Who told us this?

Who told us this?

You might not believe me, but watching Avengers brought me closer to Their voice. I feel it now: that my entire reality is a direct message from Them. I might not always remember it in the moment, but my subconscious does. So then its about remembering that Truth whenever possible and doing my best to weave it in, further validating it for myself and others. Doing my best to make space to listen to the Guidance, to listen to others so that they may feel their own Guidance.

There I am, watching Avengers, chills, tears, spinal shocks, taking it all in. Am I crazy? Am I just interpreting all these things? Or were these messages, these stories, a new form of finding power outside of the often dogmatic structures of Religion? Well, if one person’s advice can act as a sign for us to form an entirely new worldview, why can’t watching movie guide us to do the same? 

They would want me to feel this way. The Guides, God. They would want me to see myself in those characters, to let me know that its all possible. To know that wisdom will cut through the illusion of self-cherishing wrongly perceived power, and that love, technology, and unity will bring us swiftly to our upcoming goals of light and embodying higher consciousness. 

Everyone has their path and role, and while I see myself in each of the characters, I am of course drawn to one. And in viewing this movie, I now better understand my role in our world. I am grateful for this blessing, this peek at the path ahead. Like a pat on the back reassuring that all things are coming in correct timing. 

So, good news that we can speak with Them whenever we choose. It could be a constant stream, or we could choose to work up to that. For it to be constant, we would have to be really grounded in love. It takes a lot of power and energy to always be in communication with Them, enacting God’s will. This is because They exist only as that energy: what we understand as boundless Love. I sincerely wish to also exist in that space, learning my lessons humbly along the way of how to do that until I arrive. Freedom, Light, Pure Energy.

Whoever told us life was simply mundane existence, separated from Heaven? 

That narrative keeps us from reaching our ultimate potentials as individuals and as a human race. We are killing our planet existing in that narrative. We are spending time caring about the simple momentary pleasures versus striving towards exploring our humanity, exploring our universe, creating the reality that We wish to see. The reality that They wish for you to experience. 


We can and we will raise the vibe. Connect to the stream. Release our attachments to what we thought made us happy. Putting the work into radical honesty and forgiveness comes first. Bliss soon follows.


 

Dreams & Memories

Dreams & Memories

These mountains, these piles of stones, gift me vivid dreams. Day and Night. The Day dreams creep into the heart and move their way up to the mind to be engaged with. Listen carefully to their sounds, of care and play, as they guide our next steps. 

We love it here. Dharamshala feels like home. Now here I go again, I see my crystal vision. Not sure who its okay to tell. Think something negative of me, I guess I don’t care. Rather not that they see themselves make that face at it. You know the face. The -I don’t know and I don’t care to know, let alone begin to question or investigate- face. So I keep my visions to myself… well almost.

Crystal vision. Its easier to access here, with all the piles of stones. So many stones climbing upwards that its now called the Himalayan mountains. Tiger eye is good for protection, but that lapis luzali is gifting us visions beyond anticipation.


And then the thunder comes, and thunder only happens when its raining. It creeps over the mountains, those piles of rocks that gift their visions, and it rains, and it cleans. Hard. The thunder and wind here is unlike anything I’ve ever felt. We wake up nervous that the entire building is to be blown away. Nothing else could become more clean after this heavy rain. When the rain comes here, you know it. When it washes you clean you’ll know it. You’ll know, and I know that you’ll know.

Then the Memories.

Brazil is green at its core. It flourishes with this warmth and beauty that I find to be unmatched thus far in my travels. The Brazilians are also green, existing in their hearts and speaking to you with their entire bodies. If they are not hugging you physically, they are doing it in their words and presence. Bon Gia. Encompassing care for your well being.

Brazilians are not nice in the way that the United States sees “nice”. No filter, no boundary, no form of exchange necessary. In this way, they see you in your entirety, and they want you in your entirety. The youth and the funk music expresses the sexuality and grounding of the next generation. No filters, no need to play edited music. They want it all.

There is no need to wear a normal “bathing suit” when you could show off your body, of all shapes and sizes, while soaking in the summer sun. Warmth on the skin, of all different shades. Brazilians smell good, in their presence and when they walk by. The air seems to me the freshest on this earth, being pumped from the Amazon directly to the lungs of Brazilian people, bringing calmness and joy to their faces.

They want you to be there, they want to embrace you, they want to make it hard for you to leave, they want to message you asking you to come back, they want to work diligently until the next time that you do, they want to share their passion with you and the world. They play your favorite song for you: Dreams.

The parties. Oh man, the parties. I mean when I tell you that we partied until 5AM almost every night, I am not lying, it wasn’t a dream. It was the best partying of my life, sober every night. Everyone dances. These people, these smiling faces, now gift me vivid memories.

Stillness of a memory, what you had, what you have, and what you lost. The piles of stones and the peoples of Brazil gift such joy. Such beyond joy.

Karmic Waves: Lows to Highs

Karmic Waves: Lows to Highs

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It might not look like it, but it sure feels like it- these transitions, these moments of karmic flowering, this time for purification- its hard. The surrounding physical and mental reality that we reside in is reflective of the actions and reactions that we enact in our lives. There is small room for free will, and one must be awake enough to enact an action with focus towards a larger aim instead of reacting and perpetuating this cycle of annoyances, pains, frustrations, and ignorance based desires. Once one has received this wisdom directly, one will begin to take personal responsibility for one’s reality and existence. It just might take a while, maybe lifetimes, to embody this. We are patient and we are students, until we decide to become source and provide the quality of instruction that will inspire others towards this bliss. I have been working for years to embody this, so I guess there was a part of me that thought I would be able to take on this new life in India with more grace and compassion for myself. I was thinking it would be easy: to concentrate on the larger picture and be able to more easily ride the waves, highs and lows. 

