Hiphop Lesson #2: Master the Basics (Part 1)

abc123blocksIn a time period where the word “basic” is used to describe people as shallow or dull, I have recently experienced numerous situations that reminded me of how valuable being a slave to the basics can be. I consider the first level of mastery in any art form, and maybe even in any profession, to be where the foundations of your craft are so deeply engrained within your mind that they intertwine into the fabric of your being.

As I’ve been discovering the significance of mastering the basics of Hiphop dance styles, I’ve been tangentially thinking about the BASICS in life that I have to pursue mastery over in order to obtain success daily: my Belief systems, my Attitude, my time of Solitude, my Interpersonal relationships, my Cognition, and my Self Esteem. This blog post will focus on the BASics.

BELIEF SYSTEM

Recently, I’ve been dealing with how much I believe in myself as a giver and how much I believe in God’s provision through other people. As many of you who are reading may know, I have just reached my goal on a “Gofundme” campaign to help send me to Bates Dance Festival later in the summer! It’s super exciting and humbling, but I have to admit that I was insecure about reaching my goal when creating the campaign. I believe my uncertainty came from questioning what I have done to deserve the help of others.

My inquisition got me thinking about how giving I am, especially in regards to finances. What I realized is that having a heart to give financially is not something that comes naturally to me. I have always blamed it on the fact that I have very little money, but I hold the statement true that if you are not a giver with a little, you won’t be a giver with a lot. And so, I was weary about asking for money knowing this fact about myself. As I witnessed the generosity of so many through my “Gofundme” campaign, however, I was, and am, constantly convicted to change that characteristic about myself.

But I’m human, and I’m selfish sometimes. For me, belief comes into play when I battle to overcome my selfishness in order to trust the saying, “You cannot out-give God.” I haven’t seen this in my life yet– you kind of have to first give in order to try and out-give God– but I have seen this in the lives of others. So, I’m working daily on believing that God will provide for me, even more than before, as I go about my life with a giving heart in all ways, but especially in my finances.

What are the things that you believe in that help you become the best possible you? Are you actively chasing those beliefs? Are you ignoring them because they push you out of your comfort zone? Constantly sharpening what you believe in and how you are living out those beliefs, to me, is a key basic principle that will allow you to grow in your daily life.

ATTITUDE

My Dad and I like to use the word phenomenological whenever we discuss the unique perception each person has during any given situation. Controlling how you perceive your phenomenological experience is a tiring, yet crucial, fundamental discipline. I’m stating the obvious: life is beautiful, but it also throws a shit-ton of crap at us every day. Just as obvious… or maybe not… is that it’s the way in which we respond to the events in our daily lives that determines the state of our greater livelihood.

I believe there are numerous ways to handle your attitude during the everyday instances of life, but firstly, I think a desire to stay positive, and a constant awareness of your emotions, is needed. For me, after I obtained that desire, I found that the simple-yet-not-so-simple acts of breathing and smiling helped a lot.

I’ve been taking yoga for the past couple of weeks and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve put my spirit through. My ego is constantly beaten down by tasks that easily remind me of how tight and inflexible my muscles are. It’s very easy for me to get frustrated during any moment of the hour session. My yoga instructor is notorious for combating my negativity with a reminder to breath through the pain (Shout out to Kim Wilczak who has been helping me with yoga for the past few weeks! Much love and thanks man!). There’s something about full body breathing that serves as a reminder of the deeper connection that one has with the intangible things of this world as one inhales from it and exhales into it.

There are sometimes when breathing isn’t coming easy, however. In yoga, I literally find myself panting because of the bind my lungs are in. One day I was in this lung-suppressing torque of a position with muscles shaking and pores sweating bullets when my instructor told me to just smile. As soon as my lips took the instruction into motion, a lightness came over me as I reflected on how lucky I was to be in that physically uncomfortable situation.

This whole thing may sound corny. But, whether it be yoga or something else, practicing practical steps to establish akopmo positive norm within your daily mindset is one powerful and worthwhile journey.

SOLITUDE

Now, I know everybody is different, so this is a thing that may not be universal…but maybe none of this is…which would be really awkward…

For me, I am a person that has never struggled to know when I need to get away from everything. I love people and I could not live without being invested in certain communities. However, the introvert in me just needs to get away from everybody and everything… like a lot. I believe taking designated time for yourself every day is a basic necessity. Sleep is the most typical and crucial time of solitude (which a lot of us also don’t get enough of), but I think there’s something valuable to becoming comfortable with consciously living with yourself.

