A Sister in Brotherhood Spaces

By JL Umipig

It’s been 2 years now since I arrived to Central Park on a spring evening and was welcomed by Guro Njoli and two of my brothers of Pekiti Tirsia Kali (PTK) Vin and Chris. And I recall so distinctly why I returned after that first moment- it was the feeling of being held in a process of betterment and strengthening through comraderie. From day one, my brothers of MSMB and PTK held me to a caliber of that encouragement to better and strengthen my being.

I a20161126_105810m one of the few Womxn who consistently trains with the brothers of PTK Elite and MSMBNYC. In two years I have watched sisters come through and I emphasize to them why I continue to train which consists of the reasons that most people do, to have consistent physical regiment for my fitness and health, to be able to defend myself when the time comes, and to strengthen my body and confidence. But also I continue and commit to PTK and MSMB because of what I felt in that initial moment that I began learning with this circle: the camaraderie and mutual betterment of self as a practitioner that I feel growing with my brothers. There is a real pride we have for the betterment of one another, the push to excel as a family unit, detached from competition amongst those in our crew. They push me to go hard, to be able to hold my own amongst anyone, no matter their size or their strength level.  There is a belief that I feel from the respect my brothers hold for me, that when we train, our genders have nothing to do with our ability to train hard, and be able to step up to the challenges of body, mind and spirit that our practice teaches us to stand up to.

Our guros hold us all to our strengths, and also hold us to strengthening our weaknesses. I see how each of them in their teachings see the value of each individual in the group, and I watch the camaraderie between them that is model to us all. It roots our circle, the way they are able to respect and hold one another in collaboration and in unique styles of giving knowledge to our training. And as the little sister in the crew they rarely mention my gender, only with the recognition of how to apply their teachings to the very real degradation and violence Womxn face on the daily and how to use the learnings for my protection and ability to be prepared should I be confronted with the realities of misogyny and gender violence in this world. They teach me to use my size to my advantage, and help me understand my power to survive.

When we talk about Kali, we orient the learnings around the ability of Pilipino ancestors to fight and survive in battle with their colonizers, who were often larger and more equipped than them. These teachings of Pilipino Ancestral practices and traditions is the other reason I stay. My guros value this and respect the roots of the a20160625_114602rt, they help us understand the context and it brings me closer to my ancestors in a new way of understanding. I feel them in my movements. I feel their spirit of survival and resistance. And they and my brothers make room for me to share my learnings and cultural practices and values as a healer, activist and artist in connection to our training- another way they welcome what I have to contribute to our circle of my strengths.

“Respect everyone, Fear no one” our MSMB mantra is core to the way we train, is core to the way we learn, is core to the way we build camaraderie. Every time I come to train, I feel valued, respected and cared for as a member to this circle of warriors. I believe that is how my ancestors intended this practice to be upheld. So I bring myself fully to every training and every gathering, ready to step into my power. Sure, every now and then the testosterone is real, the frustrations of having to deal with my femininity being sometimes a hindrance because I can’t hide I am a Womxn physically and there are instances of societal stereotypes that surface (that’s real), and the moments of having to step it up extra notches to have new members that are men see me the way my brothers who I’ve trained with from the beginning is real as well. But what outweighs all of that is that my brothers will always remind me I am valued, that I am seen and I am held and so the humanization is real, the honoring is real and the love that makes me feel Family in this circle of brothers is real.

 

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.

Forum for Community Action at FICA Seattle

By Njoli Brown

I was graciously invited by FICA Seattle to facilitate a conversation on how cultural orgs can effectively engage in social action.  In Seattle there are a large number of groups which participate in the ethnic/cultural arts of Latin america, Africa, central – SE Asia and so on.  But, aside from the artistic endeavor, how many make the determination to actively and positively effect, in profound and long term ways, the communities within which these arts were sustained through centuries of struggle and an infusion of intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy?

The first thing that came to mind for me was a discussion on the spate of ongoing disturbing events throughout our communities, but it seemed that the first step needed to be a deep dive into “identity.”  One of the most common falsely held presumptions in groups is that, “if we’re all here then we’re all ‘down.’ ”  But before getting to the “what” we’re doing, there’s a lot of figuring that has to go into the “why” so that when it becomes difficult and laborious there’s a foundation that we’re working from in common.  I give FICA a lot of credit for often trying to provide opportunities for critical evaluations of itself by its members.

How does this collection of people see itself?  Does the collective mission align with each individual’s personal mission?  Are we willing to lose members if we determine the mission is of tantamount importance? From where are we garnering vital information and through what lens are we evaluating it? Do the actions we hope to take stay true to the missions we’ve established for ourselves?   Etc, etc.  There is a lot to be said for a group which decides to wrestle with itself and deal with the discomfort of recognizing the failings, doubts.. the humanity of all its members.

There is a long history of misdirected actions which can often times do more damage than help. Often times these are a result of not establishing all the predetermination that will provide you with the fortitude to stay in the process for the long haul.  Simultaneously, there are advocates who have, at times, been discarded without a dedication to the difficult conversations which provide soil for effective growth and leadership.  I hope to hear more from the participants of this recent forum, to hear if they found worthwhile takeaways, if there are plans for next steps, suggestions.  I also hope that other groups will make use of the currently aroused energy to figure out how they can utilize their organizations as nuclei for positive change.