Yet, my embodied Western norms held strong, and still hold strong in many moments throughout the day. I realized that I kind of “jumped in the deep end” without much practice in the kiddie pool. For instance, in preparing for a month long retreat, we spend years taking smaller retreats under direct guidance of a teacher so that we gain enough strength to meditate for a month. In this move, I feel like we jumped into a three month retreat from ground zero. But who or what would have prepared me? I cannot think of many feasible plans of experience or action… so I guess when taking on India as a living choice (not as a vacation) as a Westerner, you are taking on the challenge of a Shaktipat energy of learning lessons.

In reading this, I invite you to stay in a space of complexity. If you find yourself slipping towards the this is “bad” and this is “good” space, please invite yourself into the middle lane, where I am writing it from. Maintaining complexity in these stories is me remaining radically honest with you. No wave can have an up without a down, or a middle with out an up and down. I invite us to not immediately search for the silver lining in all of these tough instances, or find ourself saying “well, on a more positive note” or “it could be worse.” These are cultural narratives that want to categorize and simplify this complex existence with all of its temporary emotions, which is understandable, yet can end up harming others because there is an inability to remain in one’s truth for the sake of making others feel comfortable. I invite us to remain in the questions, and therefore remain students to our and others’ experiences.

The other note is that it takes a lot of energy to write these stories, hence the 2.5 month writing gap till now, so I have only included a handful of stories with others to come.


Leaving sunny California, I maintained doubts and worries about what lay ahead. Would I be able to find happiness in a place that was so different than the space I currently occupied? Would I be free to express my creative energy? Would I be physically safe? Arriving in India, the wave hit. The culture shock, the new way of life, the new considerations of danger, the lack of social interaction, the feeling of slipping away from my ‘self’ and my habits. I considered it a time for purification and I braced for the wave, strapped myself to the only solid things I had: my husband, my work, and my family/friends. 


The first major wave hit during the week of Diwali, festival of lights, the most celebrated holiday in Hinduism. Diwali is a day to celebrate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. Three days before the holiday, Jed and I were walking home from dinner after having an hour long conversation with the Jain family about how the fireworks in the town sometimes spooked us, because we thought that they were gun shots at first. Apparently no one here really owns guns, and the fireworks are in celebration of Diwali, so this fact allowed us to feel more comfortable. So comfortable that I did not wear my scarf. My neck was exposed, and my hair was exposed. A car went by and came a bit close, so I winced and moved slightly to the left away from the road. Phew, okay we’re good. Then I heard a motorcycle come up and “BAM.” What the hell just happened? I was bent over grabbing my head. I had been punched. Jed turned around and said “what happened, babe?!” I had been punched, for the first time in my life, in the back of my head with the force of an arm swing plus the force of the motorcycle momentum, in a small town in UP, India. I cried, it sucked, I was trying so hard to adjust to our new life, and then this. I lowered my head and cried and walked forward towards our home with Jed at my side comforting me. When we got to the room, I fell apart and went into shock. Not because of the pain from the punch, or because I could not see how someone could be that horrible, but because in that instant of being punched I though I was getting run over by the motorcycle. It hit me that I thought I was getting hit by a motorcycle, something that I had envisioned and winced about for weeks prior to that hit. Oh man, I wanted to beat those two kids on the motorcycle up so bad. I had so much anger. It took me the rest of the next day to feel settled in my body. Jed went out to the general store to ask the owner if that was normal, and he said no. The store keeper said that sometimes on festival nights out of town kids come in on their motorcycles and try to steal gold chains off of women’s necks or cell phones out of people’s hands, and that the boy probably came closer and noticed that I did not have a chain and ended up knocking me instead. Now I wear a scarf over my hair and around my neck. Now Jed walks behind me and slightly closer to the road. Now we take tuk tuks more often. Now we have a plan, a formation for safer travel. 


Jed ate a undercooked chicken momo the day before Diwali. Midnight. “Babe, I don’t feel well.” Jed goes to the rest room and throws up and goes to the bathroom multiple times. Jed curls up in bed and I rub his sweaty, shaking back until he falls asleep saying prayers for his health. 2AM same. 4AM same. 6AM same. 8AM same. 9AM one more time and this time he falls on the ground, too weak to walk. “Jed!! Oh my gosh are you joking around with me, did you just faint?” I had never seen him faint, ever. His eyes were rolling back, and he was shaking and sweating and obviously beyond dehydrated. I started crying, I was so scared. He said that he was going to throw up again, so I ran to get a small bucket from the bathroom. I brought it over and he threw up green bile while laying on his side on the floor. “Babe, we’re going to the hospital." We called our insurance and confirmed that there was a hospital in Varanasi that was the best in the area and within network. I went downstairs and asked for the owner of the guest house to help me in calling a cab and that Jed was sick and needed to get to the hospital. They seemed very concerned and helped immediately. I went upstairs and packed up a bag of basic necessities: toilet paper, the bucket, water, bananas, a sweater, etc. Thankfully the car ride went smoothly and Jed seemed to hold it together somehow. When we arrived the front guard helped us in to the emergency room, as we were westerners and fortunately/unfortunately we generally get first dibs everywhere we go. Jed was immediately hooked up to an IV and then we were taken upstairs to a private room. He was put on antibiotics and pumped with loads of fluids. Once the nurse left I had a chance to look around… a window with a dusty curtain overlooking the road below, a hard small bed for guests who needed to stay over night, a bathroom that was semi-clean and moldy (if that makes sense), walls with small cracks and marks from previous guests moving the furniture, a television that did not turn on, a dusty chair for me to sit in, and a hospital bed that was clean and comfy for Jed. He laid there looking better every minute from the fluids and antibiotics and my body settled a bit. We ordered food from the hospital canteen, it tasted horrible but we knew it was cooked well. Jed’s Hindi teacher and his wife, bless their souls, left their family gathering on Diwali to bring us home cooked food. They missed out on the fireworks with their kids for us. We will never forget their generosity, ever. After the couple left, I curled in bed with Jed, avoiding ripping out his IV, and we slept for a couple hours. The nurse came in and changed the liquids, Jed drank more water, I curled back in bed and we slept for a couple more hours. The lights came on and the nurse explained that the doctor would be in around 10AM that morning and if we wanted some chai. Yes, lord please can we have some chai tea! 10AM no chai, no doctor. I went outside and asked for both from the nurse. 12PM no chai, no doctor. I went outside and asked for both. 2PM no chai, no doctor. At this time Jed was laughing at me because I was pacing the room explain how badly I wanted chai and how badly I wanted the doctor. Jed said, “Babe, this is India hospital time, take a breath and relax.” 3PM no chai, no doctor. I went outside and got really animated with my arms (about the doctor, because I had given up on the chai at that point) and the nurse phoned up the doctor. The doctor came in and said within two minutes, “Okay you are good to go.” Jed smiled at me so hard trying to contain his laughter to my reaction. So we went downstairs slowly, because Jed was still feeling a bit weak, and went to pay for the night. The bill was 37,000 rupees, which is approximately $530. That does not seem too much in American standards, but here its ridiculous. I protested for quite some time with the office about the rate, but we gave in when Jed motioned with his hands to calm down. I know he was feeling weak. Whatever, well pay it, let’s get you home, babe.

