COOS' Creative in Residence Blogpost #1

COOS' Creative in Residence Blogpost #1

COOS' Creative in Residence Blogpost #1

Hi! Thank you for stopping by to learn more about me as an artist and my time as the 2023-2024 SHIRLEY GRAHAM DU BOIS CREATIVE IN RESIDENCE. As a holistic artist working with the medium of dance, I combine contemporary Modern movement with aesthetics of the African Diaspora. This is the first of 3 blog posts that I’ll be sharing over the next 2 months and I’m looking forward to sharing about myself as an artist and the things that fuel my passion. Please feel free to engage with me in the comments if you have questions or notions that you’d like to share. What’s sparking joy for you or bringing you inspiration these days?

I’m honored that the review panel selected me for this opportunity particularly because my modality of artistic expression is one of embodiment. On the surface it might seem that my form is in stark contrast to musicianship but I view myself as a musician who uses my body as the instrument. It speaks multiple languages and has the ability to evoke emotions in myself and the viewer. Dance can be used for various types of healing including cognitive and neurological. Recent studies have shown this and we as African descendants have known this to be true for thousands of years. Thank you to those involved in the review process, it means a lot to me to have my approach recognized in this way. 

My motivation for applying to this residency stemmed from my desire to work across disciplines and to think about my creative process differently. Throughout my 18-year career as an artist, educator, and investigative learner, I have cultivated a trauma informed, culturally responsive, kinetic storytelling practice that expresses my experiences of the world and the sociopolitical realities of race, equality, inclusion, and hierarchy. For a lot of my life, I’ve compartmentalized myself as a way to connect with others and be accepted. This act has helped me succeed in some aspects while simultaneously creating confusion in and around me. The deeper that I journey into my practice the more I understand the necessity of connecting the various compartments of myself. In addition, I spent the majority of my childhood playing the clarinet and being surrounded by music. My grandfather and great uncle played the piano, my father played the drums in his younger years and my extended family had a fife and drum corps. In my studies, I’ve grown to understand the vital connection of movement, music and singing, and this residency seemed like a good way for me to continue to explore my discoveries.

In the womb, movement is one of the first forms of communication that we engage with. As we proceed into adulthood, we often lose our intentional relationship to this vital form of expression and I’ve thought a lot about why this is. It is my belief that the oppressive systems in place benefit from us being separated from our bodies. This disconnect creates dis-ease in our nature-system and disrupts the natural flow. Being a lifelong embodied practitioner, I seek to reconnect bodies to this way of communicating. Movement can be a collaborative vessel for storytelling, re-imagining, cognitive development, proprioception, etc. and I'm inspired by artists both within and outside of my primary discipline. Spending the last eight years as a dance educator in academia has been transformative, but my own artistic enrichment has, at times, felt stagnant. I value cultivating community among purpose-aligned professionals and creating a network of mutual support and engagement. During my time with COOS, I've continued to work in this way, deepening my connection to the wider artist community here in Boston.

My dance practice is informed by a mix of university and experiential learning including immersive dance intensives in Brazil and Haiti; formal concert dance training; and my spiritual proximity to African ritual spaces and ceremonies. I believe in the power of dance to catalyze meaningful and effective change in the lives of others, and I work at the intersection of dance, education, and collective collaboration to elevate systemic issues affecting Black and Indigenous people. In all elements of my work, I strive to create the causes and conditions for liberation, pause, and healing through movement. Although my background is in concert dance forms and I enjoy making work for the stage, after moving to Boston in 2005, I found myself increasingly reflecting on the limitations that concert dance performances have on a viewer. This prompted me to explore the transformative and liberating possibilities of dance beyond the proscenium stage. In 2014, I launched my first series of dance classes and shortly after, started my dance collective: Modern Connections. Through Modern Connections, I aim to push the edges of visceral movement and to inspire conversation, personal reflection, and community transformation. 

Over time, I’ve noticed the need to shift the idea of movement and dance from the margins of society into public visibility. To do this, I’ve cultivated partnerships with a variety of public, private, and government entities. For example, in 2021 and 2022, I worked with the City of Boston to create Moving Through the Budget: a collaborative storytelling, dance, and movement workshop that engaged residents around the City Budget and budgeting process. This project empowered over 100 residents in two neighborhoods with information, tools, and a pathway to amplify their voices about resource decisions that impact their everyday lives.

Another core collaborator in recent years has been the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI). Through a variety of projects and events that aim to question the arrangements that we have as a society, DS4SI investigates how art can interfere with a condition or process to modify it or change its course. In 2022, I participated in DS4SI’s Civic Design course and was inspired to incorporate elements of their Ideas-Arrangements-Effects framework on social justice into my art making. 

In a city that contends with creative brain drain, I am dedicated to cultivating more access to art making. I’m devoted to designing opportunities for those who may or may not consider themselves to be artists by providing spaces for them to develop their practice and access high caliber creative tools that can inspire new ideas and ways of relating. Right from the beginning this residency has offered me an opportunity to do this. My capstone project Belonging is a great example of how my art making is reflective of my vision of ‘being.’ I’ll share more about this project and its impact in my next blog. 

If you made it this far, thank you! What is one thing that has inspired you after reading this? In what way does movement exist in your life?

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