I’ve mentioned in my previous blog post that this past semester included an early morning ritual: reading my bible, listening to podcasts, walking around my block, eating a full breakfast, etc. I look at each day in life as a battle to overcome. My morning solitude made available a consciousness to welcome life’s beautiful opportunities and to combat life’s challenging tribulations. Maybe I think of it all too deeply, but all I know is that I have never been able to go full-out without getting burnt-out during the marathon of a semester. This semester, however, I was able to give my full self to my responsibilities, and more, with gas still in the tank. I have to tribute that to my dedication to take time out to be with God and myself consistently.

As I wrote this, I came to the conclusion that a mastery over the basics lies in a dedication to the process. As soon as your perception of the basics goes from mastering to mastered, I believe you’ve lost. So, lets continue to find empowerment and encouragement in the knowledge that every day is an opportunity to showcase our abilities as unique individuals in our community and in this world. Blessings.

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Growing From The Rain: A 2nd Year Grad School Testimonial

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This past semester I was honored to give a talk about passion to a group of undergraduate students at The Ohio State University through an event called “What’s Your Number” hosted by Vanessa Scott. Through this event, I was reminded of how powerful testimonies can be. Sometimes, it is not about preaching what others should do, but just letting others know your story with a hope that someone can be inspired by it. So, I wanted to tell a story from my second year of graduate school with a hope that it empowers someone someday:

Coming into this past Spring semester of 2015 I was really anxious. It’s really nothing new. Every semester since the beginning of my graduate career has been filled with nervousness because of my desire to do well. But, there was definitely something different about this semester in particular.

For one, I was coming back from the toughest semester I’ve had in my graduate career. It was ironic because my schedule for that semester was the most lenient and inviting one that I’ll ever have (a lot of Hiphop and very little ballet… ah yea). I literally was set to have the time of my life. And, I started off right: get up early, work out, take class, teach class, enjoy life, repeat.

Then a day came where I received an email that said I did not pass my first graduate exam– one that was crucial for me to pass in order to stay in the graduate program. Although my heart was struck, I sort of expected the result for numerous reasons including my procrastination with the assignment over the summer. Also, I was given a chance to retake the exam within the next month. So, all things considering, life was still nice. Little did I know that this bump in the road would lead to one of my greatest pits in life.

I tried to continue my 8:30 am-8: 30pm school regiment while getting the exam done- ultimate fail. My schedule was just too busy and taxing. I dropped my morning gym schedule and from that next day forward, my desire to arise every morning dropped with it. Waking up literally became the hardest thing to do. Despite how much sleep I received, I would struggle to gain consciousness because it felt like a brick was sitting in my brain, forcing my eyelids to shut me back into my dream state. The most important exam of my current life was silenced with every press of the snooze button (pathetic, I know). This went on for the greater part of a month. Finally, one week, I was able to muster up the strength to attack the exam full on. I wrote nonstop and asked for the help of peers, colleagues, and family in order to make my exam fail-proof. I turned my second exam in and immediately felt heaviness rise and dissipate from my soul as I felt proud of the work I had done.

A couple weeks later, I found that my pride wasn’t reciprocated as I read another email saying that I had failed again. From what I knew at the time, failing twice meant you would be asked to leave the program. By the grace of God, I was given a third chance to orally defend my exam. However, my spirit was already broken. The thing is I represent a unique demographic as a graduate student in the dance department at OSU. I am the youngest person, the most inexperienced dancer, the sole African-American…and then there’s the whole Hiphop thing. So, to sit there and fail twice in an environment where I already felt alienated (from nobody’s doing, but my own mindset) was hard for me to deal with. I’m not proud to admit that I cracked, but I am glad to say that I was able to still fulfill my responsibilities. Happiness was aloft, however. Positivity within myself or in my relationships was a rare thing to find.

I did end up passing my exam which sent me on Winter break severely wounded but, weirdly, not defeated. I felt invigorated to prove myself and take revenge on all of the things that held me down for 10+ weeks. So, coming full circle back to this Spring semester- I’m nervous. I remember losing sleep on the bus back to Columbus because I was listening to empowering podcasts that would oppose the voice in my head; reminding me of how well I started the semester before, and how poorly it went after that.

My new regiment consisted of an 8 am- 9 pm day at least 4 days-a-week. Most of the day, I was physically exerting myself through dance, working out, or teaching. I took time for myself from 6:30am-7:30am where I made sure to walk around my block, reflect on positive thoughts, pray, go back home, eat breakfast, and listen to an inspiring podcast.

After a week of this regiment, the head-voice told me, “Good job, you did it, but it’s only week one, and you’re tired, how do you think you’re going to do this for 15 weeks?” It just questioned me and questioned me. I did my routine with skepticism, simply waiting for the day where I would retract back to my old ways. Meanwhile, I also felt encouraged by the instant gratification of my regiment. There was something satisfying about feeding myself positivity through multiple modalities like the walking and the listening to inspiring messages. It allowed me to find love in myself, my purpose, and others on a daily basis.

