The Art of Risky STEM

When I reflect back on my experience as a student during my middle and high school years I don’t have a lot of instances when I can recall real joy or excitement happening during most of my academic classes.  I do recall though, being driven to succeed in those courses because I felt like they were a pathway to participation and accomplishment in my artistic endeavors.

This is not to say that I always thrived and/or exceled in those academic spaces but that I recognized them as tied directly to my aspirations, for better or for worse.  I’ve been thinking about this tremendously during an era where it seems that the arts are continually excluded from the scope of educational development in schools.  Yes, there are co-curricular programs, many of them funded through state and federal grants. But, in truth, when these programs are included as “add-ons” they are relegated to a space of secondary importance.  Simultaneously, we forget that at the core of mathematical and scientific discovery is the capacity for abstract thought and the creative translation of this into its physical being.

So, if school systems will continue to devalue artistic pursuits, how will educators develop the practice of creativity in their young people? Risk.

One of the most vital aspects of creating something new is the recognition that, perhaps, it might somehow fail.  Perhaps, you might change and so your perspective on your design might change as well.  I am prepared to see my design as a reflection of myself.  I am prepared to have others examine and find fault.  I am prepared to excel and prepared to feel defeated at times.

Inspiration is tied directly to risk and the success or failure of STEM programming is tied inextricably to these both.  Are we, as educators, feeling inspired by our STEM objectives?  Are we invested in inspiring our students?  Do we recognize that this feeling is the drive that carries students to look “beyond the numbers?” Along with all of this, are we willing to take the risk of exploring our own creative humanity in the context of the classroom?

I’m leaving this with a lot of questions which I should continually ask myself.

A Teacher’s Gratitude

So I just returned from another trip out to the Philippines.  This trip was, for the most part, a training endeavor for my practice in the Filipino martial arts but on every count it was spectacular.  Not only did I feel my learning expand day by day but, as well, in the company of some pretty fantastic people, I had the opportunity to explore the region in a way that was completely new to me.

So much knowledge was being shared student to student, teacher to teacher and teacher to student.  I felt I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge an aspect of teaching that can sometimes be overlooked.

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Tuhon Nonoy & Guro Njoli

Common knowledge, teaching can be extremely difficult.  Not only that, it is often one of the most culturally, and definitely financially, undervalued professions in our society at large.  But I wanted to speak not only to the amount of respect and gratitude that our educators deserve, but also of the special role that gratitude plays in effective teaching.

Although the training was often hard driven under intense heat and uncertain sand, the words I consistently heard from instructors were “thank you.”  Seems like such a small thing.  But being acknowledged for our presence, our time, our acceptance of our faults and shortcomings, created a recognition that the teacher acknowledged as well their own humanity and reliance on us, as participants in their process.

Over the past year or so, in every class I do, no matter how difficult, I’ve been trying to be more and more diligent about beginning with thanks and ending with the same amount of gratitude.  Teaching is only itself with the presence and attendance of students.  Optimal learning happens when teachers allow themselves to learn and to access their own human connectivity and when students find themselves connected to the process.

Additionally, not only can we create available spaces in which students can learn, but educators must also, provide tools so that learning peers and community members can demonstrate gratitude by supporting a matter of growth which will ripple effect throughout the environment.

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Sign language insert in the menu of a local Palawan restaurant

One evening we went to a local restaurant to commune and to bond.  As we entered I noticed that on almost every wall there were posters of American Sign Language.  It was curious but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this was relevant in the context of all the random kitsch wall adornments.  When we sat and I found another copy of the sign alphabet inserted in the menu I was so impressed, in reading closer, to find that it was meant as a tool for clients to use in support of the staff members who were deaf and hard of hearing.  Such a profound demonstration of gratitude!  We do not just hire deaf staff members, we don’t just hold the expectation that they will completely accommodate a hearing culture, but we also give our community tools and insight into the importance of broadening our vision of who makes up our society .

All of this said, it can be an important thing when we recognize that positive actions can influence and inspire in ways that read as actual visible productivity.

