What happens if we take our time? It’s a simple question, but a radical one. Many of us, dancers and artists, and particularly dancers and artists of color, often fall prey to that little voice in the back of our heads, telling us to work harder, do more, and never stop moving. That voice harbors a constant fear of being “unproductive,” and makes a habit of mistaking busyness with meaning.
But there’s a lot to suggest that voice is mostly internalized white supremacy, capitalism, or a potent mixture of the two. A fabricated sense of urgency is one of the key pillars in both white supremacy culture and toxic capitalism, and can often prevent inclusive and thoughtful decision-making.
So what happens if we reject urgency for urgency’s sake? What happens if we reject white supremacist and capitalist principles of living? What happens if we take our time?
Wild Beauty, a Black movement intensive and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day ritual, explored exactly that. Convened by Gabrielle Civil, a nationally acclaimed Black feminist performance artist, and joined by Seattle performers Randy Ford, Neve Kamilah Mazique-Bianco, and Fox Whitney, Wild Beauty helped pave an understanding of a world not defined by white supremacy, a world that instead, as explained in the online program notes, “holds space for Black power, heritage, creativity, and communion.”
The lesson was a sweet one. In so many moments, Wild Beauty showed how we could take our time and the wonderful things that happen when we do.
In one scene, the four dancers took their time swiveling and stepping as an amorphous group slowly crossing the floor. Whitney, in a soft whisper and with much detail, recounted an image of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, kicking off a spout of contact improvisation, a quartet of dancers rebounding off yet stay connected with one another. Soon, there was an eruption of giggles, and I caught a marvelous flash of joy across Mazique-Bianco’s face. The laughter continued as the quartet made their way across the stage.
Eventually making it to the other side of the room, they ended as they began, physically connected and smiling. To close, Civil quipped, “That’s what happens when we take our time.” In this, the audience gets a deep understanding of what the performance is about: Civil connects the laughter, joy, whimsy, connectivity, collaboration, and experimentation of their improvisation to taking their time. The slowed down and relaxed pace feels directly linked to the dancers’ joy.
In another demonstration of deconstructing urgency, Civil enters with a small wave to quiet the room, rolls down to the floor, and lays down on a mat covered with blankets. A small vase filled with red roses sits next to her head. Whitney tip-toes to join her, and soon Mazique-Bianco melts off their wheelchair to accompany them both. The three dancers cuddle closely on the mat, spooning and letting their limbs flop over one another.
The prominence of the bed easily evokes MLK’s famous I Have a Dream speech. Even more indicative was a projected loop of MLK video clips, photographs, and quotes, including from the March on Washington, projected in the background. As the three share the bed, they seem to be demonstrating a shared dreaming, perhaps intended to represent a collective envisioning of Black liberation, embodying MLK’s legacy.
Civil, Whitney, and Mazique-Bianco continued to cuddle. In mixing intimacy with public performance, the three seem to perfectly demonstrate how, as famed Black feminist poet Audre Lorde coined, the personal is political. Centering intimacy in this way – slowly and deliberately – reminded me that the Civil Rights Movement and the Movement for Black Lives, though most definitely fights for political freedoms, like the right to vote and freedom from police brutality, are also very crucially fights for existence. It’s fighting to spend time with people you love, fighting to cuddle, to create art, to live.
Moving from the bed, the three dancers crawled around the room, pushing themselves with their feet and pulling with their arms. At the same time, Ford rolled out a grocery cart full of colorful roses, with a handwritten note taped on the side reading “we have a dream.” One at a time, Ford lifted each rose from the cart and placed it down on the ground. It seemed to go on endlessly, as growing numbers of roses filled Velocity’s Founders studio. Ford was sure to push the roses out of the way as her fellow dancers crawled by, showing consideration, kindness, and perhaps a how-to in undoing white supremacy, removing barriers instead of constructing them.
One of my favorite moments of the evening was a captivating solo by Ford. Beginning with exaggerated tendus, almost slamming her legs together, arms flailed to her sides and fingers sprawled, Ford seemed almost in protest, like the tendus weren’t fitting on her body, like classical ballet wasn’t working for her. Soon though, Ford eschewed ballet for more vogue-inspired movement, with a spin on the iconic duck walk, bouncing and walking in deep squat. Though Ford seemed to be rejecting classical movement, like perfectly pointed feet and turn out, she still showed off her deep plies, strength, and poise, deemphasizing dance styles celebrated by and centered around White people, instead spotlighting dances created and popularized by Black people.
Ford finished her solo by turning away from the audience and wiping her face repeatedly with her hands. It was almost like she was taking off her makeup, maybe removing a mask. It felt like she was showcasing vulnerability while still shying away from the audience. To me, Ford seemed to be toying with the “strong Black woman” archetype, a harmful expectation for Black women and girls to always be strong, especially in the face of violence and oppression. In this context, Ford holding space for her own vulnerability seemed marvously important.
With wonderful movement, intentional artistry, and a break in the middle of the performance that included snacks (!!), Wild Beauty definitely convinced me of the pleasure in taking our time, a decolonial and anti-capitalist message Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would surely support.
Wild Beauty was held at Velocity Dance Center on January 20, 2020.