Hva leter du etter?

Revitalizing the exhausted body

This essay was first published in the magazine that Tabanka made for the performance I:OBJECT with premiere at Dansens Hus, November 1st 2018.

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In this article I will discuss three terms. I do this to make visible the invisible connections between the three concepts. The first theme, decolonization, is one that is already discussed widely in society. The next two are concepts I have coined in order to communicate my views and point of entry from a perspective that resonates with my experiences as a practitioner of African Aesthetics and a proud descendant of survivors of enslavement and forced migration. These two concepts are revitalizing the exhausted body and “pollinizing: the creative spreading of survival”. It is my hope that these concepts will provide diverse points of entry, and help diversify perspectives and the reading of history, appropriation and the use of soft and hard power within the spread of culture. It is my wish that wider society, the Dance studies will increasingly recognize diverse perspectives.

I have dedicated my life and my work to uncovering the gifts that our ancestors have left for us, in the form of a rich legacy and heritage of culture, art, and yes DANCE. Diving deep into dance of the African Diaspora (Africans outside of Africa, by voluntary or forced migration), in between stereotypes, masks, colonial judgement, hegemony, and the pure joy of dancing, a question kept returning to me: What could motivate a body that has 16-18 hour days of intense labor, under the sun, to get up and move with such physical force, spiritual vigor and presence?

One would imagine dances to be slow, dreary, dragging, and limp. The irony might lie in the fact that people today flock to salsa, bachata, dancehall, and other dance classes, and connect these dances with island holidays, fun and use these dance classes to feel and experience embodied freedom. Few make the connection that these dances are dances created by current and previously colonized and enslaved bodies. These dances are dances that have a history of decolonizing spaces and freeing the body of the colonized.

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REVITALIZING THE EXHAUSTED BODY
In Carnival, you rediscover how the techniques and movement of our ancestors reinvigorate the body and allows you to go on, with energy, way past where you would normally be exhausted, where you know you have burnt up every last calorie from your previous meals. There is a special power that comes from when the body uses its reserves. I believe in part, that this is one of many reasons why ritual dance has a tendency to drag out. In order to receive, the vessel must first be emptied. Dance of the African Diaspora has perfected this technology of Revitalizing The Exhausted Body.

The state or process of Revitalizing The Exhausted Body is accessed through heartrate, vital rhythm, a specific approach to grounding, poly-centered activization of the spine, increased blood flow, breath, the presence of spirit and community. Poly-centered movement is movement that both originates and activates more than one center of movement in the body, usually in the same time/space. The centers will more often than not move in contrast to each other. The movement or force- centers of the body are ankles, hips, chest/shoulder blades, wrists and head. Using a poly-centered approach often results in “off axis” movement, meaning the spine is positioned in curved movement on multiple sides of the central body axis, examples being wining, circling, undulating etc. The approach to balance then becomes one of equilibrium within constant movement, rather than placing the weight over one central axis. Another result is also the Africana democratic approach to the body, where moving the hip, head, arms or legs is approached with similar attitude and weight. Revitalizing the exhausted body is then not just an aesthetic choice but also one of philosophy and perspective.

In the Talawa technique we use two terms to describe center work. The Center and the Center of movement. The center is where the energy is held or compensated, and the center of movement is where the movement is centered (active body part). So when the chest is the Center of Movement you are using a Low Center to compensate, and when the hips are the Center of Movement you are using a High Center to compensate. This approach describes both which body part is moving and where the center of gravity and compensation is being held. Force and counter force. Where there are two centers of movement they will move in relation counter to each other.

This understanding of movement, motivation and the forces that play on the body has become somewhat of a philosophy, that also color the way I see the world, history and also the relationship between forces, such as the colonizer and the colonized.

DECOLONIZING
I often take issue with the discourse on decolonization. More often than not, this term is used and abused and clouds the issue and reality.

