Tag Archives: dance

Meeting Me: Moving Past What You Do To See Who You Are

A couple weeks ago I traveled to Atlantic City to see an old friend, Tracey, perform in one of those celebrity impersonation concerts. I arrived late (fashionably, of course) to the performance venue, and received my ticket. As I entered into the auditorium packed with people, I was surrounded by the booming voice of my friend. Tracey was sitting at the piano, her fingers prancing and pouncing along the keys as she filled our ears with a beautiful rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.” She held the audience’s undivided attention. She was confident, sassy, and seemingly larger than life as people usually are when they exist within their passions. I swelled with pride as she finished her number and said, “Thank you! Don’t ever stop reaching for your dreams, I love you!” before strutting off the stage. It was dope to see hundreds of people introduced to the same shining spirit that has captivated me for years. My fascination with Tracey went beyond her talent though. Sure, I traveled to Atlantic City to support her in what she does, but I more-so traveled there to better understand who she is.

After the show Tracey and I had dinner. We talked for a while, but most of the conversation consisted of what we’re doing, the things we’re accomplishing, etc. It was cool conversation, but one of the first things most people ask when you first meet them is, “what is it that you do?” And there I was, after a decade long friendship, having a drawn out conversation regarding that same question. It made me wonder, why are so many conversations like this? Why do we talk about what we do as though that is what defines us?

My guess would be that we don’t want to talk about what defines us. Talking about that would mean foregrounding the fluctuating thoughts that bombard us every day— and who has time to hear about that? I think we reject being real with ourselves, about what defines us, because what defines us consistently changes every day. We’re up, then we’re down; we go to sleep one way, wake up another; we look at ourselves in the mirror, and notice there’s a grey hair that we swore was not there yesterday. It’s too much energy to keep up with! So, we make it easier on ourselves and stick to what we already know and understand…our jobs, our hobbies, and our 10-year relationships where we enjoy different versions of the same conversation.

The reason I love dance is because it gives me the chance to consistently meet me, and all the changes that come with that. One day my right hip is crazy tight. Then the next, ouch, the bottom of my spine really hurts. And the next, yo…I’m feeling pretty freakin’ good! No matter where I’m at, dancing forces me to be aware of myself in that moment. It encourages a kinesthetic curiosity within me. I ask myself how I’m doing: what can I do today, what can’t I do, and how am I negotiating the two so that I can be better than I was yesterday? When I take that time to meet myself, I find that I’m better able to meet and connect with others as well. As Gabë and I mentioned in our previous posts, I think that’s ultimately what it’s all about.

So I encourage you, as tiring as it might be, to use your resources to check in with who you are every day. There will be aspects about yourself that disappoint you, but with that comes the characteristics that get you excited and joyful. Yes, events will happen that get you down— be down. Sit in it. Come to terms with it, and understand who you are within that moment. Then, find it in yourself to get out of it. Just do it. You’ll find you’re greater than your situation. When you’re not, trust in others to help you push through. Talk to them. Be vulnerable. They say it takes a community to raise a child. Well, we don’t stop needing help to grow as we age into adulthood. Embrace community, depend on others to make you strong, and move on.

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“Negus” Dance Film

Negus- noun: Kingship, royalty.

Inspired by the works of artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Kehinde Wiley, I wanted to explore different levels of identity and representation of the black male in the United States. “Negus” is a Hip-hop work that asks African-American males, where do we come from, who are we now, what values do we uphold, what obstacles do we face in this society, and how do we overcome them?

In asking these questions, “Negus” seeks to use Hip-hop as a way to portray the humanity of the black male figure. In doing so, it directly opposes the commercial rap world– a primary source for the portrayal of the stereotypical black man–and delves deeply into some complications about certain aspects of the African-American experience.

“Negus” premiered at Urban Art Space in Columbus, OH in January of 2016. This film both captures the essence of the original work and completely wrecks it simultaneously. Within the film aspects of controversy between who we are and who we could/should be are portrayed as well as lighter themes such as rhythm, fun, etc. I hope this helps give you a way into viewing the film and I hope you enjoy!

When Will the Ghetto’s Creation “Infest” the “Pristine” Fabric of the Institution?

