the new group leaders said a few Thursdays ago during Nooshi’s Bellydance class in the Bronx. I couldn’t agree more! When I first started my dance adventure I took Bollywood classes. I thought that afterward I would be able to remember all of my dance experiences fully and clearly. I had the idea that I would look back on everything and remember what I was wearing, other faces in the room, the music, specific movements, emotions, feelings, what people said… the moment to moment happenings. But, dance doesn’t work like that. When I dance (and I’m sure when others do) I’m in the moment. I’m so present that it’s hard to describe. I love that about dance and at the same time whenever I’m not dancing I wish I could go into an immaculate library in my mind filled with all kinds of dance experiences and replay them exactly how they occurred so I could relive everything.

When I’m fully present in a dance class or Dance to Unite class I get a lot out of the experience. This makes me think about life in general; if I’m intentionally present on a daily basis I can get so much more out of life than disconnecting from the flow of it and entertaining anxious, worried fearful thoughts. I can feel fulfilled so much more dancing through life than future tripping or “over analysis leading to paralysis”. I encourage everyone to let go and dance through life!

Dancing in the City

Highs

Beginner Bellydance classes at Serena Studios

I’m learning hip lifts and drops, how to make different figure 8s and different ways to shimmy, how to do large and small hip circles and have proper posture. Shimmying is really hard for me, especially with my shoulders. My arms also get tired from being up, so building arm strength is something I have to work on. Even though I get self-conscious sometimes about being thin and not being really curvy, I feel excited about taking the class.

Congolese with Funmilayo Chesney

I’m taking Congolese with Funmilayo Chesney at Asase Yaa in Brooklyn! This class is energy medicine for me, meaning that after I take this dance class my energy level is through the roof. I come home and end up staying up until 2am (when other days I can hardly keep my eyes open). I have never felt so awake after a dance class, it’s very reinvigorating mostly because of the live drumming, the energy the teacher brings and the energy of everyone else dancing and connecting with each other through dance, music and singing. At the end of class we all form a big circle and different people dance in the circle one at a time. I have always been deathly afraid of dancing in the circle by myself. I have danced in the circle twice. I really want to dance in the circle with confidence by the end of the year!

Going to dance classes with friends!

Getting dance deals (helloo Living Social, if you don’t know, now  you know, you know)

Lows

Not having money

 Living in NYC is expensive, and when I don’t have money for dance classes I feel down sometimes.

Commuting from Staten Island

Between walking to the ferry, the process of loading and docking and walking to the train and getting off and walking to my destination after I get off the train (and often going to three different boroughs in the same day sometimes), by the end of the day I don’t feel like dancing because I’m so tired!

Knee pain

On a daily basis my knees hurt and it really makes it difficult to get around

In the end, I’m so grateful for the dance opportunities I have had and that are happening now!

Dance/Movement Goals

What also keeps me going is the fact that my grandmother and I both made dance/movement goals. We have different goals, but a few similarities are doing yoga at least once a week, learning more about dance travel/tourism and a secret goal I won’t reveal until June or July. One of my personal dance goals is to focus on exploring and studying different dances from Africa and the African Diaspora and Bellydance. This summer I want to take a break from those classes and study Semi-Classical Indian dance and Beginner Ballet. Another goal is to just explore different dance styles without studying them for long-term until I’m done with what I’m already studying. At the beginning of February, my grandmother and I sat down at the kitchen table and talked about our dance/movement goals, then I typed them up and now we have them taped to our walls.

Over the weekend we also created Dance Vision Boards to inspire and motivate us!

How to Create a Dance/Movement Vision Board

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On my board I have pictures that reflect the dance classes I’m taking right now (Bellydance and dances from the African Diaspora), the barefeet logo because I want to do what Mickela Mallozzi is doing, which is traveling around the world learning dances from different cultures, meeting different people and eating lots of delicious food! There is a white rose with musical notes on the petals to show my love for music, yoga poses by Yoga Rachael who I follow on Instagram and Dance to Unite’s logo for inspiration to learn more about the 13 Steps to Unity, and to remind me about the kids we serve. Under the ballerina on the right is the logo for the upcoming NYC Dance Parade in May which hopefully I can participate in. There is also a photo of a field of daffodils and that represents a very special aspiration I will blog about later on. I have a photo of two people dancing because one day I would like to try social dancing! I haven’t touched upon everything, but finally there are inspiration sayings like: “wherever you go, go with all your heart” by Confucius, “the quickest way to acquire self-confidence is to do exactly what you are afraid to do” by anon and “be brave with your life”.

