Throwing The Biggest Baddest Party for Cultural Diversity Through Dance

Dance to Unite Class #2

October 9, 2014

I had a terribly stuffy nose and I despise stuffy noses. But of course, I hardly noticed during the class and plus Mehrnoush bought me Cranberry juice which was so kind. During Circle Talk, we talked about the second concept of the “13 Steps to Unity”–Culture. Mehrnoush asked the girls what did culture mean to them and some said traditions, customs, what people share in common. Then we all went around and talked about our backgrounds; where are families are from, what kind of music we listen to and the food we eat. Many of the girls were either African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican or both.

Mehrnoush explained she was born and raised in Iran until she and her family moved to Germany. I think it’s pretty cool she speaks Farsi, German and English and knows a little bit of Spanish! The group leader spoke about being African-American and eating Soul Food. I loved hearing all the stories about food, because I like learning about different food cultures and the history behind the food culture (for example, for school I did a short powerpoint on street food from different Latin American countries and I learned that Peru has a lot of Japanese influence).

When it was my turn I was a bit hesitant. “Should I acknowledge my other identity?” I asked myself, “because...” I continued, “I don’t have to, no one would ever know”.  But before I could analyze more, (and that sounds like me, over analyzing until I’m like “wait, what was I thinking about”) I started speaking. “I’m half African-American and half Ghanaian. My father lives in Ghana and yeah. And I have a good friend who is Guyanese and I love going to her house because it is so different from mine”. “There, I did it.” I thought. The irony of the whole thing is that as Circle Talk continued, Mehrnoush explained how it is more than okay to embrace who we are and to be open to other people and their cultures. I listened and thought about embracing my Ghanaian heritage which I know nothing about. It is something to think about.

In a flash it was time to start dancing. The girls took their places, Mehrnoush put on the music and we began to warm-up.

Cultural diversity is no mistake.

BIODIVERSITY (Merriam-Webster dictionary): the existence of many different kinds of plants and animals in an environment.

Diversity is all around us, whether human beings and their diverse personalities, animals and plants. I celebrate cultural diversity, I celebrate the extrovert and introvert, I celebrate that there are giraffes, peacocks, polar bears and not just one lonesome animal roaming the earth. I celebrate Blue Spruce and Aspen trees, red roses, Hibiscus flowers, I celebrate all the diversity we still don’t know about.

The world is so vast with diversity and at the center of it all is life. Yay for that.

Until next time…

From Staten Island to the Boogie Down Bronx

dancetounite4

Dance to Unite: Class #1

October 2, 2014

I’m always the person who has a low cellphone battery when I need my cellphone the most. However on this day, I didn’t find myself waiting for Galit in the Lower East Side with a red bar. No…I found myself on the corner of West 14th with a dead cellphone in my bag, nervously pacing back and forth wondering if Galit and I would have a hard time finding each other. We planned to meet in the LES  and take the 5 train to the Bronx together. BUT, since my phone was dead I could not call or text her, so there I was feeling naked without my phone.

I don’t know why I worried so much, (like that quote “worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere”) Galit and I found each other and hopped on the 5 train going uptown.  When we got off the train we met up with Merhnoush and excitedly walked over to the school. We met with the principal (who is very enthusiastic about the program) and the group leader who will also help us with the class.  Then we went into the hallway and for the first time, saw the faces of the girls we would be working with until June of next year. We went to the second floor and stood in front of a classroom door anxiously waiting for someone to come with the keys to open it. Once the door was open, the magic began. I saw that we would be teaching them in a dance studio. The room has so much space, shiny wooden floors and big mirrors that cover one wall.

Everyone put their belongings down, took off their shoes and sat in a circle. I can’t tell you what I was thinking from 4pm-5pm, all I know is that I was in the moment, and that’s a good thing! Galit introduced herself and explained the mission of Dance to Unite. Then she described the class outline which includes five to ten minutes of Circle Talk (when we talk about a concept from Dance to Unite’s 13 Steps to Unity) and then dancing.

After she spoke we all went around and said our names and then went right into a warm-up. I love stretching. I try to do it every morning right after I wake up. I want to say “hello knee, hello back, hello arms” instead of “hello internet, hello Facebook, hellooo Instagram”.  But sometimes I can’t help myself and take a peak at social media first. Mehrnoush turned the music on and briefly taught the girls how to move their arms, hands and wrists, and how to move their torsos, “right, out, left, back…now put it together and…”

Some students were deeply focused,  some looked around hesitant, shyly or as though embarrassed , others laughed and smiled. But they were all trying and seemed engulfed in the moment just as much as me! Mehrnoush started teaching the choreography and the girls caught on wonderfully!  Before I knew it, it was time to go and I was like “already?!”The first class was a success! Can’t wait for the next one!

Learn more about Dance to Unite. Become a Volunteer or Donate!

Dance to Unite!

Dance to Unite Orientation
Dance to Unite Orientation (Courtesy of Dance to Unite)

I’m currently reading a memoir called Wild by Cheryl Strayed, who takes the reader along the Pacific Crest Trail, as she describes her experience hiking it by herself in 1995.  I’m taking my time with the book. I’m really taking in her story, studying her mindset as if it’s an artisanal piece with exquisite detail, and trying to reactivate my rusty imagination while she describes the highs and lows of being on the trail. I feel like embarking on this dance adventure (and documenting it via a blog) is like Cheryl’s first steps on the trail.  I’m a little nervous, the twins, fear and self-doubt, are pulling me to the side, convincing me to analyze the decision more.  “You haven’t danced for some time, why are you getting involved with it again?” “What if you can’t dance anymore?”  “Just stick to learning dances you’re comfortable with”, “I don’t know if I will make a good teacher’s assistant?” “What if I don’t work well with the kids?”  “Maybe I should wait awhile before I do something like this.”  Hiking the PCT was a big decision for Cheryl, and in a way so is this dance adventure, because I am 1) getting involved with something I thought I would never do again (in any way) and  2) trying to get over my fear of being seen. Despite all her regrets and doubts, Cheryl knew in her heart the only way was forward, even if that meant facing the unknown and making mistakes.  So I told the twins to kick rocks and let me do my thing. If I have second thoughts, struggle with something , stumble and fall, I’ll be like Cheryl on the trail, falling forward.

I tend to think about my life within the context of nature, landscapes and animals. I have an idea of this journey ahead of me since  I have danced before, but I’m sure I will grow in unexpected ways as a volunteer and learn more about dance in general. My first steps were meeting the other teachers and teacher assistants  at the Dance to Unite orientation in late September. I will assist Mehrnoush, who teaches belly dance to fifth and sixth graders at Entrada Academy in the Bronx (whoo belly dance!)

Well I technically just lied.  I took my first few steps earlier this year when I found Dance to Unite on meetup, but I didn’t come back to it until around May or June. I contacted Galit Adani, the Founder and Executive Director,  and from there we met once or twice. I found myself at a summer party fundraiser for the organization at Nirvana Lounge, where one of the new teachers, Vaishali Sinha performed an Indian classical dance called Kathak.  It was beautiful. I loved her costume and the music and I was sitting with my friends, wishing I could see the performance all over again.

* heaves a heavy and thick  “Once Upon a Time” television show-like book of “Simone’s Life” on the table, flips to the middle to a blank page…first class is October 2!! Stayed tuned*

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