Tag Archives: dance

The Get Down Gang

I’m not really sure how “The Get Down” turned out to be as good a show as it is. I haven’t had a chance to go through all the credits but I’m pretty sure Nas, Nelson George and Grandmaster Flash himself are among the list of producers.  I was pretty sure I would never watch it because I was not looking forward to what I felt was the dominant casting of light skinned Blacks in the leading roles in order to capture viewers. But I wanted to spend time with my husband and he invited me to join him to watch it. So of course I said yes, with reservations.

We’ve only watched the first episode, which is an epic hour and 45 minutes long and I’m already blown away, not so much by the characters initially, which take a minute to really grow on you because of creator, Baz Lurhmman’s traditional A.D.D. direction of editing. The attempt to crunch visual story telling, which mixes old 70s footage of the Bronx with set recreations of circa 70s Bronx, with what was going on in hip-hop, politics, the economy and the neighborhood, while also telling a young love story and the genesis of a rise to fame through mythical hip-hop iconography is dizzying and trippy as fuck.

Of course, I kinda like that.

Just about every frame has something critical to communicate to the viewer. It appears to be cut specifically for the purpose of nostalgia and also drawing connections from the past to the present day sense of Black musical trends and the culture and style and politics that shape it.

I don’t know yet about the episodes to come but there are very few long takes in “The Get Down” episode one. It’s all about movement, color, story telling, and emotionally hyperbolic placement in the artifice, magic, substance fueled, kinetic, beauty of Black people and culture in 1970s Bronx.

Cadillac something what he wants

There is a dance scene where Cadillac, one of the main character’s opponents, shows everyone just how much power he has by claiming the dance floor. Wearing an all white suit, Cadillac attempts to shift the course of budding romance between lead character Ezekial and Mylene, the girl whose affections they both seek, through the power of dance. This incredible scene made us think about how dance is primarily social, tribal, spiritual and a form of communication that conveys celebration, love, intimacy, challenge, violence, domination, attitude, posturing and more.

There are many things that blew me away in this episode, like the way that the paths between the mythical Shaolin who scales roofs and jumps from building to building risking life and limb for an album and Ezekial, the young, unrealized wordsmith (MC,) converge to form the beginning of a life changing relationship.  It speaks to the importance of having a gang or a squad a team of people to support one another and to belong to.

Also, the dialogue tends to go from verbal to lyrical to musical at any moment and I was often left wondering if I was listening correctly or hearing correctly. “The Get Down” is not only a nostalgic and visual feast for the senses. I was uniquely impressed by the heart in it, particularly in the friendship among the young men. I really look forward to seeing how this energy, along with the pace and epic scope of such an ambitious first episode can be maintained for two seasons.

Give it up if You Didn’t Kicked in the Face: Why I like MTA Subway Dancers


Like so many New Yorkers in the 80s, I grew up as a girl in NYC feeling that  that Graffiti was just rude and ugly vandalism thrust upon undeserving commuters. Maybe it was to some degree but it was also art, art of the streets and of the youth. And now when I look back I wish I had been able to appreciate the creativity, passion and intelligence behind it then, the ethnography, the historic record and narrative it would become. I notice graffiti now wherever I go. I even seek it out when I travel because it tells me more about who has imhabited the are then the story the developers would like us to believe.

I won’t miss out on it this time around.

The subway dancers. You love them, hate them, or don’t care about them at all but if you live in NYC and ride the MTA, you probably have had to tolerate them several times in your journeys. Young African American teenaged boys who travel in small goups with the odd girl or two sprinkled in on occasion. They come on the train with a radio or some music playing device playing something with a hot contagious beat. One of them yells “Showtime” and claps his hands while they each take turns doing gravity defying flips, twists, kick and somersaults all while on a moving train. And I have never seen anyone get kicked in the face.

I can barely keep my balance on a moving train if I let go of the pole or bar for four or five seconds.

So they’ve got skill, stamina, strenth. They’ve rehearsed their routine. And they are charged up with energy, passion and excitement. They’re comedians, Mc’s, promoters. They’re self trained dancers. And for the most part they’re veyr polite because they’re doing this for money. They go around with hats collecting money saying “Show your love, not your hate.”

I not only like watching them dance but I also like watching the ways in which they transform the subway car and change the energy around them. Kids always look on with wonder and amusement and return the extended fist bumps. Tourists usually love them and show it with cash. The girls they flirt with often drop their stiff faces and break into giggles. Some people ignore  them, move away, stay in their own worlds. Others like older people who you think might not like them clap their hands in support. Some people look at others for some idea of what and how they should feel about this. Others give the dancers pounds, smiles, laughs. Some hit record on their cell phone video cameras. I’ve done it once or twice when I’m on the mood.

