Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

This is a very important discussion that has only recently been brought to my attention by a long thread on a Facebook group for Nia Teachers. Thanks go out to Vinajoy Duran for bringing it up.  I am one of the privileged white people who isn't negatively affected by this except that I am sensitive and empathetic so when I hear that someone is struggling with something I'm doing, I feel their pain and choose to acknowledge them, examine it, and do my best to make it right.

I have been teaching Nia for 21 years now and I appreciate how much it has changed in that time, just as the world is not the same place it was back in the 80's when it began, or in the 90's when I joined. As the world continues to change, I think it is incumbent upon us to embrace newfound awareness and adjust as needed.
There is no denying that we have entered an era of renewed attention to cultural oppression and bigotry, and it is my deep desire to be a voice and an example of compassion and tolerance in this environment. SO I want to start by admitting that this is real.
Continued ignorance of this issue considering all of the specific examples given in the thread is quite an amazing feat. The way I see it, it is something that is inherent in the work of Nia from the world music to the variety of movement forms to some of the specific moves themselves. Or is it?
I love Nia and I know for a fact that no one intended to disrespect another being or culture, but it is also entirely possible that, in our privileged mindset, we have not seen what toes we could be stepping on.

I don't think the answer is to deny that it's happening, or to stop doing what we're doing, but instead to be open to and mindful of what exactly we are doing and what about it potentially hurts people and to figure out how we can frame it and present it to the public in a way that honors all cultures and continues to allow us to practice and offer what we do.

So I had to ask myself what exactly the offense was when we spoke of Cultural Appropriation. The examples I hear tend to imply that an item of dress or a symbol, or a phrase or ritual is taken from an oppressed culture and used in a privileged culture in a way that gives no respect to the original source. And then the second question I had to ask was 'are we doing this in Nia?'

When I was first introduced to this concept just a few weeks ago, I was stymied. I'll admit, my first reaction was to push it aside and not face the discomfort. I had no point of reference for it, so in order to understand it and eventually deal with it, I had to create a point of reference for myself in my head. I am not a practicing Christian, but I was raised as one so I know enough about it. I imagined a situation where someone from a different culture used symbols of Christianity in a secular way. I imagined the "Crucifixion" workout being popular in Japan, for example. "They claim it's good for the legs and the back to drag a heavy wooden cross across a cobble stone street. It also builds toughness to have people throwing things at you while you did." I imagined the participants wearing Crowns of Thorns as a fashion accessory, despite the fact that it was not part of their culture and they had no idea what it really means to Christians. They all thought it was fun to wear sandals and a white loin cloth, too. After class, it was traditional to eat some bread and drink some wine. All the while, they're laughing and playing music; having a fun time with absolutely no knowledge of the story they've appropriated and the weight it has in Christian culture.
I imagined a diet book called Ta'anit shooting to the top of the best seller charts. (Ta'anit is a sacred ritual of repentance or mourning in Judaism.) I could substitute a weight loss diet based on the sacred practices of Ramadan, Yom Kippur, or Lent, and start to get why people could be upset by it.

Then, I remembered that I've had the experience in Nia classes of wearing a bindi on my forehead. I've danced in complete naïveté to sacred pieces of music. I've seen sarongs and saris and harem pants worn in class by white people not connected to the roots or symbolism of such garb. And I've been party to an appropriation of a calendar and a method of measuring time that comes from a sacred culture I know nothing about.
So, despite the fact that I meant no disrespect to Islam, Judaism, Maya, or Christianity, could this be offensive to them? What steps could I take to assuage the negative feelings spiritual people might feel from my turning their beliefs into a fitness practice or fashion accessory? If, in light of this new information I simply continued to do what I've always done, then I'm no longer innocent of crimes of ignorance, but now complicit in the offense.

These are the difficult questions I asked myself and have come to the realization that Nia is not cultural appropriation.

Yes, it does borrow from many different cultures and it happens to appeal to a predominantly affluent white female community. But it is a spiritual practice of sorts in its own right. It has no intention of stripping any sacred or symbolic meaning from anything it borrows. On the contrary, it is the sacred importance of the piece that attracts Nia to use it. It does not intend to remove any sacred meaning from anything, but rather to create a globally inspired system of self-care that addresses body, mind, emotion and spirit.
I step boldly into a new era of understanding with an open mind and an open heart. I am learning. I realize that simply because I've been doing something for over two decades is no reason to continue doing it, especially when I've been enlightened by having a new perspective brought to my attention.