The next wave, hit at Christmas, the most celebrated holiday in Christianity. Dr. Jain is a magical guy and community leader with a magical family. They are the kindest souls we have met here in India, and we are blessed to eat with them every evening at their home/guest house down the street. Christmas Eve we were sitting at the table planning out what Christmas was going to entail, and Dr. Jain said he would invite some people over and that we would eat lunch together, make food together, and celebrate on the roof. As we enjoyed lunch with the family the next day, some village kids began to come in the front door and up the stairs to the roof. We realized after about twenty kids came through that this was going to be a party! Dr. Jain explained that we would all be dancing and eating cake and celebrating, but we were not really sure what that meant. Just going with the flow, we walked upstairs and noticed that the kids were sitting on the ground facing a row of chairs, like they were at an assembly. We stood awkwardly in the back not knowing were to sit, and then Dr. Jain’s daughters came up and said “What are you two doing, go to the front.” We walked past the students, probably ages 12-16, and sat at the front. Dr. Jain then led a discussion and the students asked us about how we celebrated Christmas. "Back home, we eat dinner, hang out with family, play board or card games, sometimes read a verse from the Bible or go to a short church service, and then open presents with cookies.” I could tell that the students were somewhat surprised by the lack of ritual description, and I guess I was too. It was an interesting moment to think that the common rituals done in a Buddhist practice or the common rituals done here for Hindu traditions are different than America’s concept of common Christian rituals. After our discussion, Dr. Jain asked some students to perform their favorite dances, and a handful of students performed Bollywood routines/freestyle to Bollywood tracks. Next, Dr. Jain’s daughters danced Kathak and Bollywood. Then Dr. Jain invited Jed and I up to perform “Chicago Footwork” and “Popping.” Dr. Jain cares so much about us that he says those dance forms with as much admiration as we hold for them. The students seemed to really like the movement, and some other dancers came up to share after us. Jed even performed some Bhangra, pulling from his four college years at Tufts! After all that dancing and laughing, we cut the Christmas Cake, which we believe is a UK tradition that they might have thought we also do in America, and we enjoyed the yummy goodness with the students. What joy! We left the roof feeling more connected to the village youth, the family, and to the culture. Then Dr. Jain’s daughters and I spent the next hour making homemade cinnamon rolls with homemade icing, and I learned how to make Chapati from scratch. We ate dinner in such bliss, enjoying the cinnamon rolls, treats, and Indian cuisine. Jed and I thanked the family with such sincerity and headed home. Jed and I had so much love in our hearts that we danced a bit more together in our socks before we settled in to sleep.

The day after Christmas, Jed and I headed to a hotel and spa in Varanasi as our Christmas gift to one another for two days. It was so amazing, and the added bonus is that it was affordable due to the dollar to rupee conversion. We were greeted at the door with a beaded necklace, glass of mango juice, and tika mark placed on our forehead. The front desk was genuinely welcoming and took our bags to the room while we checked in. The lobby was ornate with beautiful decor and even a Christmas tree, which was weird until we realized that this was mainly a hotel for western travelers. The room had a beautiful view, comfy bed, coffee and tea maker, a neat bathroom with robes and slippers, and a huge television that worked! Around midday we went to our first spa treatments and enjoyed the treatments in our own private room with excellent therapists. The aromas, teas, services, and people were so wonderful I even teared up at one point with joy and gratitude. That night we indulged in a dinner at the restaurant downstairs, and I had a glass of Indian wine, the first wine since leaving the US. Trying to describe all these Western comforts now seems so silly, but when you have been away from them for some time, they bring the energy of “home.” The energy of home grounds the spiritual and physical body, and it immediately soothes the soul. You feel like you are in mother’s arms. You can laugh and smile easier. You can remain in the present. So it might sound petty to be describing these comforts as bringing me a “high”, but that was not my experience. We stayed for another day enjoying the small, meaningful pleasures and headed back to our temporary Sarnath home just in time for another approaching wave to ride.

More to come. Sending love to you.

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Breaking Down Artistic Hierarchy and Honoring American Street Dance: Inspired by Galen Hooks Event & Response

Breaking Down Artistic Hierarchy and Honoring American Street Dance: Inspired by Galen Hooks Event & Response

First and foremost, this blog post will be from a space of love, which is currently the only energy powerful enough to destroy an oppressive system of ignorance-based normalities in this country. Love will be the only way that we can completely reform a toxic system of artistic hierarchy seeped in a history of racial oppression into a system of equality, integrity, and honoring all authentic American Dance Forms.

Love requires honesty and integrity, two very difficult energies to uphold in an american culture and commercial industry prioritizing commerce and reputation. You see, honesty and integrity are in response to taking care of the community at large, not just the community that supports you because they hope they gain something from knowing you. That is not love, that is actually commerce.

