As a black woman in this world, it is often vital for my survival to find spaces and outlets where I can escape from the norms of society and just be. One of those forms of just being for me is movement; I relish in taking control of my limbs, moving and stretching them throughout the air, identifying with the tips of my toes, the muscles in my back, the strength of my thighs.
As I mindlessly go through my daily routines in life, I don’t have this kind of connection to my physical self. The power of agency, of the choice in what I do with my body, is also incredibly powerful given the history of the United States, a past that includes the enslaving and domination of the black male and female body.
Dance and movement have been one of the main sources of release for me. As I examine the themes of the collection of grantees I’ve supported, a common throughline is that they all are rooted in expanding opportunities and spaces where bodies, young and old, agile and frail, male and female, can move.
Take Tyler Thompson, a recent graduate of Rutgers University, who started 773 Dance Project to expand dance resources for youth in Chicago. Her aspiration? To bring quality professional dance concerts into the south side communities of Chicago by expanding dance education and choreography for youth. In the coming months, as Tyler receives her 501(c)(3) incorporation status, she aspires to leap right into the work, launching dance workshops across the city to begin spreading the seeds of her idea of expanding dance courses, choreography, and education to Chicago.
As a young girl, I too danced, starting with ballet, of course, as many young girls do, and from there my love for dancing unfolded into jazz, hip, tap and salsa dance. Dancing, in a way, distracted me. As I think about it more now, I realize dancing actually allowed me to focus, to pay attention and be present, to be aware of the sound of music and the people, in formation, around me. Dance taught me how to exist in the now; it also taught me incredibly how healing movement could be for not only my body, but for my mind and soul.
LaNae Plaxico is another TPP grantee and founder of NakedHeart Yoga. As a certified yoga instructor, LaNae aspires to make wellness, and more specifically, yoga and meditation, accessible to black communities in Chicago. Much of her work is rooted in the community, at an elementary school, Vanderpoel Humanities Academy. There, she’s lead several yoga workshops, bringing teachers, parents, and even students together to partake in downward dogs, sun salutations, and my favorite pose, shavasana.
I often reflect on my first experience with yoga. It was during my freshman year of high school, in 6th period gym class. As an incredibly frantic 15 year old, ready to spike a volleyball, shoot a basketball, and race across the diamond in softball, yoga felt too zen for me. Just the thought of sitting still, flowing softly through poses felt impossible for all the energy I had pent up after a day’s worth of class. It took several years for me to find a home in yoga, which I finally found while I was in college.
As I learned more about the principles behind yoga, and began connecting the strength in yoga to my breath and the practice of meditation, I began to realize the strength of focusing awareness on my body and how I felt. The benefit of yoga lies not in pushing outwards (which I still love to do through intense cardio activities such as running or playing tennis), but in turning inwards and tuning into energies that flow through my body during my practice.
In addition to Tyler and LaNae, the other grantees we’ve supported, including Talia Koylass of Bleeding Backwards and Nicole Mayfield of You Too Matter, each incorporate movement (such as dance and aerobics) into their work.
As Talia says on her TPP grant page, “Dance channels the experiences of the body and the emotions that come with it. When we speak through movement, understanding each other is inevitable.” Movement is powerful. Movement is healing. And while I focus on the impact on movement for the black body, no matter your identity, taking control of your body, from ballet to Vinyasa flow yoga to salsa to an intense kickboxing class, is one of the most therapeutic modes of being.