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PAGES! Was The Holiday Gift That Kept On Giving

Tis the season to be creative, inspired, and to face a new year with a renewed sense of freedom!Т I didn’t know what to expect from the PAGES experience and while the completion of the project hasn’t fully ended, my pre and post visits were so much more than I could have hoped for.

I came on board to share my experience of dance and movement as a creative tool for thinking and learning combined with the words and work of James Baldwin. The centerpiece of this work revolved around the screening of Raoul Peck’s film I Am Not Your Negro.Т My first week long visit to the five different schools was an opportunity for the students and teachers to get to know me,Т to begin to get their bodies moving, and to build on what the teachers were sharing with them in the classroom as it related to some tough topics. Each school had a slightly different approach and focus.Т One school was reading fiction dealing with racism, another was looking at the concept of protest, another was taking a look back at slavery and all of the parallels and juxtapositions found then and now followed by important questions and conversations. This was just some of the groundwork laid before I arrived. The pre-visit was also a time to begin to make “connections”. Those connections would only continue with the intention to expand after viewing the film and visiting them again the following week. There were the initial connections to one another, the connection to their bodies and movement, connections to movement and to the words that came from their challenging content, as well as creating the safe space for a shared freedom to explore it all. Before James Baldwin was even introduced, we considered the relevancy of movement in everything we do, the idea that nothing begins or shifts or changes without it, how we can find it within “the movement” of civil rights and in the choreography of such organizations as BLM (Black Lives Matter) and others. We considered that “Hands up don’t shoot!” together with the physical gesture of that slogan is choreography in motion and how the concept of movement is constantly being interwoven, in all its different forms, to help support and orchestrate artistry and change. What I began to take away was a repeated silent chant of “freedom”. The word came up in our first teacher/artist meeting and kept whispering in my ear. Through establishing shared trust—one that had already been nurtured by their wonderful teachers—we could then ask, roam, move, and be uncomfortable and awkward with the knowledge that it was all embraced and accepted.Т Т The students were free to digest and wrestle with the elements of race, discrimination, prejudice and injustice. Whether in their classroom, art room, library or gym, for our time together, we all had the gift of freedom to physically and intellectually explore these things. The trust allowed the students to be brave and the freedom allowed us all to learn, to be confused, to reject, to reconfirm, and to question.Т I left after that first week feeling we had all collectively laid that groundwork to question, to ponder, and to be a bit more prepared for the larger questions and emotions that were sure to follow the film’s screening.

While the students watched Raoul Peck’s film, one could hear a pin drop. When the film ended the space required some silence. It is a film that rocks you, even seeing it over and over again. It is that good, that simple, that honest and powerful. One of my favorite moments when the film ended, before renewed bravery took the shape of Q&A, was hearing the students think and feel in silence. The next thing that came to mind, which was echoed repeatedly by several students, was that here we were with the “freedom” to share in this collective. We had the freedom, with all of our differences, to view it together and the freedom to share our many views openly together.

The post-visit offered a different energy now that we were more comfortable with one another and the initial ice had been broken.Т That comfort level gave way to easier and more open conversation. And while one school may have found it more challenging to engage in conversation about these issues they found the means through their bodies with exercises I’d offered, while other schools could have gone on talking and talking and talking. We continued to try to meet them where they were. It is an approach that Dionne Custer Edwards uses repeatedly and is so vital to this kind of potentially deep work. We are all coming from different places, different experiences, different traumas, different forms of “protection” from different families, different shows of affection and love, and often living within a variety of different bubbles. But during the post-visit it felt as though we shared more freedom—there’s that word again—among us to explore which allowed for a different kind of exercise using the words we’d been collecting like: safe, connect, complex, privilege, different, manhood, non-violent, denial, ally, change, pain, empathy, resist, struggle, empowering, love, human, justice, see me!, and freedom. One exercise choice allowed them to collectively come up with a narrative using these words with movement, while another was to come up with their own words of protest with movements to finish in a committed tableaux.

They ALL showed up on their own terms, in their own way, and with their own unique form of creative and intellectual expression. There were moments that were powerful, tender, poignant, and beautiful. The beauty was in watching their possibility to exercise their freedom in any way they chose. It is a thing that men and women have and continue to fight for with their lives. It is a thing that I realize in this time of a kind of reckoning, division, and dismantling that I too have taken for granted, and one that I hope will not get lost in the madness of this particular moment in time. These students inspired me, challenged me, and renewed my feelings about so much in a positive way. Т I came away from this experience feeling many things, but one of the most important was that these students are the future, possessing a compassion, passion, interest, and belief that we can andТ mustТ be better!

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