Ep. #80 Respect the Technique with Kara Mack

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #80 Respect the Technique with Kara Mack
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In this episode, Kara Mack (dancer/ choreographer/ movement coach/ producer, founder and CEO of Africa in America) talks about how she builds bridges.  She builds bridges from education to entertainment, entertainment to agitation, and pop culture to the many cultures of the African diaspora. Kara artfully advocates for individual responsibility and the harmony of our society.  If you are looking to find your place and learn how important we all are in the music OF LIFE… this one is for YOU!

Quicklinks

Africa In America: http://africainamericamag.com/

https://www.instagram.com/africainamerica/

Kendrick Lamar Grammy Performance: http://premierwuzhere.com/videos/watch-kendrick-lamars-performance-at-the-58th-grammys/

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers like you, get the information and inspiration you need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.  

Dana: Hello, my friend. And welcome to the podcast. I’m Dana. This is words that move me. I’m stoked you’re here. I am so stoked to be sharing this conversation. My guest today is the one and only Kara Mack. Kara is such a gift. Um, I don’t even know where to begin. She is the founder and CEO of Africa in America. She is a dancer, choreographer movement, coach educator, um, a self-proclaimed forever student. Uh, so she and I are kindred in that way. And she’s a producer, a mother, um, I mean so much more. You’re about to find out and I’m willing to bet you are also about to learn a lot, but first let’s talk wins. I love starting every episode with wins. And today I love letting you know that my win is one of those unique and special moments where work and play get to overlap. I’ll be traveling to Phoenix, Arizona for NYCDA nationals, and I get to visit my dad. If you’ve been listening for a long time, you might’ve even heard from my dad. He was on a father’s day episode. Um, you’ve probably also had the chance audibly meet my mom, but I don’t get to see my dad as much. He lives in Phoenix and I’m excited to visit, see a little bit what his world is like and, um, uh, get to teach a bunch of young dancing’s as well. So when, When birds stone, that’s what I’m celebrating today. All right, what is going well in your world? Hit me.  

I’m proud of you. Stoked for you. Keep winning. Now let’s dig in. This episode is a call for reverence. It is a call for respect. In this episode, Kara and I really dig into the importance of African Diaspora movement and music being recognized and celebrated technical forms, not hobbies, not electives, not extra credit. And certainly not something that you slap on the special skills part of your resume. After you’ve taken two quote African classes. Kara, will talk a lot more about that. She’s also going to talk about entertainment and activism, education, Oh, it’s beautiful. She also goes in, and this is important on the harmony that is society and how important we all are to this song called life. Oh, y’all it goes deep. So buckle up and get ready to enjoy the absolutely incredible Kara Mack,

Dana: Kara Mack. Welcome to words that move me. Thank you so much for being here.  

Kara: Thank you for having me, Dana. 

Dana: I am thrilled to get to like talk to you for an hour, but also really, really excited to share you with my listeners. Um, I, you and I have had not met in person until just a week ago, and I’m assuming you will be meeting some of these listen type listener types for the first time. Uh, so I’ll start by simply asking you to introduce yourself and tell us anything you want us to know about you. 

Well, I am a very simple person, so hello everyone. My name is Kara Mack, and I just like to call myself a Black Renaissance woman. So that incorporates everything that you need to know about me. 

You Better Renaissance. And what better time to have a Renaissance woman on the podcast, then the actual Renaissance. This is the in, in so many ways, um, an awakening for arts, uh, cultural awareness and awakening, and also like the actual circumstances are things are opening. Things are happening and I’m so glad that they are happening with you is a part of our lives, a part of our world. 

I appreciate that Dana, thank you! 

Oh my pleasure. Trust me. The compliments are only just beginning because the more I learn about you, the more I love about you, uh, I would love to start by talking about Africa in America. You are the founder and CEO, um, of, of this. I’m going to call it a resource, but please correct my language. I’m not sure what to call it. Actually. It is a very all encompassing entity. Could you,

Brand 

It’s a brand. Okay. Could you talk a little bit about Africa and America? What your vision was for it back in 2014 when you started and, um, what, you’re, what you’re up to now?  

Well, basically I started it in 2014, but it happened within my heart, like many, many years before the actual like first event. And the reason why I started it was twofold. So first from the aspect of being a dance teacher in dance academies and the respect, or I should say lack there of lack of within dance academies, within my experience for any style under the African Diasporic umbrella, I’m saying any style. So in the beginning you have particular people that have certain respect, but then they may get busy and they have to put other people in charge who decide that it’s only ballet, modern, jazz that needs to be required. Now the other stuff are electives. So with me year after year after year, trying to tell them, Hey, you guys, we being adults that mentality trickles down to the students. So yes, they are going, you know, you do sign 25 students up for my West African class. But because of that mentality of you already saying that that class is an elective, I am not going to consistently have 25 kids in my class whenever it’s supposed to, because they already know based off of how adults roll, that these are only the top three are the only things that you need to know to be successful in America as a dancer. So, so damaging. So with that being, you know, starting off just seeing that in me having to pull away from the academic side, now I’m traveling overseas and actually introducing myself to continental Africans or other Africans in the diaspora, and they’re looking at me like, hold up, where did you learn our stuff? Because they had no idea that it is been here since the fifties

Here being.. 

In America.So they’re not understanding how I’m dancing and doing all of that stuff. Like as if I was living there. 

Oh, Was this, uh, in your view, a compliment to you and your teachers and your 

Yes, but also just, just blown away by how we in the diaspora still. So divided still like, you know, we’re in our different places. So when I came back, I said, what could I do to be a bridge? And to also from the beginning to the end, say, respect the techniques, respect the techniques, respect the techniques. So that’s why I put in started 2014 Africa in America. Even the logo of the Africa is in between the A andA Africa and America, because I’m African-American yes, but it is about the bridge and the foundation between those continental Africans and the diaspora. And how can we begin to educate? So I started educating through of course, bringing master drummers, master dancers, having master workshops so people can be exposed to it. Then I said, I’m going to have an annual, original work showcase specifically for African Diaspora music and dance, because I see REDCAT I see all of these original work showcases, but whenever they see African Diasphoric movement, they look like, what, why are you doing this? I don’t even understand it. So I don’t understand your original work. And why did you submit? So I said, Africa and America will produce our own original work. So I give choreographers and composers every year for seven years straight. I did this at Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Los Feliz. So I’ve dealt with in one showcase over 25 different artists on the stage, because when you bring a choreographer, they are bringing their dancers, they’re bringing their music. So all of the city, whoever, you know, follows Africa in America, you get to see an original work showcase specifically for these styles. So you may get Panamanian, you may get Afro-Brazilian, you may get, you know, it’s so much stuff that just happens on that petite stage at Barnsdall Gallery theater. So then I took it further. I said, okay, how can we, you know, just keep it in people’s faces. I said, oh, clothing line, t-shirts stretch pants, all of this different. So I just began to evolve as the years went on and here we are in 2021, just like you see everyone like respect the technique T-shirts all of this stuff. And I’m just like, yeah, respect. Cause it’s not my group. I want to shine a light on everybody who does this and takes it seriously and who’s professionals at it so that people can understand like, Hey, the same way that you respect certain styles, just, just, you know, have empathy in your heart to say, okay, I just didn’t know about that. So now let me educate myself about that. And then you will see that the same blood, sweat, and tears that you had to put into pointing your foot, you have put into lifting up your legs and do something that’s the West African. So simple.  

I see respect the technique being naming a technique versus assuming it’s a hobby or assuming it’s a, a past time, uh, cultural dance. Uh, um, I want to say folk dance folk being of the people of a place. Uh, right. So this is, this is claiming space as an essential form and wow, as, when you’re talking about a teacher’s responsibility to embody and, um, exemplify what they’re teaching and the importance of what they’re teaching. If a teacher demonstrates that West African styles are not important, if they demonstrate with their language and with, you know, with how they move in the world, that that’s a, that that’s a hobby that it makes total sense that the students would too. And the more I learn the student that ever the perpetual student in me, I see African Diasporic movement and music as being like the basest base level of our food pyramid. This is like a nutritionist trying to tell a young person to eat their veggies and fruits and grains with a candy bar hanging out of their mouth, or like eating only drinking, only soda like this. To me, it’s, it’s that foundational. It is the base of our food pyramid. And we are suggesting that it is a snack or a, uh, uh, a sweet treat for, you know, when we’re, when we’re wanting to feel like we can get our toes wet in the cultural arts, it just is so much, 

That’s exactly What it is. That’s exactly what it is. Like you couldn’t have said it any better and it’s frustrating.  