I want to tell y’all a story ‘cuz Hip-hop showed me something…

I remember witnessing 20-plus students in my classroom allow fear and insecurity to inhibit them from comforting and helping a couple of vulnerable students. See, I had given the class a task:

 

  1. Create a circle
  2. One person at a time: go into the circle, dance, and continue dancing until everyone is in the middle of the circle
  3. Once everyone is in the middle, one person at a time, exit back to the edge of the circle in the order in which you entered

 

I ask if everyone understands. They say they do. I ask if anyone has questions. They say they don’t. I play the music. And the aura of the room stiffens. I’ve never felt so much tension in a room before as people looked to their-left-and-their-right in an awkward attempt to say, “anyone but me is going to enter that circle first!” Finally, after about a minute or so, this brave female enters the space. Kicking her knees and legs in a frivolously rhythmic pattern, she overcomes the tension in order to share herself with her classmates. After her, one, two, three more students sequentially come to the middle in order to connect physically and spiritually with this first energetic soul. We’re on a roll! But not really. Because almost two minutes later those same 4 students are dancing and exerting themselves in the middle of the circle as their fellow students simply watch like an audience at a golf tournament.

My patience quickly turned into a gamut of dramatic emotion. I snap the music off and frustratingly spill out, “It’s interesting to me how we can have these four people overcome their insecurities in order to do what most of us could not do (go into the middle of the circle) and tire themselves out in the process; yet, instead of joining them, thus putting an end to their exhaustion and vulnerability, we’d rather stand here and watch them continuously suffer…”

I believe all dance forms allow the opportunity for practitioners to apply their experience with dance to the challenges and achievements of life. However, I have rarely felt any Eurocentric dance form make me look at my culture, my worldview, and my society quite like Hip-hop dance has. I think it’s because Hip-hop is not just a dance, but also a convoluted and complex culture that spawns the arts such as dance, visual art, music, fashion, and poetry. As I reflect on that mentioned teaching experience, I fascinate at Hip-hop’s ability to reveal ourselves to ourselves. The way in which we think and behave in society was transferred into a fairly simple, yet clearly complicated exercise.

Despite this, rarely is Hip-hop embedded into the foundational Eurocentric structure of dance departments throughout America. The stigmatization of Hip-hop as a recreational and commercial fad has blinded institutions to see Hip-hop as a useful, powerful, and educational tool that can be beneficial for dance majors as well as elective students. As a result, students are graduating into the professional world without valuable Hip-hop lessons that would not only inform the way in which they move, but also the way in which they tap into their potential as thinkers and social beings.

I’ve been so blessed to be here at Ohio State as it has allowed me to see how important Hip-hop dance is to critiquing our flaws and displaying our potential as citizens in America. As I prepare to graduate I am nothing but excited to see how else this Hip-hop dance form can change lives, communities, and societies for the better.

What Happens When The Club Makes Its Way to The Stage?

I’ve just returned to Columbus from a wonderful 3 weeks at Bates Dance Festival. During my time there, there were a lot of discussions regarding choreographers’ processes when making work. During our second week at the festival, we were fortunate enough to see Robert Moses and his company, Robert Moses Kin, a contemporary dance company based out of San Francisco. During the talk-backs I attended, one of Moses’s most emphasized points was his interest in dancers as individuals. I took this to mean that his ideal dancer is one who has little-to-no-inhibition about using their experiences, hopes, worldviews, dreams, strengths, weaknesses, fears, downfalls, etc. as a way to inform their movement, and contribute to the choreographic work.

Moses’s construct of an ideal dancer is one that, I believe, is becoming quite the new-norm amongst many concert stage choreographers. There has been a shift in the relationship between choreographers and dancers from a clear hierarchical relationship to a more communal and collaborative one. In many processes these days, dancers are expected to bring their creative thoughts to inform the choreographer’s work. Therefore, many choreographers cherish the way a dancer thinks as much as they move. This is a drastic difference from a dancer who simply existed as a body to be molded and shaped for the purpose of the choreographer’s vision.

As I reflect on my appreciation of this evolution within dance, I find it intriguing to connect this importance of “dancer as individual” within concert stage dance to the folk dance tradition where the sharing of ones’ individuality has always been the norm. This norm stems from a quintessential characteristic of folk dance—improvisation—where it’s all about the expression of individuality as a way to contribute to the personality of the community.

Take a style such as Bboying. Despite its clear structure— top rock, floorwork, power moves, and freezes— the form would fail to exist within the folk communities if there was no clear room for individual expression. Within the bboy structure, bboys and bgirls use their own sense of style, musicality, amongst other things, in order to express innovation, creativity, and individuality. By sharing their own individuality within the Bboy structure, each dancer allows for the form as a whole to change and progress.

Dance used to be so segregated between high art (art done for the upper class citizens of a society) and folk art. Although each world has always informed one another, I believe the distinction between the two is becoming less and less prevalent as choreographers within concert stage dance continue to adopt the mindset of folk dance traditions. The increase of technology continues to integrate high and low art together as well, and I simply wonder how all of this integration will change the dance world and how it’s perceived during my lifetime.

Commercial Hiphop Dance as the New Face of Reverse Minstrelsy?

This post is pretty long, so if you’re more in for a shorter read, start at the asterisks below.
Yoooo…I’m headed into my last year as a graduate student at Ohio State! I am pumped, but the idea of delving into the professional world after years of anticipation is tripping me up. As the time approaches for me to graduate, I’ve been thinking a lot about where it is I want to reside and what exactly it is I want to do. Just a year ago that would have been an easy answer- Los Angeles, California to become a commercial Hiphop dancer. However, with the education I’ve been receiving in school, the answer is becoming less clear. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a value in delving deeply into the culture and the history of Hiphop in order to inform my dance, my creativity, and my life. Reflecting on the benefit of swimming within a sea of Hiphop knowledge, I now question whether I want to stand on the shore and simply let my feet get wet through dancing in the commercial world.

For right now, though, I still feel as though I owe it to myself to try out the mainstream scene before I put judgment on it. However, my skepticism about the mainstream culture has encouraged me to take a more critical look at it. I’ve found that my desire to gain cultural, historical, and social knowledge through dance is not the only thing holding me back from fledging fully into my once romanticized dream. I’ve now come to question whether the mainstream Hiphop dance culture represents themes that I even want to support. What I mean is that a massive amount of commercial dancers express themselves through movement by imitating and assimilating a certain rap culture that I cannot get down with.

Since 1979 with Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang, the musical branch of Hiphop culture has been popularized by the commercial world to the general American population more than any other element. With this massive explosion came a popularity of Hiphop that was never dreamed of by the founders of the culture. However, what also came was the general notion that Hiphop is music rather than a culture. Just last night, I was in conversation with a roommate of mine at the Bates Dance Festival and he asked me, “What is Hiphop?” And being me, I challenged him, “What do you think Hiphop is?” He went to say he believes Hiphop is a construction of certain sequencing and sounds that create beats…aka music.

From around mid-80’s to late-90’s (also considered the Golden Age of Hiphop), Hiphop musical artists were controlling a lot of the content that was being produced. As a result there were a vast array of styles and messages, good and bad, that Hiphop artists were portraying to the world; therefore, they were representing the true, complex nature of the culture itself through music.

Throughout the 21st century however, music corporations have stripped that power from the artists and have taken it upon themselves to repackage and redefine what Hiphop represents. Now, it’s to the point where too many Hip-Pop songs (mainstream Hiphop music) represent mainstream hegemonic themes—sex, drugs, violence, materialism, money— behind the mask of a stereotype of colored people.

(sigh)

*******************

I have always admired— and continue to do so— the commercial Hiphop dance scene for its intricate and virtuosic aesthetic. Again, as I think about entering into this world soon myself, I have taken a closer look at the culture and what it represents. What I have concluded is disturbing to me…and it is, in many ways, that the mainstream Hiphop dance scene, because of a certain ignorance of its choreographers and dancers, is a system conducive to the act of reverse minstrelsy.

