Blog 12

This year I have been developing a duet called Papillon with Toni Stuart a poet from South Africa, and the support of Dance 4 and Serendipity. I will be sharing a section at the LDIF 2018 in Leicester on the 10th May.

Here is my interview with Dance 4 about the creation!

Q. Can you tell us about how you feel you have developed as an artist over the last year working with Dance4?

A. Meeting Joao Fiadeiro through Dance4, Serendipity and Dance Umbrella, to my own journey and chats with Pawlet, through digging super deep and facing my fear I have grown as an artist. From going into my cave (exposing myself; being honest about my feelings), I have emerged and really do feel like I have come out the other side much lighter. The things that occupied my mind and made me worry, are not as big or important as they were inside my head.  I will never forget Hakeem Onibudo talking about the ‘Hero’s journey’ back in 2013, and I really do feel like that has been this year.  It is not like some miracle has happened outside, but I have stepped into me this year, I have realised who I am, and taken the blessings in that.

Q. After performing at signatures in LDIF17, showing a piece about transformation and renewal. Have any new ideas or concepts arisen after working on this piece over the last year?
A. The piece has totally transformed. Originally, I had a twenty-minute piece using a huge maypole type structure inspired by DNA: The piece was all about DNA: As a mixed heritage Britain, I felt so angry by Theresa May’s statement “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.” at the Tory party conference in 2016. I wanted to make a piece about polarity, about opposites, that said no to Theresa May, and that said that really we are all mixed, and that undressed what is British?
The piece is still around all of these ideas, but it has become much more abstract and much more layered as I have resolved my own stuff.
Q. This piece is also relevant to questioning identity and privilege. How have you explored that with more depth over that last year? 
A. The main thing I have learnt is that it was all in my mind! Whilst labels exist, they do not make me anymore or any less who I am. Making this piece, I was able to step outside of the complex issues I had that were making me feel guilty, unworthy or apologetic.  All the experiences I have had, caused me to grow into who I am and now I can just be: I realised I do belong everywhere. I am a citizen of the world and that is ok: even the way I move reflects my mixture: it is not definable as one thing.
Q. What are your plans post-Autograph for both you and this solo piece?
A. I am super excited to have been awarded an Artist International Development Fund, so I will be travelling to South Africa to work with the poet Toni Stuart. We will develop the piece as an hour-long show with two halves: The first half using the original maypole structure, storytelling and poetry by Toni Stuart. The second half will begin with the section you saw this evening around the idea of the butterfly and transformation, but with Toni on stage too. We want to work with caligraphy and mapping live on stage as well as the scroll which you will (hopefully) see tonight.
I also want to research and develop a group piece called Foreign Bodies, which will delve more into these very sad racist times, look at power struggles and look at the polarities of religion and science: it is also about journeys and transition, about getting to know ourselves, a kind of release too.

Thank you for having me Serendipity and Dance 4 it has been such a fantastic opportunity!

Blog 7

Butterfly in the Big Apple

2016 in New York with the Lisa Ullman Scholarship, and connecting my learning to Cuba and Brazil. 

I have always loved the Maya Angelou quote ‘ We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty’

This past 9 months has been a most incredible journey of personal growth… From the caterpillar to the butterfly. A lot of things have been tough this year, but they have prompted me to go on an amazing journey, to do some self reflection, and make changes for the better- including an amazing array of hairstyles.

The biggest opportunity has been the opportunity to travel and see the world. I have been to Brazil and Cuba as a Winston Churchill Fellow, and am just back from New York as a recipient of the Lisa Ullman Scholarship, where I trained breaking, Salsa, Rocking and went to the Graham school for a month.

This year has really been about stepping into my own shoes. It has been about shedding doubt, insecurity, submission,and taking control of me. I have had some incredible opportunities to invest time and love on me, on more training, in learning exercises, truly dedicating myself inside out. It has been about learning to trust how much I know instinctively, and about working even harder so I can truly let go and just dance.

What I am most struck by is the global reaches of dance. It was wonderful in New York to confirm that Rocking evolved from Salsa, and see its connections to breaking. I also made connections from Graham and the contraction in almost all areas of dance from Brazil, Cuba… I am struck by the importance of the pelvis, the spine, the earth in all latin dances, and how much this can help and enrich my own technique class and choreography.

In Graham, the base principle, is ‘Contract, Release’, which made my body feel so strong and enabled me to master my movement and gain so much control.

I was helped to train my breaking with ‘progressions’ in order to build the strength and understand specific movements to move to each new step.

In Salsa I was able to use the techniques from Graham to find an immense feeling of freedom and flow in my dance.

I also think that Body MInd Centring- though I don’t know as much as I would like to about it, features in all of these dances- In breaking, where everything moves from centre out, and Salsa and Rumba where the yanvalou is an important focus. I have realised that this is at the core of my movement. As an  Embryo the spine forms first, and from here, the legs, the heart- so there is an alive, alertness in everything, and it all comes from the centre, the pelvis, the spine. the contraction.

I am so impressed by the strength working from the centre gives me and in how the intention of the movement comes alive when moving from here. When we dance from this point we are able to expand to a much greater potential. We are able to move from the eyes through to ears, fingertips, back of head. We become goddess like, and take on a bigger presence on stage. This also helped me with my breaking and my salsa to work more efficiently and move effectively with less effort.

I realised in NYC that in England I hold back when I dance, and this is a combination of not wanting to show off-a very English cultural inherited trait, and not truly trusting myself and my knowledge of the movement. In these techniques I let go of this outward focus on what I am doing and getting it right and took it internal both in terms of how I use my focus-looking to be watched, or not wanting to be watched, and in trusting my body to tell me rather than looking at others. Martha Graham is said to have once said to her students, ‘I am arrogant but I know it. A bit of arrogance is ok’.  I think I have needed more, and this opportunity allowed me to realise it is ok to be great, to expand, to be proud of my accomplishments, and to stop apologising in my movement. In New York, I learnt to love myself, to let go of my belief that I can’t, or haven’t had enough training, and be in the present in the way I dance. I learnt that only I know where I have come from and how hard I have worked to get here and so learnt to seek only to do my best not the best to win approval from someone else. This has fuelled me to make huge leaps as dancer and choreographer and leader of others.

There was something about training with the bboys & bgirls in NYC which was different. They were competitive but in a very real, raw & supportive way. The level was high but there was less snobbery or arrogance about their level, and more willingness to share.

I experienced some wonderful imagery in Graham class: a soft wave, a dark cave which you retreat into frightened- everything had an image and a story to go with it, and this helped me to grasp the depth of movement and how much more there is than just shapes in space when we build a story behind it. This again filtered into the way I moved as a Salsera, and in inspiring my imagination and performance qualities.

I have created a class which uses my background of Breaking, Graham and Yoga, Latin dance. The opportunity to train in these styles has allowed me to create the class very genuinely, instinctively and authentically. I am also able to talk with more confidence about all the elements within my class.

My recent work Ladylike focuses on Rumba and Salsa along with Breaking and Rocking from NYC. The experiences in New York mean I can draw from things I saw first hand and create the work with integrity and utmost respect for the art forms.

In one class, I was told that Leonard Davids (one of the company dancers) was hired when he fell over in class trying so hard-the teacher said Graham recognised his effort and this was why she hired him. She said, we need to go out of our comfort zone-with every bone in your body reaching to feel that. Otherwise we don’t improve. She said ‘Imagine you will have an audience of 3000 in 2yrs tine- they need to see every bone in your body reaching to be the best’. This really helped me to become an intelligent dancer and move tight to my extremities, and has helped me feel so alive when I dance.