 

Connecting to Matriarchal Heritage

Article by JL Umipig

Another wonderful opportunity has come our way.  Sister JL Umipig has decided to contribute some of her reflections on her lifelong journey into a study of culture, heritage and self.  Hopefully this won’t be the last time we are able to feature her voice.  Thanks for letting us host you here on OnBlast!

-Njoli-

When I first learned about the Babaylan, a figure that connects to the matriarchal heritage of my Filipino identity, I opened my spirit to the understanding of a power within myself from a very young age that I saw in all the wom*n in my family and those I exchanged with in my communities of image6Pinays. I grew as a youth activist in the Filipino community in Southern California, connected to my people’s histories of struggles in relation to the United States and other conquering countries. And I was taught to be angry and to fight the system that oppressed my people by being organized, by being aware of policy and by being ready to rise up and speak up with urgency. There is so much to be angry about in this world, so much to weep for, so much that can hold us in places of discomfort and I wanted to fight to change that.

I often drew away from the “militancy” of organizing and really focused on on the cultural aspects, the artistry, the expressions. I knew that I could be, but I was and would always be an artist. I was searching for a different means of organization, something that would feed my artistic soul, and ease the activist in me from burn out and resentment for problems that just would not change. It wasn’t until I found the Center of Babaylan Studies that I realized the power within me was missing something very important, a connection to spirituality. In time I have learned to connect my artistry and activism with my spiritual learnings.

 

image2I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, when I was doing my Graduate School studies at New York University. My initial feelings in my program was a want to use my work to root in my identity as a Pinay and I began to delve and explore this through the lens of other Pinay who were raising other young Filipinas to feel empowered and proud of their identity. I began with my network of organizers, radical educators and artists who were working mainly on the presence of Pinay in relation to systematic oppressions and transnational feminist struggles. These were women who raised me to see the fierceness of Pinay, the way we are essential to every movement and how powerful we are in presence. In this process I was reintroduced to the concept of the Babaylan, I had heard it once in poetry as a youth organizer, but didn’t delve until I was in this process of excavating Pinay roots. This is when I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, and my life shifted with great clarity. I was being fed and nourished with this unfolding of my heritage connected to spiritual power and practice.

Elders from the Center for Babaylan Studies gave to ab abundance of spirit knowledge, in writings, conversation exchanges and through many gifts of reminder written, spoken and energetically and spiritually given. This uncovered in me my roots as a Pinay, that moved beyond the herstory in America and before Spain, the herstory that was not on paper, but that lived in the presence of living ancestors that reflected my self and pushed me to go deeper and deeper to know how my roots lived in me though so much has tried to abolish them. They grew in me the most miraculous recognition of our interconnectivity to one another as living beings and have helped create me to break through the constructedimage3 divisions and fear that have stopped me for seeing others whole, from seeing my self whole. They helped me to find language that I never had to describe the way I feel and relate it in my every day,the two I hold as my greatest values are: kapwa (the shared self), how we see ourselves in others and we see value in the other as we see value in our own being, loob (the inner self), who we are at our core that makes us interconnected to everything.

Recently I was given the opportunity to share in holistic presence with a gathered group from the network of the Center for Babaylan Studies including two of the elders who had guided me on my journey of creation in self and artistry the past 5 years- Leny Strobel and Grace Nono. We ventured to the heartlands of Ohi-yo surrounded by sky, mountains, trees and clear waters embracing us. The conference was centered in reconciling our learned beliefs and those that we have forgotten- strengthening our spiritual connection to all people and all living things, the earth, our ancestors and the Great Creator. I left feeling so reawaken and rejuvenated, feeling more deeply than ever the power of this journey I have chosen to walk again and again- the journey of knowing and loving myself whole so I can love all else more wholly. In seeking to learn of my Filipina Roots I entered a portal into knowing myself as human, as spirit. Kapwa, loob – we are together, we are of one another, we are are other, we are one.


 

Jana Lynne (JL) Umipig is the creator of “The Journey of a Brown Girl” www.thejourneyofabrowngirl.com  Director, Producer, Actress, Educator and Organizer she currently resides in NYC. JL image5has worked with different community organizations developing curriculum and programs that integrate theatre and visual arts with activism and leadership development, working with schools, community organizations, detention facilities, and rehabilitation and support group centers. She believes in the power of the arts to activate and move the human spirit for individual toward community empowerment and transformation.  She creates with the intention to connect human experience and spirit between all communities.