In our quest to present globally inspired work, there may come a time when we unknowingly play a sacred piece of music that could offend a practitioner of a certain religion. And it is my feeling that until we are alerted to such a situation, it is not up to us to self-police and to forever swear off of using anything remotely considered to be connected with another culture. But to do so with empathy and tenderness and be willing to hear it if and when someone expresses a conflicted feeling about it.

I was gifted a Intuit bracelet, but I didn't know what it was for a long time. I liked it and wore it occasionally without thinking much of it. Someone saw it and asked, "Oh are you connected to the Inuits?" and I had to look blankly at him until he explained further. I was embarrassed and I think that at that moment, I was guilty of cultural appropriation.

But I have since looked up the story of the Inuits and the symbolism of the bracelets and in particular of the stones that my piece is made of. So now if anyone asks, or even simply admires the bracelet (which I still wear on occasion), I can use that as an opportunity to possibly enlighten a follow privilege-enjoyer about the struggles of the Native Americans. So rather than feeling like the bracelet is taking away from their culture, I feel like I'm connecting to them, in a way that helps keep their history and their culture vital.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

2017 Offerings

Here's what's on the menu for JAG TOUR 2017
Studio Nia, Santa Fe, 2016

This year, I've created two new Nia routines.  Both of them are adaptations of older routines.

Fantastic - (new for 2017)
Inspired by the movements from the classic Carlos Rosas routine, "Fantasia,"  Fantastic is a JAG original routine that uses Carlos' classic choreography in an almost song-for-song adaptation. Some of the featured artists in this routine are Goldfrapp, Macy Gray, Talking Heads, Basement Jaxx and others. It also contains a three-song tribute to the career of David Bowie, from Space Oddity to Heroes to Blackstar.

Profound - (New for 2017)
Another adaptation, this time of Winalee Zeeb's recent routine, Deep Dive.  Profound sets her wonderful liquid choreography to new music from Xavier Rudd, Imogen Heap, Propellerhead (featuring Shirley Bassey), Beats Antique and others.

Both adaptation routines use mostly modern, popular music from this millennium, with an ear toward ethnic eclecticism.

I am also willing to teach any of my original routines that I've brought around in the past, including:
Rockin - (2012)

Goldfinger (2013)

Woodstock Experience - (2014)

Frankie Say Nia - (2015)

Orchestra - (2016)

Amazing - (2016) 

JAG's FloorPlay - (2015)
Corpus Christi, TX

I'd really love to stay a few hours and teach a full playshop, too. I'm open to suggestions on subject matter, but I'm prepared with a few idea as well:

Finding Balance with Yin and Yang
I originally put this playshop together by request for last year's Men of Nia event in Santa Fe. It was a hit and it was suggested that I expand on the work and continue to present it. So that's what this is. It is an exploration of what exactly we mean when we say "Yin" and "Yang". We'll discover why we want to seek a balance between them and how to do so in the context of a Nia class and beyond, into life.

Honing the Martial Arts in Nia 
In this one, we'll get clear on the architecture, science, art, and craft of the three martial arts that influence and inform the Nia technique; specifically AiKiDo, Tae Kwon Do and Tai Chi.  We'll spend time embodying each movement form and also have an experience of them in the context of a routine. I could easily teach a workshop on any of the three "arts", but this is the one where I felt there was the most need for practice and clarity based on what I've seen across the country.

The Joy of FreeDance
Last fall, I got certified as a Nia FreeDance DJ, and for the past several years, I've taught an informative playshop on the Nuts and Bolts of FreeDance. So this year, I'd love to combine them into a full Nia FreeDance playshop and class experience. The Nuts and Bolts playshop is intended for people who are paralyzed with fear and uncertainty around FreeDance, but who want to break through their own limitations.  It is not the eight stages of FreeDance and it is not anything that we've covered in any of the intensives. The playshop is my work. I put it together to help people who say they don't know what to do when it comes time to FreeDance. I can teach anyone exactly how to FreeDance by breaking down and spelling out what goes on inside the mind of someone who is FreeDancing.  After participating in this playshop, students will never again wonder what to do, movement wise. They will no longer run and sip their water to wait for the choreography to return. We can cap off the playshop with a full Nia FreeDance Class experience.