The past two years I have turned my focus from touring and performing towards a choreographic and leadership career. If I am to be successful in this highly competitive field, the right mentoring opportunities are crucial- to refresh my choreographic ‘skillset’, develop my creative thinking and this opportunity pushed my capabilities. As a choreographer with a Company, my role as mentor is very important and this experience working with and being mentored by the first and second generation of breakers, rockers & salseras enhanced my knowledge and confidence as a teacher and mentor and also enabled me to become even more of an expert in these areas.

During my Contemporary training, I felt I wanted to bring more of my background into my dance. Having just created Arts Council Funded group piece ‘Ladylike’, I believe I have begun to find this, and that I am at a critical turning point in my career and movement development. This was the perfect time to travel to NYC, because it allowed me to make important connections in the dance styles, and I am really ready to push my companies in the artistic direction I envisaged. I also see that the scene both needs and is ready for it. There is a real currency and relevance in this research to my work as an emerging choreographer and through creating Ladylike I had begun to see how strong the links between the two styles are.

 

I believe to truly understand a culture, one must experience it first hand. I am passionate about passing the historic knowledge and philosophy from Salsa and Breaking to my dancers. I feel strongly that the development of a technique drawing on diasporic Latin dances with Hip Hop will benefit the practice, understanding and appreciation of Latin & Hip Hop dance in the UK. The Latin scene needs more opportunities and I would love to see the long-term improvement of the level of work produced. I feel I have gained confidence as aleader in this field, and stronger resolve on my long-term goal to bring greater recognition to the Latin dance sector, and building a following for Latin Hip Hop Dance Theatre.

 

What I am most struck by is the global reaches of dance. The connections of Graham and the contraction in both Cuba and Brazil. Talking to Denilson in Brazil about the contraction, and Martha Graham’s influence on the teaching of the dance, I was struck by the importance of the pelvis, the spine, the earth in these dances and understanding how to use that in my own technique class and choreography. In Cuban Contemporary the base principle, just as in Graham is ‘Contract, Release’, which made my body feel so strong and enabled me to master my movement and gain so much control.

I also feel that Body MInd Centring features in these dances- In Cuban Contemporary where everything moves from centre out, and Orixas in both where the contraction is the central focus. I have realised that this is at the core of my movement. As an  Embryo the spine forms first, and from here, the legs, the heart- so there is an alive, alertness in everything, and it all comes from the centre, the pelvis, the spine. 

I am very impressed by the strength working from the centre gives me and in how the intention of the movement comes alive when moving from here. The force and intention of each Orisha is so different but all come from this powerful gathering of energy at the centre. When we dance from this point we are able to expand to a much greater potential. We are able to move from the eyes through to ears, fingertips, back of head. We become a goddess like the Orisha, and take on a bigger presence on stage.

I realised in England I hold back when I dance, and this is a combination of not wanting to show off-a very English cultural inherited trait, and not truly trusting myself and my knowledge of the movement. In these techniques I let go of this outward focus on what I am doing and getting it right and took it internal both in terms of how I use my focus-looking to be watched, or not wanting to be watched, and in trusting my body to tell me rather than looking at others. Martha Graham is said to have once said to her students, ‘I am arrogant but I know it. A bit of arrogance is ok’.  I think I have needed more, and these opportunities allowed me to realise it is ok to be great, to expand, to be proud of my accomplishments, and to stop apologising in my movement. In Brazil & Cuba I learnt to love myself, to let go of my belief that I can’t, or haven’t had enough training, and be in the present in the way I dance. I learnt that only I know where I have come from and how hard I have worked to get here and so learnt to seek only to do my best not the best to win approval from someone else. This has fuelled me to make huge leaps as dancer and choreographer and leader of others.

I experienced some wonderful imagery in class: a soft wave, a dark cave which you retreat into frightened- everything had an image and each Orixa a story to go with it, and this helped me to grasp the depth of movement and how much more there is than just shapes in space when we build a story behind it. 

In both Cuba and Brazil it is almost a sin to be out of time. I have always had a great connection to music and the live music was my freedom. I would get lost on the beat of the drums as if they were speaking to me and the dance being channelled from somewhere I knew long ago and movement that was already instinctive.

The discussions around the Chakra and classical Indian dance and postures were fascinating to me, and I believe there is some truth in this which I hope one day I will have the opportunity to research further.

I have created a class which uses my background of Breaking, Graham and Yoga, with Afro Brazilian and Afro Cuban dance. The opportunity to train in these styles has allowed me to create the class very genuinely, instinctively and authentically. The time I had between the two trips meant I was able to digest the full impact of two very different experiences and create a class which interweaves these styles seamlessly. I am also able to talk with confidence about all the elements within my class.

My recent work Ladylike focuses on Cuban dances of the Orisha and Rumba along with Breaking and Rocking from NYC. The experiences in Cuba mean I can draw from things I saw first hand and create the work with integrity and utmost respect for the art forms.

My work Ajé uses Afro Brazilian movement and Capoeira with Contemporary dance and again I would not have been able to make such unique work without this opportunity. 

Leonard Davids one of the company dancers was hired when he fell over in class trying so hired-we need to go out of our comfort zone-every bone in your body reaching to feel it.

Imagine you will have an audience of 3000 in 2yrs tine- they need to see every bone in your body reaching to be the best.

 

I have finally set up my Limited Company, and we have worked harder than ever to put together a new piece Ladylike, which will preview on the 28th October. I have been very blessed with the opportunity as a fellow of the Bench. This year I have beeen given a very honest account of myself, through mentor opportunities, and that has helped me to woman up, fix up, and charge forwards. I have also had some incredible travel experiences this year. I was awarded two scholarships- which sent me on three incredible trips of growth and expansion… This year is the birth of Ella Borboleta and the death of Ella the uncertain and unconfident of my self worth.

 

NYC

Day 1

I arrived late night with jet lag. We watched the fireworks (Independance day), drank a beer, and I was out!

Day 2

I took my first Graham class, then headed to Kwikstep & Rokafella’s training but with major jetlag. But really I knew I was hiding behind the excuse of jetlag ouf of fear. After training we all went to karaoke, which I watched then headed home early to sleep.

Day 3

Class 2 at the Graham school. It felt good to be in contraction. I love Graham the most out of all the Contemporary techniques.

Tonight at Yamulee I was full of emotions… At wanting to be Dominicana and hanging with this beautiful community and speaking Spanish. Then I felt a super wave of emotion at being in this incredible country, and this incredible opportunity to see all the connections in the dances, and in the trainings coming together. Finally, I watched one of the company members rehearsing a Bachata choreography with an all girl team. It was just beautiful, full of Yanvalous and finesse, and I felt a deep longing to be a part of the company.

On my home I began to get even more emotional realising I want to be here in NYC, and at the thought of my staying, that maybe this is my place… I just feel so alive… It has everything I love-from Latin dance, people, music (live!) to breaking. The communities all really know and care about what they do, and the American personality-however loud and brash, is just so much more nurturing, open to excellence, and a place I feel I can understand, be myself and not have to hold back for fear of being too different or too open.

I did quickly snap out of that though when I heard a guy shout ‘damn that booty’ on my way home, and the best yet once I was nearly home to my palace in the Bronx was ‘Can I give you a ride? I got petrol?’ 🙂 but did make me chuckle. 