1. Buy a poster board at Michael’s or another art and crafts supplies store (OR I’m totally for DIY, you can use the side of a large cardboard box instead).

2. Research dance/inspiration related photos on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr or Google Images

3. Copy and Paste to a Word Document

4. Print the document and cut out the pictures/words with scissors

5. Glue (or tape) them to your board

This was just a suggestion! You can create your vision board however you want 🙂

Special Guest Ballerina Visits Bollywood/Kathak Class

1397389_409454665846170_8539383243999551167_oSpecial guest artist and professional Ballerina, Emily Anton, joins Circle Talk in Vaishali’s Bollywood and Kathak class.

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(source)

Emily is a part of Ballets with a Twist dance company.

>>>Learn more about Emily and her experiences by checking out her blog!<<<

On March 30, 2015 there was a lot of excitement at the beginning of class as the girls practiced their Bollywood dance while they waited for Emily. When she arrived, it didn’t take long for the girls to start asking questions about life as a Ballerina. There was never a dull moment during class. Emily introduced herself and answered the girls questions from what’s her favorite move to her favorite part about being a Ballerina. Some girls asked if she had ever had an injury, what dancers do if they mess up during a performance and how male ballerinas are able to lift female ballerinas. Emily then demonstrated some Ballet moves and explained the reason why she enjoyed Ballet was because of how expressive she could be.

After an initial Q&A, this happened…

Emily passes around a special pair of Ballet Pointe shoes

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“I was 13 years old when I got my first pair of pointe shoes. They are special to me because dancing in pointe shoes is unlike anything else on earth – you are quite literally standing on the tips of your toes using shoes specially designed to help you do that. It feels like you are floating, rising above everything else, flying, spinning with the greatest ease. I also enjoy the additional challenge pointe shoes present the ballet dancer, everything becomes slightly harder and additional strength is required in the ankles and feet to allow the ballet dancer to rise all the way up on to the tips of your toes!”

We watch a short video of her performing in “Cocktail Hour: The Show”

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then the whole class joins her in learning different Ballet moves

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Port de Bras

At the end of class the girls performed their Bollywood performance for Emily.

She didn’t leave without a lot of thank yous, more questions and hugs.

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Quotes that INSPIRE Emily 

“In life, as in dance, grace glides on blistered feet” -Alice Abrams

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. – e.e. cummings
“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” -Anonymous

Dance to Unite Team ( Jenae, Galit, Emily, Vaishali and Tal)

Dance to unite team ( Jenae, emily, Simone, Vaishali and Tal)

The Adventure is Only Beginning

I have been a Teacher’s Assistant for four months now. I can’t believe I’m actually assisting in a Bollywood and Kathak and Bellydance class. Before joining Dance to Unite I had no idea about either of these dance styles. Last August I had the opportunity to attend Claude Stein’s “Natural Singer” for five days at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. It was a  workshop for people who a) wanted to sing more because of pure enjoyment b) people who wanted to overcome their fear and anxiety of singing (even if they weren’t singing in front of people) and c) people who wanted to overcome their fear and anxiety of performing in front of crowds (me!) whether they were amateur or professional singer-songwriters. It was at Omega, during break time when dance sessions were offered, that I found myself in a dance studio, consumed by Bellydance music (I didn’t know from what country), tying a bright orange, pure white or red chiffon hip scarf around my waist. The teacher, with such a stunning presence, directed us to move our hips in a figure eight shape. We moved our arms slowly like the movements of a serpent and danced with colorful veils. Some sessions we danced with traditional golden Thai fingernails. I was sold on it all, I wanted to learn more about Bellydance and Thai dance. I thought it was so funny that two months later I would learn my first volunteer experience with Dance to Unite would be helping Nooshi with Bellydance.

I recently learned about Fifi Abdou, an Egyptian Bellydancer and actress. 

I’m also researching more about different kinds of music that Belly dancers use. I really like the late Warda Al Jazairia, an Algerian and Lebanese singer born in France. 

In November I joined Vaishali’s class and like I said in another post, at the same time I was taking a Bollywood and Bhangra class with Ajna Dance. Then I started a new job working with Teaching Artists and my first assignment was assisting a Bhangra class for third, fourth and fifth graders in the Bronx. It was taught by a professional dancer trained in Odissi, a classical Indian dance. I have gained so much exposure to Indian culture and dance, but there is so much more that I want to learn and understand.