And so, one week turned into two weeks, and weeks turned into a month. And, that voice stayed and questioned, but it started to quiet down. Because a month turned into two months. And, although I did slip up at times to fall victim to the voice questioning my resolve and endurance, I always got back up with a renewed determination. And then… Spring semester ended.

As I traveled on my morning route for the last school day, I couldn’t help but to cry and yell out in victory! For the first time in my life, with and through God, I feel like I gave my full self from start to finish. I trudged, and I pushed through the tiredness and the exhaustion. I barely missed any classes. I fought through any and all injuries. I performed numerous times. I choreographed even more times for works inside and outside of the department. I gave speeches. I taught great classes. I went above and beyond anything I’ve ever done and set myself up for greater things to come. When I fell, I got back up. And now, I sit here knowing that my best was given, and I am proud.

As I’m writing, I look upon my bookshelf and see 30+ cards and notes with lovely words of encouragement and thanks from wonderful people who I’ve had the pleasure of working with throughout the semester. I am so thankful for the things God has done, and the people God has put in my life, in order to push me another day, day-after-day. And even though that doubtful voice still lingers in my head, I lean back in faith knowing that if I beat it once, I’ll do it again.

And so, I end my rant with a bible verse that I depended on through the latter part of this semester. It gave me this image that God is behind me to support, in front of me to lead, and on each side of me to hold my hands every time I decide to take another step in my path of purpose, “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40: 31.

Peace.

Hiphop Dance: It’s A Spiritual Thing

This post is a shout out to two good friends- Tine Salling and Jordan Brillantes. For the past year, we have connected through our love of dance- specifically House dance. They are literally the most beastly movers I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with and, fortunately, they’re just as good, if not better, people (which can be hard to come by sometimes). I needed to shout them out because both have left a profound impression on my life as a dancer and a member of the Hiphop community during my 2nd year here at Ohio State.

Before these two came into my life, I remember having such a competitive mindset when it came to dancing (I can’t lie, I still do sometimes). Up until this past year, I related myself to Hiphop dance within a studio or battle environment. I didn’t know much better. I knew the Hiphop community mostly through what I saw online. So, the people who I looked up to were in those same studio and battle settings. Therefore, my identity within the form came from practicing with an intention of competing. I had this fantasy that I would come out of the woodworks one day and kill everyone in the game; gaining the respect of the Hiphop community by rocking out and impressing during battles and jams…(there should be italics and bolding on the word fantasy). Admittedly, this put me on a pretty lonely road. I already struggled to find Hiphop dancers within academia who cared about the culture and the art as much as I did. On top of that, my inclination to be competitive with anyone who could dance well just put me in a place of isolation.

TJQIronically, my first talk with Tine was when she interrupted me while I was practicing in a studio at Ohio State. I’ll never forget some of her first words to me, “Where are the clubs at?! I need to dance!” I was stuck-on-stupid trying to respond to her question because, at that moment, I realized that I had never even thought of trying to go beyond the walls of the studio in search of a Hiphop community within the city. I just assumed there wasn’t one because nobody yelled in my face and held up a grand sign that said, they too, were a Hiphop dancer! Fortunately, Tine and I ended up going on a journey throughout the semester where we met and danced with some amazing people. Because of her, I have been able to connect with a multitude of dancers within Columbus, and have found myself being integrated into the Hiphop community here. There are no words that can describe the gratitude I have for her opening that opportunity to me. Now I know that there is not much greater than connecting with individuals of different beliefs, morals, worldviews, etc. on a spiritual level because of the art and culture we share together.

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IMG_3545I actually introduced Jordan to one of the clubs that Tine and I discovered. So for his birthday, we went with a few friends to check it out. The entire night was live, but the moment I’ll remember forever is when I started dancing in our cypher and Jordan just got hype, yelling out, “Aaay aaay, show me sumtin, show me sumtin’!” The music was bumping, but the authenticity of his support was what put me on a high that I’ve never felt before. His simple action made me realize that my dance was a part of a spiritual exchange rather than a simple performance. I was expressing my fullest self, and it was being accepted and reciprocated by people I cared about- such a beautiful thing. I always say that I went to church that night because I truly felt a spiritual release like never before..in a club out of all places! I don’t know how I looked, but I will probably always say that night was the best I’ve ever danced.

I thank God for putting these two people in my life. They have changed me for the better. Although they have left, I know our paths will cross again. So as my second year ends, I raise a glass to my new Hiphop friends who I will cherish forever. It’s my honor to know that I carry you all’s spirit in talent on my daily journey. Much love. Blessings.