Day 4

This morning I set an intention… To become a World Class Dance Company… And I felt the difference of that intention in class. I was more focused, more confident and more present… Because in letting go of the how, and in letting go of the worries I had chosen to focus on before-like I am bad, unflexible, not as good as everyone else, I could focus on getting good.

Today I put myself in the middle row more to the middle. And I gave the teacher permission to see me. There are so many complex layers to becoming the best dancer we can-performance and being seen being one of them. When we were made to go into two groups I felt so exposed at first-there is this want to be invisible, and then I remembered that if I am to be a performer I need to get used to being looked at too.

It is funny the difference that intention has given me-in noticing and enjoying life a whole lot more already in one day… Because the focus is outwards not inwards.

Today we danced two of my new favourite moves-the tilt-which since a slightly traumatic experience with Sharon Watson I have been focused on. Today we did versions of the tilt seated-which I would like to use in the EMC rep, a version with four kicks which turn into a rolling flour contraction-which I would also like to use, and a cartwheel holding tilt. And the butterfly- a fun and slightly ridiculous jump with Alvin Ailley arms which I am determined to master!

Tomorrow ,y goal is Focus based… I still have a bad habit of daydreaming, which means I miss important instructions. Tomorrow I challenge myself to let go of that!

Breaking class with Kwik. I was pretty nervous-because if I’m not 100% I feel shy and ashamed. It was great. A great class. He made me get over it because we threw down everything no forgiveness. Then we trained on the trampoline. I know I have so much potential to unleash this month!

 

Day 5

Today I trained my toprock with Rokafella. I have been dancing shy… Showing my inner caterpillar instead of flexing my superhero wings… It feels really different. And now I’m fixing that I realise next I need to drill all my get downs because they are messy and half assed… So I have a long journey bit by bit. Tonight I am going to drill the freezes from Kwik, tops, my get downs and footwork, the swipes and swipe footwork, belly mills, and air freezes. Maybe that is enough for today…

Rok is a true leader. Incredible.

Tonight at training I sweated out my weight… I started with belly mills (Rok taught me), then a progression with footwork, then a whole combo. By the end I was already dripping. Then we worked on Swipes… Mine really need alot of work. I will try to work on them a little tomorrow. Then finally some footwork and recapping Kwik’s techs… It is really making a difference out here- proof that if I apply myself I can do it…

 

Day 6

Today I want to think about why I won’t let myself belong… I like not getting to too involved in things. I have hid behind that for years. Avoiding closeness.

I took class… It was good… I am working on my focus, and on performing in class, and in being independant in knowing the choreo. At the end of class a said she liked my style, ‘Ive been watching you’. Im not sure if she meant my dancing or my clothing, but I decided to take it as dancing.

After that I went to a Rumba class. It was magical… I love Rumba and there were so many helpful moves in there for my Rumba piece. And a guy asked me to be in his piece and he is Haitian. So many interesting connections!

After that I went to watch the battle of some people from Full Circle who I am training with. They did great (First and second place).

 

Day 7

Breaking day… I am still asking those questions about what is holding me back… I love breaking so much… So what is that little inner voice?

I trained everything I have so far, plus fixed my toprock some more. I also started trying to figure out how to get my invert handstand in, and the same my head to handstand. I am getting there… I am training the right way now… I am starting to understand and my heart explodes with love.

 

Day 8

Graham class with an incredible woman in her 70s. Some of the best things she said; ‘be on beat’. ‘Leonard Davids one of the company dancers was hired when he fell over in class trying so hired-we need to go out of our comfort zone-every bone in your body reaching to feel it’.

‘Imagine you will have an audience of 3000 in 2yrs tine- they need to see every bone in your body reaching to be the best’.

‘The sound effects of the contraction’.

Yamulee class was cancelled which was frustrating, so I went to Salsa at Taj with live music… I was a bit nervous/rusty at first but I quickly began to fly.

 

Day 9

I got some admin done then raced to class making it in the nick of time. Pleadings: today I realised how atrocious my contraction is. And in the 4th position on the floor I realised how much further I can go.

I love all the imagery the teacher gives: a wave, a cave which you retreat into frightened-everything has an image and a story to go with it! She talked about the life of a dancer, and asked why we werent dancing, she talks about risk and being off your axis. For me she is truly a great teacher… Today I felt like a beginner again… Wow!

After I went for a rehearsal in Central park with two Salseros and a Passista, before heading to breaking training… I worked hard today… My toprock is transformed- it feels so much better. I managed to get my spin down freeze in, plus worked on my belly mills and swipes. I’m gonna watch the video and practise today, plus tonight I wanna work more on the same, plus add something new of mine and windmill training to my pallate.

I know I can bridge all of these worlds. In my heart I am more salsera but I have the ability to be all… I am constantly evolving and growing and no two days are the same.

 

Day 10

An amazing class… I actually cried at something to do with Pelvis connection.

The pitches are so hard but feel wonderful and the travelling combos. It is such a deep deep practise. In the evening I went to a training spot called Beast and there drilled things on the trampoline, then coin drops, then windmills.

I was so hungry after that and we went to eat, before heading to Brooklyn park… There I felt the cramps of exercise number 3 of the day and felt like giving up, but I remembered my goal and decided to push through. I just did a few belly mills, then my swipes-realising my weight is in the wrong place, then backspin to baby (really hard for me) and finally just kick from seated to baby… In many ways a disheartening night… Around me everyone was nailing their stuff and being mad creative… But I know I just gotta focus sometimes and this was one of them. I pulled my groin a little, cricked my neck, upper back, knee… But this was the moment of realising-I just have to break through… i have to get this stuff this summer… And it is time to give everything to breaking. And I met a rocker! Who I recognised from one of the videos I have been watching! And I am gonna train with him on Monday. I went home aching but happy…

 

Day 11

I had a bit of a mad morning. I woke up super early with some brain waves about my piece… Then even though I had been up since 6am, I missed my train to Manhattan, and the next one was delayed by 40 minutes making me so late for class I decided to just watch… Which was great! Firstly because my body feels horrendous today, and secondly because I got to watch, make notes, and understand alot from watching.

I didnt feel like talking to anyone so I left in a hurry to Yamulee for class. I cried watching the teenagers dance… I guess I am in love with NYC, and Salsa. It is incredible. The shine section of class (I still hate this word) was really good, and then I learnt as a lead for the partner work, which was great for my brain to stay awake! I want to do that all month-it feels really good to lead. Now I am headed to watch Rokafella and Kwikstep perform. I am glad for the rest today.

 

Day 12

Graham this morning was hard… My body is tired and achy.  But I am getting it more… The complexity of the contraction, the depth I can work my body to. Some of my favourite things she said today:

‘The monkey king-reach to the mountains’.

‘Putting a story on to everything’

‘Leeches in the contractions’

‘Never stop-the movement ALWAYS continues’.

We went over the exercise I find hardest-I must practise it! And she corrected my heel. Sometimes I feel there is so much to learn I just want to give up. It is funny how that Yamulee teacher who must be maximum 16 is just so confident. Youth can do that to us!

The American openess and honesty to talk about things like that suits me alot. I feel I dont really suit the UK way. I did a show for Inno artists somewhere outside of NYC.

 

Day 13

I spent an awesome day with Rokafella today… I performed at St Mary;s Park in the Bronx. And having someone believing in me, it happened… I danced, plus I threw down twice. I still have so much to learn but I loved it! Just awesome & so much soul!

 

Day 14

Today I woke up buzzing! We went to watch Ladies of HipHop tech, and then to practise-I finally got headstand to baby!!! I was so whack at the uptown style I started to over think, but luckily moved to breaking. Then home and food and some crazy meetings and some salsa.