If you have studied Marxism or have been paying attention to the economic structures that exist around us in america, you understand that in order for capitalism to function, there must be a disposable lower class, or people who are working for little or no pay. Their social existence and narratives around their existence must be perpetuated from generation to generation in order for the hierarchical system to sustain itself and thereby function: hence mass incarceration in the united states in place of segregation, and prior to that, slavery. Dance will always reflect what is happening within the surrounding experience (political, economic, social, etc), as dance is the ultimate physical expression of the human experience and everything that this encompasses. What I am proposing here is that we must consider how our current experience of american dance is in direct reflection of our status quo of capitalism as priority above community love. What I am asking of you, dear reader, is that you consider how there exists a similar disposable lower class within the world of dance. This is a class of dancers who provide free or low-cost labor, and whose identity is taken from and mimicked for economic gain, yet never actually honored. This process is similar to, in a lesser degree, the prisoners held captive by the thousands, mainly from the Latino and African American communities, who are forced to work in prisons for free or to lessen the time of their prison sentence so that they can eventually rejoin the rest of society only to be shunned further.

Studio dance, something that I grew up in and respect in many ways, is why I worked as a dancer professionally, and it is why I could make a living as a paid teaching artist anywhere I lived within the country. But, why was I required to take ballet instead of the dance techniques developed within my own country? Ballet was created in Europe (actually also a street dance form made upright and proper by the high courts), greatly developed in Europe, and brought over to the united states. It did not originate here. Why is it set as a main requirement to perform ballet technique as entry into the majority of american collegiate dance programs? I am here choking on this, frustrated by this. Even the studio jazz that I understood as jazz was not actually Jazz. The hip hop that we mimicked from watching MTV and BET was not Hip Hop as it is experienced in those communities who created the movement. Studio dance exists in response to the economic structure upholding our nation: capitalism. How may we make money off of this art form of dance? What is going to attract the most customers and get the most views? Studio dance, which informs commercial dance, some concert dance, and most collegiate dance, is based in an emphasis of money: a piece of paper that people spend their entire life chasing, only to lose it at the time of death.

Street dance, which is not necessarily done on the street, encompasses those movement artists who have developed through resilience and in honor of their heritage and culture a relationship to dance that is aimed at prioritizing unique individual expression, the strength of the community, experiencing bliss together in the midst of human suffering, and unifying (dissolving the ego-the self) through movement. The ultimate form of these aims is a Cypher. A Cypher cannot occur without a certain level of understanding, experience, and love from the surrounding community, generally in a circle formation. Nowadays, sometimes the circle encompasses the camera, and some outside witnesses who are not actually part of the Cypher can actually SEE and FEEL what that Cypher could be like. They have a longing towards this, and they will do anything to reproduce this, without understanding the level of Sorcery actually needed for this. And so are born culture vultures.

Culture vultures are not beings to be shunned, as they have a longing and need for love and connection through their artistic expression. They were not blessed with the same type of nourishment that the street dance community has been nourishing itself with. We must reach out and explain things. We must call them out on their shit, in love, and for the purpose of using their energy towards the growth of our community. I was one, in the commercial industry, faking my way through things to make rent. I was ignorant. People called me out. I hate hurting others in my mistakes, so I took action through curiosity. People will most likely still call me out. I hope they do. Each time, I fall more in love with the culture because I have been given a chance to obtain new wisdom through my mistakes, and therefore I can love others more. You know?

Listen, I worked with Hi-Hat on a commercial gig. I was hired as a blonde popper and a lead dancer. When I got to rehearsal, she asked me if I Popped and I told her that I only did a couple fresnos during the audition, but its not my focus at all. She dropped her head. She understood what had happened, and I respect her in many ways for reframing my role. She knew that someone casting the gig who did not understand the style thought that I was a dancer of that style, something that happens way too often in american commercial dance.

So this brings me, finally (right?), to start responding to the actions made by the incredibly talented, yet incredibly misinformed in regards to American Street Dance, Galen Hooks. Galen is hosting a freestyle roulette battle this weekend, taking the format of an actual Freestyle Battle, something that the street dance community utilizes as a method of bringing people together in honor of lineage, skill, culture, and love. I believe her aims are seeped in both love for artistry and love for her commerce. She is a business woman, upholding the very capitalist structure outlined above, not fully realizing the negative impact her actions are making on the street dance community by simply labeling and structuring this event in the way that she has, and then responding to complaints with reasons that do not hold.

Side note: Why am I prioritizing spending my Saturday writing this? Because I believe Galen has the passion, followers, and power to become a strong advocate for change in the commercial industry, and therefor in American Dance at large. This is simply an example of something that has been happening since the beginning of american commercialism, and obviously prior to that.

Dear Galen,

My comments might seem extreme, but the negative impact that so many simple actions made by industry individuals that unintentionally harm certain communities through their ignorance, is also extreme.

Hiding: When the street dance community started responding to your post about the freestyle battle, Galen, you hid. You deleted the comments. This is similar, yet in lesser form, to incarcerating thousands of voices away from the general population. You did not want your larger following to see these comments so that you could reach your economic goals as a businesswoman in the realm of dance. Do you see how harmful this is? To silence those whose movements feed the commercial industry, making your career possible.

Confiding in your friends: I imagine that in order for you to have written this response defending your position, that you consoled only in your friends and business partners. That is like the blind asking the blind to describe what they see. You must go to the perceived opposing side and inquire, those who can see. I and many others wrote this request to you, and you saw all of our requests to do so, before you wrote your response. This is why we know that you did not consult with those who challenged you. But that’s hard, no doubt, admitting mistakes is hard, yet necessary for positive change to occur in reforming toxic systems into systems that benefit the dance community as a whole.