Well then we’ll stop here before I can say something stupid because trust me, I’m new to this. I am, I am learning so much every day. And thank you for being such a willing and compassionate teacher, but it just, yeah, this is, this is why I’m excited to have you here today. I want to hear more about this. I want to, like you said, being able to humble down and say, oh, I didn’t know that, oh, I didn’t, I didn’t ever hear that. I have never seen that. Isn’t anything to be embarrassed of. In fact, y’all, if I have anything to do with it, Kara Mack will be doing a lot more work in the world that’s making you feel like, you know, nothing. Okay. So African dance Africa, the continent is a continent was just say that right outright. This is not a country. This is not a one type of people. This is not a one type of dance, but, um, I’m, I’m hoping that it becomes more integrated in our dance institutions and in our, you know, curriculum for building dance. But I also hope to see more of it in pop culture. And that is what I want to talk about next. If you are not totally tired of talking about Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance in 2016, can we please talk about it?  

No problem. Because honestly, that was the beginning of like, who is this chick and where did she come from? Type of vibe. So going ahead and ask away any questions you have.  

So first of all, if you haven’t already seen this legendary performance, Kendrick Lamar, 2016, I think he won like five Grammys that year. So that oughta, yeah, he came with heat. Um, please watch, I’ll make sure to link to the performance so that you can watch it and watch Kara getting down. Um, but in this piece, we, we get to see black men in chains, in prison jumpsuits. We get to see a very stark, deliberate and artful, but not subtle line between the incarceration of Black men in America and Africa period. It’s people, their resilience, their bravery, their energy, their fight, and seen side by side. This is one of the most impactful pop performances I’ve ever seen. And I call it pop. Not because that’s the style of music. It is, but because this is mainstream, this is the Grammy’s, this is network television. This performance was brought into the homes of middle America and a bunch of Americans that had that probably possibly, probably would rather have not seen that that night. 

I’m so happy. You know, that Danna.  

Well, I got, I got rocked. I was uncomfortable as hell watching that performance. It was loud, but I think that there is, I have always strived in my work. If we’re talking about bridges to bridge entertainment and education, I just think, and we’ll talk about more about teaching in a second, but I really think that you could do a quick sneak attack and do a lot of education under the veil of entertainment. Sesame Street is a beautiful testament, but that’s not all. I think we can really make education entertaining and get a huge payoff from it, but backup what that performance did was entertained and agitate at the same time. And that is harder. And I can only imagine the number of meetings and discussions and approvals and permissions and the number of straight ups forgive my language, but ***k you, I don’t care what you say. This is what we’re doing. I can only imagine how much of that was going on behind the scenes. I have now talked for 20 minutes about this performance and not asked a single question. 

I love it. I’m just over here. Like I don’t have anything to answer. You just totally got it in your head. That’s hilarious. All right, I’m still listening. 

Okay. Okay. Okay. I would love to know about your involvement in that creative process. I’ve only shared one creative space with you and then one training space with you, which both of which I’m eternally grateful for, but in this creative space, you, you brought a lot of context and a lot of history, a lot of your knowledge to the room I’ve been in rooms where that isn’t always welcome, whether that’s because of the leader at the top or whether that’s because of simply not there being enough time. Like we, we, we have four hours to get 40 people doing the same thing at the same time. We don’t have time to be educated right now. We’re, we’re assuming point blank that everyone in the room is educated if we’re on this gig. So what I would love to know is on that gig, did you serve a similar role to the role that I’ve seen you in, which is delivering the context, delivering some history. So was your role in that process? Similar? Did you serve in a, in a similar way?

I served as, uh, yes. I would like to say first to answer. Yes. I served in a similar way, but also deeper, um, flowers to Fatimia Robinson for being a particular leader that allows me every time that I work with her to actually give the reason for why I’m doing a certain movement, because she understands that first of all, this is a new movement for you quote unquote seasoned industry dancers. You have not seen this movement. So while you’re trying to figure out the movement within your body, that’s why we’re here for all of these hours. It’s not you being here for all of these hours, trying to, you already have the movement and you’re trying to get spacing, or you’re trying to find out what is your reason behind this two-step. No, you actually first have to get the movement. So I’m here having, you know, a semi African Diasporic bootcamp. So at the same time, I now have to explain to you why I’m doing the movement. So you won’t look confused and simply doing the movement on stage. So if you don’t have a leader, that’s giving you that space and opportunity to do it. I think. And I, and I would S I say, think because a lot of leaders don’t lead like her, which is sad to say, but some leaders will say, you know, get the movement and I don’t care look confused on stage, but it’s your choreo, that’s your name attached to it. So with, Fatima, it’s like, yes, Kara, tell Kendrick, while you’re doing this, tell the dancers why she doing? 

She’s no fool 

Shareway share away. So with that being the aura and the vibe that I was under, I had the space and opportunities to create whatever movement that I wanted. She gave, she just said, go, I didn’t even know actually what was going on. I didn’t know who the artist was. I just know that I was brought in to do a job. And then over time, I started to see the weight of that job, who that artist was, but it was just Kara, just move, you hear the music, just move and now teach these dancers what you just did. And so even within that, Dana, I didn’t tell my family or anybody because you know, the industry, like you, you can love it one day. And then the producers and everybody come later that week and it just like scratch all of that dah, dah, dah. But once we made it to the Staples Center and I saw that it still remained, like I was like, are you serious?  

Massive, it was massive! 

Massive. And then to think that none of us even knew that he was going to do the whole continent with Compton ending. We did not get any of those visuals yet. So imagine us in the back, like looking up at the monitor and him in it and it, and it, and it, and it it’s the continent. I was like, are you serious? But I even told him when we left, um, one of the rehearsals, I said, are you ready? Because remember it was right after, Beyonce’s Superbowl performance, 

Formation 

The formation with the Mike, Michael Jackson with the black power, that whole thing. And a lot of people was giving her flat, like that shouldn’t be at the super bowl. What is she doing? Black this way? And then the black yeah. Heavier. So it was very Ooh. And so when I saw one, yeah. And when I saw what he was leaning towards, I’m like, you’re going to the source and you’re putting it on the Grammy stage. So I asked him, I was like, are you ready for it? And he shook his head. It was like, he didn’t expect me that, you know, ask that question. But it was like him letting it sink in. And he’s like, yeah, yeah, I’m ready. Cause I it’s, like, I felt the weight without even seeing any of the visuals, any of what was going to be presented on the video. None of that, just the movement and just seeing like how it began and how it ended. I said, wow, are you ready? He said, yeah. I said, okay. But I had no idea, Dana. I, no idea it was going to be is be big and impactful as it was like, first I was telling you, like, it was because of social media where people that are professionals in these styles, it’s like, no who did that choreo in front of like, who did that part? And it was just like, wow, that’s, what’s up. All of my people in Cuba, all of my people in Brazil, all of my people in different countries, in West Africa that saw that Grammy performance, it was like, put it in the comments, Kara Mack, Kara Mack, Kara Mack. And I was like, wow, that’s what’s up. All right. So I understand my responsibility and I have to continue going down this particular path in my life.  

I’m so glad to hear that people said your name and people wrote your name and people read your name. My followup question is a tough one. It come, it’s coming up a lot lately. And I’m glad that it is because I think it’s an important distinction to make where you a contributing choreographer on that job, or was your role a dancer or was your role assistant or what, what was your title?  

I would like to say for that particular job, I was, I was a dancer, but I also contributed the movement that you see in front of the bonfire. Like that particular part. Yes. I contributed that. Um, and yeah, like within the industry, I’m happy to say that Fatima, uh, also Adrian big ups to Dubs, um, Charm, just different people that were witnesses and can account for, uh, the work that I put in. I’m very, very, very appreciative for them. Cause I respect all of them very much, but it’s very true that with other people in other circumstances, they do not get that same just due, so yeah. I’m happy that these conversations are coming up as well.  

I think it’s, um, a broader conversation in the education of what the choreography department brings to a project. Not necessarily just being eight counts, as you mentioned in this case, it was history lessons. Yes. It was steps. Yes. It was even your body doing the steps, but it was context. It was information. It was, I mean, I’m assuming I can, I can only imagine a borderline religious experience in that room every day. Yeah. Um, and, and I think that some, some audiences know that, most of them don’t some productions know that many of them don’t, many of them don’t know that choreography is a department. They think that’s one person, one choreographer. And the thought that one person could control I’ll use that word for lack of a better one at this moment could control the 40 people that were on stage. Nope, no,  

No. That’s with me learning all with me, learning over the course of time, like Fatima’s also been a great teacher. Um, just shedding, so much information on my physical body mentally and spiritually is the fact that no, even if someone asked me to do all of that, I wouldn’t look at them like you have lost your ever loving mind, like the things that you have to do in coordinating with different, um, departments with the clothing and then with the props and then with the lighting and what is the artists going to wear? And it’s just like, no, absolutely. So everyone who’s listening that is what comes with that particular role as choreographer is not stepping in a studio and saying 5, 6, 7, 8. So yeah, if you didn’t know now, you know,  

Uh, super shout out to not my last episode, but the episode before, when I sit down with the choreography team, from In the Heights, it really was when they say it takes a village in our case, at least a small apartment complex of people to get that done. But then, but one of the things that we talk about in that episode is that the structure of the choreography, the organization and the collaboration of the choreography team is one thing. And it does get to shine in that movie, holy smokes. But what really shows up on the screen is the spirit of the dancers. That’s the one part, the choreography team can’t deliver on the day. Yes. You know, we can, we, we are involved in casting. We have discussion with music, with set with all of the other departments, but on the day it’s dance team, who’s supported by choreo team that gets out and gets the word out. That’s like a, we are important, this matters. And so I, I see that performance is a beautiful example of that. The dancers on stage. I mean, I cry. I think about Marv, I think about watching you dance. It is so.. Calling it impassioned feels small. It feels it’s like possessed. It is something such a treat for, especially for an award show. Um, but I, I just, I think the world of that performance and I’m in awe of your role in it, I’m so glad it exists. And I want everyone to watch it five times.  