Day 15

Today I went to learn Rocking! It was amazing!!! Then now Salsa… But I am sick… Quite sick…

 

Day 16

I had an amazing sleep after salsa, and got up early to go the Stomp audition. Then I headed to New Jersey for an interview with ‘Rockin’ with you’ Radio. Next I headed to Macaren park to train some breaking with Brie-an important figure in the breaking scene. Finally, I went to a rehearsal for the show at Lincoln Centre. It was another incredible day. At night as I sat on the rooftop drinking beer, listening to the whir of a million air cons, I was blown away by how much of a consumer city it is. And again by everything that has happened in 16 days here. It is also a magic city.

 

Day 17

To the Graham school! I think today will be hard because I have been away two days… But possible… I will channel naturally.

Rocking- it is hard… It is so complex. It is such a shame that I am burning myself out because I was on such a high… I really do need to get well… Am trying to think how to do that…

After Rocking I realised how tired I was. Then I hit up the back to the groove party which was great but again I was run down.

 

Day 18

A wonderful class today so many break throughs and discoveries! I really feel I only just started using my pelvis for the first time today… I actually cried during the floor exercises at the overwhelming immense-ness of what I am doing, and the sense of achievement that I am finally doing it, at the amount of passion found when using your pelvis like that, and just the beauty… Then again later… Just a wonderful class… At the end I asked about my feet & realised I am putting my weight distribution wrong. After I went to meet a wonderful man called Assaf to talk abnout Contact dance, before going to watch Rokafella’s show. Again I am overtired and run down… I need a night of sleeep!!!

 

Day 19

Today’s class was a challenge. I felt that my body is being dragged forwards but my mind is too fuzzy to join it. But I was determined and finally the jumping floorwork travel section brought me back to life. I had so much to think about in the foot exercises-so much I am not doing… At the end I asked about my memory and lack of confidence in knowing the exercises… I know my body has the facility but my mind is not able to tell it to do everything. I asked my teacher about how to remember. He said trust. Love yourself. Don’t hold onto the past. And only you know where you came from so seek only to do your best not the best for approval from someone else. Wow again I am reminded how great it is to be in my body!

Now to Rocking. After rocking which was awesome. I sweated so much… I feel I have not sweated… I have not worked hard… Really dedicated myself… I have had my foot half in… Now it is time to become the thing. It is happening.

After that, at practise the mood was tense. But I trained hard. I learnt about the real level of breaking too watching the break-boys train… So cool to see them. Im going to use standby space every day (3 days a week) in August.

 

Day 20

A true tired day. I headed to Haitian dance class… And as expected I learnt the links, I got low, I worked hard. Haiti is kind of a hub of Caribbean… So many slaves passed through there first. Then I went to watch Fuerza Bruta, a show I have always wanted t see, before a disappointing night of noisy neighbours and still no rest.

 

Day 21

Lincoln Centre show! And Salsa on the roof!

 

Day 22

Today in class I had my contraction corrected. I was asked what my spirit animal is (I chose the spider), and we talked about sensuality and sexuality in dance. She said ‘let your legs connect to heart’ And I felt alive in everything and every body part.

 

At rocking some serious endorphins were released! I felt so hype after! Its starting to make sense now.

 

Finally I headed for a Salsa partyyy! At Taj… It was wonderful to implement everything in my salsa!

 

Day 23

At Graham today I focused on release-I think it goes upppp and thats how you stay connected. I am improving in memory, and realising I have a great facility now Im nailing my basics. The pressing down of back heel in 4th-wow! I think I want to implement this in my company class.

I headed to the park to train-it was really special to chill and chat and vibe with people too.

 

Day 24

This Graham teacher is immense. She focuses not on the best but on everyone. And those who want to learn.

I need to study:

Fours around the back

Exercise on 6 (the one on all fours).

As well as practise my contractions-a real contraction including ribs & no shoulders, releases-engaging my sitz bones, use of the back foot and heel, moving everything always from contraction, moving arms because of the back, focusing my spirit animal and a story for each exercise and intention… There is so much!

I took a salsa lesson with Yamulee today. It was awesome. Hardcore, special… And so natural to me (even though I have a lot to train!)

 

Day 25

Oh my god! I feel like today I danced for the first time ever… Now I understand the drug of Modern dance… You are like a goddess floating in space when you dance to your full expanse your full potential… The vibrations are so much stronger and I felt alive in my eyes through to my ears, fingertips, back of head.

I have so much learning to do… But I am beginning the journey.

My questions had been about my neck-I felt I was crunching, and my pelvis when I travel-I feel I am squeezing too hard… She is right we can teach ourselves n the boy knows. But also the teacher helps. She also told me to stop looking in the mirror n I realised it is true I hold back! I look at everyone else, I never trust me!

Then my contraction-actually using the ribs too, not crunching in the neck, keeping it when I fold forwards. Then there is my arms- one is always dead… Keeping it on my back and listening to my back. I like that Martha says. I am arrogant but I know it. A bit of arrogance is ok. I need more. I am really not sure where I was hiding. I was not present-not seeing life fully… It is strange…

 

Exercise 1: contract release 8,4,2,1 then contract forwards high release contract high release, then up abd over 8 counts to legs crossed rises on 2s, 4s, then the pleading rite of spring flat back, around to sit with cross legs, release to rise contract back, reach back switch back flat back, rite of spring pleading to other side, flat back, release over to contract high rise

 

Exercise 2- feet together, hands on ankles- contract over, flat back return, to l, to r, change to 2nd, feet together, then legs crossed to do twists on 2s, 4s with high rise, the contraction one? Or arms open to switch?

 

Exercise 3- in 2nd contract then arms in diamond then v reaches sides, forwards, high rise.

 

Exercise 4- turns on the back

Exercise 5- things in 4th (practise n fix hands)

Exercise 6-Into pleading down, on 2s, 3s, 6 with twist up to knee, back down 9. 3 up to other side

 

At rocking we worked on freestyle, then coming forward to jerks with burns-adding own ones, turn switch round down.

 

Day 26

Today I learnt to take notes les, and commit my thoughts more and practice more. I need to open my arms forward more, work on my full contraction, and the weight distribution as I drag my back foot in. Graham was emotional. I felt a bit moody… And quite assertive and empowered about what I don’t want to put up with. I like being all sides not just nice. The teacher is just so empowering. And helped me to take control of my dance.

After I went to practise… We started with tops… I know mine is looking good now! And then we did some free styling full, then I started my swipes n Kwikstep showed me bronkos: it was so hard! I was dripping! Then after those we did CC’s with the leg hitting high, then I started my head to baby, kick to baby…, it is there-like a real strong glimmer… I will have it soon… And I am bgirl. There are things not in my personality too… But I can make up for that with great technique, charisma and studying the music and culture a little a day.

After, at Salsa I used everything-graham, bboying, me, samba, afro cuban to dance the best. I think I was one of if not the best female dancer there. Not

 

Eversince forever people have been confused about my identity. And so have I. 

It wasn’t until I was about 7 that I thought to ask how it was that my Mum, who was evidently black or mixed race, had two white parents, and all white siblings. 

It must have been so tough. The only black person in an all white family, the only black person in an all white estate in Leeds, the only black person in school, on the bus, on the athletics team, at church… The list goes on. My Mum was also the only person in her family to get into grammar school, and to go to university- where she promptly rid herself of her Leeds accent and never looked back.