Community Choreography Creation Playshop
If you're unaware of the 2015 CNS project that became the community co-created routine called "Amazing" which I presented in 2016, you can read about it here. This year, I am putting it out there again. I'm not sure what will come of it, but any community that wants to play with co-creating choreography for possible inclusion in a new JAG Nia routine, let's do it. Basically, we choose a song and play with it for a few hours until we find the choreography together. It is an incredibly satisfying, enriching and inspiring experience to co-create with friends and classmates.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Skin Cancer Redux

If you want to catch up, click and read:
When I discovered the first occurrence back in 2010.

Some follow ups from surgery to remove cancer.

Further education and experience.

Using topical chemotherapy

The experience motivated me to seek out good brands of sunscreen, so you can read and enjoy the fruits of those labors here. 

When all of this was going on, the doctor told me that I was at a very high risk for a return visit from this type of cancer. And I was going along fine for several years.  I would diligently point out any marks, bumps or dis-colorization on my skin to a doctor and, until recently, was always told it's nothing to worry about.

But a few months ago, the doctor examining a suspicious spot on my neck said, "Hmmm. I'd like the lab to take a closer look at this to be sure." I agreed and let her take a punch biopsy to send in for testing.

The results came back positive. As in, I had cancer again. Once again, I was reassured that the type that I have is very slow-growing and benign, but the suggestion was to have it removed along with a margin of healthy surrounding tissue to ensure we removed it all.

I didn't take a picture of the offender, since it looked literally like a fat freckle or a pale mole. Now, I really wish I had. It didn't look alarming to me; not as much as some of the other spots I'm sporting. And I have plenty of those that are friendly. It just goes to show I need a trained eye to spot the bad stuff.

This is a picture of the same area after the punch biopsy was taken.

 Looks harmless, right?

This looks ten times more gory than the original 'mole' did.

I was scheduled to have it removed but had to delay the surgery because I was in a play and didn't want to deal with hiding the bandage during the run.  But once the show closed, I was able to go in and have it removed finally.

 I was a little bit nervous, even though i had been through it before.  I just didn't enjoy the idea of someone taking a chunk of flesh out of my neck.

By the time I was in the doctor's office, the wound you saw above had completely healed and she couldn't find the spot in question. Fortunately, I had these pictures in my phone, so I pulled them up and showed them to her, which helped her locate the tiny biopsy scar.

I explained at this time that I taught exercise and was very active in general. I mentioned this because it was an issue the time before. My first doctor cautioned me that I couldn't exercise for about ten days or risk interfering with the formation of a nice scar.  I told her I was less concerned about a 'pretty scar' and more concerned about giving up my livelihood for almost two weeks.  So she gave me another option which was a large gaping hole left without sutures. She wasn't happy that I was opting for an ugly scar, but I honestly didn't mind.

So this time, I brought up the same question.  In this case, since the punch biopsy seemed to remove a healthy margin already, we could opt today for a smaller margin, which I agreed to. It would mean that she'd dig less deep and the healing would be much quicker and more forgiving of my lifestyle.

She will send the tissue to the lab again and they will verify that we did indeed remove a margin of healthy tissue all around the cancer. And even if we didn't, her suggestion was that we wait and see if it grows and materializes as a cancerous 'tumor' again before going back to re-remove it.

We were all happy because this procedure took half the time of what we had planned so my doctor and her nurse were both able to take a long coffee break and enjoy this beautiful sunny day.

They sent me off with a bandage and a smile and a little kit for caring for my wound.

My understanding is that it is typical for people like me, who had abused the sun in their youth but got wise as an adult, to have an average of 1 - 5 occurrences of this type of carcinoma. I've had two so far, so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for numbers 3, 4 and 5.

UPDATE: Day 2 post surgery --

Once I'm dry, after my shower, I remove the bandage and wash it using a sterile cotton swab and hot soapy water. Then I use another to apply a layer of petroleum jelly and a big bandage. It seems to be healing fine. I have another seven days of doing this and then I go back to have the sutures removed.

UPDATE: Day 4 post surgery --

I just got a message from the doctor. The lab was going to look at the biopsy of flesh they removed to ensure we got enough margin of healthy tissue surrounding the cancer or if we'd have to go back in someday.  The result...

"I am happy to let you know that the pathology showed that your skin cancer was completely removed. Nothing else has to be done at that site. I hope it is healing well. Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns. Let the dancing continue!"  YAY!!