Nava Durga- Odissi

Odissi Dance “Sthayee” by Rahul Acharya at the International Odissi Festival (2006)

Mini Class Update 

In both classes we have covered the following steps from Dance to Unite’s “13 Steps to Unity”; Dance to Unite’s mission, culture, unity, acceptance and respect. The last time I posted a class update, I wrote about how the students and teachers shared their backgrounds and cultures during Circle Talk. In the two classes after that concept, we talked about unity. It was interesting to hear the students talk about their experiences regarding division between different cultures and races/ethnicities and their thoughts on what perpetuates lack of unity among people of different backgrounds. One student described a friendship that was ruined because of differences and felt it was stupid. Another explained how people don’t take time to get to know each other on a personal or/and cultural level. Others spoke about the unfairness of overgeneralizing a people and held a discussion on why people are grouped together as being this (negative) and that (negative) instead of being viewed as an individual responsible for their own actions. We  continued by asking the students how they could embody unity in their lives.

“Just say hi to someone who is different than you,” one girl said.

“Dancing with others who are different is unity,” said another. 

In Nooshi’s class, (which by the way, another volunteer Katrina has joined us!) we talked about acceptance, including everything from accepting other people’s differences, to other people’s opinions, accepting ourselves and annoying mothers who just don’t understand.  When we talked about respect a lot of the conversation turned toward (cyber)bullying, how to prevent oneself from bullying, how to respond to it and seeing things from another person’s perspective. There are really opinionated girls and others who do not share their thoughts (next class we’re going to encourage them to share).

Sometimes Circle Talk runs over a bit because we are having such a great conversation. We are like archaeologists, excavating and examining not only deep issues, but most importantly solutions (Dance to Unite emphasizes the positive) through personal stories, and returning to the surface shining a light on positive responses, attitudes and behaviors we are capable of doing when the going gets tough. And boy, these conversations can sometimes be a little tough. Many children and teenagers know what’s going on in the world, they know about racism, sexism, isms ect. And what I find in these two classes is that the kids bring up real world issues that they face directly or happen to others. I like this because the students learn how the 13 Steps to Unity can be applied to real world situations (look out for a future post on the 13 Steps to Unity and the complexity and simplicity of fostering cross-cultural relationships/communities).

I’m also starting to feel more comfortable about discussing DtU’s concepts knowing I have work to do on myself. I don’t think spreading positive messages is exclusive to perfect people (who are qualified because they are perfect)…because perfect people don’t exist. Just as a regular teacher learns while she or he is teaching,  Dance to Unite teachers can learn more about themselves regarding the 13 Steps to Unity. I just want to say this because positive messages will be buried-six feet-under messages if the sentiment is that perfect people should spread unity, acceptance and peace. I understand walking the walk and talking to talk. However, we all learned how to walk and we all learned how to talk, it’s a process.

Dance to Unite provides a broader horizon of options on how to show up in the world. To me, underlying each concept is power and in every class we are teaching kids all the different (super)powers they have; uniting with different people, and respecting themselves and others. And then after all that, we dance!

Kathak choreography in the beginning in Vaishali’s class

Tying our colorful chiffon hip scarves in Nooshi’s class and starting with a warm-up

Sometimes classes are challenging because the students are talking too much, not listening, not feeling motivated to participate or come in late. But that’s just a part of the ups and downs of class. Learning how to deal with those challenges are learning lessons for the teachers and I.

Stay tuned for more posts about finding appropriate Hip-Hop songs for kids, more classes at Cumbe, my secret dream to be a Bellydancer performer and my first attempt at choreography!

Mondays at Achievement First Endeavor Middle School in Brooklyn

Bollywood and Kathak with Vaishali 

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Thursdays at Entrada Academy in the Bronx

Bellydance with Mehrnoush

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I AM (WE ARE) THE LOCK(S), DANCE IS THE KEY PART 2

Happy New Year !

I want to start off by apologizing for not posting Part 2 before the new year! One of my goals for 2015 is to post consistently.

RECAP: In the last post I wrote mostly about exploring my Ghanaian identity and how I traveled to a Ghanaian restaurant in the Bronx in order to bring  a cultural dish (Waakye) to one of Dance to Unite’s Teacher’s Workshops.