Decolonization is to remove the domination of the colonizers forces from the geographical spaces and institutions that belong, or should belong to the indigenous, anterior or original peoples. Lately, it is also often used to refer to the removal of the intellectual colonial material and the removal of forceful indoctrination that were originally designed to establish systems of inferiority and superiority. Bob Marley called it mental slavery. At a minimum it should warrant the term miseducation. The issue of Decolonizing education is being treated now as if it is a brand new idea. In reality it has been widespread and demanded from people of colour since before the 1920s. Martin Luther King, Cheik Anta Diop, W.E Dubois are scholars of note on the subject, as well as the likes of Bob Marley have contributed to making the demand part of popular culture, and music. Examples being among other hits, Redemption Song, Buffalo Soldier and War.

Now in Norway decolonizing academia is a hot topic. In large the debate, like so many others, has taken place among white men, who argue with each other, all the while raising their own public profile and gladly taking up paid seats on panels that really, in the spirit of decolonization, should be held by someone else completely. Other examples would be “hva er RASISME”(what is RACISM) by Sindre Bangstad and Cora Alexa Døving, a book which omits black contribution to the struggle here in Norway, not mentioning neither Afrikan Youth in Norway nor OMOD or other black organizations that have changed police academy and university curriculums, contributed to us having media guidelines for use of racial descriptors and tested the strength of our antidiscrimination laws before the Supreme Court. Omitting these contributions is not a neutral act. But being made visibly invisible is often the role of the colonized body. Another example is rapports which claim that “Jew” (jøde) and “Faggot” (homo) are the most used insults in schools in the Oslo area. The writer of these rapports herself claims that “negro and even nigger” are terms that have been “reclaimed” and are therefore ok. She has therefore not included them nor looked at them when doing her research. Millions of African descendants all over the world have organized against being called these racial slurs in almost all its iterations, including Spanish, Portuguese and French speaking Africans. To simplify this struggle and hinging theories on reclaiming on R.A.P music alone an oversimplification not worthy of an academic professional.

Now I do not wish to negate any reality, and the aforementioned terms might be the most used insults in Oslo schools, however there is a question of accountability, of bias, of a specific blindness, and black being so precisely what one does not see. Not seeing color, being color blind, is all the rage, it has been since the early 1900s. I:Object is also about bringing this blind spot, center stage. Lighting up black and forcing you too stare until you see more and less than before. Allowing you to stare until you are blind, to being blind.

Thomas DeFrantz a renown black dance scholar, states “Dance is memory in direct action”. This resonates with me. As a descendant of enslaved Africans I have often been struck by the fact that Africans in the west have not been allowed to leave landmarks behind, like buildings, monuments, and statues. We have built many of them, but not for ourselves, not as part of our legacy, but rather the legacy of those who enslaved us. The Washington monument is such an example. Our contribution to the monument is under communicated more often than not. The real history of this phallus symbol does render its message somewhat more impotent.

I believe the technology of Africana expression to be truly great. Rhythm as a mobile institution is something we could carry with us, and together with gestures of the body, rhythmical and vocal, allowed us to codify our experience, and leave it behind for our children and children's children to unpack as we dance our dances. A kin- aesthetic technology for disseminating knowledge, embodying and living it, in multiple temporalities, being and unbeing, twisting and turning perspective and time. A true technology for meaning making and unpacking lived experiences of blackness, across oceans of time, archiving and linking old with new, seamlessly, in continuation, nothing repeating, only starting again. This technology of movement is more addictive than video games. I have yet to meet someone who has truly logged in to this, who have been able to put it down or remain unchanged.