It’s New York City where anything can happen and I know that one day these subway dancers will be a thing of the past, relegated to photographic record, part of a cultural narrative of NYC’s past. But I like to enjoy them now, in the electric present where they belong, the voice of today’s youth channelled through physical expression, pushing the boundaries of performance. The streets are where so much of our popular art comes from.

And I love a museum exhibit as you well know but I like just as much when art suddenly happens like an accidental wrong turn, dirty, unsolicited and occasionally disturbing. It doesn’t always have to be sterile and meticulously selected or curated and pinned behind glass. You can touch it, smell it, taste it, feel it, sometimes without wanting to.

Keep your eyes on it while they’re still on this side of the gallery. Feel it. It’s free and It won’t last forever.

I can hear some of you yelling “Thank God!”


Soca Novice

Full disclosure: I have never been to a Soca party in my life.

As the daughter of a Trini-born woman, though I’ve been to Trinidad twice and stayed a month both times, I have only been to Carnival there once. The first time I went, I was a spoiled Yankee brat. The second time I went, I was a fully depressed mess.

I was born in Brooklyn and for many years my mom took my brother and I to the Labor Day Parade on Eastern Parkway and the Kiddie Carnival behind the Brooklyn Museum.  I’ve eaten coconut jelly, coconut meat, coconut water, sugar cane, Coucou, Roti, Doubles, Sorrel (OMIGOD I LOVE SORREL) Mauby, Ginger Beer that my mom used to make every Summer. I’ve grown up with Calypso, Reggae and Soca being played in the house daily. But I have never been to a Soca party.

To be fair, I’ve never really been that much of a party person. There was a short stint for about a year or so in my late 20s when I did a lot of dancing at Pop Rocks, The Pyramid and Lime Light but most of these were very Gay situations and so I felt relatively confident that I did not have to fight off grabby hands or other unwanted advances on the dance floor which was one of my main concerns. In my American mind, the only reason to go out to a party is to meet people and since I’m married and haven’t been single in over ten years, I just do all my wild dancing at home or on the odd occasion with a friend or two at clubs in the Village.

Soulsistah4real has been trying to get me to go to Carnival literally for years and I’ve always declined. My extroversion is very selective and jumping around in public half naked in bold colors is something I’ve only imagined enjoying as a spectator.  But this weekend while taping some footage to promote Soul Sistah Series next event, “Soca & Scotch,” I learned some new things about Soca dance, music, parties and culture that have really exposed my own Westernized ignorance. It enlightened me about the myriad ways in which my perceptions about sex and sexuality have been co-opted by the White Male gaze.

Throughout it’s history, White America  has always consistently and perversely stripped the meaning of so many African and Afro Caribbean cultural rituals in order to emphasize, overexpose  and market the elements of it that are sorely lacking in their own. This results in a prevalent misrepresentation of any bodily gyrations involved in our cultural ritual dances as “primitive,” “loose” and solely of a sexual nature, meant only to draw sexual advances and too often, sexual assault, which was one of the staples of European colonization. The mind that perceives this is that of the colonizer, the conqueror. It is the mind of patriarchy and it works most effectively in the minds of women.

For me, dance is a way to be overcome by feeling, to have a rhythm take control of my body and let my mind go. It’s one the easiest ways I know to decompress and connect to joy, playfulness and sensuality. The times when I’ve done this at a party with others have been unforgettable and definitively bonding times which can never truly be described in words. Dancing is a language all it’s own. The kind of energy shared when dancing in unison with others always makes me believe in the power of numbers. It’s possibly also why I like Karaoke so much. I can sing with people I don’t even really hang out or know very well and still be happy because we’re all singing together. People are different when they let loose or rather they are more a part of themselves that they don’t always get to show when they are trying to be instead of just being. In this way, music is like magic. The drumbeat is a spiritual conductor. This has always been inherent to Indigenous people of the Diaspora both in ancient times and now.  Rhythm is life and there is more going on in Soca dance than just the sexually titillating, and objectifying appropriation used to describe it by White media.

As I learned over the weekend, Soca music is primarily about dancing, making merry, drinking and finding a partner to do it with. It’s about feeling the vibes!  It is a celebration of life, of spirit, of culture and yes, the essence of that will often manifest itself in a sexual manner because sexuality is the reason we are all here right? Sex and life are inextricably linked. I will go even further than that and say that sexuality and the spirit are also inextricably linked.  It only becomes fragmented in it’s meaning when those who are sexually repressed or conditioned to believe that their bodies and feelings are dirty, sinful and forbidden enter the story. That’s why we have to reclaim our true stories and maintain our own culture so that we can continue to dance ourselves free.