Freestyle versus improvisation: Honestly, if you would have called this an Improvisation battle, you would have gotten way less slack. If you would have called it an improvisation competition, you would have been pretty much golden, because that’s WHAT IT IS. Freestyle is a word utilized in street dance communities across this nation. Improvisation is used to reference non-choreographed movement in any other space: theater, contemporary, lyrical, modern, even ballet. The term freestyle has leaked recently into the studio and commercial space, so this part of the argument is probably the weakest link. Looking up the etymology of the word will not help you, as the agreed upon understanding of “freestyle” versus “improvisation” is a lived experience of our specific craft, country, and age.

The word “battle” in the context of dance is derived from street dance specifically. Honestly, the battles that are held within the street dance community nowadays could even be considered a competition, not a battle. That is a debate within the street dance community itself. Is the battle something that just happens naturally in the club, at the water fountain at school, or anywhere when one dancer challenges another dancer in a street dance form? The original tap and hoofing dancers of america used to call this spontaneous exchange of skill a “challenge.” Now, in that same lineage, it is called a “battle.” There is history that you must understand and respect with those words: freestyle and battle. Any history buffs here, if I am wrong, let me know.

Now let’s get to your response:

“Hi, there seems to be some misunderstanding of what this event is aimed towards.”

There is only a misunderstanding because of the words that you used, please reference above. When you use those words, it is like saying “for breakfast, I am giving you a fruit platter.” And then you turn around and show us a video of a platter of vegetables. Then you say, “hey, but there’s a tomato, and that’s a fruit.” And we are all like, “but not really, because its not really sweet. It hasn’t been seeped in the same sweet juices that the fruit has, for a while now, because its been with the vegetables for a bit. There is no problem with that, but no one is going to tell you truth at this event, because they have only ever tried vegetables. They cannot physically or mentally or spiritually explain to you, or properly judge, what fruit is what and if it tastes good. AND also they might not want to speak up against you because you have such power in the industry.”

“The judges are judging based on the interpretation of the prompt, regardless of the style. These judges all have an understanding of all of the styles you mentioned in addition to contemporary, tap, heels, and the myriad of other styles that will be seen.”

Again, by using the word freestyle battle, one immediately would expect to see some fruit of various types, some expert fruit connoisseurs, and the choosing of the best fruit based on years of experience of fruit tasting. Alright, I will drop that analogy now.

Question: have the judges really embodied those styles, or have they simply scratched the surface of knowing what they are? For goodness sakes, an MC just called Detroit Jitting mistakingly Chicago Footwork at a recent battle in LA!! Within the street dance scene, there is so much to be learned about movement even when just LABELING IT, let alone KNOWING IT from the inside out. To tell you the truth, probably the only person who could really judge most american styles is Brian Green, and MAYBE a handful of others, because they have spent their entire lives studying these forms. Understanding is totally different than “I have seen or worked with those kinds of dancers before.” It takes at least 4-5 years of intense training to KNOW and UNDERSTAND a style. You would not have a Ballet competition with Ballet dancers and no master Ballet dancers as judges. Same for Folklorico or Bhangra or Tahitian dance… so why do you think they could judge these distinct street dance styles, which each hold their own long lineage of heritage, culture, pioneers, development, language and movements?

“They’ve given opportunities and platforms to some of the best underground and freestyle dancers in the world, but also know how to appreciate… (that part is just random and does not pertain to this discussion)”

Giving opportunities and and platforms has nothing to do with knowing or understanding or what some describe as “innerstanding” the dance form. No connection whatsoever. However, many thanks to their work in doing so.

“Instead of having an expert in one or two underground styles, or even “freestyle” as a dance form, its more important for this specific event to have judges who understand any dancer they’re seeing, and these judges are perfect for that. An expert in a street style would be limited.”

Deep breath. First, we need to discuss why it is called “underground” styles. Why do you think those styles are considered underground? For the same reason that the Savoy Ballroom was considered an underground nightclub in New York City… the people in that club were going against social norms that the general society could not and would not digest yet. It is not called underground because it is artistically lesser or because those dancers somehow know less than any other dancer, or in the case you described above, that they would have limited understanding of dance compared to other dancers. Do you see how harmful that is to say this comment? They are considered underground dance styles because the general public cannot and will not digest the intensity of the dance form in its entirety, and this is because the general american population cannot and will not digest the level of socio-economic suffering and racial oppression that still exists in this country… meaning, they will not embody it and therefore do something about it. I am actually the most afraid of these kinds of people, who make up the majority in this nation, most likely due to our education system: those who are not interested in caring— moderates instead of moderators.

As I mentioned above, the dance forms reflect the social, economic, and political surroundings of its time, hence for example, the concept of funk. You cannot fake the funk, and it will not come about unless it is necessary to express it. Why do you think funk has resurfaced so naturally as of late with our current political climate? If you cannot relate to funk, you will not understand it nor be able to recognize it when its in front of your face. This is why so many dancers can become culture vultures and fake the movement on television, commercials, tours and even in collegiate dance classes and never be called out at large. Unfortunately, then the people who have the ability to recognize its fake and hold the bravery to speak up (even if it damages their career) are called jealous, sour, and often cast aside. So those outcast dancers dig deeper into what is considered the “underground” styles, because at least there, they feel like they BELONG. They see other dancers with similar experience and a kind of raw resilience, and they have integrity to uphold lineage, culture, and heritage above commerce, profession, and popularity.

An expert in a street style would be limited. Hierarchy at its fullest point in this entire post, Galen. If you were in this scene, and were speaking with pioneers (Buddha Stretch to Kim Holmes to Mr. Wiggles), you would see how this statement is completely false. Do you see how this would directly devalue their experience as street style experts, and additionally dance experts in general, who have worked for YEARS in various industries. Deep breath. These people have given everything for their community and their work, and you basically put them in the trash with this statement. Locked them up. Cast them further underground, in the negative sense.

“This event is not aimed towards the underground, although underground dancers are welcome!”

This event reminds me of american collegiate programs: All dancers are welcome to audition, but you must have training in ballet and modern, because that is what the audition consists of. All of the judges for our program are experts in ballet and modern, so we do not understand your kind of movement when you show us your minute-long solo, and we do not have the space or classes for your kind of movement, but you are indeed welcome to audition. Good luck.