I want to share one, um, special moment for me. Um, I’ve shared this before, but I want to share it on your platform. When I shared, uh, with Kendrick, uh, the part of the choreo where we do a circle around him, he in the beginning thought that it was like, oh, it’s like spirits around me and I’m scattered. And I’m trying to find my place. And it was the moment that I was like, no, Kendrick, that’s not, this is a rhythm Sandia, but it’s, Lamban the song Lamban, which is lifting up the oral historian, which is the Griot. And I said, Kendrick, you are African-American’s oral historian. So we’re doing this movement around you to lift you up and to give you energy for what is your role. And so he just got quiet and he said, you know, basically it was like, okay, okay. And automatically I saw a change within him. And during that performance, it’s like, oh wow, I get it. Like, it’s like claiming my responsibility and claiming my role for what I’m supposed to do. So now I’m gonna just take this a whole mile past what I thought I was gonna present on a Grammy stage. So yeah, that moment was special to me because he really thought he was just like, oh, it’s, you know, things around me. And I’m trying to figure, as I know, there’s nothing to figure out. We are here only to uplift you and to encourage you for you are our oral historian. You are our Griot.  

Thank you so much for sharing that. Yeah, that’s awesome. That makes me want to go in one direction, but I’m going to go another direction then I’m going to circle back. Okay. I got Google maps pulled up there. They’re like, you are not on the fastest route. Do you want to take another route? And I’m like, no, I want to stay on this route. Let me, let me keep going. I had Moncell Durden on the podcast over the summer of last year, and I took a few of his courses, um, Intangible Roots, which was awesome. And then he did a collaboration series with Passion Fruit Seeds. I learned so much one of the, um, one of the themes that I liked learning about the most and was embarrassed and ashamed that I had not heard of sooner was the notion of a Ring Shout and what happens to the dancer who is in the center? The, the geometry obviously is very significant and very important there’s of the land there’s of the godly there’s of the water. Um, and there’s this notion that the person in the center maybe mounted by a spirit. And I asked you a similar question the other day when we were jamming, but I asked Moncell this question specifically in a ring shout, this moment was not about dance. This was not about show and prove. This was not about anybody’s sick skills, or it wasn’t about like even attracting a mate. It wasn’t about being the dopest and getting the best dancer or the best, you know, whatever. It’s not about this. It is a religious experience and in learning more and more, and the depth of those roots becoming more aware of, um, the, the Pantheon of Orishas in Yoruba culture, I’m learning the importance of religion of spirituality. And so I asked Moncell, is there space for atheism in this dance? Is there room for other gods than these I know there are hundreds of Orishas, but we hear specifically about a small handful of them. Like, is there room for what I think of that God in the dance, or could a person I’ve asked eight questions now, could it, could a person still authentically embody the dance without believing in those gods.  

To first answer the question, um, the same way that I answered it when we were jamming, you first have to come with the honor and the respect of what is the tradition. So there are a lot of people you may have dancers that are professionals in these styles that may be a Buddhist. They may believe, you know, in so many different, uh, like other different religious and faiths, like yeah, but the reason why they are professional within the music and dance styles is because of the respect and the honor of what those people do. Because once again, we’re not talking about styles where everyone that is within that ethnic group is now wiped off the planet. Those people are living and breathing, cultivating. They’re still living their lives as we are doing this podcast right now. So you have to just dig deeper in those types of, you know, worldviews and concepts. That’s outside of a Westernized structure of, oh, this is what I do. So how can I put what I do onto you?  It’s not in, it should not be about that, at all. It should be, as it 

Because is in Western!

Exactly, it should be about the total acceptance for what it is now, you, within your own spirit have to make choices. Once you see something and experience something for what it is, you then have to ask certain questions of yourself, not turning it into which a lot of westernized people do. Here are some suggestions that I believe can make your brand better. And that’s we treat, we treat styles musically, and movement-wise like their brands. So we don’t look at it as I know the roots and I’m being creative. It’s now like, no, I’ve adjusted it properly. It is now my signature. And now you will call it by my name. Hmm,  

Man, when you put it that way, it is a very, uh, an unsavory thought 

And it has been done so much. So to, to, to finalize and complete that question, you can do, you, you can do you freely. However, when you come with now, this passion, because I believe Dana with you, especially, and to all of the listeners who have this passion to learn certain things now, or even before that, you probably can’t even explain, no, you move on that passion. You move on, what’s moving your spirit. Now in your head, you probably define things a certain way and that’s totally you doing you, but I’m also a believer in you being moved by your passions. And, and I’m just sticking to that. Whatever you want to call that, call it, whatever vocabulary, word, whatever title it’s all on you. 

I’m going to call it pineapple. 

If you are, if you are a pineappling in your heart, then you better go down that pineapple road. Because in the end, honestly, when you are at that age where it’s like, yeah, I have done it. And I am complete. You won’t feel complete because you know, within your heart that it was so many things that you were passionate about.  

You know whats incredible. Can I tell you what? Oh, it’s incredible. As you are giving that beautiful speech about passion. I was fondling my neck, my necklace, which is a blue ceramic heart. It is a keepsake that I have had since my first trip to Los Angeles as a preteen. Well, I guess I was technically, I think I was 13 or 14. I was taking my first dance class at millennium dance complex. My heart was so wildly on fire for dance. I went across the street, there was a little boutique and I think I’m pretty sure it was supposed to use this money on like food. And I found this necklace and I fell in love with it. And I was fondling it in the little bead that’s in the middle of the heart just fell out, but I’m not going to make that mean. I’ve lost my passion for them. I can see it. It’s on the floor. Find some gloom. It’s about eternal heart. Okay. So what I would like to add to this notion of respect and honor, because I, I, I want to ask an ignorant question, but I’m going to stop myself. 

Don’t say ignorant

Um, uh, a poorly formed question. How do you know you have reached respect and honor? How do you know that? Like, okay. Uh, I took Moncell’s workshop over the summer. I respect and honor. That’s not it. So how do you know, how do you measure that point and how do you know that you’ve arrived?  

It is actually a great, great question. When you, uh, when you showed up in humble yourself and you just receive when it’s not about when it’s not about you. And I say that, meaning there are a lot of people that already assume when I say, when it’s not about you, it’s like, oh no, but I am a humble person in class, I do fall back and I’m pretty quiet. 

I I I I

You, and you hear that, I, you hear it. And it’s like all of the, the attributes of how humility looks to them comes out as a defense, to what I’m saying. Like, you know, when you’re totally invisible in the movement and the music is the only thing that matters. You as a person, me as Kara Mack, when I’m receiving information, my history where I was born, how old I was, my, my credits, what I will be doing on the day after the class. None of that matters. None of that matters. Like I am fully in the moment so much that I have disappeared into the space of whatever is occurring during that time that I’m receiving that information. It could simply be in a studio in Hollywood, or I could be out on the beach in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa, I’m in that space. I don’t need the attributes of what it looks like to be in the earth and to beat, to actually be in the earth and be present and be there to receive information like we have it, people have gotten so, so, so, so, so Westernized that we have to create the visual to make us seem like we’re connecting with the universe. No, if you’re really connecting with the universe, you can connect with the universe wherever you are.  

And you’re likely not on your phone  

And just, and simple things like that. So that’s when you know, like, okay, that is the beginning of my learning because I’m a forever student. I’m going to be learning until, you know, you see me physically no more, but that is the beginning of when you begin to actually learn when you’re totally out of the way when you’re totally, totally out of the way. And someone has to point you out and say, okay, Dana, I see that you’re now ready for blahzay, blahzay, blahzay, blahzay, blahzay, not you taking it upon yourself to say, now I see myself I’ve been in these classes for so-and-so it’s no, no. In those moments it can be a child that point you out. It doesn’t have to be the head of a company or a head of a production. It’s the spirit spirit recognize a spirit. 

In fact, it’s probably to seek that type validation from that type of moment is even further in the, in the, in the opposite direction of the selflessness that you are, uh, speaking of.  

Yes. 

Well, that is certainly a lot to chew on and possibly the best answer to the best question that I almost didn’t ask. 