At around 8, I became aware that I looked a little too light skinned to really be my Mums daughter, and experienced my first depression about identity. Thereafter, I was confused when, growing up in a small down in Southern England, my friends would colour me in with the brown pencil, or a boy in my class called me nigger. I definitely didn’t identify myself as white, because I knew I was different, and my Mum had explained that I would be called a quadroon back in the days of slavery and still would be a slave… I also knew my skin colour really was not black… Or brown… Or coffee… It was just about blue in the winter… My sister on the other hand was much darker skinned than me, a beautiful cinnamon by winter and her tan was just perfect. I was jealous of this-because she knew 100% that she belonged, she was a bit of both our parents. And she was beautiful!

So what was I? We grew up thinking it was Dominican ancestry… That our Mum’s Dad was from Dominica. But we didn’t know more than that. When people asked, I would tell them that.  My Mum had never been taught anything about her roots and so she made sure that we would learn very broadly about everything she had missed out on. We had Anansie the spider man, we had black dolls to play with, we had yams, sweet potatoes, plantain (all took some time to get the cooking just right). Aged 12 we took our first flight to the Caribbean, to Barbados, where we had braids, and hung out with family friends. It was a really positive experience and I never once thought about race whilst I was there.

So what did this make me? What was I? Growing up in Kent, all my friends were white… I knew not to talk about race with them. My first friend at secondary school was the only other non white person in my class, an Indian girl called Leyla. I think my family did a great job to ensure me and my sister weren’t racist, despite living in such a small town place. 

Moving to Bristol, I was surprised by the different friendship groups-the chavs (including the black people), the Middle class white people, the Asian people, the geeks… On my first week a girl asked who I thought was hot and I pointed out Jayed an Indian boy, to which she suggested I should look in a different group of boys because they were ‘sad’. Later I watched a girl be so badly bullied because she was wearing doc Martin boots (I loved Doc Martin boots)! I think this was the next time I really experienced a feeling of depression in my life. I had come from such an innocent small town place and I had avoided all sorts of social stereotypes (or so I thought). But here, it felt like any expression of individuality, any difference was a reason to become an outcast. I never mentioned my family background to anyone, though it was evident in my frizzy hair which I had not yet learnt to manage, but my tanned body was spotted by a girl called Gemma as I got ready for a PE class, and she started screaming ‘she’s quarter cast’ to everyone. I had never heard that word before but to me it sounded ominous.

School as it turned out was a pretty depressing experience of bitchy girls and trying to blend in. It was so wonderful for me though when I discovered Latin music. This all started because a school friend Alice’s dad met a brazilian woman and brought her to live in the UK. Alice gave me a cd of axe music which I loved so much more than Radiohead, and I would secretly listen to it on repeat. Then she took me to my first Latin night. I didn’t understand why anyone would want to wear the tiny samba costume a dancer performed in, but I loved the night, and the salsa class, and I began to look for salsa tracks too to add to my Axe collection. I was even given a salsa class along with a friend to teach younger students at my school.

I decided to study Spanish for GCSE even though I hadn’t learnt it before, and for A Level we began to learn about Mexico and human rights in South America, and go to talks about Chile and I began to discover a world which fascinated me, and so I travelled to SA on my gap year. So privileged and so young, I think this really only scratched the surface of my Spanish capacity, my learning about this magnificent continent… But it definitely sparked something. And my first time in Brazil, I remember saying to my boyfriend at the time ‘I have a feeling I would really like it here if I stayed longer.’

So why is this linked to my latest trip to Brazil? I suppose Brazil links to my perception of self. For me, at least in the beginning, Brazil was all about that. The next time I came to Brazil it was like a coming alive, a burst of energy, the birth of a butterfly. Somehow this country so full of energy just swept me up and made me feel more at home than I ever had in the UK. What was that? Perhaps the ease of self expression? Perhaps the difference I felt in myself speaking another language? I put it down to my feeling I fitted here. I saw so many reflections of myself everyday for the first time, and that was such a positive experience. Brazil is everything everyone is mixed and everyone looks like me and I like everyone else.

It’s not that before that I hadn’t felt comfortable in the skin that I’m in, but I had always felt somehow other, and somehow that didn’t feel positive. I had discovered by now the Latin dance scene, having moved from Bristol to Leeds university where the Latin a dance scene was vibrant. That was where I was beginning to make my home, but there in Brazil, it was like I blossomed somehow to the real me… Which was why it was so wonderful to latecreate my company name (Ella Mesma Company) (the real me) based on my Brazilian appelido.

But my fear is In when and where the line blurs… When do I become an outsider here in Brazil? Or There at home? 

I fit here but I’m not from here. I fit there but I’m not from there…this feeling of not fitting anywhere perhaps will follow me forever if I allow it… Do I really understand? Is this all through rose tinted glasses, my ‘privilege’ of being western? Do I idealise this country so that it’s no longer a reality? Do I have a right to even be here? To consider myself mixed if I’m only a quadroon and am so light skinned? To consider myself anything other than an English girl? To want different things? To learn these dances? To love this country? 

After that trip, I took my first paid Samba gig… I had spent the previous summer training with Militsa-a beautiful Serbian girl based in Bristol who danced Samba. She was so delighted when I came back from Brazil with a fierce samba, my new costume, confidence and tan. And I was so happy to be dancing this dance that I loved. 

Blog 11

Happy International Women’s Day! A blog about releasing anger and collective awakening!

Women! Men! Humans… Has something shifted these past two years? Has an anger been rising in our collective bodies? Today: Thursday 8th March is International Women’s Day: celebrated in many countries around the world it is a day when women are recognised for their achievements, commemorating the movement for women’s rights. I… and I am sure many of you would agree, that 2017 and 2018 could also be called the year(s) of the women… and for many 2018 the year of collective awakening!
I am super happy and a bit sad… but also relieved to be celebrating the last few shows of Ella Mesma Company’s piece ‘Ladylike’ down South this March: at VAULT Festival in London on the 14th & 15th March and at Trinity Centre in Bristol on the 24th March: and what better a month: with International Women’s Day today, and the Women of the World festival at Southbank happening this month too! Ladylike has been exhausting because it came from such an emotional place… it was angry… it was cathartic, but it was also joyful. Ladylike allowed me soften because it was a release… and working with a nurturing caring and loving team meant we could exorcise with love in our hearts.
This week in the UK, a young woman very dear to me and my family was sexually assaulted on a bus by two middle aged men in broad daylight on her way home from school… and it has got my blood boiling again! So much violence towards women has been exposed these past two years. There has been a collective and angry realisation that women no longer need to (nor should they) keep silent at sexism, at rape, at sexual assault and I think that is part of healing and long term change for us all. After allegations of sexual assault and harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein began dominating the headlines, sexual abuse in Parliament came out, we have realised that we are united, that it is not ok and that we can shout NO! Like many women, I grew up with a subconscious message that speaking out is shameful, to put on a brave face, and to bury being angry. The anti-sexual assault and women’s empowerment movements #MeToo and Time’s Up have meant that over the past two years public conversation about women’s issues around the world have elevated global consciousness and allowed more women to speak up and expose the obstacles women encounter in their daily lives. I find it empowering and necessary that women are stepping full-bodied into the anger that many women learn they should not possess. Broadcast journalist Ria Chatterjee said, “Women can’t move forward without expressing their anger over centuries worth of inequality and misogyny… And let’s not forget that even the act of expressing that rage is manipulated by men.” Positions of power and influence in dance, television, film, media, radio, comedy, politics are still dominated by men, so is our anger helpful in making a difference?
For me, releasing my anger has been cathartic. We all know that emotions stored in the body can lead to all sorts of problems, and Ladylike has been my cleansing, my release of emotions, my #metoo. The releasing of all those supressed emotions meant I could have more compassion, and feel more deeply. Ladylike is the story of four women from across the globe in our world today. Ladylike came from us. It is about rape, violence, abuse, resistance… it is abstract, messy, in your face, disturbing, angry and real. It also represents ‘her’story: those who came before us and did not have a voice. All those anonymous in (his)tory, and who fought for us to be where we are today: the Rosa Parks, Joan of Arcs, Sojourner Truths, Camille Claudels, Escrava Anastácia, Frida Kahlos, Harriet Tubmans. In history, when women have spoken out, they have been silenced or named as unstable or hysterical. Is this still true today? I would like to think we are moving in the right direction! Ladylike helped me to understand another perspective and realise that it is society that needs to change: that it is about the education of everyone.
Founder of #MeToo Tarana Burke describes the#MeToo cause as “the start of a larger conversation” and a space for “community healing” for all. Initially with a focus on women of colour, the movement wants to a see a cultural transformation by “encouraging millions to speak out about sexual violence and harassment,” The site describes one of #MeToo’s motto’s as “empowerment through empathy,” because the founders believe it is crucial for survivors of sexual abuse to understand that they are not alone. It was inspiring to be at the women’s march in January in NYC and today, on the 8th March, I am rocking my women’s march sweater! Both male and female celebrities dressed in all black and wore Time’s Up pins at The Golden Globes in January, to represent the cause. United we stand!
So today on Woman’s day, let’s spare a thought for our for sisters, our brothers, our mothers, our grandmothers! Let’s speak up for the next generation and  show them that it is not ok, and let’s realease the anger so we can all love a little more! Happy IWD all!
We would love to see you at our last few shows:
Much love, Ella Mesma and the badass chickens xxx
#ChickensonTour #FemalesonFire #Ladylike #IWD #InternationalWomensDay #Metoo #Timesup