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“POLLINIZING”: the creative spread of survival
This brings me full circle to my point. This culture, this technology of hidden and unhidden messaging. This has been perfected in both its masking and its spreading. You know it as popular culture, blues, jazz, house, hip-hop, samba, rumba, bachata, merengue, dancehall, soca, afrobeat, sabar, reggae. Some of us know it as home. Let's flip the script, and let's say that the colonials, the abusers, usurpers, expropriators, and appropriators also are useful little worker bees, who have taken our homes and carried them across the world, giving us somewhere to live where ever we are. Flowers use bees to spread their pollen, and their seed, “pollinizing” the world around them. In our survival, in our homelessness, we created technologies, coded pockets of home, of soul, and planted them as flowers for the bees to pollinate. I am sure if you ask a bee, that he feels he has conquered every flower he has landed on. I am sure the flower in return allows the bees his fancies. Because in his believed conquest, he, the bee has also carried with him the secret to the flowers continued survival. So do the appropriators, those who believe they have conquered black expression, black soul and made it their own. They have aided in spreading the secret, to be deciphered only by the few and worthy, but enjoyed by the many. The more they steal, the more it is clear who really owns the riches, and that what is taken can never serve as more than empty shells, to the thief. Therefore, the thief always returns to the scene of the crime, every time coming closer to the inevitable realization that one keeps stealing because one does not have, nor is able to create.

This process of “Pollinizing” I define as the; creative spreading of survival to other parts than ones immediate surrounding. I believe this to be the core and code of black expressive art together with the technology of revitalizing the exhausted body, soul and mind. Anywhere black expression and black art is, there is a pocket of home, where any black youth or person may step inn, for the duration of the rhythm, and completely belong and be restored. There are also lingering lessons of cool, of stance and belonging that one carries out of this space. Some heat that keeps radiating and allows for social navigation. Those left out in the cold, feel the heat and want it. It is craved, this cool, this heat, this paradox that is black survival in hostile environments.

Anansi, the spider spirit granted the gift of storytelling and communication from the sky gods in Western Africa and the Caribbean, this trickster god is the true radioactive spider biting blacks all over the world, through art as communication, and granting suprahuman powers. Every black person you will ever meet who is thriving and alive is, to me, a superhero who has overcome tremendous odds.

The cast of black panther and the movie itself are maybe the least superhero-ish black people we have had on the screen in some ways, because they have had the least to overcome, and are risking less than those who came before them, but we love them, celebrate them and they are valuable, because they are our Superman, that no longer bothers to pretend to be Clark Kent, our Peter Parker out of costume, casually climbing a wall and allowing his real job, to be his only job. We love that because why should anyone need to fake bad eyesight, clumsiness, and social awkwardness, just to keep the jealous and mediocre less self-conscious? No seriously…why? Like with racism and the multiple ways people of color are forced to accommodate the colonial gaze, that in truth has always been a jealous one, logic does not seem to apply, and is as absent as decency, ethics, morale and humane civilization.

Pollinizing also begs the question: who is truly being colonized and by whom? It is clear that this is not just a one-way street, and that in the question of art, creativity, and expression, so-called western domination is maybe as delusional as the beforementioned conquering bee. Pollinizing is colonizing in reverse, without the use of abuse, rape, murder, inhumanity, and indignity, but rather through creativity, ingenuity, soul, vibration, and survival. It does not tip the scale the other way, it does not make right, it does not correct the effects of coloniality, nothing can erase the past. What it does, is to make clear that the “victim”, is a clever spider, that plays tricks, makes the best of things, and thrives in the corners of visibility.

I: Object is a visibly invisible act of pollinizing, colonizing in reverse and survival, both ancient and brand new. It is Clark Kent and superman sharing one body and clouding perception with the help of a thin layer of mask. It is survival, it is revival, and it is there, it happened and it can never be undone. Now and forever this ritual vibrated in history, changed it, and made what was impossible possible, for the first time for this generation, always for the next, and the last time for the past. So you are welcome, and what an honor it has been to object with you, knowingly or unknowingly, because who is to tell who at this moment is a flower, who is a bee, who is object and who is objecting. Who but Anansi the clever spider who might consider both flower and bee to be prey.

I:OBJECT, 1.–4. november 2018

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