No, I love that question. It’s not an ignorant question. I don’t, a lot of people ha a lot of people that are artists need to get back to that because for some reason, we we’re now living in a society too, that really, really belittles art just period to make us seem like we carry no responsibility. When we are the movers and shakers of society. We are politicians, artists are politicians, politics, economic, cultural, any type of title you want to give. arts moves things in certain directions, people that were invisible 10 years ago, 20 years ago are now visible because of artists. Because of artists. So we have to claim or take back that power within all of us. So as dancers, as musicians, as visual artists, whatever you do, you have to take that back. And then when you start to get that confidence back, then you will be able to see how it’s easy to disappear and just soak up, just be a sponge, bring respect, and honor to whatever new experience that you’re experiencing at the time. It’s going to be easy because you understand that the power that you have,  

It’s going to be easy because you think that the process is one that is fulfilling versus one that is exhausting. And I’ll admit with full humility that in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I felt like catching up was impossible. I felt like the amount of research, respect, and honor I owed I couldn’t in my lifetime pay. And, and so that feeling is kept me from doing it for a short time, this idea that I could never respect enough or honor enough, or right the wrongs enough. And that’s not useful. In fact, I really, I think that there’s a similarity here. Um, and I’m, I’m getting foggy brain. So I’m going to try to put it as concisely as I can. When you think it’s a responsibility, a joy, an honor, a pleasure to lead in this way, then the respect and the honor comes free flowing versus trying to muster it and trying to meet a deadline or certain mile markers of having done enough. It’s simply what we do is simply what we do and then. Should we choose it? Which is a responsibility, but go, go, go.  

I just think that majority of the stress will just fall off all of our shoulders. If we see that we are not the only ones that are doing what we’re doing, when we have a bird’s eye view and an aerial view to the people that are in different geographic locations all over this world.  

Oh, I see. I see. Yes. 

If we just, I, I can, uh, I contributed, uh, to think about the definition of poly rhythms, poly rhythms, we African Diasporaic music and dance showcases polyrhythmic things. So think about just dig deeper on poly rhythms. Poly rhythms encompasses different rhythms. That’s happening all at the same time,  

Multiple, simultaneous, responsible.  

Now imagine if one person falls off their rhythm, if one person chooses to copy someone else’s rhythm, or if someone chooses to leave that rhythm, the ensemble falls off. So an African Diasporaic music and dance. It’s the artists as the individual, understanding the responsibility of the fact that if I don’t contribute what I’m supposed to contribute, let’s go deeper. If I don’t do my purpose, then this whole community, community, ensemble, group, falls off because of me not contributing anything. The society is making us to believe that when we don’t contribute anything, it doesn’t matter. They’ve been successful at doing that. If someone gives five part harmony and this one part is off, no one is focusing on the fact that four other singers are still singing on key. They’re saying this five-part harmony is off. Look at that in life. How important is that one person in that poly rhythm in that five part or six part or seven part harmony, even three part harmony. That means that your life, the part that you play matters. So don’t overthink about how much you’re giving. Just freaking give, just give don’t let systems tell you that you don’t need to give because your contribution, whatever it is, doesn’t matter. That’s a lie. That’s the point. That’s the last. So you don’t carry the weight of it, all of it on your shoulders. It’s other people in the ensemble making this beautiful music right along with you, and you have to pay attention to every role that’s being played all at the same time that you’re giving your little. And then you look at it like, oh, I don’t carry all of this on my shoulders. Oh, it’s not my responsibility to do everything because I feel so much coming from my spirit due to social injustice, things of that nature. No everyone is doing it.  

That’s key. That’s key. Weightless does not mean responsibility-less. It means my responsibility. Exactly. Which relative to the big picture is small. But if I choose to not carry it for fear of the whole load, then none of the, none of it gets it  

Then the systems are successful and they can keep on doing what they’re doing because here is one person out and I’m still gonna take, yes, that’s the way I turn everything into music. Sorry. That’s not, no 

I’m with it. This is great. And I, I love the way that, that you did that and brought some broader context, you know, zooming out to a global versus a dance scale. But, um, it, because it is, it dances is life and life is dancing. This is it. This is why we’re here because I’m fascinated by that. And that, and that learning dance lessons really makes me a better human and being a better human makes me a better dancer. All of my out there, life experiences that show up on a stage in a performance or even in a brainstorm even pre-performance stage. All of the humanness is very helpful to what I do. Um, but I, I, uh, I’ve derailed again. I’m excited what I wanted to, what I wanted to shout you out for what you just said. This was a great teaching moment for all of the teachers who are listening is you brought context to help something stick. It’s more than making an analogy of two things that are unlike and saying that they’re alike. It’s helping me understand and making sticky a concept that I was struggling with. That’s what you just did. And it sounds like that’s what you did in the room with Kendrick, where you got to understand that regardless of how much time is offered or regardless of who is leading that additional understanding any additional understanding, any additional context, not only helps things to click faster, but it makes things last longer. And if we’re here to make a long lasting change, then it’s got to be sticky. These lessons that we’re delivering and these lessons that we’re learning and this art that we’re making has to be sticky. Yes. So thank you for making that sticky lesson for me.  

Practical lesson for all you dancers, the reasons why you should search and find other styles, other classes to take disappear in it, learn it, get soaked up in it is because dance is a language. The only way that you, you call yourself proficient in any language is once you’re able to comfortably in that language, say what you mean and mean what you say. Without that, you’re not proficient in that language. So if you call yourself a dancer, I don’t care if you love one style over another. If you’re, if you lean towards, I’m just saying a professional dancer, I believe that you would want to have as many vocabulary words for you to express yourself as you can, instead of your sentences being structured. I went to the store. I would like my sentences to be structured Yesterday as the light shines so bright in Los Angeles, California. I took my bike down to the store and met Mr. John, who said, that’s the difference between an amateur and a professional dancer. So that’s on a practical sense, vocabulary. Up your vocabulary. So then you can be able to get the jobs that you want and be successful at it. Up your vocab. Thank you,  

Please. Up your freaking vocab with the base of the food pyramid, not the top of the food pyramid. I’m dying. Okay. So on that note, Kara, where can we find more of you and your training? Um, I’m absolutely going to be linking to Africa in America. Yes.  

Well, as you said, Africa and America, that’s both on Instagram and Facebook and Dana knows I’m a private person. I, I personally, for me, I’m not the person that uses social media is like the resume. I’m all like, here’s my kid. And we went to the park. That’s like my personal Instagram. So sorry for you guys or looking for like choreography videos every two days for me and things that, no, I don’t do any of that. So you could get any update from me at the Africa and America, um, link. But if you want to send me a request because you’re very interested in my private life, it is @MackKara

I love this so much.  Um, okay, Well, thank you for that beautiful conversation. A peek into your experience. Um, as an educator, as a performer, as a choreographer, as a person who understands pop culture and rich, rich culture, I am so grateful for your time. Thank you, Kara. 

Thank you. Dana much, love, peace and blessings to everyone who’s listening and continue to support this Chica, Dana your hilarious. 

Oh my God. She’s laughing. Cause I’m just dancing in this tiny little corner where I try to record my podcast. Very small movement. Kara, we’ll talk to you again soon. Thank you again for being here. Bye. 

My friends. That was something else. Wasn’t it. I love Kara’s thoughts on responsibility. I love the way she encourages a well-rounded vocabulary. I love the way she teaches and I love the way she underlines the importance of respect and how to know once you’ve found it. Um, here’s one of the things that I really loved the most she says in bold font, I could tell she was speaking in bold font. Don’t overthink about how much you’re giving, just freaking give. So thank you for giving us gold Kara Mack and thank you all for listening. I so appreciate you now. Get out there and give and of course keep it very, very funky. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye 

Me again. Wondering if you ever noticed that one more time. Almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe and leave a rating or review because your words move me to number two thing. I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit the dinners and.com for links to free workshops. And so, so, so much more. All right, that’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye. 

Ep. #25 Taking the Note with Dominique Kelley

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #25 Taking the Note with Dominique Kelley
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This episode addresses Learning vs. RE-learning,  YOUR truth vs. THE truth, and the best type of questions you should be asking yourself (and your students) right now.  Epiphany chaser, teacher, re-learner, and dance extraordinaire Dominique Kelley joins us to shine the light exactly where it should be… on CHANGE.

Show Notes

Quick Links

Patreon Worksheet: https://www.patreon.com/posts/38208623

Dominique Kelley with Zach Saunders: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CBEwx9jp6CE/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

Fave Socratic Method Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EB4MYGInRl4

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.  