Fast Forward to Part 2:

In regards to other cultural dishes, this also happened…

I am in LOVE with the combination of Dance and Food Culture 

Galit began the workshop by explaining what impacted her to start Dance to Unite. She shared a video showing a 2012 performance at the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City, of four of her students, all African-American girls, dancing to an Israeli song called “Mi’Ma’amakim (Out Of The Depths)” by The Idan Raichel Project.

After that, she covered a lot of topics including how to facilitate Circle Talk, especially when students bring up  conversations around difficult topics revolved around concepts like unity, culture, acceptance and respect. I can’t tell you how scared I was in the beginnig of my teaching assistant experience, to co-facilitate Circle Talk. Somewhere in my mind, I thought the teachers would do most of the talking, but I realized I had to contribute to the conversation too. I was scared I was going to say something wrong or unclear, but it helps that the teachers I work with encourage me to help them facilitate Circle Talk. I can’t tell you how scared I was of interacting with children too. Last summer, before joining Dance to Unite, I avoided working with children at all costs because I didn’t want to make mistakes and embarrass myself some sort of way. It’s so funny to me, and startling, that I have now decided to be a teacher.

Dancing and Circle Talk are like little uniquely carved keys that open up a world of possibility. 

I like tracing my decisions to their origins and a couple of months ago I considered going into Physical or Occupational Therapy. Before that, I wanted to be a Journalist (still may write) and before that a Publicist and before that…well you get the picture. I have grown so much as a teaching assistant with Dance to Unite. I have overcome fears and feel settled and peaceful in pursuing a teaching career.

At the end of the workshop, we also heard from Melissa Lauradin, a creative artist and designer who supports Dance to Unite and also created this great video bio of DtU.

I AM (WE ARE) the Lock(s), Dance is the Key Part 1

It was 6:50pm when I got off the 1 train and walked up the steps, welcomed by a light snowfall and the bright flashing reds, whites, yellows and blues of Times Square. I never would have thought coming out of the subway on a fairly cold night could be so magical, but it was. For a whole week I was walking around the city wearing a years-old pair of glasses because I had broken the glasses I usually wear. I could not see far away, I could not see people’s faces, everything was blurry. I walked around blind to all the details of the world.

This past Wednesday, right before I headed to Dance to Unite’s Teacher’s Workshop, I stopped in Downtown Brooklyn to pick up my new glasses. I really wanted to get them before the workshop. I cannot describe the feeling of being able to see after feeling so disconnected for a week, so when I walked past Times Square it felt so magical to see so clearly. I start off sharing this story because as the year is coming to a close, I feel what happened is symbolic of how I have gained a lot of clarity over the last few months on who I want to be in life, what I want to do, specific goals I have, and how much I want giving to be a part of my life.

My new glasses!
My new glasses!

Rewind a couple of hours before, I was getting off the 4 train at 183 Street on my way to Ebe Ye Yie, a Ghanaian restaurant in the Bronx. I fumbled with my phone trying to get the GPS to work. No luck. I followed the numbers to 2364 Jerome Avenue and stood in front of the restaurant for a few minutes.What am I going to say I thought.

“Hi, do you have plantains and okra?” 

“Hi, um do you have Kelewele, no..no just say plantains” 

Kelewele (Kele-wele)
Kelewele (Kele-wele)-a spicy snack of cubes or small slices of ripe plantain, spiced with ginger and pepper and deep fried until golden. Fried plantain without the spices is commonly eaten with bean stew and is known as red red (Source: food.com)

I went inside and asked the woman at the counter for the food I wanted. She didn’t have either, but she had okra soup. I told her I didn’t want soup and from there I stuttered an order, sounding confused. Awkwardness set in. Her husband came out and I finally gave in.

“I’m going to a gathering tonight where people are bringing food from their culture” I said.

” Oh you’re Ghanaian?” asked the woman.

I quietly gave an explanation about being half Ghanaian,  without telling my life story, and how I was not raised in the culture, which explained my lack of knowledge about Ghanaian food. They became gentle and suggested I buy Waakye, a popular street food in Ghana. I felt relaxed enough to ask how to pronounce Waakye and the name of the restaurant (which means ‘it is done’), just so I wouldn’t butcher it when I told everyone about the food at the workshop. The man continued to say they were from Kumasi in Ghana, of the Ashanti and spoke Hausa.

