Monthly Archives: November 2009

Intimacy & Generosity

I’ve got a number of posts hidden away in an older online wiki project (The Househedz project).  Since that project is about to take new shape and form in a revised online structure come 2010, I will be moving some of those posts here in the hope they become less hidden and open to feedback and discussion.  This one is originally from Nov. 2008:

Many of the projects I’m currently working on from writing to performance are concerned with fostering conditions for closeness, vulnerability, a way toward becoming deeply familiar. I have been trying to make sense of something that seems to be shared across the fields of ethnography and choreography (at least as I use them). Investments of time and energy. Listening to & gathering many small stories. Building relationships between participants, between ethnographer/choreographer and the people with which we work/create as we gather and shape information.

In a conversation with another dance artist today, we were talking about choreographic process and community-building and somehow we got to discussing what the necessary conditions were for building community or perhaps it was what we loved about choreographic process and generating material with a group of performers…What I remember clearly was that in describing a sort of best-practices for choreographic process she used the word “generous” and immediately I thought YES! That is what I love most about dancers and studios and art-making. It is the sweat and bodies so close in relation, so dependent on each other, required to trust each other in the act of moving together and how this reckoning with and recognition of another human presence pushes us to be more than tolerant, but to be generous to an other’s presence. And that is also what I love about ethnography – how putting one’s body in an other context makes the senses work differently, how familiarity goes out of the window for at least a period of time until one begins to understand the code of this other context/social world and that this too requires a certain amount of generosity – not to try to contain or own or completely categorize but to go slow by building relationships with people, with the landscape, with the everyday things and words and events that are in use/invested with meaning. That an ethnographic generosity is in part about giving up authority to learn an other’s way of seeing and being in and knowing the world – to engage in a negotiated dance of going with (i.e., humbling oneself to the world one has entered, being prepared to listen, follow, take in, be quiet, etc) then leading (i.e., taking charge of one’s own interpretation, analysis and narration of the ethnographic experience) and repeating this cycle unevenly as long as encounter persists (as physical act or act of memory)…

How can we operate with generosity in our art and in our research and in our daily lives? What’s the difference between intimacy and generosity? They both share these ideas of closeness and vulnerability – for to be intimate requires one to let down one’s guard to let another in and to be generous requires that we give up (at least in part) some of our cynical distrust of others…and somehow it is encounters with others via body-to-body contact that helps this intimacy and/or generosity to appear…

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Romancing Blackness

Originally posted at Consuming Blackness Diasporically alpha site on July 23 2008

As an African American woman (who is also bi-racial) with an estranged family network, house has provided me with a sense of belonging, rootedness in place, a spot to grow away from but from which I always come back to.

Chicago’s spots – Warehouse, Music Box, Bismarck and so on (I haven’t even mentioned the S.Side’s contribution…Still learning enuf to be able to tell it with clarity) provide mapping points in a genealogy of regional culture specific to Chicago’s own dynamic black community.

House’s origins in the late 70’s/early 80’s from disco to house proper (bridged through the NYC connection of F. Knuckles and R. Williams) unfolds as a narrative of alterity, the mythic creation of club culture as a welcoming alternative community catalyzed by gay men of color.


DJ Elbert gives historical tour of Chicago house scene


A “classic” track: Can You Feel It (The House that Jack Built)

And, She, who I call the unnamed disco diva, is like a mother goddess of Chicago house, a black feminist priestess embodying strength, persistence, survival, and style.


Loleatta Holloway – “Hit and Run”


First Choice – “Love Thang”

But , what I find most edifying about Chicago house as a deeply personal experience is what I am also unsettled by: its nostalgia.

House creates a story about communal politics, a story about freedom and tolerance, a story about love and hope. YET when stories about house are told, often they fail (and I too am subject to this critique) to open discussion about the reality of tensions within Chicago’s black community. Even as house exercises a potent ideology to imagine “brighter days,” it also existed and exists in an uneven gendered politics wherein the majority of DJs are male, the founders of house are typically espoused as male to the exclusion of the massive vocal presence of house’s songstresses who have as much to do with getting bodies on the dance floor and promoting house’s love politics as the figure of the DJ.

Likewise, those who tell the story of house often fail to give enough credit to its origins in the black gay community – indeed, part of house’s transgressive potential lies in its approach to sexuality, its candid voicing and raw performance of sexuality and sensuality as integral parts of human experience.

And, as Frankie Knuckles asserts in the first video clip posted above, Chicago house often seems to be “stuck” in time. As a tradition, it carries certain anthems, songs, rhythms, etc. that Househedz know and love. Perhaps we hold on too tight, thus losing house’s early characteristic of pulling on the pastiche – from soul and funk and gospel to American disco and Italo disco to Euro-pop to Chicago’s own acid house sound; from punk to bohemian to preppie fashion, etc. Yet again, part of Chicago house’s difference is in the particular story the city and black community has to tell AND in its archive of sounds and places and dances and icons. It defines a particular kind of local-regional belonging. So, how do we negotiate back and forth? Between a rooted beginning practiced through repetition as a rite of homage and belonging while simultaneously continuing to forge Chicago house’s spirit of play and bricolage, its unorthodox predilection for global appropriation remixed and spun back to home base in a distinctly Chicago style.

So, this romance is troubling but it is liberating and empowering too…

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Fierceness in the public eye

I’ve been obsessed with the figure of “the diva” and her position within black popular music for awhile now.  Been really preoccupied with her role in the house performance complex as the often unremarked explosive ingredient in much of dance/club music.  But this moment is issuing a new era for the diva — in drag — and most often of color as African American or Latino.  What is the power of today’s “camp of color”? What are our current iterations of “fierceness”?  Beyonce’s I Am…Sasha Fierce, Leyomi and Vogue Evolution’s recent turn (and at least for the moment, adulation) on ABDC, the underground viral following of underground ballroom battles via YouTube.  What’s up with the rising value of fierceness and who has the authority to perform it? The intersecting vectors of queerness, race and mass media are creating some strange combinations in public culture.  I will keep these happenings in view as I tease out how divadom, camp of color, fierceness, sexuality and house/disco suggest a potent mix.
Give thanks 3

(this entry is crossposted with another blog: http://givethanks2009.wordpress.com/)

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