Friday, June 18, 2010

The Power Of Our Jiggle: Jiggly Boo Dance Crew

Cross posted from my Media Justice Column

The past several months have been amazing! Not only have I had a rewarding time teaching some fabulous students, and engaging with people here at Amplify, but I’ve also made 6 stunning new friends! In January of this year I saw a call for fat dancers at my friend Joe’s blog. When I heard about the Jiggly Boo Dance Crew (JBDC) it was like my life finally began to make sense.

I not only was I immediately interested, because I love to dance, but because this was a space that people were seeking to create with dancers who are often excluded from dance communities. The call stated:

Jiggly Boo Dance Crew is a much needed project for exploring the intellectual and creative potential of the fat dancing body. Within the Western performance context, fat bodies are systematically excluded or typecast into demeaning or ancillary roles.

Within this framework, Jiggly Boo Dance Crew (founded by Alice Fu and Kantara Souffrant) will run a series of workshops which will culminate in a performance. These workshops will create a space in which other self-identified female “fat” dancers, movers, and performers, can dialogue about the following questions: What is a "fat dancing body"? How are fat bodies read, understood, felt (emotively and viscerally) and represented? What does it mean to identify oneself as a “fat dancing body” and what are the political implications of identifying oneself as such? How can (re)presentations of fat dancing bodies be understood alongside critical discussions of race, gender, sexuality, and the political movement of bodies that have been traditionally marginalized and invisibilized within Western stage dance?

Regarding their use of the word “fat” co-founders Kantara and Alice write:

On the usage of “fat”: Jiggly Boo Dance Crew intentionally reclaims and uses the word "fat" as opposed to other euphemisms (i.e. "plus-sized" or "big-boned") to explore the politics of size-deviant bodies. Our reclamatory gesture also pays homage to area studies, such as queer studies, that have viewed the reappropriation of words as part of a larger political process of creating visibility and challenging hegemonic discourses and systems of oppression.

I knew I wanted to join. Every part of my body and mind and spirit needed this. I even began to shamelessly plug the crew to my friends, encouraging them to join with me. One of my current homegirls, Sparkle, who I’ve mentioned before, decided to go for it and signed up for an interview. When we first met Kantara and Alice at the NYU campus, of which I graduated from 10 years ago with a masters degree but still got lost, I knew it was love. Not just love like puppy, butterflies-in-the-stomach love, but love in all the most revolutionary ways. Love for our bodies, love for how we move, love for what we bring, love for simply surviving in a world that doesn’t love us back in the same way we love the world.

A few weeks later we all met and started to move. We had Jiggly Boo Journals and a syllabus and exercises. Each of us gave voice to what we needed the space to be for us, how we could commit to the project and one another, how we could create a communal space for healing. Our first session was devoted to logistics, how we could make and sustain a collective, what we would be interested in leading the group in a communal movement, and what we planned for a final event/workshop/performance.

As with many collectives and organizations there were challenges with regards to time. There were some scheduling challenges for all of us, I mean life happens: some of us got sick, some of us got jobs, I missed my Sunday Caribbean Book Club, and there were times when I didn’t have enough money to even get a metrocard to go to a session. It was also winter and we had several snow storms as well. Plus, I have active sweat glands and had to wear sneakers or really thick socks because I was worried I’d slip on all my sweat under my feet (was that too much information? Oh well, it’s true!)

But we all moved. Even if we were not all together we moved. I knew I could move more than I had before joining JBDC because my Boo’s have my back! There’s something about being in a dance crew that gives one a sense of being 3D! And sometimes we really are 3D through dance crews.

We even had our own photographer! Sherley Camille Olopherne joined us for each session and documented our movements, processing, and planning.

Our first few sessions were a challenge for me because when I thought of dancing and movement I never thought about my voice or throat. Kantara led us through a voice/throat exercise that was intense and extremely healing. We made noises and grunted and felt the vibrations in different parts of our bodies, how we moved, how that sound was released from our body. Then we made communal sounds together that reminded me of the ocean.

Each of us led other sessions on yoga, imagery , African dance movements, folk dancing, Dancehall and art therapy. We had homework of reading texts by Frantz Fanon and Audre Lorde and coming up with movements to share with the group. We did activities where we thought about parts of our bodies we think too much about, and parts that we never think about and how they would speak to one another. We shared with the group and created movements about each. I think too much about my lips/mouth and if they are glossy, or if the red lip color is still on or if it’s bleeding, or if I have lipstick on my teeth, or something in between my teeth. I also rarely think about my wrists. We then used those parts of our body to communicate with other people’s body parts they shared. Another of my favorites: we were blindfolded one by one and had to dance/run across the room that we had created some barriers in and all the Boos had to make sure you didn’t get hurt by protecting the blindfolded person from the barrier with their body. This was a special challenge for my Boos because I was the tallest Jiggly Boo and my arms are long too!

The first homework I remember doing, and that still speaks to me today, was about how we police our bodies. How we limit our movement. I shared how I limit my movement to only doing dances that don’t require a partner, which is kind of a no-no when dances such as salsa, merengue, cumbia, and partner dances in general are important cultural practices in my community. I don’t want someone holding me and telling me where and how to use my body. Plus, I’m 6ft tall and fat with bushy hair, it’s rare to find a partner that’s even close in height to me. And even when I do they may try to spin me and it’s always possible my hair could get caught in something they have on: a watch, a bracelet, a ring, cufflinks, anything! And, if they are too short, it becomes an opportunity for them to rest on my breasts and that is really uncomfortable. I shared that the only partner dance I do is zouk, a dance done in the Caribbean.

My main concern in joining JBDC was that my disability would be triggered and I wouldn’t be able to dance. I have a back injury that I’ve been living with since 2005 and it is something that has challenged and helped me evolve as a person living with a disability. When I was moving from one apartment to the other in late March and early April and hurt my back and could barely move, my Boos surprised me and we squeezed into my small apartment and they all cooked me an amazing dinner. To this day the memories of having them come to me (I live in a land far far away called the Bronx), and waking up the next morning to a full refrigerator of delicious fruits, vegetables, and soup homemade by women who love me is my best memory of 2010!

I share my time with my Jiggly Boos because I think we are media makers. We are using our bodies in ways we have been told we should not. In ways that we are told nobody wants to see; that challenges and redefines movement, as we know it today in this country. There are multiple ways of creating media and being media makers. Dancing, I believe is one of those forms. It is also a form of art, which is something I believe and define as creating knowledge. The past six months I’ve been a part of working with amazing activists to create art, knowledge, and media. We want to engage with more people to do something similar.

Today, Thursday June 17, 2010 we are hosting our workshop: Power Of Our Jiggle: Body-Positive Movement. If you are in NYC and want to come join us it’s not too late! You can still register online or just come down to the Judson Memorial Church in the NYU area! Registration is sliding scale or you can bring a beverage to share. There is childcare offered and we are so excited to have created this opportunity to share all that we have worked hard to create and heal! I’ve had some people ask if you have to identify as fat to attend, and you do not. This is a space for “non-traditional” Western dancers or people who have been told they can’t and should not dance because of what their body looks like.

All fotos are of JBDC dancers and sessions by Sherley Camille Olopherne.

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