We all know how that ends up… American Dancers performing and auditioning with American-Made Dance Forms in an american dance institution and none are accepted into the dance program. Think about that.

Then go to Japan, China, and Europe and see what they have done with American-Made Dance Forms. Think about that. The Hip Hop and Street Styles pioneers went overseas to teach because their own country at large was not ready or interested in accepting their artistic expression. This reminds me, in a lesser form, of the trend of African-American writers, such as James Baldwin, who moved overseas so that they could actually write about what was happening in the united states without being ridiculed or assaulted.

Additionally, returning to the point above, you immediately and are seemingly inviting street dance artists when you label an event as a Freestyle Roulette Battle. The fruit will be expecting to see fruit, not vegetables.

“Having judges in front of you who work in the industry in no way degrades what you do on the floor, in fact, its a rare opportunity to shine doing what you love to do instead of having to fit in a box for a job.”

True, they just might not understand street styles, which would directly effect their ability to judge street style based dancers.

“If a participant feels like they’re not being judged properly because they don’t have a “freestyle” expert in front of them, they’re confused about the concept of the event.”

Do you really think this many people across the globe would have a problem with it if it was JUST that we do not understand the concept of the event? Changing the labels and format will assuredly help in understanding the concept of the event.

“Anyone else who is concerned about the judges and the event, please come and see what it is if you live in LA you can get the full picture before commenting, and if you don’t come, just trust this is not damaging the freestyle scene but is instead a place where all dancers can be pushed creatively and rewarded for it.”

You are, in fact, utilizing the name, the concepts, and advertising the styles from street dance culture without fully considering what that might bring about. You are an inspiration to THOUSANDS of dancers, and so your voice is SO important.

What you basically just said to the street dance community is: your points are not valid, what you are talking about does not truly exist, and you are welcome to join but you are not represented. I am trying to run an event that is partially inspired by what has leaked into the industry through cultural appropriation and I am not taking responsibility in learning anything deeper about my mistakes around labeling and reforming.

I don’t think you meant to say this, but you did. I know this, because I have done the same exact thing in my career.

Regarding attending the event: Why would people attend the event when there is actually no place for them and they would just be investing more money into an industry that rarely supports them and often steals from them?

_____________________

Added section (Nov 4th) regarding the “Thrills Category” because I actually just saw this description:

“THE THRILLS: Uptempo, exciting, hype, fun songs. Dance in sneakers. Examples of dance styles: urban dance, street styles (breaking, wacking, vogue, house, popping, locking), hip hop, krump, waving, jazz funk, commercial dance, ANYTHING that is thrilling!”

This is completely fetishizing Street Dancers. “Thrilling” in the literal sense means “causing excitement and pleasure; exhilarating.” These dances seem thrilling ONLY if you are looking in from the outside and expecting a “show” or “something exotic” or “the unfamiliar,” and I only have to point you back about 150 years to show you the extreme version of this reflected in the minstrel shows of the early 19th Century.

This description of “thrilling” reminds me of when Nigel Lythgoe asked Kida the Great to smile more during his routines on So You Think You Can Dance. Seriously? You are going to look at this dancer who is embodying his dance lineage esthetic, and who completely owns his own specific esthetic, and say: “Smile for me so that we can be thrilled and entertained.” There are layers to this, obviously, but this is part of what is being communicated in american commercial dance.

If you are from within the culture, you do not see these dancers or styles as “thrilling,” instead you see these dancers and honor their:

  • Connection to the music

  • Unique abilities and funk, not tricks

  • Their study in one or more dance lineages

  • How they celebrate with the community

  • Moments of flow, or loss of self into the energy of the space

  • Commitment to their craft, because you constantly witness their growth

  • How they embody their main teachers in their movement

  • Their rawness, and ability to be vulnerable

  • Sometimes even their praise to ancestors or community members who have passed

Can you see and feel the difference between the above and your disrespectful description of “thrilling?” Please never use that word to describe those styles ever again.

Additionally, if you are going to include those styles, please include appropriate judges and make sure to list them correctly:

  • Examples of street dance styles: breaking, whacking, vogue, house, popping, locking, hip hop, krump, waving, etc.

______________________

Now, that was a lot. But you have a lot of followers. Why do you think so many people wrote to you about their concerns? You could definitely be a positive change in the industry. You could admit your mistakes and misunderstandings, explaining that your intentions were not to harm anyone, and then create an event that unites the industry community and street dance community with integrity. Many people are already doing this, and its beautiful.

The more connections, the less ignorance. The more love, the more integrity and honor. The more artistic skill, the more we inspire our youth to create meaningful expression instead of just wowing us with tricks. The more funk, the more understanding of communities’ suffering. The more knowledge, the more our collegiate dance programs and studios will reflect actual American Dance. The more this happens, the more diversity we will witness in all job markets of dance. Commercial Dance could exist in integrity, holding itself accountable to the communities that it is reflecting. How beautiful would that all be?

You have the ability to really help this process.

All love, Kelli

Final note: All of the above were compiled opinions/voices/ideas that I heard from my time spent in various street dance communities, speaking or interviewing with many innovators of American street dance, in commercial/ collegiate/studio worlds, and in two year’s worth of various Black Studies courses at multiple universities. Without three out of the four above, you might not understand my points above or the reasons I decide to engage in this way.

Galen’s event promotions below. Again, this is one event of many. I am seriously just choosing this one case of an ongoing trend.

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A reply from Galen Hooks to a dancer in the UK who is speaking up about Galen's misrepresented event:

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Giving Up Normalcy: Moving to India

Giving Up Normalcy: Moving to India

You can’t really train for this kind of shift. You can’t fight the culture shock. You don’t have control over the social adjustments or the way that you change how you hold yourself, probably out of a kind of natural instinct to blend in and be safe. I came to India for this, though. I know its all necessary in the process of giving up old narratives and normalcies, just as it was in moving from small town Missouri to New York City at age 19. Ten years later, here we are: India.