Dana: Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello, and welcome to episode 25. Yes, I did it 25 episodes. And is if that wasn’t when enough. My win for this week is that my team and I have really, really refined our workflow and we are bringing you more stuff that moves you. We are ready to ship on some awesome behind the scenes and deleted content to our members. And we’re getting really, really excellent feedback about our weekly worksheets. Um, those are downloadable and editable PDFs that our members have access to so that they can listen and work along with each episode and really get to commit and apply what they’re learning to their lives, like right now! we’ve posted a free to all sample worksheet from episode one, over at patreon.com/wtMMpodcast So be sure to go take a look at that and subscribe to either of our top three tiers. If you want the whole kit and caboodle, I love kit and caboodle, by the way, that should be the name of a tier right let’s focus. I have four tiers of membership. The first one includes a thank you note, a sticker, access to a playlist of the month, behind the scenes, videos, bloopers, all sorts of good stuff. And then the top three tiers, believe it or not have even more. I mean, really, really cool perks parked over there. So you want to give patreon.com/wtMMpodcast a visit. Okay, that’s it for me. Now you go, what’s going well in your world.  

do do do do do bam!  Okay. Great. I am so glad that you are winning. I’m proud of you keep crushing it. All right. Speaking of crushing it, our guest today is Dominique Kelly, an undeniable talent, a bright, bright mind, and a dear friend, as well as a leading voice in the dance industry. He is a shining example of excellence with roots in tap that actually branch out as wide as styles can branch. Um, and I’ve had the honor of working with him on several different projects. And recently I saw an IgG live that he did with Zach Saunders. Um, I will definitely be linking to that in the show notes because it is high, high quality. Now I was not shocked, but I was very, very moved, um, by Dominique’s compassion and eloquence in discussing and explaining some really complex and nuanced stuff, broadly racism, but very specifically racism and dance. Racism in the entertainment industry.  Man, I watched that IG live. I grabbed a pen and paper and went to school watching it. And then I promptly called him and asked if he would be willing to go a little bit deeper here on the podcast. And he said, yes. And then we talked for about 45 minutes about all the things. Um, the conversation you are about to hear is not that conversation. This is an altogether different 45 minute conversation that really shines a light on very important things. And I certainly walked away with it knowing more and doing better. And I really hope you do too. Please enjoy this conversation with Dominique Kelley. 

Dana: This is huge. I’m so, so excited to introduce the one and only Dominique Kelly. Hello, Dominique.  

Dominique: Hi. How are you doing? so great to be here. Thank you for having me.  

Dana: I am doing well. Thank you. It is great to have you here. I am all already cheesing pretty hard. My cheeks are going to be sore after this. I can tell, um, thank you for being here, man. You are just a master of words and a master of your craft. Please take a moment, introduce yourself. Tell us what you want us to know about you.  

Dominique: Great. Well, first and foremost, my name is Dominique Kelly. It sounds like Jonathan only it’s Dominique and, um, I’m a jokester, but more importantly, I’m a human. Yeah, that’s what I’d like to get across first, not my accomplishments, but my humanity. Now, when it comes to props for the business, I first I became professional at 12, 12 years old. I did my first show, black and blue, which was a European tour and it was a tap, a tap show and it was all black people. Um, my next show after that was bring da noise, bringing da funk and you know, another pivotal tap show that talked about American history through the lens of African American history and tap and another monumental show. And then after that, I co choreographed of my first musical at 16 with Omar Edwards, another black tack show ironically. So the first five years of my career were all black tap shows, which shape Mmm.  The way I learned the way I improvised, the way I saw the world, the way I saw myself. After that, I took a year off. I went to high school my senior year and I was valedictorian. And then I went to the University of Connecticut, um, originally on an animal science partial scholarship, which was fun. Okay. Clues you into how my brain thinks. Graduated after four years, I was homecoming King, which I was happy about. Um, especially at a school that big, it wasn’t necessarily, um, how you saw yourself, but it’s also how your peers saw you. After that, I moved to New York. I did Broadway, Film, TV the, for about two years, and then came to LA. Yes. And you know, just trying to do all the things, break down, all the barriers, love on all the people have those conversations that I could, and keep striving for more and 13 years later, I’m still here.  

Well, I’m glad that you are here. And I am glad that we are witnessing and getting to engage in a conversation with you. This is super special.  

Thank you.  

Now, one of the things that stood out to me in a big, big way about the conversation you had with Zach is that you are a master of the analogy and you’re an exceptional master of the dance analogy. I want to start with one of the things that stood out to me the most in your conversation with Zach, you said, listen, ‘to all of my white friends, my, my white people out there. This is not your moment to be in the spotlight. This is not your moment to even be an understudy or a swing. You know what? You are the lighting technician right now. It is your job to hold the light and shine it where it needs to be most.’ So I would love to, I I’m working to be a better lighting, lighting technician, myself. And, uh, I want to start by asking if there’s a takeaway that you had from that conversation with Zach or from several conversations. I’m sure you’re a part of right now. And is there a place, is there a topic you want highlighted here today or something you want to go deeper on?  

Sure. First of all, let me just say, um, about being the lightining tech. A lot of us want to start with empathy, which means you have to think of yourself in that category or what’s happening to somebody else. Also, a lot of us like to think of ourselves as prisms so if the light hits us, we’d like to refract it. But in this moment, move out of the way. And what I was saying was to accurately amplify other voices, they should not, and could not come through you because then you put your own bias on it. So just let people speak. And whether it’s a freestyle dance battle, when you get tired and you have no more moves, you pass it on. If it’s like beatboxing and you’re rapping in your freestyle and you have nothing else to say, you pass the mic, you don’t hold the mic and put it by you while somebody else’s rapping into the mix. So in those moments, like being a lighting tech past the light, don’t say anything present and jazz hands to somebody else. And when people asked to be an ally or to be a great support system, the best thing is to stand out of the way or stand down and have that humility and drop the ego and just go, I don’t know, I barely know much about this topic, but I know someone who does let them speak for themselves, you know? So I think in those moments, that’s what I’m talking about when I want you to be a lighting tech, as opposed to somebody who wants to stand in front or stand behind or go like, ‘Okay. Um, so what they really mean’ is there’s no, what they really mean, just let them talk. Because lot of times people don’t have that voice. They’ve never been listened to, you know, in certain moments. So I think it’s important to be a lighting tech. 

Now, what I would love to talk about some of the little things that I think, um, we all go through, but I have a different lens if it’s like, you know, little things while we’re on set. Um, if it’s little things within the dance industry that I’ve, um, we talked about it earlier. Um, I usually say learning unlearning, but now I have to revise it. Thanks. Thanks to you, Dana. It’s not necessarily learning it and unlearning it’s learning and relearning. So I would love to talk about some of the things that even I’ve had to relearn in this process. 

Nice. Let’s yeah. Let’s have that conversation. 

Yes. In teaching dance. Mmm. I’ve had to be impeccable, because of COVID, I am not there in the studio with people. So I really have to be very impeccable with my words in what I say. Now, dance is very strict. Anyway, when it comes to certain disciplines, it either is, or it isn’t. Then from there, you can show the variables and intricacies and the derivations of it all. Now, when it comes to talking about certain things, we can use our French words, you know, it’s like, is it a grand jete, or is it a saut de chat? Or even for tap, we can do, is it a four count rift? Or is it a five count riff? You know what I mean? Like there’s just certain nuances that you need to know to make sure. It’s just like, okay, so which Boogaloo are we doing? You know, like which, which vibe, what is, what is the vibe there. Now when it comes to teaching, I like to meet everyone where they are in their learning.  Not everybody has had the same education. Not everybody has the same relationship with dance. Not everybody wants to be a professional dancer. So I like to teach from a bare bones learning point of view. Being African American. I also liked to teach black art forms. I would like to give some history because if you don’t know where you are, where the dance form came from, you don’t know where it’s going to expand upon thus, leading too sometimes people appropriating because they don’t know where it came from. 

Okay. Another thing I like to do is, um, lead from the place of, and I think you and I were talking about it. I had to relearn a little bit ago about ballet. Now we slash all of us were taught. Mmm. That ballet was the foundation of all the dance styles. And I remember coming up, people should, they would say, well, everybody, whenever you dance, they should see that you have technique and technique, meaning ballet technique.  Now, a couple of things that I had to relearn about that one, everything has a technique. Salsa has a technique. Gumboot has a technique, um, waving and popping have techniques. Everything has a technique. And a technique just means the way you go about sequentially step-by-step to learn the specifics of a dance style, whether it’s cultural, whether it’s improvisational, like all of those things. Now, the next thing I had to wrap my head around is that thought is Euro-centric bordering on white supremacist. Now I know that seems very far reaching and all of a sudden people hear that word and they get very scared and turned off. Just think about all the things that are encompassing ballet, the positions, um, the feet, um, the pink tights, where it came from the derivation. So if you are not doing something that’s African base, which is Afro-centric, which a lot of our dance styles came from.  A lot of our hip hop styles, a lot of our dance hall styles, um, whether it’s, um, Afro Afro fusion, whether it’s Afro funk, whether it’s even jazz, tap like a whole bunch of those, then you have a lot of branch offs from there. So if you believe that your ballet style, you found it a whole bunch of other styles and should be seen in those other styles, I don’t think that’s exactly right and I don’t think that’s exactly the technique because a proficient technician we’ll show proficiency in that technique. And a lot of times, as we know, ballet will help with your upper body, but isn’t necessarily helping you with tap steps. No, not necessarily. You know, so there’s a lot of things that I had to relearn in a nap and nice analogy that I would like to use is, bleach. Bleach is good and it’s bad, and it’s good for what it’s good for and it’s bad for what it’s bad for. So in order to be able to use it and to properly clean, you have to dilute it with some water. And sometimes that relearning is the water that takes away and cuts, and it becomes more accessible to clean around people  

That just reminded me. Um, there’s a photographer named Greg Heisler who talks about technique as, um, another analogy. And I do think it’s important to be careful with analogies because although they do make a lot of sense, what we’re doing is saying that two different things are the same thing. And they are obviously not like that’s part of the reason why we’re having a lot of misunderstanding and relearning is because it’s very easy to say that this is just like this. And in honesty, it’s so much more complicated than that.  