A more extended account of the trip can be found in her blog “Pa ng Biag iti Kayumanggi nga Pilipina” (http://kayumanggingapilipina.com/ ).

PTK Language Lab

I just recently spent another couple of weeks in the Philippines and was re-inspired.  I’m sure that most of my friends and family had their excitement for me based on some imaginings of days in the sun while the rest of the east coast remained buried in springtime snow.  Truth be told, there was a minimal amount of beach lounging and, instead, it was a brain-sizzling crash course on structure and repetition and diligence.  It was my PTK language lab.  I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to reflect on the virtues of exploring structure and examination in the context of creative arts.

“Arts.”  The fact is, there must be something scientific in the application of any martial art.  It requires a distinctive understanding of body mechanics, anatomy, psychology and simultaneously there is the creative ingenuity to realize all of these concepts in a 3 dimensional and changing laboratory.  The ground is uneven, stamina is wavering, it is early in the morning or late in the evening, there is an opponent which is exploring a completely different array of questions, etc. etc. It’s been of interest to me to look at some of the foundational elements of the styles I’ve been practicing and to examine them using a more scientific methodology.

Scientific_Method_3Particularly in the context of kali, which is predominately weapons based, there is not a lot of space for a reliance on techniques that have only been through the anecdotal fire. Sure, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel but we’d better make sure the wheel is well suited to the terrain we’re driving on.  So we need to “road test.”  That means taking each technique into a sparring scenario and hashing through its application.  It also means developing the vocabulary and grammar to see the opportunity for the technique’s execution by developing, through practice, the capacity to discharge the element with proper form, angle, energy and intent.

not really scientific method

 

Anyway, I’ll be following up on this as the weeks and months go by and hopefully I’ll be able to provide some worthwhile questions to add into the pool.

Over, Under and Through the Hump

By Njoli Brown

So here we are.  It’s February and all of the emotions that the school year brings feel like they are compressed somehow by the cold.  I think it’s commonly understood that self-care plays directly into the kind of care that we, as educators are able to give our students.  But one of the built-in lessons we can give during this time is a capacity to self-reflect and to recognize when our equilibrium is askew. From here we can determine to take actions both in and out of the classroom to right our sails.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that, very often, we’re only associating the phrase “prep time” as an indicator of the time we put aside to prepare the room, our materials, our resources.  But are we allocating 5 or 10 minutes to psychologically and emotionally prepare for the day?  Did we walk away for 5 minutes in the afternoon to hit the “reset” button? Some deep breaths, some music that brings you joy, some stretches to address the parts of your body that need it, all of these things remind you that you are loved, by you.

The prep that I’m talking about isn’t an anticipation for things we imagine will go wrong.  Instead it’s taking the time to observe yourself when you feel at peace so that you can recognize that feeling as you try to return to it at various points in the day.

Perhaps, as this becomes part of your practice, it becomes a part of your class’s practice as well.

 

5 Questions: A Stage for Love, Sex and Identity

I was fortunate enough, this past year, to begin both a working relationship and friendship with educator, poet, director, joker and generally fascinating person, Bobby Gordon.  I count myself tremendously lucky to be able to tap you into some of the profound work he has in the making.  Enjoy, as he gets back at my 5 Questions.

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When I think about the directorial projects that I am most proud of, and why I feel that way, I remember this moment sitting at lunch with my friend Amy Burtaine in Carrboro, North Carolina. We are both arts-activist directors and theater of the oppressed practitioners, and were reflecting on the work that we do. She called what we do “creative midwife-ing” and I absolutely love that. Like midwives, we are helping someone else give birth to something creative that was living inside of them, be it a scene, a poem, or a song. What they create is certainly theirs, not ours, but there is something tangible and beautiful about being in the room and assisting them bring this new art into the world. There is something magical about asking the right question, giving the needed challenge or encouragement, and witnessing them seeing themselves as artists in perhaps a way that they hadn’t before. 