It took two weeks to finally somewhat arrive in my body here. As of last night, I can actually take time with the imagery and reality that arises on my path. Taking photos of this reality helps solidify that its there, in front of me. Yeah, it’s exhausting to constantly be on alert, considering your skin color, averting your gaze, dodging oncoming traffic while walking from place to place, trying to understand what people are saying, and holding space energetically for new experiences while still agreeing to protect and set boundaries. But it would have been exhausting to stay in comfort too. Back home in sunny SB. God, that’s exhausting, to fight a path of adventure when reality shifts to listen to the heart, and the heart aches so intensely for transformation.

The month before I left, I cried most mornings. Just a couple tears, but from a deep sadness for transitions and letting go. It didn’t help that the Santa Barbara community was strong and I had put five solid years of work into work, play, and creation there. It didn’t help that I had finally found a dance style and community in Chicago footwork, and that took five solid years of searching. It didn’t help that we had five years of solid stuff to give away within a month’s time. With distance, we barely see our family as it is, and so this move means more time away from them than normal. Those tears were necessary in mourning a death of a past life, and those tears allowed me this space and process of rebirth. I think I am in the bardo now.

What does it mean to be here? What does it mean to be working all day for an organization halfway around the world? Still figuring that one out.

We’re happy here. I can sigh here and rest here, and be in the loving arms of transformation and my husband here. Our home in India is one room with white tile floors and white walls, a desk, two twin beds pushed together, a couple chairs, a closet, and a bathroom. A garden surrounds the home, and a tall wall and gate surrounds the garden. We wash our clothes in a bucket and hang them to dry on the roof, beating off the dust from the air after they dry. We use plastic water bottles for drinking and when brushing our teeth, and we feel guilty about that. I feel malleable here, we can relax here.

Every morning I have a couple hours to talk with people in the states. Jed leaves in the morning to learn Hindi and Tibetan with his language teachers on campus. Midday, I eat lunch that the guest house provides and take time to dance. Then, Jed comes home from language lessons and we head out into the town for a bit. At night we eat with an Indian family who serves us made-from-scratch vegetarian food, chai tea, and wisdom about Indian culture. We are learning so much about Bollywood films, Hindi language, and social norms ranging from marriage to schooling. Last night, Jed and I showed them how we dance, and they told us that the Keke Challenge was banned in India. We laughed so hard imagining how one would even try to do the Keke Challenge on an Indian road with the winding cars, cows, and pedestrians. We love this family. We always arrive and leave saying Namaste and really meaning it. Back in the room, I have a couple hours to talk with people in the states before we relax and go to bed.

Its all a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It’s so vibrant and amazing here. It feels like I am in the bardo.

On the weekends, we have our adventures out and about. For my birthday, we went to Varanasi to taste and take in the rawness of human existence there. When we are out and about, we need to mind the dust, motor bikes, and bulls. The motor bikes are a bit loud and get a bit close. The bulls are calm unless provoked. The dust gets to us as westerners, and so we wear a scarf around our mouth. The chai tea comforts our throats as they try to figure out what to do with all of the dust coming in our mouths. Its been interesting to witness that reaction in my throat. Before last night, I found that reaction mirrored my relationship to really taking in the culture. Indian culture is spicy, pungent, and bitter. It tastes good, but it leaves the body feeling differently than American culture.

In Tibetan Buddhism, "bardo" is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth.

I love it here, I am giving up subconscious attachments to normalcy and old narratives here.

Blips of Memories: NYC 2018

Blips of Memories: NYC 2018

The dance culture of New York City. It flows in and out of my ears, lungs, and heart beats as I stomp the concrete streets and slide across baby powdered dance floors until 4am throughout the month of July. I have been doing this for four years now. It’s changed my life now. 

When I walk the streets, feeling safe in the sounds coming from my leopard printed headphones, I always listen to strong beats. It keeps my pulse moving when the coffee won’t hold over. I feel invincible. I understand the space in-between the street and buildings is mine and that things are spontaneous, and that if I work diligently, all will manifest eventually. Without my music, I don’t feel that way. With my music, I conjure rain clouds, envision next steps. I drop into my hips, and swing my step to the beat, deflecting energy when I need to avoid a confrontation with one of those lookers standing on his stoop checking out the butts as they bop by. Not mine, I’ll turn around and raise my eyebrows as if I am asking “it’s 2018, right?” I am a woman. 

I am a woman who appreciates nature, yet somehow my heart aches for this concrete jungle. Perhaps it’s because I love people. I love the archetypes. It’s the beat of my steps, the beat of my heart; the beat of their steps, the beat of their hearts. Their suffering, our bliss. I love them, these other beings navigating the concrete and pieces of metal. I especially enjoy crossing paths with the rats and mice. 

When I am blessed enough to cross paths with another being who slides along the baby-powdered floors throughout the month of July, we cast gazes of admiration and respect. We know how difficult it is to keep up our craft. Street dance is built from a space of resilience and community. It doesn’t need to emphasize the individual until the community decides it should be so. There are rules and politics and boundaries and techniques and codes. You must embody those guidelines by shutting up and observing. Or you could learn it the hard way and open your mouth too soon. Don’t get jaded, keep yourself open. Curious. It’s all such a blessing. 

This year, I felt the presence of Chicago in New York City. I was honored to share time and lessons learned with a pioneer of Chicago Footwork, a dance culture that I most recently fell in love with. Can I get it together? Can I get my level of bravery up to par for this dance formed around the battle floor? I say to myself that I finally found my place, it took a while. It took a while, but I can see it all in my mental vision. Take me to my love: the beat of that music in my headphones. It is so quick and powerful and full of groove. I will catch up, understand the groove, battle strategies, and intensity.

I am entrenched. All in. I knew it would be like this all along. People often make fun of me for being all in. They think I change my mind quickly, when really I just already caught up and they can’t see it yet. I will never catch up with Footwork. There’s always someone running. It’s an energy of eternity. Its the speed of light, and the groove of sex combined into one. Its a physical dance of mortality and immortality. It brings a type of high, and sometimes a severe low. Charles said its either 0 or 100. 