As the food was being prepared I panicked because of the whole situation. Here I was in a Ghanaian restaurant about to provide Waakye for the workshop and I did not know much about my country. Hmm…my country, can I say that? I was so stressed, I did not take time to reflect on how it was my first steps toward learning more about myself and thank goodness the first step was though food. There is a long back story to learning about my Ghanaian identity; lets just say I’m opening up more and more to something that as been blocked for a long time. There are many different cultures within Ghana, but right now I want to learn more about Ghanaian culture as a whole.

Ghana flag

I do want to acknowledge that I mostly identify with being African-American (and do not use my father’s last name, Oppong) because I have grown up in the culture and in the United States my entire life. I could have brought a soul food dish, but when I was thinking about what culture to represent, I wanted to explore that unknown part of myself.

US flag

It’s amazing where life takes you! I don’t know about any of my readers, but lately I’ve been involved with things that I consciously and unconsciously avoid.

I’m excited that my dance adventure has led me to explore Ghana’s food culture!

Waakye
Waakye (the man I spoke to, if I remember correctly, told me to pronounce it like Why-chee; consists of rice, beans and fish)

stay tuned for Part 2…

Simone Meet Cumbe, Cumbe Meet Simone

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(I’m on the right!)

A couple of weeks ago I found an old photo of my friend and I at a Ballet performance (I’m on the right). I was kind of startled by the picture because I have no recollection of that young Simone, even my Ballet classes slip my mind. It is interesting what people do and do not remember from their childhoods. Surely my dance memories would remain intact, but all I can remember is my friend’s name. With this absence, finding this photo gave me some reassurance of dance in my life. I don’t think finding this photo was a coincidence. A few days later I was scrolling down my Facebook feed and came across a trailer for Michaela Deprince’s upcoming book trailer below.

I was immediately inspired by her personal story, the images and reality of a Black Ballerina and and just the elegance of Ballet. I never considered taking Ballet classes again because of my “too late” mindset. But, as I continued to learn more about Deprince, Misty Copeland and after watching First Position,  I decided it’s not too late for me. I’m hoping to start adult Ballet classes next year at the Dance Theatre of Harlem!

While taking Bollywood and Bhangra classes on Wednesdays I have also found a home at Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance. It is truly a gem. I started taking classes about a month and a half ago. I registered for Cumbe’s Community Dance Day, where all the classes for a Saturday were $5. My first class was Congocise taught by Funmilayo. I love the live drumming, which Funmilayo says is better than today’s synthetic music. I strongly support eating real food instead of synthetic food (and try whenever I can) because real food gives you healthier energy. I never thought about live music like drumming providing healthier energy than synthetic beats.

The second class was West African with Mouminatou Camara and then Samba/Afro-Brazilian with Danielle Lima. After taking Samba I realize I’m not good with my feet, I need to move my left side more and I have a hard time doing two different moves using my legs, feet and arms at the same time. In all three classes, the dancing style where people line up in four lines on one side of the room and dance across to the other side was new to me. Cumbe offers so many interesting classes like Salsa, Afro-Latin Jazz, Afro-Haitian, Sabar, “Dancing the Orishas” with Gilset Mora and special workshops like upcoming Rumba with Stevie Insua. I love Cumbe, and what’s awesome about the center is that people from all different backgrounds come to learn!

Congocise class with Funmilayo

After my first experience with dances from the African Diaspora, the word “free” comes to mind. Free head, neck, shoulders, arms and hips. Free everything. It’s not like learning choreography where there has to be some thinking and constant repetition involved. Following the teacher’s movements in lines across the room is a mixture of observation and pure dancing. When it’s your turn, you have no time think, hardly any time to practice, you just go. Three days ago I took Samba/Afro- Brazilian again and gained confidence to just dance (even if I don’t have the movements all the way right). This reminds me as a dance teacher-on-her-way to always remind students that dance class is about having fun and expressing yourself, trying your best and never giving up on learning the moves.

I’m really excited about DanceAfrica next year, the nation’s largest festival dedicated to African dance. It takes place in New York City through Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and other states like Chicago and DC. Last year DanceAfrica focused on Madagascar-based music and dance troupe Bakomanga. I didn’t get a chance to go in 2014, but I’m hoping to attend next May. Cumbe participates in this festival and I can’t wait to find out which teachers will give dance demonstrations.