All of the directorial projects I am most proud of, had a big element of this sensation. Of being a creative midwife in the trenches, with an individual or a group, pushing them past where they thought they could go, to create a piece of art to try and change the world around them, changing themselves dramatically in the process.

The first project that comes to mind that falls into this category is actually the project that Amy and I collaborated on together, the Sex Squad. The Sex Squad is group of university students working together in a class to learn about sexual health and arts-activism, and then create their own funny, moving, and interactive performances to take on tour to local high school students to supplement their health education. Sparked by a collaboration with the incredible South African activist, actor, and creative midwife Pieter-Dirk Uys, I founded the UCLA Sex Squad through my work at the UCLA Art & Global Health Center, and the project has since grown with groups in action in North Carolina and Georgia (where the groups are known as Sex-Ed Squads), and high school Sex Squads in Los Angeles and Mexico City.

Displaying DSC_0155.jpgThe Sex Squad is a powerful thing to witness in action, because students dive into their own complex and challenging stories, and offer them to the audience through poetry, music, and interactive theater. The performances don’t involve professional actors with scripts about what might be important to high school students. Instead, the performances involve college students creatively grappling with their own real, ongoing issues. The college student actors are incredibly bold and vulnerable, offering themselves to the audience, and they create a space where high school students are invited to be bold as well, entering into the college student stories (using the technique of forum theater from Theater of the Oppressed) to rehearse these real life situations.

In the past students have created powerful works on a number of topics, including scenes that challenge gender inequity, stand up to homophobia, and explore trying to use a condom with a partner that doesn’t want to (and also has more structural power.) That last part is important. These sexual health situations don’t happen in a vacuum, but inside systems and structures of power, so for a young student to really be an advocate for their own sexual health, they have to challenge the systems that get in the way of that (sexism, homophobia, ageism, and the list goes on…) In the best of scenarios, the college students become creative midwives themselves to the high school students creative social change.

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Theater of the Oppressed (T.O.) found me, rather than the other way around. I happened to be at work on a random Tuesday and ended up volunteering at a convening of Imagining America members. I met Brent Blair. The amazing Brent Blair. Brent is a Theater of the Oppressed joker (facilitator/practitioner) and the director of the Applied Theater Arts MA at USC. He told me about his summer intensive, a week of T.O. training. I was in the midst of a million things at work, and preparing to take a new theater piece to a festival, it was not the moment to do an intensive. But something told me I had to. After meeting Brent and hearing about the program, I felt compelled that I had to see what T.O. was all about.

That week of early mornings, late nights, and intensive T.O. workshops told me what I needed to know. T.O. opened a space for play, for wildly and collectively using art to reimagine the world and imagine social change. I wanted more, so I enrolled in the M.A. program which I completed in 2012 and T.O. has been a part of my life ever since.

In my own life, T.O. has been a place to ask questions, to unpack my own privilege (as a heterosexual white American male) and attempt to stand in solidarity with others battling a variety of oppressions without attempting to ride in on any white horses. I’m reminded of the words of Lilla Watson the Indigenous Australian activist, who said, “if you’re here to save me, then you are wasting your time. But if you’re here because your liberation is inextricably linked with mine, then let’s work together.” T.O. is the place in my life for letting go of any savoir complexes I might have and showing up to work together with others. At this moment, in the wake of all of the deaths of young black men at the hands of police, and in the midst of protests and marches, learning to do this work in solidarity is crucial.

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Theater of the Oppressed is all about finding the next question, and because of that it requires constant curiosity. A joker has to be genuinely curious about things, about people, ideas, and opportunities. Ultimately, this curiosity is more important than a desire to draw conclusions. Because there is no finish line for social justice work, or arts-activism, in the real world, finding conclusions is not really so useful. A conclusion means the work is done. But this work is never done. What is useful, is fining a way to celebrate the victories that come, in order to refuel for tomorrow.

