Category Archives: Introduction

The “other” America…Parallels between Obama and house

(written in 2008 right after Obama’s “race” speech aired)

The Wire, Obama’s race speech and house – poetic “both/and” complicated renderings of the other America…That part of our society which many are members of (but who are often forced to silence publicly)…It is DuBois’ double consciousness, it is code-switching, it is living multiple realities, strategies and tactics, living one narrative in the light, but abiding by another in the closed inner circle of another set of folkways.  I am wading through muddy thoughts.  

As I watch and read Obama’s speech on the state of US racial politics, I am having a certain sense of deja vu.  Not just because most of what he says is what a certain community of citizens say/think/dialogue about already (and, I must say it is refreshing to have this reality spoken aloud in mainstream circles).  But because so much of what he performs/conveys is also so very present and tangible in the politics/ideology/embodied philosophy of the house community…. The trope of epic memory that wears itself on and embedded within bodies of color most obviously, but as well touches those outside of the black community –  as a refusal, an amnesia, a desire not to talk about/acknowledge the continued effects of colonial/imperial history…Of the residual effects of institutionalized discrimination…And, in response, how the house experience becomes an act of memorialization, commemorative performance, an enactment of homage to ancestors, and a visceral acknowledgment of a continued struggle that is as-yet-unresolved.  

The site of the dancefloor, the DJ and the dancers are activated players/agents using performance as a weapon of the weak, a strategy of “getting through” and as a vehicle to both create and convey the power of hope, vision, imagination, and empowerment through action…performance…the act of living.

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Images / Influences

Within my circle of friends we have often joked about how the Good Times painting (at bottom of post) and the Emerald City dance sequence of the Wiz are embodiments of an energy, attitude that we know as “house.”

But if I begin to unpack these images, what do they convey that parallels a house consciousness?

They portray blackness as divinely human, as bodies worthy of value/dignity even in imperfection. As beautiful even in sorrowful conditions (we could take the Wiz’ Brand New Day sequence as another illumination).  Part jook joint, part blues’ tradition of transparent vulnerability/trickster down but not out life perspective, part sophisticated swank, part diva, part folk, part on/of the block, in the community, and always a celebration of being/existing, always a “both/and” ethos of reality, rather than a cut n’ dry, it is or it ain’t sensibility.  House welcomes ambiguity, thrives on it, sits down deep in the crossroads making the art of survival gorgeous even in its most ugly tones…We need more examples like this (still)…

goodtimes

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Comfort zones and initial questions

So it’s been a while since I last worked with a new community of performers. Especially for this work, this is proving to be an adjustment of my own comfort levels.  How do I teach a style of movement I have never had to break down, deconstruct and explain?  How do I codify some of house’s vocabulary while trying to maintain its free-form aesthetic base?   

Quite frankly, I am more interested in using its qualities of bounce, rapid shifts between bound and free energy, and focus on down-centered weight (even when the body’s top half is pushing upward). 

Stylistically, I’m interested in:

The play between introversion/minute movement, almost gestural and introspective;

Movement that attacks with strength – I often see this in what I like to call the “house hoedown” stomp;

And the fierce “performance” (equatable in Trini English to the notion of “playing yuhself”) style in which I have seen/experienced radical shifts across gender play (i.e., combination of  the ball room scene’s voguing styles and/or the spectre of the disco diva’s glam vamp persona and a kind of butch up/hyper-masculine attack on movement). 

How can I use these observations/foundations as markers to hone performance style (which I think will be critical to this piece more so than the actual vocabulary itself)?  How can I use these qualities to infuse an improvisational edge to the piece – getting the community of performers to understand and embody them? 

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Riff #1: Thoughts on house…

RIFF #1: House is ripe to be explored, theorized, documented in a nuanced way – House is a manifestation of local/global cultural politics, as discourses of gender/sexuality, race/ethnicity, class, communities of belonging, as an embodied dialectic of the sacred and profane, of US puritanical respectability and a counter-resistance of slackness, sexuality, of a critical utopia, a place to imagine/witness the body theorized as power, knowledge, labor, meaning, code, action and as a historical narrative of continued discrimination, disenfranchisement, disempowerment, displacement. This is the story of a regional movement gone global.  A story about migration, pain, milk & honey dreams, release, using rhythms to prepare for the next day.  Of recharging through sweat.  Of a dance syntax that theorizes a contemporary condition and an epic historical one.  Of an urban folk form that edifies and strengthens, nourishes and nurtures…All this and more is house….Event, lifestyle, consciousness…

House is…

Nostalgia

Rememory

Yearning

Community

Ideals and ruptures

“I have a dream” embodied politics (thanks for pointing this out Abo)

A generational shift

Vernacular practice

Continuum of black cultural expression

Embodied knowledge

Blues, drum/percussion/heartbeat

Call & response

Polyrhythm

Working class/grassroots

Postmodern, sophisticated urbanity

Posing/Becoming other than you are/Performance

This past December I went home for the holidays after moving away just five months ago.  Where is home? Well, I love my new home.  Quiet, my sanctuary, and a comfortable space where I am at ease raising my son. But, is it the home of my belonging, where (as Trinis would say) I bury my navel string, where I feel a strong roots connection, where I stoke a desire to plant even stronger foundations? Naw…That will always be Chi-town. Chicago is a big city with a jook joint feel.  Right now, she suffers from too much pretense.  But there is a movement to bring her to herself.  House.  Not just music, house is a feeling, a way of making style, and most pressing to articulate – the reason why I even attempt this blog – a mode of consciousness, a way of thinking and being in the world.

 

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