Urban Eve

Female Gaze=Depth in Sia’s “Elastic Heart”


Much speculation has been made since the video for Sia’s “Elastic Heart” was released last week about what goes down in the video using terms like half naked, violent, cage match and pedophilia. I’ve seen little expressed about the interpretation of this video as two warring internal forces as depicted by two incredibly well matched performers through the art of movement and drama.

I was elated to discover  when I came home the day I watched the video for the first and second time that my husband was just as compelled and captivated by the visceral and interpretive nature of the video, not to say the least of the sheer physical achievements of both Maddie and Shia.

We watched the video again several times and then had a long discussion over what we saw as a myriad of possibly intended meanings but what we ultimately understood to be a deliberate lack of easy answers particularly if looked at only as a literal translation of two people fighting in a cage.

My husband made me think about things I would never have thought to examine while watching the video, mainly because I looked at it from a very stereotypical female perspective ie, the female perspective by way of a patriarchal framework . I could only see a study of opposition which placed Maddie in a position of being trapped and wanting to escape. But I was very aware that Shia’s performance was one of deep, raw, fear, panic, loss, vulnerability and victimization as well, emotions that are traditionally relegated to a female performance because they are seen as weak. The choice to cast him was nothing if not deliberate and thoughtful. My husband made me understand that Shia’s character was just as abused, as scared and as lost than Maddie’s character could be conceived to be if not more.

The idea that this video has anything to do with pedophilia simply because it pits a twelve year old girl physically against an adult man was shed for me within minutes of what I comprehended as two beings equally matched in physical power who were battling against larger, more symbolic forces of pain, addiction, abuse, fear and liberation from imposed victimhood. This is far beyond the pornographic images cranked out by the White male gaze we are so accustomed to viewing the world through.  When White men speak power, a woman or person of color is always in chains of some shape or form. The cage is never interrogated, studied or interpreted. It simply functions to keep pacification, marginalization, perversion and self-hate cultivated and prosperous. And that is not this video does.

But I can understand how we as a society, which is not accustomed to seeing life through a female gaze might find itself despondent and shocked when being confronted with one in much the same way that a nation can be despondent and shocked at seeing a Black man elected to Presidential Office.

What did James Baldwin say in “The Fire Next Time” about what happens when dominant oppressive culture reacts to those who have been enslaved and subverted for decades, breaking free from their chains? He said that to those who benefited from the placing and maintenance of those chains it would appear  upon waking in the morning that the night stars were shining in the blue sky.

Or as Leonard Cohen in “The Future” Things are gonna slide, slide in all directions, won’t be nothing, nothing you can measure anymore…”

When women speak power, it is a very different thing than that which we are daily fed by a dominant patriarchal system. Out power is not in dominance but in vulnerability and allowing access. “Elastic Heart” takes to task ideas which speak to what happens when one part of the self tries to liberate itself from another and how much of that self identifies with something which no longer serves it although it experiences the heartbreaking pain of loss when it attempts to separate.

Patriarchy could give a fuck about these ideas.

The use of dance as a form with which to represent these two embattled parts of Sia and humanity as a whole to be honest, are both personal and universally human at the same time. We sometimes have the tendency to want certain artistic expressions to be very literal, to reveal themselves and their purpose or narrative based on reflections of our own inner projections and collections of specific past experiences.  And while I am certain that there are specific experiences in Sia’s life that this song and video are inspired by, I don’t believe that she is depicting any one particular experience. I think it is vague because she seeks connect with a broad meaning of the struggle she attempts to depict and not just her own.

For me, the cage is an obvious metaphor but in addition to that, there is much that occurs in the relationship between these two performers that can be interpreted narratively in many ways. But the assumption that this is just about a small girl being overpowered by an adult man is just a way to provoke and challenge viewers to go deeper.

With regard to the metaphor of bird cages, particularly around the construct of what it means to be undervalued, abused and marginalized in a world dominated by fear, I was moved to revisit the poem “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou. For me, Shia’s behavior best illustrates the caged bird syndrome, someone who wants to get out, but who is also become a victim of a comfort dangerously associated with reward based on pacification and subservience. And Maddie is the part of the bird that wants to fly free and leave the cage. When she leaves, Shia dies and she attempts to do what cannot be done, which is to drag him out into a perceived freedom beyond the bars.  But freedom from any cage cannot bring along any elements of the caged mindset. By law, the two simple cannot co-exist, because one of them is not real. Or rather neither of them is any longer real to the other once they separate.