Exactly.  

So for, you know, with a little bit of fear of being a little bit of wrong here, I want to share this quote, Greg Heisler, the photographer says that techniques are like gloves. Everybody can buy a pair of gloves and you do different gloves for different occasions. Um, right. Like a dentist uses different gloves than a gardener, um, or a motorcyclist, right? You wouldn’t want your dentist wearing motorcycle gloves while performing the surgery and the gloves exists to help get the job done. Yeah. Different gloves, different jobs. But the interesting thing here in what relates to artistry specifically is that gloves also cover up your fingerprint. And if your fingerprint is your voice, then it can be very harmful to be told ballet technique, ballet technique, ballet technique. And we’re not getting to see the individual voice, the signature of the artist. So I wanted to throw that in there as an interesting analogy. And I’m glad you brought up glad you brought that up. I never, honestly, until you said those words, I had never considered the thought that ballet is the foundation of all styles. I never, that’s a phrase that was meant to be inspiring, like men to get people in ballet class, but unintentionally is really exclusive. And,  

And I’m guilty of it. It’s almost like a leader because think of it, what is being taught in our conservatories, in our universities, it’s very ballet and modern based, and you’d be hard pressed to find any Brown or black styles of dance. I’m very guilty of it too, because especially in the industry, I’m just like, Oh my gosh, they would be so amazing if they had ballet technique, like just think of the refinement that they would have, not saying that that is wrong or right. But I had to relearn that they have a set of skills that is kin to them and akin to their culture and akin to their movement and what they want to do. Who am I to say that this Eurocentric style would make them better?  

Dana: Oh, right. I love what Dominique has to say about technique. And I had honestly never thought of how a statement like ballet is the foundation of all styles could be so exclusionary and, and also so untrue, just straight up, not true. Now I am a fan of cross training. I am a fan of using what you know about style A to help inform style B. And although you might not see it much in my choreography, I do love a Demi Demi Grande, but I am absolutely committed to changing my language around this topic when I teach, I am also excited to dig deeper into my understanding of other non-classical techniques. But for now let’s dig a little deeper on learning and knowing, and really making change with Dom

The subject of learning and relearning. I want to mention something else I’ve been a little bit sensitive about and hear your thoughts on this. Mmm. Uh, I think that there’s a lot of pressure on learning right now. Act now, speak out now, donate now. And I think it’s hard to argue against that. It is very important that change happen now, what I’m concerned about is this cram style learning the way that you crammed for a test and the, and then forgot everything that you learned, the way you are able to hold onto names and dates for like the day. But then they go away and the actual knowledge doesn’t stick. So what I would love to talk about is, you know, in class and in life, how do you encourage deep understanding, deep knowledge, opposed to just cramming and reciting or following along with the flock, if you will.  

Um, from a teaching standpoint, what I love to do, especially in my class. Yeah. Um, put the onus on my students. So for anybody who’s taken my class, I asked them, what are they working towards today? Don’t let me validate you. You validate yourself. If you come in working on one thing, whether it’s specificity, whether it’s picking up quickly, whether it’s being able to perform it quickly, there’s nothing that I can say or do in this class or pull you out to do, that will take that away because you’ve been working on it. So I think it’s up to us to do the work instead of somebody else doing the work for you, you have to pick today, what am I learning about? Is it something historical? Is it something that I’ve been complicit in? Is it something I’m adding to? Um, am I learning about, um, somebody who lives totally different than me or somebody who’s lived beside me that I didn’t know what they were going through. So I think that’s one thing. Choose what you are personally learning in that moment and what you want to learn because in school, and when you were younger in dance class, you were told what to learn. You necessarily have a choice. So in these moments we have choices. So if one thing is speaking to you, and one thing is not maybe focused on the thing that’s speaking to you, but still come around to the thing that’s maybe not because maybe you’ll be in a different place, in a different head space to be able to totally receive that. 

Another thing I do in my class as a teacher that hopefully will help people out there. I give knowledge that is widely known, just so we’re all on one accord, just so we know I make people’s shout it out with me just so that we can be together. And I think being a group is very powerful. Then the other exercise that I just told you about to make us feel like individuals to talk about what we’re working on individually. So then that pulls the onus on you to be like, okay, we’re a group, but I have my individual thoughts and traumas and weaknesses and strengths. 

The third thing I do in class is teach whether it’s history or something, no one knows.  So it always shows a need and a room for growth. Because at the end of the day, if you came into my class and killed it all the way around, you feel like you’re done and you do not need to come back. And what I like to do is show people, there’s always room for growth. Even with myself, I’ll pose a question that I don’t know the answer to I’ll pose the question like, okay. ‘So what’s the difference between this step and this step?’ And they could tell me the differences, or they could say nothing. They’re still the same, but we still would have had that conversation. Now I realize a lot of teachers and dance educators don’t approach it like I do. But this is where we take the onus back. Instead of cramming, basically space out your own curriculum. I understand speaking out now, donating now, I’m all about that. I say, do it. People are afraid to jump on a bandwagon. If there was not a bandwagon to jump on in your life. I think this is probably a good one to jump on to, you know, show solidarity and show humanity and empathy and love, and then all of those things. But in that rush, do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Like just because you cannot ingest it all at one time, nobody can ingest anything like that. At one time, whether it’s information, food, water, TV, you just can’t do it. You have burnout. So make up a curriculum for yourself and be honest with yourself. Be completely honest with yourself. This is where I am in this moment. If there’s one day, you have to take a break, take a break because, just bringing it back to dance. If you get injured, the teacher tells you just sit down physically, but we never did tell people to mentally sit down. So in these moments, sometimes you have to mentally sit down. So you’re able to really absorb it and then come back stronger the next day. And that’s my spiel.  

Thank you for your spiel. That was, that was beautiful. I think we all just became better teachers and better learners from that. Um, it reminded me of the power of, you know, seeing both short term and long term. Um, and I think oftentimes we overestimate our ability in the short term like, Oh, I can definitely watch six documentaries and listened to 14 podcasts and read three books this week because I need to catch up. I overestimate my ability, my abilities in the short term, but at the same time, and on the flip side of that coin, we underestimate the longterm. It’s a stretch to dream that we could achieve real fair justice or real true equality. But, but I think that we can, I think we might be underestimating the longterm by thinking that way. So the same way that okay. When I was learning fifth position, I didn’t think that I would be dancing on a world tour stage someday. Yeah. Right. And even when I was 16, I had moments of serious doubt, like look at all my friends going and doing that. And I’m still not what’s wrong with me am I broken? Underestimating long term dedication, knowledge, challenge, um, persistence. Yeah. And I think that that’s like, that is perhaps my biggest lesson right now is to be compassionate for myself in that short term, learning like this week. It’s okay that you didn’t achieve the things that you want to achieve in the next 30 years. And then at the same time, my 30 year goal probably isn’t as high as it could be. I, I I’d really like to see more massive action in dreaming big. 

Yeah.  My drug of choice are epiphanies.  

Hmm. Explain  

Meaning I will search out an epiphany any, um, I love having these conversations because as I’ve been talking to you, I’ve been having epiphanies, you know, and I think in those moments, it’s okay to sit with that. Like even when I take dance class, I do not want to be in a dance class where I don’t have an a-ha moment. And I think I blame Oprah for this, but you know, if you’re not having an a-ha moment about either, what your learning, the teacher or yourself, why are you still going? You know, in the book you’re reading the documentary you’re watching the podcast, you’re listening to, if you don’t have an a-ha moment, I understand everything. I mean, entertainment, you can turn your brain off, but I’ve chase epiphanies is because I feel like that’s how I grow and that’s how I connect. And that’s how I love is through, through a moment of, I call it cracking my face where I’m like, Oh wow. What I thought I knew. I didn’t know. Or I thought, I didn’t know that, but I’ve been implementing that this whole time. So I’m an epiphany chaser. Hello, my name, my name is Dominique Kelley, and I’m an epiphany chaser.  

I’m going to add that to your opening intro. 

You mentioned earlier being the type of teacher that teaches to wherever your student is in their learning journey. And I, I think that that highlights something very important, which is they’re a different type of learners. Um, not just different places in our learning journey, but different ways of learning. So I’m so curious to hear when you have an epiphany moment, how do you let it process and sink in? What is it maybe, maybe that would shed light on a way that we could be learning deeper right now?  