*Gratitute to co-facilitator, Jabali Stewart, and to Mestre Silvinho (FICA Seattle), Leika Suzumura and Chelsea Rae for getting the ball rolling.

http://www.papernopaper.wordpress.com

Training, Well Rounded

By Njoli Brown

I was recently having a conversation with some other martial arts instructors of various styles.  One of the things that came up was the fact that, for the most part, along with the physical stimulus that training provides, one of the things that’d kept us involved for so long was feeling a sense of richness through involvement with the people and  ideas of another culture.  Now, I don’t want to say that this is or must be an interest for all students.  But for us, in common, it’s been an integral part of our practice and, as such a priority in our instruction.

So how do we convey that to our students?  As importantly, how do we convey that in a way that doesn’t diminish the reasons that each individual has for investing their time and energy into an activity that often has no reward other than that which the participant gleans?

Is it timely?  Sometimes a moment presents itself.  Perhaps a situation occurs, a movement or idea reveals itself and, in this time a historical or cultural reference is the perfect framing feature.  It might give context for a way of doing things or for the evolution of a concept.  It might, as well, give some insight into the mindset of those figures who had, at times, practical reasons for the design of their craft.

Is it enriching?  For many students, having a deeper knowledge of the practice to which they have dedicated themselves gives them a greater sense of purpose.  They come to see themselves as guardians of ideas and, in the most fortunate of instances, as researchers who dispel myths and contribute to  the archive of developmental resources.

Is it relevant?  Class isn’t the time to bloviate about all of your past accomplishments, about the awards you’ve won or the opponents you’ve beaten. Check yourself and, if it isn’t in service of the practice maybe keep it til you’re out having a drink with your buddies.  Remember that your stories and the ideas they convey become part of the culture of your school as well.

Integrating history and culture into the practice of your students takes a real sense of scope and a strong concept of what you hope for your community to embody.  You are shaping values in subtle ways.  It can be tremendously enriching or it can be the “turn-off” that pushes hard training students out the door. Done well, it turns your students into teachers and re-creates the story as a living thing.

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.

Street Dance Orixas

By Amy Campion

I’m so happy to feature my dear friend, Amy Campion, Los Angeles based activist and artist, in this month’s OnBlast! section of NoPaper mag.  Over the years I’ve been constantly awe-inspired by the way she’s been able to seamlessly weave together her art, her social & political passions and her deep caring for family, friends and community.  Gratitude, Aim, for dropping us creative bombshells.

-Njoli-

In 2012, I did a 3 month residency at the Sacatar Institute on the island of Itaparica in Bahia, Brazil.  While there, I researched, wrote, choreographed, and directed a short dance film called Street Dance Orixás.

From the streets of Salvador to a surreal windswept island and back again, seven street dancers from Bahia, Brazil incarnate powerful orixás (deities from the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble) through a hybrid of breakdancing, popping, and parkour movements.  Street Dance Orixás explores the intangible connections between Afro-Brazilian dance traditions and contemporary hip hop dance forms through rhythm, movement, stories, and colors.  The orixás manifest their divine qualities through alleyway acrobatics, sidewalk airflares, train station arm swings, and cobblestone footwork- each orixá in a location linked to his or her tradition.  Exú careens through crisscrossing alleys, vaulting over walls, his shirt changing from red to black in mid air.  Ogúm cuts down imaginary enemies along the train tracks, using breakdancing battle tactics to assert his presence.  Yansã toprocks through the cemetery, hair blowing in the wind.  Xangô explodes in a flash of flying feet in front of his demolished building. Oxúm’s irresistible charm glints in her gold sneakers as her footwork flows along the cobblestones. Oxóssi stalks his prey with intricate hits and finger tuts around an enormous urban tree.  Yemanjá arises from the ocean to offer her blessings in freezes and flares along the breakwater.  In a surreal sequence, the orixás are transported to an island made of sand where they dance out their dreams.  When they finally unite in a dance cypher (circle) on the streets of Salvador, Bahia, they are utterly stunning and unstoppable.

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As a B-Girl (woman who breakdances) and a capoeirista (person who practices the Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance of capoeira), I have long been curious about the connections, both historical and abstract, between capoeira and breakdancing.  Over my 15 years of studying breaking (breakdancing) and capoeira, I have noticed an uncanny number of similar movements and philosophies between the two.  Capoeira has deep roots in the Afro-Brazlian religions that believe in a pantheon of deities known as “orixás”.  Each orixá has a tradition of associated dance steps, drum rhythms, stories, colors, personalities etc.  In the Northern Hemisphere, African American and Latino American social dance have had a major influence on the urban dance practices that known today as “street dances” such as breaking, krumping, popping, etc.  While these various street dance forms are not commonly associated with a religion, many street dancers experience a deep spiritual connection through their practice.  Notably, there are many movements/steps which can be found both in the traditional orixá dances as well as various street dance forms.  I created Street Dance Orixás in order to explore the intangible connection between orixá traditions and hip hop dance forms through a contemporary interpretation of the orixás as performed by street dancers of different styles.