Blog 10:

 Ladylike: The aftermath… An interview with OFFBEAT Festival: Ladylike

Hi there, why don’t you introduce yourself?

My name is Ella Mesma. I am a UK choreographer and I am a woman! I always knew I wanted to be a choreographer, but it was a long time before I had the courage to admit that that was what I would love to do with my life: Most of the choreographers I worked for were men… they were my superheroes… but they didn’t reflect me, and seeing someone who you can fit the shoes of speaks in a different way. I had read about the struggles of women choreographers to be recognised and respected and I struggled with confidence to speak up and say I think I can do this too… so it was great to be amongst The Bench first cohort of female choreographers in 2015 and to be mentored by some awesome females.

I came to dance late: first I studied Politics and Sociology at Leeds University. Then after a few years freelancing in Latin dances (which I came to first), I was invited to join a contemporary company directed by Merville Jones (an ex Phoenix dancer) and his partner Emma in Leeds. After that I had the bug… I saved and I went back to studying. I wanted to be a dancer. I trained at Laban and The Place, graduating with a postgraduate diploma in 2011. I also began breaking around the same time I went into professional training. Breaking gave me a sense of release: I could step out of the box that defined me by body or dancing ‘sexy’ when I was dancing the Latin styles I had known and loved since age 15. I could wear baggy tshirts, I could be a different side of me. I have also trained in Cuba, Brazil and USA including The Graham school- New York, La Ena- Havana, Deborah Colker- Rio De Janeiro and Funceb- Salvador da Bahia.

Luckily (and with a lot of hard work too!) I have had a great career as performer: including a world tour with the Russell Maliphant Company and performing with Southpaw Company, in the Professional cast of the Olympics Opening Ceremony, for Wendy Houston, poet Warsan Shire… but I was really missing my Latin dance roots. I had established a Latin company: Element Arts in Leeds in 2005, but I wanted to integrate it into my more ‘serious’ performance experiences on the stage, and so I began to integrate it into my own choreography: Ella Mesma Company. The company is a Dance Theatre Company: I work with voice and sound, as well as the dance styles which are inherent in my life: Salsa, Rumba, Breaking, Contemporary, as well as politics and culture. My work is a reflection of me, my life experience, and my view of the world.

Nice to meet you! So, what’s the show you’re bringing to Offbeat and what’s it about?

My latest show is called, ‘Ladylike’. It took over a year to make and is a very provocative work! It premiered last week at Sadler’s Wells as part of my very own ‘Wild Card’ an evening called ‘Guerreras’ which was a sold-out show, and it has been quite an amazing journey of self discovery, shared experience and empowerment! We started the whole process at Casa Latin American Theatre Festival for a week before being granted an Arts Council Grant in 2015 to R&D the work. I worked with Charlotte Vincent through The Bench and ADAD (Now One Dance UK), Yorkshire Dance and Peggy Olislaegers (which was truly amazing) through their Sketch programme. I was awarded two travelling scholarships to Cuba and Brazil with The Winston Churchill Scholarship and NYC with the Lisa Ullman, and these were really integral to the depth of the development of the work. Upon my return it became more challenging but  we made a preview at Richmix in 2016. Finally, with a team of superheroes, we ‘finished’ Ladylike in the North of England at Dance City during my Associate Artist Residency before the premiere at Sadler’s Wells. It has been an amazing journey: rewarding and terrifying! I have learnt so much as a choreographer and as a woman over the process.

I had a dream to make Ladylike: a one hour piece that reflected and gave a voice to real women, latin women, black women, mixed women, break-women, superhero women. In the media: the women I was seeing were beautiful, but they were not heroes, they were ‘sidechicks’ without much script, and they weren’t doing the saving but being rescued. And so I made Ladylike: about four very powerful Chicks who take centre stage to fight the shadows of history.

Ladylike focuses particularly on feminine experiences of sexuality and the body-expressed through the perspectives of four women engaging in Latin dance and theatre. The project places emphasis on the holistic show experience: dealing with our life challenges and overcoming the obstacles of our mind, with a score by Sabio Janiak who specialises in creating music with a healing ‘hertz’ vibrations and lighting by my amazing friend and colleague Ciaran Cunningham.

Ladylike was about giving women, silenced in (his)story a voice. I love to work with juxtaposition and find a rawness and realness on the stage. The topics covered are around voyeurism, consent, pornography, male gaze, and trafficking and often come from a very real place inspired by the individual dancer as a dance ‘monologue’. These are abstract references open to the interpretation of each member of the audience, but there was a lot of research to create all the ideas within the piece. For example, referencing the woman as ‘chicken’ or ‘hen’, which I decided to use after reading more of the work of various feminist writers such as Carol Adams and Alice Walker, and based on the parallels in the dance Rumba.

What kind of person do you think will enjoy this show?

Because I came into dance late, I really want to reach ‘real’ people- not just dancers, and for the audience to connect to the visceral experience. I believe my work is a theatrical and visual experience too, with a message behind it, so there is something there for everyone. Art  shouldn’t just be for certain demographics of people, and the issues we cover in the work are universal and timeless and so I hope that many people will relate and enjoy them… but the work is definitely parental guidance: it is themed around sex, and we do explore the orgasm! Some is funny, some is more serious…

The four characters are archetypes, and are fluid (genderless) entities, but they could include, for example, a 1920’s housewife, a modern day ‘mistress’, a b-girl, a showgirl, as well as gods or goddesses and warriors. I made the work with the intention for it to be accessible and empowering for women but it is not women only or women exclusive. I use traditional dance forms from different time periods, so it made sense to place these entities in an abstract world between Cuba, New York, and Britain. Each of them could be in any three of these countries at different times and the enneagram archetype is not based on gender.