Um, when I have those epiphany moments, I immediately write it down because at the end of the day, you’ll forget it just as quickly as it came, like it happens all the time. We were like, Oh, what was that? Um, sometimes I like to keep talking through it and start linking other concepts and then talking about how I can implement it quickly. Take the note. That’s what we’re always told to take the note. And I’m honestly trying to take the note in that moment because you know, whether you’re spiritual or not, I feel like, you know, sometimes you just get flowing and you’re a conduit or a vessel and you have to, they take that spiritual note in that moment, you know? So when I have any epiphany I’m like, Oh, or sometimes I share it with somebody, I’ll call somebody and be like, look, this is what I just said. Learn, tell me it sounds crazy to you, but it just seems like it really makes sense to me right now. Let’s talk about it. Let’s break it down, let us critique it and then let’s build it back up and try to implement it quickly. So quote, unquote, take the note.  

Thank you. And how about this? I am right now going to take that note and I’m going to tell you something I’m, I’m workshopping this idea. I don’t know if it holds water. I don’t know if it holds weight, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this concept. I’ve been thinking a lot about humor lately because I have not been laughing a lot lately. And, um, I’m excited to have this conversation with you because you and I have worked together a lot specifically on shows like crazy ex-girlfriend, which makes big, big jokes out of big, big, serious topics. And they do it so well, they do it smart. They do it thorough. They do it with undeniable talent. It’s not sloppy. Um, but it is, it is feather, ruffling and unsettling. I think that humor is as nuanced and individual as, as ideas about race and racism might be. Yeah. So am I, am I nuts in that hypothesis? 

No, let’s see a couple of things that I took from that one. There are certain comics and comedians who put a black against the white issue, you know, is how a black person would do it. This is how a white person would do it. And you know how there’s like black jokes and white jokes in comedy and everything like that. I feel like there is some truth to that because it’s an experience. So there’s certain nuances in the experience that you would know about to be able to laugh about. And there are certain experiences that you do not hold that you’re like, wait, that’s not funny at all. You know, if you can present in a way too, it was a group to say, I’m with you and I support you, but let’s look at this in a humorous way that often leads to healing into more conversations. For example, um, after 9-11, it was hard for us to try to laugh again. You know, um, after big events have happened in this country, it’s hard to laugh, immediately cause you almost feel guilty for it. And I feel like laughter is a sense of healing. That’s why especially talking from the black community. Um, there’s a lot of satirical comedy where we joke about things like that, because sometimes you have to laugh, so you don’t cry. You know? Um, other parts of it just are rooted in our history. Like we are given the worst and we’re taught to make the best of it in any situation, whether it’s food, whether it’s a tragedy, whether it’s clothes, whether it’s anything like that. Black people have managed to take the trash and turn it into treasure. And we’ve managed to take the chitlins in turning into a delicacy. So in terms of humor, when it comes like that, I feel like depending on the group, you’re a part of, I think you can only laugh from your position. People call it punching down. You do not want to punch down, especially in your, if you’re in a position of privilege. And that’s another word that we talk about that we’re going to demystify privilege just means you can not necessarily succeed and excel in the world, but there are certain things that will not hinder you and block you as other counterparts. So when punching down, punching down would be, if a millionaire it’s punching down and making fun of people who have less there. So like the poor, middle class, working class, that’s when you don’t want to punch down for all the dancers out there, that’s like dance comedy. When we go look at those dancers, why are you stretching everywhere?  Or like, why are you dancing everywhere? Can’t you just be excited and say, you’re excited instead of starting Crump. Like, why are you doing that? Especially when we watch certain reality shows, you know, we see the reaction of people getting happy and then they do like a toe touch or a tumbling pass or multiple pirouettes. And you’re like, why are dancers weird? What? But if a director said that same thing, like dancers are horrible. Why do you do that? That would almost be like punching down if he’s not, or she’s not part of the group. So I think with humor, you have to be very specific and you have to be witty. You have to be smarter than most. And you have to be self aware that even if the joke goes flat, you have to be ready to apologize for it or trace the steps back to why it did work.  

You are helping me connect my learners web right now. Mmm. I suppose in that sense that a comedian or, uh, an entertainer telling a joke, whether they’re a comedian or not a comedian is like the ultimate light technician. 

Yes. 

They shine the light on the thing and they’re like, Hey, everybody look at that thing. And then it’s on the audience to like, get on board with like, ah, yes. Or I don’t get it.  

Yes, exactly. They’re like the ultimate jesters in the King’s court. Yeah. They’re the ones saying the emperor doesn’t have on clothes and not only does the emperor not have on clothes, they have cankles. Yeah. You know what I mean? Like it’s, it’s just one of those things where you just keep, keep going and doing the layers. Now, if you can make people laugh and forget about their problems, you have done the work. If you cause more problems for yourself and other people, you need to go back to the drawing board and be ready to apologize, if that’s your speed. Some people just go, that’s what I felt in the moment, which I understand, but you know, it’s case by case basis.  

Let’s talk about that for a second. Let’s talk about that’s what I felt in the moment or speaking my truth versus speaking the truth and the, the importance of accountability right now, the importance of Mmm. Information. And, uh, I guess I say real information, which to me in my mind means true information, tested, dried provable in  

Empirical.  

Yes. Thank you. Yes. So, um, one of the things that sprung up in our like dress rehearsal conversation yesterday, which I wish I recorded by the way, not that this isn’t divine, I’m loving every moment of this, but, um, we came up on something that I would love to, to share the floor with right now. And that is the concept of the Socratic method, um, which is, uh, asking questions to reveal a person’s understanding of a thing opposed to telling them the thing. And you, you talked a bit about, about this when you explained the way that you teach, which is not just by giving a seminar. Right. But by asking for discussion, but by inviting your students to say, what do you think about that? Why do you think that? What do you, what is your lesson plan for yourself? What would you like to learn today? Giving responsibility and accountability. So, yes, I suppose I’d like to hear from you about your thoughts on how we can better question ourselves in a way that, that works for the community.  

Mmm. Going back to college, I studied mass communication and research. That’s what I graduated with the degree. And one big thing that I tookaway from that was gatekeeping. The people or systems put in place that sift the information that you know now, um, sometimes it’s best because if you get all the information at one time, it would be what we talked about, where you’re just overwhelmed with too much information. But, um, let’s do a little exercise if you’re watching ABC news, ABC is owned by Disney. So they’re going to put on ESPN because Disney also owns ESPN. So they’re going to talk about certain sports. Now, Disney also owns the Anaheim Angels. So they’ll probably talk about the Anaheim Angels and they’ll put Disney commercials on there. Then they’re also talk about their cartoons. That’s a part of gatekeeping. It’s not necessarily wrong or right. But what it is is, um, there are certain people that own certain things and they want you to know more of what they’re promoting. Now, not necessarily good or bad. 

They’re also absolutely protecting their self interest. 

There, there, that goes to. So when you are getting the information, sometimes you have to follow the paper trail and see whose interests are being kept in being, um, shrouded in mystery a little bit. So when I like to read something, I like to curate my opinion and curate my opinion, meaning look at different sources and see the behind the scenes of the source that I’m receiving. Like for example, I’m sure a lot of the people who told me ballet was the foundation for everything came up loving ballet. But what about those people who hate ballet and reject ballet? You know what I mean? What about those people who don’t even have ballet at their studio? So just know that that’s a form of gatekeeping because she’s saying like, or he’s saying I won’t call them out like that, but they are saying that we believe ballet is the foundation. So why don’t you come here and learn it as opposed to saying, we believe, um, the foundation for whatever you want to expand upon and your dance career can be found here. And if it’s not found here, we can direct you to somewhere else. Now, when it comes to learning, one thing that I like to add is if you can teach someone who does not know about it, do you have to explain it the same way they do it? No, you can put it in your jargon, your terms, your slang, your all of those things, because that is truly how you ingest the knowledge. You take it from somebody else and you demystify it and you decode it and you, you take it into your brain and you work your magic. And then when you can talk to somebody else about it, that’s the third step in learning for me. Like even though some people may not think that is for me, that seems when you’ve completed the journey of learning. Now, when it comes to sourcing information, that’s still a part of it too. You really have to do your behind the scenes and checks in and look at Snopes, look at a whole bunch of other things in just with everything going on in the world. Part of it, you do have to take with a grain, a grain of salt and the other part of it, you have to take it very seriously and just follow who’s telling you what, like, for example, when your parents said, I want you to do it, why just do it? Okay. They didn’t have to keep going to say, we want you to do it because it will help you become a better human later on in life. Because if you know how to clean the bathroom, you will always have a job at least cleaning. And then when we come by later on in life, people won’t think that your bathroom looks horrible and it’s just healthier because they don’t need to do that. You know? So when it comes to learning and sourcing, figure out who the source is, first, what interests are serving them by saying it. And then what their message is, are they teaching or are they sharing? And you have to figure out which one of those best serves you.  

