When was the last time you sat in an audience
with tears streaming down your face?
When was the last time you watched dancers on stage
with tears streaming down their faces?
My Sunday started on the heels of a cypher celebrating my love and my community. I awoke excited to dive in to the Women’s Freedom Conference, an all-digital event organized by and for women of color. As I prepared to take a break from the conference and head to the Actors Fund Arts Center to witness Keomi Tarver’s Love & War, I had no idea I was preparing for my spirit’s opening, exposing, and healing.
That afternoon I watched a “Women in Tech” conversation during the Conference that honestly had me questioning my own tech acumen. The panel had me wondering who am I to offer digital strategy, social media strategy, marketing strategy? As I watched Love & War that evening, I heard, “You are enough.”
See I wasn’t planning to write about this show. I didn’t feel I had the time or the space or the energy to write anything else when I was being run by, I mean, running this business that sustains cultural legacies and cultivates cultural innovators. I didn’t think I would have anything worth saying about this dance because I was busy doing my own dance of purpose-FULL social entrepreneurship. I was busy trying to make a living wage for myself and my staff on this cultural value system that opposes capitalism and patriarchy and racism and – little did I know that this dance would say something to me.
I could sit here and elaborately chronicle the movement. I could narrate the reaching hands and rhythmic feet that told tales of Black womanhood, of sisterhood, of livelihood that I have not seen in so long. But here’s the thing: Dr. (Mama) Kariamu Welsh told me that “Technique is simply a language,” and I didn’t need a translator to hear the words of Love & War loud and clear. I could perhaps pose questions about why each movement was chosen, but – like my grandma with this Black president – it’s hard to critique something you’ve simply been waiting your whole life just to SEE. I saw myself on stage on Sunday and, as much as it hurt, it was everything I needed.
And so, as I write this reflection all I can offer you is the imprint this work pressed on my soul. All I can tell you is that these dancers could have done the Cupid Shuffle for all I care, but the spirit and storytelling they brought to that stage was a dance I almost never see. I do not see divinity and abortions and grandfather’s guns and Hip-Hop and Bible retellings and all the words yo Mama told you not to say woven into spoken-movements shared on a stage.
The honesty and vulnerability these artists offered had mmm hmm‘s and sniffles reverberating through the house. They did not hide from their superpowers, from their divine goddess ability to make us, Black women who are so often invisible, seen with hearts magnified larger than any eye could fathom. Like Roger Guenveur Smith said when he accepted his Bessie award, “This was not a performance.”
I remember when I was a student at NYU and a professor said to me, “One day you’re going to get on stage and just dance – without talking.” I decided to talk less then. I have moved without talking for so long that, as I watch Keomi Tarver weave a legacy of language that moved bodies, I discovered a forgotten part of myself and my legacy. As I listened to the words that carried the movement, I remembered Sydnie Mosley calling Ntozake Shange into a pantheon of Black female choreographers. I remembered how Sydnie weaved Shange’s words into her reflection on the movement Camille A. Brown recently shared, and how she honored Shange’s legacy of spoken-movement as she shared ecstatic memories from their conversational interview in our cypher just the night before. I remembered that words were once my dance too, and I have been moving without talking for so long that I couldn’t even speak to the dancers after the show. I couldn’t even say, “You moved me,” because all I had were tears, forgotten movements, and memories.
So I say it now.
Keomi, Candace, Gabriella, Sharifa, Autumn, True, Jeanann, Angela, Ant – thank you.
Thank you for loving us all enough to share Love & War. I saw you. I saw me. And this dance you made moved mountains in every one of us who witnessed it.
And for those of you who didn’t, well, you and I will just have to find a way to bring this dance to life once again.
ABOUT LOVE & WAR: Inspiring a courageous and loving community, abunDANCE uses dance, poetry, facilitation, and other art forms to remind us of our value, beauty and worth. Through vulnerability, connection and personal empowerment, abunDANCE provides the community with in depth access to their abundance and a safe space to be unapologetic, enough and loved just as they are.
Experimenting with the connection between artists and art forms, Keomi uses dance, music and poetry to welcome the vulnerability love and war brings to the surface. Showing how opposing extremes can occupy the same space, finding the grace we need to choose love even in the mist of the war.
Love & War asks all the hard questions we keep tucked away due to fear, leaving us exposed and eventually free.
This event was produced by Whole Heart Productions and abunDANCE with keo.