Can you sum up the pitch for your show in 6 words?

The number for Ladylike is 7 so:
Ceremony
Provocative
Comical
Wild
Undress
Celebrate
Chickens!

What’s the background to the show? Why did you make it? What’s the journey been like so far?

The predominant styles are: Rumba – a Cuban dance with elements of flamenco; Guaguanco – a game of flirtation and sexual competition between a male and female; Columbia – a dance originally performed only by men, which includes rooster like shoulder movements and fancy footwork; and also New York styles Rocking – formed in New York in the early 1970’s with influences of Salsa, Breaking and Contemporary, alongside references to gang culture. I wanted to share the history of this incredible dance style (rumba), and it’s links to Africa and Yoruba and also the gender stories there within the dance style.

I also wanted to pay my respects to some amazing women in (his)tory: From Joan of Arc, to Rosa Parks to Camille Claudel to Maya Angelou: Women in history who have been fighting for their cause: I wanted to shout a salute to them all! Many women have not had a voice in history… and so it was about fighting for the females! When I decided to become a choreographer I knew I would be unavoidably involved in the gender debate. We do live in a male dominated society, and that affects our confidence and our self belief from the minute the doctor says ‘it’s a girl’, but also how we are perceived: I have had the experience of ‘putting on a smile’ over rejections- knowing that I would not have had the same reaction if I had been a male making the same requests, and that often male choreographers are ‘assumed’ status where as many highly talented women really have to work so hard to prove themselves.

That said, I still want to be recognised for making good work and let the work speak… so come and see the show and make your own mind up!  🙂  I see Ladylike as a celebration of the female and of the sisterhood! Making political work about gender I have come up against some negative reactions, but I am making work about my experiences and collaborating with four very real and very talented women… It has been a hard journey but also a really healing experience for all of us making this work: we used the enneagrams, to explore what we were denying ourselves to heal, so it became quite a cleansing and bonding: a collaboration. I have loved working with this group.

Each role was been created for that individual with the skills, imagination, and personal experience each dancer brought as well as their very different skillsets. Hsing Ya Wu is Taiwanese and is an incredible contemporary dancer and has an amazing sense of comedic timing in her performance. Azara Meghie is a b-girl (short for breakdancing girl) and actor and has an amazing natural style. Anna Alvarez is a Tango and Contemporary dancer, and I am a salsa and b-girl. The original cast included ‘The Cuban Insider’ Lia Rodrigues.

Are you excited to take this show to Offbeat? Why?

I am really looking forward to perform this show at Offbeat. This will actually be the first time we perform the full show as the premiere at Sadler’s Wells included three other acts, so it will be really exciting to perform the piece in one straight order for the first time… and it is also an unknown terrain to me! Oxford will you show us around? 🙂

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to folks in Oxford?

Oxford we can’t wait to meet you! This show is quite intense so we will make sure we are available post show to talk with you all! Please let us know your thoughts and once you have seen the work join the debate!

If you would like to do some more reading we have an awesome blog about the dance styles below, and more about this gender debate with some awesome poetry by Bridget Gray. I also recommend a documentary about Rumba called the Black Roots of Salsa by Christian Lieblich (which you can find on google).

We have some treats in store for you in the foyer at The Old Fire Station so make sure you come early!

LADYLIKE AT OFFBEAT FESTIVAL:

DATE: 2nd July

RUNNING TIME: 

VENUE: The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford, England, OX1 2AQ

READ MORE

BOOK TICKETS

 

Blog 9

Conversations with Bgirls on how to be a ‘lady’.

“I deserve to be heard, because I am a woman and I do have a dream”. Bridget Gray

I have questioned what is genuinely me and what is an affect of being ‘socialised’ since first being told I was ‘UnLadylike’ aged 4. Baffled stayed with me at suggestions that I ‘shouldn’t’ do certain things according to my sex.

Whilst I was making Ladylike I have had the honour of interviewing B-girls, Salseras, Tangueras, Rockers about their views on being a bgirl, being a girl, and being a ‘Lady’.

We all need real life superheros who reflect and inspire us. Seeing someone who you can fit the shoes of just speaks in a different way. I had a dream to make Ladylike, a piece that reflected real women, latin women, black women, mixed women, break-women, superhero women.

In the media: the women I was seeing were beautiful, but they were not heroes, they were ‘sidechicks’ without much script, and they weren’t doing the saving but being rescued.

In Salsa, I had Iris de Brito to look up to, but I often experienced sexism, and of course dancing Samba (which had chosen for my love of the dance not based on the costume) not many people appreciated the steps I had trained so hard to get over my outfit. And then I discovered breaking. Breaking was empowering. I could step out of the box that defined me by body or dancing ‘sexy’. I could wear baggy tshirts, I could be a different side of me.

So I covered up my Latin background: In this new ‘gender-less’ world I wanted to be anonymous and androgynous (I love my latin world, don’t get me wrong… but here I could be a different version of me). But eventually, even in breaking, I began to realise that gender was interfering with my freedom. Some bboys saw me as ‘irrelevant’ if I couldn’t rep like the guys, or simply for being female. Sometimes I saw the bgirls who were accepted were complemented on them being ‘like a guy’. And sometimes I would hear the men speaking about women in a way much worse, more sexist than on the salsa scene. (I love this scene… but these are also truths I have experienced and witnessed).

I was wearing a mask to fit in and conform in these different worlds and became confused about where and who the real me was, and what I have learnt that I need to accept all of me. I need to celebrate and rejoice in my femininity without being told to stop ‘dressing for men’, ‘dancing like a girl’, ‘asking for it’ or ‘being a lesbian feminist’. So how can we stop these ‘shoulds’ or ‘should nots’ seeping in and making us conform, hide or deny our true selves? Below is my summary on some of the best quotes and thoughts I collected interviewing some inspiring women from across the globe on see how they see things and how they navigate being truly themselves in a society that tries to put us in boxes. You can also read the full interviews here:

Interviewees include: 

Rokafella (Nuyorican B-girl), Mantis (White NYC Bgirl), Brie (White NYC Bgirl), Judi (Canadian-Jamaican Bgirl), Iris De Brito (Portuguese-Angolan/UK Salsera),

Kiyah: (St Kitts-UK Street Dancer), B-girl Azara (UK-Jamaican bgirl), Lia (Cuban Rumbera/Contemporary Dancer), Anna (Anglo-Argentine Tanguera/ Contemporary Dancer).

How do you define a B-girl?

I think breaking attracts women because it is an opportunity to escape from a society that teaches us how to be defined by gender. At the same time, as Bgirl Lady Jules, says, ‘The competition of this dance turns a lot of women off’. Maybe women are not naturally competitive, maybe they are not taught to be, but those who do find breaking seem to find a sense of relief from societal ‘norms’ in the role of bgirl.

I love this quote by Bgirl Chyna USA: ‘You go to a battle & the idea is to be aggressive, offensive, like you’re attacking somebody… In your normal life your’e expected to be polite & ladylike. Breaking is an opportunity to be badass & it’s cool’

A Bgirl is someone who is redefining society’s idea of ‘woman’, but perhaps she doesn’t even think of gender when she breaks. She gets lost in herself and the music. She is confident, powerful and independent, and as Bgirl Briesky said, ‘she is determined as fuck’.

How do you be a girl?

As Azara Meghie said, ‘I don’t try I am a girl.’ Being a girl, a woman is not definable by others, by our appearance, or even necessarily our sexual organs, but by us ourselves. There is no box definition, each of these inspirational women is perfectly themselves and perfectly female just as they are. The world as we know it is a great game of dress-up that we can opt in or out off. As Ru Paul says, “You’re Born Naked and the Rest is Drag”. We can choose to put on the appropriate ‘uniform’ for different social situations, and to listen to or reject the pressure society puts on us to be ‘perfect’, ‘pretty’, ‘happy’ or ‘cool’. I think our freedom comes from accepting, loving and learning not to be true to ourselves.

As a child I desperately wanted hair that was so long I could sit on it, because that was what I saw in the story books. Now, I feel liberated by the ease of having no hair and by my own individual style which is sexy, tomboyish, but ultimately, woman. I don’t believe in conforming to how society teaches us to look, or even that our appearance really defines us. We have to do it for ourselves. Not for a man (or a woman) to think we are sexy, not to fit into a box, but for our own enjoyment, free from judgement. We have to question and redefine what we are taught and find our own truest identity.

How do you define a girl?

I think that nurture and society interfere with how we perceive gender on such a subconscious level that it is impossible to know what is true and what we copy or learn to assimilate. As Sirley Chisolm says, ‘The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl.”  Perhaps we as a society have created these gender roles to control and make sense of the world, or perhaps as Lia Rodriguez says, ‘Girls are the soft part the beauty the sensuality, the mother.’

I wonder how the world would differ if women ran it rather than men. Perhaps some of the qualities my interviewees attributed to women, such as nurturing, protector and intuition would change the world for the better!

Do you ever feel like you are more boyish/less like a girl?

‘See I embrace all of my masculine and feminine traits. And I accept the fact that there are those who might hate on me simply because I don’t act like their version of a lady’ Bridget Gray

Lots of the interviewees saw particular traits (despite being in themselves: a woman) as masculine, such as being passive to female (Omega), and dominant as male (Alpha). I personally think these definitions can be unhelpful. We will never fit completely into an archetypes, be that the sidechick or the superhero. I agree with Rokafella who said that ‘when I am working, I forget gender and go for functional: whatever best serves the work.’ If you are a leader, then you have to take on these ‘male traits’ to lead. Often women get told they are being ‘aggressive’ or ‘bossy’ or general words which are linked to masculinity as leaders and that that is a negative. I am a leader, but I am also feminine, I am sensual and I am soft voiced and my work approach too is collaborative- which is apparently a female quality not a male one…

Do you enjoy to be/feel sexy? How?

Feeling sexy is often about our life experiences, and how others have made us feel. Being an object of someone else’s desire can provoke both positive and negative feelings, and can become addictive or a need for validation, but ultimately it is when we choose to attract that attention, when we are doing it for ourselves and are in control of that desire that we feel sexy.

‘I’ve always been aware of others attention and enjoyed it mostly, but not always.’ Anna Alvarez

When we feel good in ourselves, we can feel and be sexy no matter what we look like. Maybe some people happen to look better than others in baggy clothes, or without makeup, or training means they have a better figure, but it’s the internal feeling that projects out into the world, and that we experience on a daily basis. Music can make me feel sexy too (especially if the lyrics are positive), but mostly it comes from feeling good about myself, feeling in love and inspired by the world.

Do you ever try not to be sexy or play down your sexiness?

Last year, Federal Court Justice Robin Camp asked an alleged rape victim, ‘Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?’. The 16 year old woman in Brazil who was being gang raped by 30 men’s images were tweeted, getting over 550 ‘likes’ with thumbs up, smiley faces and comments like ‘must have been asking for it’.

Women are still seen as objects. If I am walking home at night, even just from the bus stop, then I will try to look ‘unsexy’ and change out of my heels so I can run if I need to, or put on trousers to feel safer going home. Recently, I got off a bus, and on my way saw two other girls running… I found myself questioning at that moment how real this fear of sexual predators at night is? and feeling angry that women fear and feel vulnerable like that in a ‘civilisation.’

I think most women in the western world, most of the time do not feel oppressed by how they dress for fear of attracting the wrong attention. We have a way to go for women to be able to express themselves without judgement, being subconsciously influenced by the male gaze, or for it not to become a topic of conversation (for example the recent Olympic press around questions female athletes who were asked in comparison to their male counterparts).

Do you think being feminine has a different meaning in the Latin/ African American/ West Indian/Breaking/Salsa/Dance (etc) (your) community?

In breaking, I have not felt the force of having to be feminine.’ Azara Meghie

There are roles that we have to play specific to the behaviour in our community, and some empower us, and some box us into a role. In breaking I could be more aggressive or competitive, but at the same time, I am liberated that I can battle a guy and we are equals on the dance floor (asides from some body parts differences). It is a space where we can be equal, and free from judgement based on gender stereotypes. I love that in the breaking community, most of the time I train and focus on honing my skills to elevate to superhero without being looked at or come on to.

“In tango: the woman is active. We respond and reply with our. We interpret the music, flourish. We are strong. We are Dominant.” Anna Alvarez

In Latin danceI feel it is more of a celebration of the divine feminine energy. In the UK I have felt annoyed on jobs that sometimes it is more important how I look (figure hugging/tiny clothes, make up, a big smile) than how I dance. At the same time I can be so soft, sensual, divine feminine energy and quintessentially Ochun which makes me smile!

All the women I interviewed are empowered by creating their own rules according to how they feel. I love to be all of me regardless of any attachment to what society tells me is male, female, good, bad, weak, strong, old, young, and regardless of gender, ethnicity, class.

How do you define a feminist? Are you a feminist? Why?

“I recognise I am a female ahead of my time

And in a male dominated slam I will still shine”. Bridget Gray

A feminist is someone who believes in equality regardless of race, gender, sexuality or disability. Feminism doesn’t mean ignoring differences or pretending we are all exactly the same-we are not. But it does promote equal opportunities, eliminating sexism, racism, homophobia and discrimination against disability.

From my interviews, I learnt that it is still a word that is often misunderstood, even amongst women (which is worrying in my opinion). Feminism as a history has had problems, because it has ignored other inequalities, so perhaps Womanist is better? Alice Walker coined this term to it recognize women as survivors in a world that is still oppressive in many ways.

Things are changing positively, with many woman making a stand. There has been an incredible attendance world wide of the rallies against the sexism and bigotry of Donald Trump. Feminist debates are being fronted by inspirational and influential media faces such as Emma Watson (who is currently also causing ‘hype’ just because she ‘posed’ and showed ‘boob’. I love Chimamanda Ngozi, Beyoncé, Madonna, Alicia Keyes (who is also running her ‘no make up’ campaign) for what they are contributing to the feminist cause. There are also many incredible women fighting for the rights of women worldwide, such as Malala.

I think the patriarchy continues to have a negative affect on how we are taught we ‘should’ behave as a woman, and results in vulnerable young women and girls prioritising other people’s opinion, pleasure and approval over their own, and leaving us confused about trusting our own judgement and knowing instinctively what choices to make.

Whether society sees us as ‘Ladylike’ ‘Unladylike’, ‘Bgirl’, ‘Womanist’, no matter what our Gender, we are all such beautiful individuals, and we are also all the same… We are human. All the women I interviewed are wise in their individual choices, and are doing something important as humans, and they are also freely making choices and defining themselves as individuals.