(Gasp!) Now let me explain…

I’m not going to go deeply into the history, but ultimately minstrelsy was the act of white performers entertaining audiences through the dancing/mocking of African-American stereotypes during the 19th century. One way they did this was to paint their faces black and exaggerate typical facial features of the African-American such as the lips and the eyes. Eventually, in order to be recognized for their performance abilities and to take ownership of a degrading system, African-American themselves went under the blackface and participated in minstrel shows as well. Essentially, African-Americans imitated an imitation in order to get recognized for their craft- an act that I’ll call reverse minstrelsy.

Over a century later, as I mentioned above, American corporations are continuing this feeding of negative stereotypes of African-Americans to the masses through mainstream Hiphop music and music videos. However, this blame doesn’t simply belong to the money-hungry industries… it’s also on all the rappers who subjugate themselves to this role in their quest for the American dream. (It’s also the fault of the consumer who supports the music as well but I’ll leave that alone for now). These rappers are supporting this fallacious portrayal of African-Americans in order to be recognized for their craft and to support their family, which to me, falls under this definition of reverse minstrelsy.

Last of all, I blame the Hiphop dance community. As artists, we have a duty to be knowledgeable about the art and the culture behind the art. Why? Because if you knew the history of Hiphop culture and the African-American history behind that, I doubt you would be so eager to embody movement that imitates the lyrics that degrades the integrity of African-American people.

I specifically want to call-out all of the Hiphop choreographers who use these songs in their work, whether it be choreography in class or a dance video. With the dancers, one may argue that, especially with this generation, it’s just not that deep. Students simply come in to have fun, move, listen to hot beats, get their stank face on, and be out. But, Hiphop choreographers …we’re consciously listening to this music over and over again in order to replicate these songs in movement form; therefore, we’re engraining these negative messages into our soul, not only by listening, but by embodying. Then we go out and spread these messages, like a disease, to massive amounts of students as we teach all over the world. Then, to top it all off, we go and record this choreography for the world to see again and again online. But we don’t stop by simply recording the combination. Nah, that’s too easy. We have to go out and appropriate the themes within these songs by flashing our own fancy materialistic possessions, and dressing like we’re about to rob a bank…

What. the. hell, man. To me, we– as dancers, choreographers, and artists– cannot continue to consciously or unconsciously, imitate a false, negative imitation of what it means to be black in America. We need to realize the power and influence we have as we represent the future of Hiphop in America and do-away with this reverse minstrelsy mentality.

If you want to see a few examples of what I’m discussing here, click the links below:

1. U Mad- Ian Eastwood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THS7Ii1dhsI

  1. Bitch Better Have My Money- Tricia Miranda

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQraeOG-3L8

  1. I Don’t Fuck With You- Janelle Ginestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGzVbHZjRgc

Get Groovy Reflection: Is Teaching More About My Subject Or My Student?

A little more than a week ago, I completed one of the most ambitious goals I’ve ever set for myself—the production of an online dance course. This course is a culmination of the saturated learning experiences during my short time as a teacher. Releasing the Get Groovy course got me thinking about the journey that brought me to this point in my pedagogical career and so, I wanted to share a little bit about it today.

531059_131535140304800_283081253_nI remember when I was an undergraduate at Penn State, I would always ask my mentor, Kikora Franklin, if I could teach her Hiphop class. At that time, not many people around me wanted to train in Hiphop the way I wanted to. So, I figured that if I was able to teach a class, I could force people to train with me the way I wanted to train (selfishness at its finest lol)!

Once I got to Ohio State, I believe, to an extent, I brought that mindset to my first group of students. The most important aspect of my classroom was the material being taught rather than the people who I was teaching it to.

One day, near the end of my first semester, I was too tired to do a lot of drills and stuff. So, I just taught a combination that I learned from a Hiphop convention: a little challenging, but to great music and really fun. The class ate the combo up! There were still mess-ups and people had to fight to get the material, but up to that point, I had never seen a group of students so alive in a classroom! I had started to grow accustomed to feeling as though I was talking to a brick wall, “We’re going to do jumping jacks, high knees, and then push ups, we ready?!”…

…crickets…

But, this time, I could see the energy exuding out of students’ eyes as they smiled, half-fived each other, and moved with joy to the song. That moment showed me the value of extracting Hiphop’s message– peace, love, unity, and having fun— and instilling it within a classroom setting. Simply teaching the physical components of dance would never be enough for me from then on. So, I decided that I would use my teaching of dance as a tool to help students construct a deeper connection within themselves and with the others around them.