What do I need to prepare? I need bravery... and pronto. 

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Global Community: India 2018

If this trip had a theme, it was that 'we are a global community.'

At night, the dogs curl up with one another in the dirt potholes on the sides of the road to keep warm. Not a bad idea.

There is a cow here with one leg shorter than the rest. She seems well fed and brave in her demeanor. Today she limped down the center of the road without batting an eye.

The borders and religions and titles and nationalities and money and power we cling to/yearn for/are proud of is all a bloody illusion.

There is a rotary club here that passes out free blankets to the homeless in the Winter chill. Code Blue is requesting New Yorkers help protect the homeless in the intense cold.

That illusion keeps itself hidden unless you dedicate ongoing concentrated time towards unveiling it.

Tonight we were having tea with our friend (the clothing shop owner and ex-politician) down the street and fight broke out between two men outside. Here they said they use slaps as an ultimate form of embarrassment in a fight. In the US we use tweets, fists, and guns.

Our friend is somewhat of the local peacekeeper, that’s why the fight happened right outside his shop… one of the men was coming up to ask for his help. After he helped break up the fight, we sipped our tea and laughed at his unofficial role in the community, and how sometimes he hides in the corner behind the desk to savor a few moments of peace for himself.

The archetypes in this Sarnath community match those in Missouri, which match those in New York, which match those in Los Angeles, which match those ancient sculptures of deities that we saw in the museum today.

We apparently cannot escape the news of Trump’s recent tweets even here. He is not referencing the size of buttons, but instead bragging about his ability to kill of hundreds of thousands of people. I only pray for his heart to be nourished with a genuine love… just as much as I pray for the American people (including myself) to respond with compassion and necessary action.

Peace and happiness and love and freedom. Wanting these things make us human. We want these things because we are human.

 

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Thank You India

I woke up this morning at 2:33AM with “Thank You” by Alanis Morisette blaring in my subconscious ear. It’s a song that my sister used to play in her disc player on road trips when we were young. I didn’t know all the lyrics, but I definitely remember the Chorus: Thank you India, thank you terror, thank you disillusionment, thank you frailty, thank you consequence, thank you thank you silence.

Yesterday we went to Deer Park where the Dhamek Stupa is located. Yes, there were deer at Deer Park, and feeding the bucks, babies, and does was magical; and yes, there were ancient ruins dating back to 528 BCE of a monastery and various holy structures; and yes, this is claimed to be the site where Buddha gave his first teaching after attaining enlightenment and where the first Sangha was formed; and yes, there stood at the edge of the park the huge Dhamek Stupa built by Ashoka in 249 BCE; YET the MOST beautiful experience happened in yesterday’s space and time, not in ancient space and time.

A group of tourists from all over the globe speaking all different languages having all different faiths and understanding God and reality in all different ways walked around that stupa clockwise three times praying in their Mother tongue for some form of happiness and freedom.

We lit candles for loved ones and prayed at the base of the stupa (just like I used to do in the St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th avenue in Manhattan on lunch break) next to an Indian family who smiled at us with warm, welcoming eyes.

After our time in the park, we walked to a local restaurant arm in arm, stopping by a Tibetan vendor to invest in a couple warm scarves. A child beggar of perhaps four years with a baby in his arms followed us across the busy intersection asking for money, not knowing we had already given our daily limit to two other women beggars at the stupa.

The restaurant was filled with smoke from burning incense on their altar. I love that smell. We enjoyed chai tea, garlic nan, soup, and dal... Although we have had this meal before, it somehow tasted much more nourishing last night.

On our walk home, we stopped in a shop to buy warm pants and shirts to wear in the cold weather. Sometimes our electricity goes out at night, so we just use blankets to keep warm. The store owner told us how he was a political representative of this area, but didn’t make it long because he refused to gain financial lead by corrupt means. He said the political and educational system is corrupt. So he is starting from zero with a small clothing shop and renting out guest house rooms. The man’s nephew consequently was coming in town from the US that night, and the nephew had recently attended college in Amherst Massachusetts, where Jed grew up. After explaining our wish to learn Hindi, he smiled at us with warm eyes and offered the opportunity to come have tea in the shop whenever we wished. He would teach us.

You know, in some cultures they say the early morning is when you can hear the angels whispering words of guidance, or it is when you can hear the local deities sing to you words of wisdom.

 

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Kelli Forman Receives one of UCSB's Highest Undergraduate Awards

• Kelli L. Forman is the recipient of the Jeremy D. Friedman Memorial Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership, superior scholarship and contributions to undergraduate life on campus.

Friedman Award recipient Kelli Forman, who will earn her degree in dance, is a dynamic leader, outstanding organizer and creative choreographer. Also a gifted teacher and scholar, she is credited with elevating the university’s dance program through her efforts in advocating for the integration of street dance courses into the curriculum within UCSB’s Department of Theater and Dance.

During her time at UCSB, Forman completed an undergraduate research project focused on documenting masters of various street dance forms from across the country. She organized master classes in street dance as well as a university-wide discussion of the role of other marginalized American dance forms within the systems of higher education. She founded a new campus organization, Gaucho Street Dance, which bridged the gap between experienced and passionate hip hop and street dancers and the more traditional, conservatory-style training of the UCSB theater and dance department.

Off campus, Kelli serves as the National Program Director of Everybody Dance Now! (EDN!), a non-profit organization that provides free, weekly hip hop classes for young people in Santa Barbara and seven other cities. Her passion for teaching underserved youth and advocating for equality in arts education inspired her to co-create EDN!’s first standards-based hip hop dance curriculum.

Nominator Brandon Whitted, assistant professor of dance, said, “In our current climate of racial tension, divisive rhetoric and the results of long-established institutionalized racism, Ms. Forman’s work will profoundly contribute to the conversation through the community-building lens of dance.”