Tag Archives: life lessons

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 Lesson #1: Empower Yourself while Encouraging Your Community

Ain’t a way around it no more, I am the greatest
A lotta niggas sat on the throne, I am the latest
I am the bravest, go toe to toe with the giants

I ain’t afraid of you niggas, I’ll end up fading you niggas

We all kings
Kings of ourselves first and foremost
While the people debate who’s the king of this rap game
Here comes lil’ ol’ Jermaine
With every ounce of strength in his veins
To snatch the crown from whoever y’all think has it
But rather than place it on his head as soon as he grabs it
Poof, boom, paow, it’s like magic
With a flash and a BANG the crown disintegrates
And falls to the Earth from which it came
It’s done

Ain’t gonna be no more kings” J. Cole Fire Squad, Forest Hills Drive

Maaaaan, I’m fascinated by Hiphop! Over this past week I shared a lecture from Youtube by KRS-One called “40 Years of Hiphop” with my dance classes at The Ohio State University (Buckeyes National Champs say what!?) in order to get them exploring the question of “What is Hiphop?”

In pondering the question myself, I have gained insight to a powerful characteristic of the culture. Hiphop culture contains a paradox that emphasizes self-empowerment and peer-encouragement simultaneously through the form of art and competition. In other words, Hiphop allows the opportunity for an individual to be confident enough to claim that they are the best while also being selfless enough to claim that their peers are the best as well.

This brings up the question of, what is it to be the best? I would say that to be THE best means to be YOUR best. Hiphop culture in the form of bboying, emceeing, djayin, and graffiti writing offers an artistic format in which individuals are encouraged to show their best selves. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I am dancing within a battle, I am going out with the mindset that I am the best dancer out there! Nobody can touch me- I am better than you, you, you, and you! Before you claim me as being pretentious, let me remind you that I desire for my competition to show me their dance with the same mentality!

Why you may ask? Because ultimately, I am Hiphop, and Hiphop is me. But Hiphop is not just me, it is also anyone else who claims that they’re Hiphop. So, therefore, by both of us expressing our best selves through dance, Hiphop is at its best. If both my competition and I consider each other as whack, we ultimately devalue ourselves, and therefore, Hiphop. However, if both my competition and I find empowerment in being our best self, while encouraging the other to be their best self, we both leave as individuals with more value than when we came into the space.

When you look at the quote above, you see this same paradox in the rap element. J. Cole released his album a few months ago and with that release, claims that he is the greatest emcee alive! If you’re agreeing or disagreeing with that statement, you’re missing the point. Now I have to admit, I cannot claim that J. Cole is doing anything more than simply laying out some hot, yet narcissistic lyrics; however, for the sake of this post, lets say he is being intentional. Now J. Cole, being Hiphop and having a Hiphop mindset, is the greatest because he said so! As a fellow Hiphop artist, I say that he is right. Not necessarily because I believe J. Cole’s talent beats all others, but because I believe he, through his album, is contributing his best self to the Hiphop collective.

Hiphop is not the only culture that shares this mindset. As a Christian, I know that Christianity also contributes to this idea of being your best while encouraging others’ to be theirs in order to fulfill the body of Christ. The thing that fascinates me about this concept in regards to Hiphop is people’s perception of the culture. I am generalizing when I say this, but I do not believe many people think that Hiphop culture touches upon anything deeper than money, women, materialistic pleasures, drugs, guns, and partying (Thanks mainstream media!!!). Yet, Hiphop’s foundation also lies in the concept of power to the individual and responsibility to one’s community, amongst many other things. So what is Hiphop? Hopefully, you’ve gathered that it is deeper and more complex than you ever imagined!