Since then, I believe that my classroom has changed tremendously for the better. I have made a number of great relationships with students and I know they have connected with each other beyond the classroom– which is ultimately what it’s all about. I’m excited and nervous for every new semester because I love facing the challenge of guiding a group of strangers to gain a sense of a familial bond with one another through Hiphop dance. There are just very few things that satisfy me more than seeing that growth over a short 15-week period.

So, although Get Groovy is an online course where connecting with students is more difficult, I tried my best to create an experience that allows students to not only gain a skill-set, but to also grasp an understanding of how that skill-set can be used to make a better life for themselves and the people around them.

This week is the Get Groovy Launch Week! So, if you’re interested in the course, this week is the time to get it considering it’s 80% off if you click this link: (Get Groovy Launch Week Coupon Link).

Also be sure to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube @Cue4christ and Facebook @Cue Arnold. Blessings!

SYTYCD Reflection #2: So You Think You Can Choreograph?!

As I’m watching the show this week, my housemate comes up to me and starts our common bashing of the show after we hear Nigel talk about technique and pointed feet like the two are mutually exclusive to each other. But this time, I was like, “ Nah, stop it, I’m too tired to be having all of this animosity tonight, sooo let’s not even go there this time.”

And truly I didn’t want to go there. I had my say last week about the structures of the show that get on my nerves. So this time, I was looking forward to sitting back, eating my nachos, and watching some good ol’ dancing (And to see some people I’ve met through Hiphop battles test their skills in the competition. 3 of them made it so shout out this week goes to Kenya Standing O Sutton, Benny Eaz, and Roderick Crider- congrats y’all!)

So anyways, towards the end of the show, an auditionee comes on to the stage. Her name is Gaby Diaz. She’s one of those people who decided to show her grit and audition twice in-a-row because she didn’t make it the first time. At first I was like, ‘Oh no, here we go, why is she doing this to herself?’ But, then I listened to what she had to say during her interview.

She claimed that she got cut in Dallas because her solo was like a run-on sentence. The judges didn’t enjoy the fact that she didn’t allow her solo to breath with stops and punctuation. So, she came back with a vengeance in Detroit to, I believe, a new song and a new routine. From the very start of her solo I could tell that the girl had skills…and she does…she ended up getting to Vegas with her second attempt.

But this brought up the question for me of why did she get cut in the first place? As I said, I could tell within 5 seconds of the solo that the girl could tap dance. Nigel is a bona fide tap dancer, so I know he could tell as well. But she got cut because she overcomplicated her solo.

This just got me thinking about how this show judges a dancer’s choreographic ability as well as their movement prowess, but only when it comes to “stage” dancers. Most “street” dancers don’t even choreograph their routines in the first place. And yet, the judges give Hiphop dancers the benefit-of-the-doubt all of the time. For example, we heard Nigel constantly complain about how Hiphop dancers weren’t moving through space well in the premier episode of Season 12. However, that didn’t stop most of the street dance auditionees from receiving a ticket– because they could see the talent of the dancer regardless of their choreographic capabilities!

Yet, there’s a clear double standard established as this dope stage dance tapper receives the boot because her amazing sounds were done too much and too fast. Now, don’t get me wrong; I understand that a good presentation of ones’ dancing skills is key. But, just like a great athlete may not be a good coach, a great dancer should not have to be a great choreographer. And the judges should have a responsibility to distinguish a talented mover from a talented choreographer, especially at this beginning point in the competition.

I’m really proud of the girl for coming back, because she is really talented and the judges almost missed out on a potential tapper– a style that has a small pool of auditionees to begin with. So, props to Gaby Diaz and I’ll be rooting for you because I’m all about the underdog… and you’re pretty cute. Good for you for showing that you can dance and choreograph!

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Blessings.

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.

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

1_Water-Drops-on-Red-Rose-960x800

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.