Okay. I want to jump out and touch a bit more on the Socratic method and critical thinking. For the philosophers in the room. I know, I know. I hear you stay in your lane Dana. I know. Well, my lane is teaching and this tool is the ultimate teachers tool. So before I leave it to you and Google and a great video that I will link in the show notes about the Socratic method. I just want to be clear that simply asking any old question and credit checking your sources is not the Socratic method. The Socratic method named after Socrates is the process of uncovering the essence of a thing or an idea by asking questions of different types questions that probe assumptions like what might someone assume instead, or what else might explain that, um, questions that probe reasons or evidence like, why might someone do that? Or what would be an example of that? Or my favorite questions that clarify or define, like, if a triangle is a shape, then is a circle, a triangle. The person on the receiving side of that question would have to further define a triangle as perhaps a three sided shape and so on, and so on. Let’s apply. If I were teaching ballet and I asked my students ‘What is a plier?’ They would likely either just show me with their bodies, a Demi plier, or they would report back the French translation that I have drilled into their minds to bend. Plier means to bend. So my Socratic questioning might begin with, ‘so if I bend at the waist and fold forward, am I doing a plier?’ No! Bending your knees. They might say, Oh, okay. I might say ‘so when I sit and put my shoes on, am I doing a plier?’ No. Oh no, no, no. It’s when you’re standing and you bend your knees. Oh, okay. Okay. ‘Could I be standing on my hands and do a plier or standing on my heels and do a plier?’ No, no, no, no, no. Not if you want to do a ground play, then your heels have to come off the floor. Well, unless you’re in second position, in which case they stay on the floor, you see where this is going. I might then say, ‘Oh, Oh. So is a plier when my feet are flat and I bend my knees as far as they can bend until my heels come off the floor, unless I’m in second position. Of course. In which case they stay down and then do I just stay down there? Bent need forever?’ No, no, no, no, no, no, no. You have to straighten your knees again. That’s a plier. ‘Oh, I see. Okay. Okay. So you mean to tell me that a plier, correction, a grand Plier is a knee bend where the knees bend until the thighs are horizontal to the ground and the heels rise up off the ground, except for when I’m in second position. And then the heels are lowered as the knees straighten.’ Yes, that’s a plier. Okay. Okay. I could have easily started at the definition, which no five-year-old could possibly ever remember, but instead, careful questions and critical thinking, help the students arrive at the definition themselves. You can see the value here. You can probably also see how explaining something as simple as a plier could drive a person, totally bonkers. If it’s this hard to explain the essence of a plier, just imagine how hard it is to explain or define love or faith or justice. It’s, it’s clear why this is not our default method for teaching or thinking for that matter because it takes a lot of time and a lot of work, but it also results in a deeper understanding in a stronger argumentative standpoint or plier point or pointe point. So yes, Socratic questioning takes time. It takes effort. It can be annoying. It can come off as aggressive or argumentative, but like everything, the more you practice, the better you get. And also the more you practice, the more you will understand why Socrates was not the most popular guy at the Acropolis. Okay. Enough about old and very dead Greek guys, by the way, for a little extra credit, you might want to learn a little bit about how Socrates died, fasanating, but for now, let’s get back to Dom and some different types of questions. 

Asking people to explain and redefine and re-explain and challenge themselves can be taken as being, um, uh, combative or disrespectful or, um, agitating. And I think that there is a way, and I would like to think of dancers as being a type of community thats sensitive and knowledgeable enough to ask those difficult questions in a way that doesn’t point a finger. But that is more of an open hand in asking for, will you share this with me? instead of what you think about this? And so I, I, that’s the type of learner that I would like to be. That’s the type of learner that I like encouraging and my students, um, you know, we probably grew up hearing. The only stupid question is a question that’s already been asked or a question that you don’t ask. There’s all these ideas about what is a stupid question.  And I really love, Mmm. The idea of asking a question that shows how much, you know, instead of how much you don’t know in class that would show up, for example, as student raises his hand and asks, can you do that again versus, Hey teacher, I understand that you’re stepping on your right foot on one, but I not sure what comes before that or immediately after. Can you talk through that? I’m like, wow, there’s a person that’s listened to me so far and wants to, and wants to know more. I’m really eager to help that person understand. So if I’m, if I could give an encouraging thought to our audience today, it would be share the floor, shine the lights, and ask questions that show your interest in understanding, instead of question, that deliberately challenge or seek to disprove somebody else’s understanding. 

Or very self serving questions just for the attention we don’t, you don’t, don’t need the attention that much. Remember that you’re a cog. And if you’re working, working hard again, you don’t really need to seek the validation from the teacher to be like, I have a question I’m I’m with you. It’s more of, I only have a question because I’ve been with you and then all of a sudden I fallen off.  

That’s huge. Okay. I want to close off with one more thing. Um, you and I sit elbow to elbow in organizing, um, the choreography community, a community of choreographers here in Los Angeles, specifically. Um, but you are also a part of Dancers Alliance, um, a group that seeks to organize the dance community in a non-union type of way, but in a, uh, simply outreach and education type of way, that’s primarily our work there. So my question to you in the experience that you have with organizing, which is really important that we be doing right now, What can we do now as a community to make sure that we later are more inclusive, more fair, more representative of the big picture?

I’m going to have the worst answer for you.  

Oh, I can’t wait  

To say, I don’t know. I have no idea. Um, for a couple of reasons, um, the dance community is a very nuanced community based on especially the industry. So the industry is the wrench that messes up the machine because, um, for example, for a lot of people out there who don’t know, when you go to an audition, a lot of times you are broken up by your race, not your ethnicity by your race. That’s how you’re auditioning. Or if you get the job, depending on what the job is for, then you are doing it based on, okay, we need this type of dancer or that type of dancer or that type of dancer. So it is already skewed in certain directions based on the trends. Now, when it comes to the dance community at large, even in LA, in New York, all of the places, it gets really hard because we all have different education levels. We have different backgrounds, we have different traumas. We have different strengths, different weaknesses. Um, even though we are one of the most expressive, colorful, loving communities, there’s a lot of infighting in between so many different groups like men and women, like, um, what I will say is this, we represent what’s going on in the world in the best, and the worst way, demographically, sociologically, like for example, the people in power, in a lot of the dance industry, things are white, straight men ironically, and you wouldn’t think so. Mmm. A lot of the people who are on the front lines are women. A lot of the people who are making the decisions are older and out of touch with a younger generation. So there’s a lot of nuances in the community that I will ably say, I don’t have the answer to that, but I love to be a part of the solution. 

Yes. Word. And wouldn’t it be incredible if in looking at our smaller, relative to the global community, the dance community is smaller. If we can learn from our community, employ and, and implore policy changes and new ideas that could be applied on a larger scale, could we fix this thing?  

I think we could. I think, um, what happens a lot of times for the dance community is art starts to meet commerce. So when the art meets the commerce, that’s when things get really, really tricky. If you can create art in a vacuum with no, just liberation and freedom, um, that would change things, but we have to make money. And there are certain bills in California and there are certain things being freelance or doing 1099 that restrict that and limit that. And also because of the administration we’re under now, we’re not getting funding for the arts, like we used to. So now we are creating art, not only for joy, but for protest, for money and to just feel better about life. So when you have all those things, it gets really hard to really come together as a community because everybody’s out for themselves just trying to make it in this business.  

Oh yes. Well, there wouldn’t, there would be no Victor, if there was no challenger. Right. And that is our unique challenge in this industry is that yes, our work are the thing that we do for a living is also the thing that we do for joy, for therapy, for community, for belonging, for expression. And so, yeah, that introduces some, some levels of complexity.  

Oh yes.  

But, but let’s not underestimate the longterm. I’m so excited to work at your side in those efforts. I’m in the dance community and beyond I just admire the heck out of you. And, um,  

Thank you. Same same here.  

Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. Uh, is there anything else that you would like to say before we wrap it up?  

What I would love to say is don’t stop now. Don’t stop here. Don’t stop. Just in general. Um, I realized in my life, there are those moments that I feel a little hopeless when I look out my window and I’m like, what are we doing? I feel hopeless that a lot of times I’ve been talking about a subject for so long and then somebody else comes and goes, well, have you thought about that? And then they get the credit. Sometimes I feel hopeless when I think about how certain communities can’t unite and just overtake, but what keeps me going is not stopping. And I realize, um, you know, there’s a misnomer, there’s an Dodge, but I think it’s a misnomer where it says time heals all, but I think healing heals all. So if you use your time to heal, you’ll be able to make it through everything. So do not stop  

On that note. I’m going to go ahead and stop the podcast. That is a beautiful sentiment and it is so inspiring. Thank you and beyond for sharing and for talking to us today. I appreciate that. Yay. I’ll talk to you soon. 

See ya later! 

The waving. Why do I wave? They can’t see me.  

Thought you were done. No. Now I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website, theDanawilson.com/podcast Finally, and most importantly, now you have a way to become a words that move me member. So kickball change over to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more and join.  Alright, everybody. Now I’m really done. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon.