Addressing the Elephantine Alp
How many ways to traverse a mountain? Around, over, through. A circumambulatory hike around the base may have given us a peek to what landscape, what skies and weather conditions the other side is capable to offer; instead we hoisted our pickaxes immediately and tried to chip our way through solid rock.
The ills of no existent structure can be cured in 25 minutes, dear Community. Our fears and sorrow over exclusion and rejection, our animosities over confrontation and misdeeds—the ways in which we have and continue to let each other down are expansive and encompassing. Yet, we still gathered in that room together. We still brought our physical selves into that space and shared beautiful visions of what belonging, home-ness, neighborhood-ness, can and do look like.
I saw parents there and the willingly childless, the maturated in age and the young, those identifying within ethnic and racial minorities, those identifying as a variety of gender and sexual identities, dancemakers and collaborators of dancemakers along with dancers, dance educators along with dance students, dance producers and programmers along with dance audiences. Some of these contrasts I could see by observing, some because of what I already knew of attendees, some from what they themselves shared in the course of the event.
With such a diverse composition as a group, I pose the question that was not asked that day: who creates community? Is it the institutions—those who create a space for dance to occur? Or can we as individuals take agency within the framework of our shared interests? What I want to compel us away from, we who are so vulnerable and volatile, fragile and fierce, is a false assumption that physical space equals automatic community, an identity conjured out of thin air. And to steer us away from the displacing of work—that the sustaining of community is primarily the responsibility of our institutions.
The institutions that exist in the Seattle dance community are varied and have different kinds of programming and focuses—different ways to facilitate connection and the engagement of the community. Yet, they can only ever be containers for the individuals that comprise them. It holds that the more varied the source of engagement, the more robust the community, and, as byproduct, the institution.
I emphasize this because one of the first moves of the Trump administration was to attempt to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, and now there is a second attempt by excluding it from next year’s budget. One of the many ways the NEA disperses its efforts is through state funding, in our case ArtsWA, which grants funds to small arts organizations. I happen to have been fortunate to receive this funding over multiple years through my company—a huge benefit that helped us enable the creation of new work by dozens of choreographers. Bottom line: we are all operating on a shoestring, we are all grappling for resources—but there is an actual foe here, and it’s not each other. It’s those who adamantly declare our very existence to be unnecessary. Who would cut us off the body of culture and enjoy watching it bleed out.
This extended quote from Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent):
The way things change is because lots of people are working all the time, and they’re working in their communities or their workplace or wherever they happen to be, and they’re building up the basis for popular movements. In the history books, there’s a couple of leaders, you know, George Washington or Martin Luther King, or whatever, and I don’t want to say that those people are unimportant. Martin Luther King was certainly important, but he was not the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King can appear in the history books ‘cause lots of people whose names you will never know, and whose names are all forgotten and who may have been killed and so on were working down in the South.
And King also says, referring to the 50,000 ordinary, anonymous people who made the Montgomery Bus Boycott happen (Stride Toward Freedom): “While the nature of this account causes me to make frequent use of the pronoun ‘I,’ in every important part of the story it should be ‘we.’ This is not a drama with only one actor.”
Let’s grow into this knowledge.
The Activities of Self-Identifying and Identifying Togetherness
We drew self-portraits as homes. The home of the physical body as shelter. The home as the place of being “at home” with oneself. The home as a psychological diagram of our needs and desires. As Gaston Bachelard says in various places in Poetics of Space—home as the nest, the snuggling in, the large cradle for our memories and daydreams which describes the function of inhabiting.
We shared the intimacy of these drawings in our groups. Portals of energy—light and dark. Rooms for solitude, passageways for exchange of emotional and mental states. Open spaces for particle dispersion, for communication, for interaction. Small holes, swirling masses, wood log cabins, skin casings, folded and crumpled planes, lists and more lists of generosity, vulnerability, and interchange.
We drew neighborhoods for our homeselves to home themselves in. And we found we need food—freshly grown and abundant! Access to nature—lakes, caverns, trees and plants, including the decomposition of these organisms, the replenishment and re-using of resources! We need money! Or the sudden meaningless of money! The neighborhoods had many shapes—branches, tentacles, overlapping or closely nested orbs, high-rise urban towers, small collections of huts, bursting but separate stars, words clusters of acknowledgement, acceptance, saying hello! One person extended her drawing to include the drawings of others, an action of crossing perceived borders.
I commend the braveness of these drawings and the vision of beauty each one holds. Seeing them all laid out together was to see a kind of planetary confederation of different worlds, vastly different visual depictions of the same understanding of togetherness. And an embodiment of a concept by French poet and philosopher Eduard Glissant called mondialité—in which globality is a culture of recognizing and preserving diversity. He says: “…neither each person’s identity, nor a collective identity, are fixed and established once and for all. I can change through exchange with the other without losing or deluding my sense of self.”
What is said is said. But here we are with pickaxes, ready to go to work! I welcome the voice of anyone who didn’t have the opportunity to speak at the Speakeasy to do so now in the comments. We need both thoughtfulness from those who speak, and we need open ears from those who listen.
I am still forming some ways of following up on our discussion, where some essential and profound topics came up of how to feel safe, included, and accepted for our differences. This might take the form of guests writing on this topic or perhaps an interview.
There was an overwhelming request for the discussion to be continued in an open forum, as well. This is well beyond my expertise and capabilities to host. However, I have been offered the services of two trained educators who regularly conduct and facilitate values-based workshops, so I will be working with Velocity to develop a “Part 2” event to this Speakeasy programming.
But please don’t feel that I have the monopoly on this topic. My engagement is as an artist at the level of inquiry and research. My purpose is to investigate the concept of community while here in Creative Residence at Velocity and to practice applying these to our own. What if we began engaging in the topic of community in the many-varied ways I’m sure exist and according to all the diverse ways in which we identify as belonging to the dance community? The way towards a more healthy community is perhaps to have many kinds of dialogues occurring or in process.
Knowing with what passion those of you at the Speakeasy carried into the room with you, I believe that we care enough to do this. To take these first steps.