West African Dance Demonstration with M’Bemba Bangoura at DanceAfrica 2014

So far I have taken a Hip-Hop, Dancehall and Afro-Cuban Folkloric class at Cumbe. The most challenging class has been Afro-Cuban Folkloric dance. I cannot describe the dance, people have to see and experience the strength and spirit in the movements for themselves. I sucked in this class. I could not get the moves right to save my life. I was off with the beat and an overall mess. When my arm was supposed to go right, it went left and when I was supposed to turn I was tripping over myself. I’m intimated by that class and contemplating about going back, but the biggest lesson I have learned at Cumbe is that I cannot expect to waltz in a class and ace a cultural dance I have never been exposed to. It takes time. I’ll say it again, (mostly for myself) it takes time. A few of my fellow Dance to Unite family members have said this to me, so I’m going to continue to learn and grow at Cumbe keeping that in mind.

Bollywood, Bhangra and Kathak

Two months ago I thought about taking Bollywood and Bhangra classes. I found Ajna Dance on the internet and as I clicked “book now”, excitement coursed through my veins because, not only would it be my first dance experience after a long dance hiatus,  I would also be exposed to two cultural dances I knew nothing about.

I can’t remember when I started having a strong interest in India. The various ceremonies (like Indian weddings), celebrations like Holi, Mehendi and fashion have always been beautiful to me. One of the first countries I want to travel to (as I have not gone abroad since I went to Costa Rica at eight) is India, alongside Morocco, Cuba, Mexico, Uganda and Burma or (Myanmar)! The whole time I was exploring India somehow it never dawned on me to research different Indian dances. At the start of my dance adventure I YouTubed Bhangra and found Bhangra Empire, a dance troupe based out of California. I was floored by the mixture of Bhangra music and hip-hop (not to mention the amount of energy it took to dance for eight minutes straight). Then I found myself YouTubing Bollywood dance video clips and found Bride and Prejudice. I love the clip below:

I like when the women kick their hips out and the men jump back or go whoaa!

I watched my first Bollywood film last month on Netflix called Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. I LOVED IT. The dancing, music and colors. I enjoyed the storyline and characters and at the end I was just like, “WOW…thank God I learned about this at 23”. I clearly need to explore Netflix more.

And to top it all off, I’m assisting another Dance to Unite class with Vaishali, who will be teaching 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls Bollywood and Kathak at Achievement First Endeavor Middle School in Brooklyn! We had our first class last week!

Galit (taking the photo), Vaishali and I with a group of middle school girls excited about Dance to Unite and learning Kathak!
Galit (taking the photo), Vaishali and I with a group of middle school girls excited about Dance to Unite and learning Kathak! (Source: dancetounite.org)

The first class was filled with high energy, lots of smiles and anticipation for the upcoming months. Dance to Unite worked with this school last year so a lot of the girls are familiar with the organization. At the beginning of the class Galit asked alumni girls to explain to the new students the mission of Dance to Unite, and then Galit introduced Vaishali. The girls had a chance to ask her questions about her background. Then Vaishali taught everyone how to pronounce Kathak and explained its meaning–“to tell a story”. She continued explaining how it was expressed in temples before it became entertainment in the high courts. She told the class a story using her hands and head, then she asked some of the girls to tell their own stories.

If you have read this far (haha), I encourage you to try it out and tell a family member or friend your own story through movement.

I’m now on twitter 🙂

What is…

Bollywood:

Bollywood is the informal name given to the popular Mumbai-based Hindi language film industry in India. Bollywood Dancing is one of the hottest dances around! It is the foundation of every great Indian Bollywood Film. The dances are a fusion of traditional and classical Indian dances with the influence of some jazz, hip-hop and modern dance. Timing and Rhythm, energy, and sharp controlled expressive movements are the important elements of Bollywood Dancing!

Bhangra:

Bhangra is the most widespread of Indian folk dances worldwide, and has influenced popular music and dance, including Bollywood styles, more than any other folk dance. In turn, Bhangra has been influenced by fusion with genres like hip-hop. It was originally performed only by men, but these days women perform it too.

Kathak: 

Kathak is among the six major classical dances of India and one of the most dynamic theater arts in the world. The word Kathak is derived from katha, meaning “the art of storytelling.” It is also synonymous with the community of artists known as Kathakas whose hereditary profession it was to narrate history while entertaining.

( Source: http://bollywooddancemania.com/dance.htm and http://www.kathak.org/site/kathak/section.php?id=4176)