During my residency at the Sacatar Institute, I immersed myself in the local street dance community and researched Orixá myths and traditional dances under the guidance of Joelmo Teixeira.  I wrote the script, choreographed the movement, cast local Brazilian dancers, hired a local Brazilian film crew, scouted locations, rehearsed, directed, and shot the film in Salvador, Bahia and on the island of Itaparica on the beach near the Sacatar Institute.  The relationships that I developed with fellow international artist residents at the Sacatar Institute led to collaborations with Mexican composer/musician, Ernesto Diaz, who created the soundtrack and American painter/animator, Matt Sheridan, who created the animations.  I returned home to Los Angeles and began to work on post-production in 2013.  In Los Angeles, editor Noah Berlow contributed immensely to the overall vision and shaping of Street Dance Orixás.  Robert Crosby did the color correction and Evan Langley did the visual effects.  Street Dance Orixás was produced with the support of many individual donations throughUSAProjects.com.


And now I’m sure you want to know more about my long time homie, Amy Campion, so you can follow some of her amazing ongoing and future projects….

DSC_1272Amy “Catfox” Campion  

Antics Artistic Director

www.AnticsPerformance.com

Speaking the language of Hip Hop, Campion crosses artistic and social boundaries to unite diverse audiences, daring concepts and dynamic performances.  Her work draws on the expressive capacity of Hip Hop by weaving stories and ideas with breaking, krumping, popping, Capoiera, mc’ing, dj’ing, poetry, film, beatboxing, and theater. Campion manipulates the traditions of street dance to create moving visual metaphors that are a true urban hybrid of street dance styles.  Her choreography has been presented at the San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest, the J.U.i.C.E. Hip Hop Dance Festival, the B-Girl Be Festival in Minneapolis, the Ford Theatres in Hollywood, the REDCAT, the Music Center in Los Angeles, and the Esalen International Arts Festival, the Levitt Pavilion, the Skirball, the Los Angeles Theater Center, and the Bootleg Theater Dance Festival as well as on Ovation TV, Strife TV, PBS, KCET, and LA36.  Her dance films have been featured at the Dance on Camera Festival at the Lincoln Center in New York, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, the Dance for Camera Festival at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and in 2014 at the VivaDança festival in Brazil.  She has been b-girling (breakdancing) and training Capoeira for 15 years and also studies hip hop, house dance, locking, popping, and salsa.  She received an MFA in Choreography from UCLA in 2006 and since then she has taught dance and arts activism at Loyola Marymount University, Cal State Northridge, El Camino College, Cerritos College, the Boys and Girls Club, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, and many others.  She has received awards from the Center for Cultural Innovation, the Durfee Foundation, and the Flourish Foundation, and participated in the Emerging Leaders Institute at APAP, in the LA Dance Advance initiative, and in Pentacle’s Help Desk.  As a dancer, Campion performed for Rennie Harris in “Heaven” and “1,000 Naked Locks” and was a founding member of Jacob “Kujo” Lyons Lux Aeterna Dance Company.  She danced in music videos for Genevieve Goings, Kana Shimanuki, Shaka Wear, and Open Mike Eagle and was featured on 1,000 Ways to Die, Voador (a capoeira film), and B-Boy the Movie.  She has appeared in print and in interviews in Dance Spirit Magazine, Dance Magazine, Ms. Magazine online, the photography book “Dancers Among Us” by Jordan Matter, and “Girls Got Kicks” by Lori Lobenstine.

”Amy ‘Catfox’ Campion… stands out in her Antics Performance troupe, as she does in any group, as the bad-ass, tiny, hard-rock dynamo who can b-boy with the best of them.”                                                                          

-Jessica Koslow, Neon Tommy

In All Forms…

when i was skinnySo this old ad pops up every once in a while.  Whether it is as a catalyst for a discussion on social aesthetics and the roles they play on self image, economics and its affect on definitions of beauty or the cultural difficulty we have with reconciling health and beauty, this image always gets me thinking.  I decided to post it for the sake of whatever process it sparks for you.

Black History? But it’s Only January…

By Njoli Brown

Black History isn’t a February thing.  I think we’ve all realize by now that it is a history interwoven into the story which brings us all to our here and today.  I recognize the import of establishing a time to focus on a legacy that has been overlooked for the better part of, well, a loooooong time and continues to be.  But still we lock it into that one month and refer to it as an anomalous affair as if it’s an opportunity to recount fairy tales.  Whether we want to look at our African-American legacy or the innumerable contributions of African peoples over the ages, how do we break that bind that maintains a continually segregationist account of the human story? Truth be told, I’m sure I don’t have the answer.

But this year I’ve decided to make a practice of establishing black history as a substantial and integral part of world history and world history as part of every day’s social study in my classes.

rough africa map

Get it started….

You Don’t Know Africa

http://youdontknowafrica.com/