I do two things to keep refreshing myself and the groups I work with. 1) We make time to celebrate, either with meals, parties, or events where we are together for no purpose other than to be together and honor what we’ve accomplished. And 2) reflection is a part of the ongoing process. We often look at reflection as something that happens after a project. It is like an epilogue, and because of that, when non-profits are strapped for time and money it is often the first thing that people let go of. However, if you look at arts-activism as an ongoing cycle, then reflection becomes a crucial step in the middle of a cycle where you learn the lessons from the past and prepare to make the next cycle as successful as possible. Reflection becomes the crucial first step in a program happening again, and being even better the next time around. If there isn’t time for this, then a group is limiting it’s potential for creativity and growth.

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Again, things find you. I was working at the UCLA Art & Global Health Center when my amazing boss David Gere told me that he was bringing South African artist/activist/satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys to lead a theater workshop on humor and HIV, and would I like to be his assistant. What followed was two weeks of sponging. Pieter’s use of humor to break apart taboo and create spaces to have conversations about the things that frighten us blew my mind open. It was Pieter’s inspiration and methodology that led to the founding of the UCLA Sex Squad.Displaying IMG_2139.jpg

I’ve found that the issues in sexual health are so deeply intersectional, that you end up talking about a wide variety of issues. To have a full conversation about sexual health, you have to talk about gender, sexism, homophobia, race and racism, ageism, and much more because the situations where these issues come up are not in a vacuum. All of these issues are at present and at play, and it is more a matter of trying to be aware of how.

In my own life, as an artist and educator, I’ve been really interested in masculinity because of the strange way I was raised. My parents raised me in an environment where, as a young boy, I had to talk about my feelings. I knew how to share, how to cry, and when I was in social situations with other boys and issues came up, I’d talk about my feelings. This last part didn’t make much sense to the boys around me who’d internalized that boys don’t do that. Their reactions taught me that something was wrong with me.

And then I found slam poetry. I found Youth Speaks, a fantastic youth literary organization, and not too long after that I found myself on a stage sharing poetry. People weren’t making fun of me for sharing my feelings. They were applauding. In art I found a space to challenge the gender norm and it felt like fully being myself in public in a way I hadn’t in a long time. It felt like being seen. And heard. For who I really was.

My art and activism is in large part about queering masculinity, about opening up a space where men can be different. Where men can feel, and express, question, and not need to subscribe to a system that gives them (us) power, but at the expense of everyone else, and through a hegemonic limiting of what it can mean to be a man.

I should probably say now that I was born into a house where the taboo of sex was not so taboo. My dad was a retired adult film star and my mom (a marriage and family therapist) used to do therapy with pre-orgasmic women, talking them through exploring their bodies. I was taught that sex can be a good thing. I was taught to have a “normal” and healthy relationship with sex, and this made my sisters and I very fucked up in the world.

In 2010 I began working on a one-man show called Debbie Does My Dad, which explored my experiences of growing up with a porn star dad, and coming into my own sexual identity. I knew my dad to be sweet and sensitive. Was he that? Or was he really the stereotype our society has of male porn stars? And if he was sweet, and knew what people thought of porn stars, why would he choose that? And what did all of this say about who I was?

Ultimately in my own sexual experiences, I’ve found that it was a rich and valuable gift to able to talk openly. You have better sex, for one. If you can say what you want, then you just might get it. And if you can ask what the other(s) want, then you’ve got a much better shot at providing it. Silence benefits no one. All it does is reinforce this status quo where men are supposed to know what to do, and women are supposed to go along with things, and the heteronormativity of society makes it so that’s it’s only men with women in this example. If there’s anything I’ve learned about the status quo, is that it sucks and needs changing. For me, gender, sex, and sexual health is a crucial arena for this change. I’ve found it in my art, and in my life, and it keeps getting better because of it.

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In doing work on the topic of sex, I find that international boundaries are of less importance than cultural ones. Even within one city there are a wide range of communities with vastly different cultural norms around sex and taboos. What can you say? What can’t you say? What can you do? What can’t you? And why?
As a cultural field worker, I find the question mark to be my most important tool in navigating this challenge. I mentioned privilege earlier. In many instances, it is my privilege as a white male American with the right business card to be able to travel somewhere and do a workshop. And then it’s my internalized privilege that would have me believe that I know what the workshop participants need, even though their lives are vastly different from mine in so many ways.