The Mental Dance Class: 5 Tips 4 the Heady Dancer

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Over the past few days I have been listening to a podcast series called “The Overwhelmed Brain” by Paul Colaianni. The episodes consist of interviews that discuss ways in which people develop their minds in order to achieve their definition of success. I found the podcast in a general attempt to find multiple sources that could counter-act the crippling, negative, voices that run through my mind on a daily basis, cuz, ya know, one person can only take but so much after a while before it’s just time to be like, SHUT UP! (If only it were that easy!)

Anyways, as I’ve journeyed through the podcast, this idea of control keeps coming up within the interviews. All of these successful people keep mentioning how we need to control our feelings rather than having our feelings control us. And when they say control, what I think they mean is to control your negative thoughts and beat-them-up with positive ones; therefore, not allowing your negative thoughts to overwhelm what your meant to do, whether that be a daily agenda or your life’s purpose.

So I got to thinking about how, like life, dancers allow themselves to get taken out of a positive class experience because their thoughts just get in the way… I don’t know about y’all, but there are plenty of times when I’m giving that full effort, and then the burden of the world just hits me as I can’t accomplish something the way I want to accomplish it…

Messing up the Hiphop combo, like the very beginning of the combo, like within the first 12-counts, so that for the next minute you’re screwing it ALL up! And then, it’s always perfect when that happens after you just got chosen to be in the select group of 3 cuz you was JUST killin’ it the whole class!

…fail.

For those of us who get wrapped up in the thoughts of our mind a little too much, here are some things that I’ve gathered over the past few days that might help:

1. Prepare

If you know that you’re a person who has a tendency to get down on yourself in class, recognize that fact before you arrive at the door, and then leave it there as you walk in. Whether it’s bumping to your favorite songs, listening to a positive speaker, looking at an inspiring quote, speaking with a friend, or whatever, find your own way to get yourself positive and mentally ready for class before you even enter the space.

2. Talk to Yourself…Out Loud

This sounds kind of weird, but in this dope book called the bible it says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Meaning, the words that come out of your mouth are insanely influential, especially to yourself. Even if you don’t believe in scripture, there are studies (that you can find yourself cuz I don’t feel like looking them up, but there HAS to be studies)…nah there may not be studies, but there are intelligent people (i.e: Tony Robbins in The Edge) who say that speaking out loud an incantation is like listening to the hook of a song– it gets stuck in your brain. So, therefore, all the negativity doesn’t have room to reside in the space between your ears.

3. Smile, Holler, Clap, Support

One of the main things that I have been hearing in the podcast is that your posture and your expressions are indicative of your mood. If you are sulking and look like you ’bout to hit someone cuz you didn’t hit that triple-pirouette for the fourth time in-a-row, then it’s pretty obvious you’re mental state is getting down on yourself. In opposition, smiling, applauding, hollering at someone in support (at least in a Hiphop class, I ain’t ever seen no Ballet class where people are yelling at each other, but by all means try it!) are all conventions that make it hard for negative thoughts to take you down.

4. Go with a Friend

This is probably one of the most obvious, and commonly used, methods to create a positive class experience (until that friend start killin it and you getting all jealous cuz you messing up). But seriously, having someone there who cares about you beyond your abilities in class is probably one of the most powerful tools to foster a positive mindset. We all know that being in a room with plenty of talented people can be intimidating, so having someone you can ask a million questions to, joke with, support, and show love to, can be a crucial remedy to those negative thoughts that ruin the way in which you experience class.

5. Be Thankful
(That you’re not as bad as the person next to you……..I’m playing!)

You can look at this as an internal-external process too, but I’m specifically referring to showing thanks. After each class, go up to the teacher/choreographer and just thank them for their effort, time, and instruction. As humans, we’re all about connecting with one another, and making others feel good simply makes us feel good. So, no matter what kind of class it was for you personally, end it on a good note by being grateful because honestly, it is a blessing to have the money to take class and the health to dance, amongst plenty of other things.

I encourage you to think of plenty other ways to create a positive learning environment for yourself in class, but I hope at least one of these tips prove to be a good starting point for you. Thanks for reading, blessings!