It would be really easy for me to go into community unaware of all of this and knock things off the shelves with my unpacked privilege. And I have to admit that I probably have done this on numerous occasions. Ultimately, all this does is reinforce a system that privileges white American men, and does nothing to challenge that or seek equality and liberation.

However, if I can come in with questions, the relationship shifts. Privilege is still very much in the room, but there is least space for something different to take place. I am able to be full of care, but not careful. I’m not walking on egg shells, trying not to offend or to pretend like I know things I don’t. I am trying to own my not knowing with grace and playfulness. I am an outsider in a community, state, or country, and I have to own that fact, and be real about why I’m there. Who invited me? And I have to be transparent if I don’t know anything about what it is like for the people who live there. What I do have to offer, are my skills as a T.O. practitioner, an artist, and everything in my tool kit as a human being.

I have to give up the reigns of where things are going, and be open to helping the group discover where it wants to go. If and when I can do that successfully, the what takes place in the room is a fuller collaboration between the workshop participants as the artists and myself as a creative midwife.


 

Bobby Gordon

Displaying 1965040_10103131762744176_1286777273_n.jpgBobby Gordon is an arts-based activist working with theater of the oppressed, devised theater, spoken word poetry, and an enduring belief in the power of laughter. Earning his B.A. from UCLA in World Arts & Cultures and an M.A. from USC in Applied Theater Arts, Gordon is the founder of the UCLA Sex Squad, an activist sexual health theater troupe, and co-founder of the Melrose Poetry Bureau, a collective that creates live, interactive poetry installations. Currently, Gordon is researching arts-activism in various forms throughout Brazil, while remaining active as the Director of Special Programs for the UCLA Art & Global Health Center.

Current Projects:

Bobby is currently building a study abroad program for UCLA students to study Theater of the Oppressed in Rio.  Also he is actively developing the Melrose Poetry Bureau, a collective he co-founded with Nayeli Adorador, manifesting live and interactive poetry writing.

Fertile Soil For Seeds To Grow

By Njoli Brown

I’ve recently returned from another visit to Seattle.  Pastinha Weekend, an event that the International Capoeira Angola Foundation hosts annually in order to acknowledge our lineage, to reflect on the roles of revolution figures of African descent and to reconnect with our family and friends.  The weekend was beautifully put together and had all the richness and love that I’ve come to expect from these gatherings.  As an educator though, I wanted to reflect a bit on Mestre Silvinho’s standout capacity to create a nurturing environment within which his group seems to have truly flourished.

Mestre Silvinho @ FICA NY, 2013
Mestre Silvinho @ FICA NY, 2013

Holding space as a mestre of Capoeira Angola, as a teacher and as a mentor presents a wide array of challenges and rewards. Profoundly, this person is both, responsible for the maintenance of a centuries old tradition and, simultaneously, must assert the viability of traditional culture in contemporary society.  It isn’t enough for them to deny the existence of the word in which they live but they must also have a critical and evolving vision of how to reconcile the humanity of their community with the society wherein they function.

What make Silvinho’s model so particularly distinct is the feeling of mutual respect that he propagates within his collective.  Not only does he humbly distinguish himself as a remarkably knowledgeable and responsible patriarch, but he so clearly and openly recognizes the strengths and hopes of the members within his group.

That being said, while he provides the trajectory, his group drives its own forward motion.  As a teacher the best example we can often set is in our capacity to allow leadership to disseminate throughout.  True, there is no one else who has the capacity to teach capoeira at the same measure, but their functioning grant writing commission? The healthy foods project? Their regularly organized occasions for fraternization?  The youth projects? All of these are student inspired and driven.

Fertile soil for seeds to grow.  Inspiring to see things come to fruit Northwest.

Snowpocalypse

An activity for… well, whomever.

I do this initiative in some of my classes called “Snowpocalypse.”  It starts with everyone in the class taking scraps of paper and writing things they do for themselves and things they do for others, one item on each piece of paper.  The collection of things they do for themselves focused particularly on things that they enjoy, whether at home, in school or out in the world, and the things they do for others should be focused on things they do by choice, not because they are mandated.  Perhaps these are things they do because they bring them personal joy or because they are needs that they see should  be met and they recognize their distinct capacity to do so. Next we ball all of these scraps up into “snowballs” and have a 4-5min snowball fight.  Afterwards we all go about the task of picking them up (yes, this activity cleans itself up) and sticking them in their appropriate places on a Vinn diagram divided into:

  • Things I do for myself
  • Things I do for others
  • Things I do for my community (in the intermediary position)

We take time to look at what we’ve constructed and give space for anyone to move the position of an action to some new category.  We find that a thing which so often one person thought of as completely selfish endeavor, from the perspective of another, was a action of tremendous generosity.  We process this by delving into a discussion around how we can make simple, every day things into opportunities for transformation and building. All this is to explain a process wherein we guide students to understand their capacity to affect change and growth in their communities.  We come to recognize that service and personal fulfillment can be interwoven when each is approached with the proper perspective.  We start realizing that “labors of love” don’t have to seem so laborious. I’m always curious about ways in which facilitators, instructors, educators guide their students on this empowering journey of self-realization and I hope to continue sharing inspiring activities as I encounter them.  And I hope to keep encountering them… so feel free to send some my way.

Beauty in the Human Language: Capoeira & Connecting with Possibilities

By Njoli Brown

So, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to wrap my head around the entirety of my recent experience in Cuba.  Working with other artist-educators, exchanging ideas about this endless work of empowering youths in marginalized communities, all of it was tremendously inspiring and thought provoking.  I’ve been wanting to share that here but instead, in trying to encompass everything, I find myself spinning and inadequately capturing the profundity of things every time I try to put something on paper. I’ve decided I need to break this down for myself.  Over the next few weeks I figure I’ll take moments, pieces of that short but impactful time and engage in some explorations.

DSCF6965That being said I wanted to start by discussing the workshop I facilitated in Havana using capoeira as the medium.  My objectives were to explore the ideas and constructs that determine our process for valuating beauty. In addition I wanted to use this exercise as a catalyst for conversations on the concept of “embodying the spirit” and using the body as an efficient language tool.

We kicked it off by doing a brainstorm on popular concepts of beauty.  In part this was an opportunity for us to reflect on the ways in which social constructs sometimes diverge from our unqualified humanity.  When we moved into “ginga” I offered the structures as suggestions instead of rules. It was an interesting practice for me, to look at this form of engagement with laser focus on facilitating a journey of discovery instead of instructing a lesson.  A humbling thing to let go of my usual objectives and to hone in, much more deeply, on the method and process of sharing ideas.  We took the opportunity to explore the emotions tied to the tension and relaxation of muscles, the exploitation of the joints and the fear that is tied directly to the concept of equilibrium.

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Each individual then chose an emotion that they had recently engaged with, something to which they’d had a strong response and maintained vivid memories of the physical experience.  After a moment of meditating on this emotion they partnered off and used  ginga as a vessel through which they could embody this emotion and see how it might inform their interactions.  Our next step was to recall our conceptions of central figures in our lives, matriarchs, patriarchs, elders, youths and through each of these lenses we interacted with our emotion experiment in greater depth.

So, through this we were able to tap into an experience of beauty as a concept that exists in greater part due to its capacity to stimulate emotional resonance as opposed to a design which we accept as beautiful because particular language has been associated with it.

As a next step we DSCF7201decided to use the language of the body to investigate the experiences of our compeers.  In capoeira we often talk about the body conversation as a game of questions and answers.  As often as not though, a player may ask questions without giving truly intentional scrutiny to the merit of his/her camarada’s responses.  

It’s easy at times to get caught up in your own movement, in the power of inquisition, in the sound of your own voice.  But capoeira, as life entire, has the necessity of maintaining a balance between pressure and growth. We looked at our kicks and escapes as equal opportunities to observe ourselves as well as the our embodied identities of our counterparts.  We then processed the effects of the experience on our ideas about interpersonal communication.

How would we take this practice and apply it in our visual arts programming, our music, theater, writing? Did we gain some new DSCF7075connection to the somatic process underlying emotion?  How could this be relevant to the work we do with youths? What will it mean to create something “beautiful” in the future?