Why are you here?” Joya Powell asked each of us standing in that roda, a circle of individuals anticipating three days of intensive dance classes.

Good question.

“I’m a people and I need to move,” I answered.

Choreography with MOPDC
Social Choreography at 2016 MOPDC Winter Intensive (New York, NY)

It sounds so simple. I gave a short answer to spare my fellow participants valuable time.

However, my concise response understated my urgent need. There were so many competing priorities outside of that circle and I was being pulled simultaneously in multiple directions — home, work, and church. To find peace, I desperately sought one space to breathe and just be free.

Dancing with Mexican skirts, 2916 MOPDC Winter Intensive

I’m a people and I need to move.

No one asking me questions.

No one playing emotional games.

No one expecting me to supply their oxygen.

I’m a People

Refuse to sacrifice your humanity on the altar of public opinion. Opinions are like tea cups: they will appear in all shapes and colors and are very fragile.

Imagine walking on a street paved with tea cups made from porcelain, silver, copper, purple clay, and other materials.

(Inverted tea cups for the strongly visual and germaphobic. Yes, you are wearing new, clean, fair-trade, organic cotton socks. Focus.)

Refuse to sacrifice your humanity on the altar of public opinion.

Trying to stay upright while simultaneously avoiding injury to your feet, or worse, cutting your feet on what’s broken underneath is awkward at best. Sometimes it is downright painful and eventually limits mobility. That’s what living to please others feels like.

Find some comfortable shoes and keep it moving. Continuing to move in spite of obstacles is a learned skill. Call it grit, resilience, or perseverance. Like dance, we know it when we see it. We do not know the hours, days, years, or decades the person spent practicing.

I Need to Move

Maguette Camara teaching West African dance

Dance is a communication method that connects the mind with the body. Our bodies store the muscle memory we practice over time, e.g. walking. Similar to babies learning to walk, we practice balancing ourselves, learning to take new steps, falling, crawling, getting back up, and trying it one more time. As Maguette Camara (pictured above) tells our weekly West African dance class at Ailey Extension, “If you can walk, you can dance.”

As a child, I studied ballet with Philadanco dancer Corliss Graham. She introduced us students to the fundamentals and laid an early foundation of discipline, correct posture, and rhythmic breathing. Most importantly, Miss Corliss shared the gift of expressing creativity through movement.

If you can walk, you can dance. – Maguette Camara

Somewhere along the way I forgot those early lessons. Years later a surprise birthday gift of a hip-hop masterclass reset my muscle memory…

I discovered that I could still move. This discovery prompted me to try taking another step, to go to another class, and to experience another genre. Candace Tabbs teaches Afro House (see video below) among other disciplines.

Dancing Leaves

Tea after dancing — winning!

Dancing and tea share this: the more you do, the better you feel. Both lift the spirit, refresh the mind, and energize the body.

Drinking tea before a dance class helps me to hydrate and to prepare myself mentally. A tea travel mug filled with Iron Goddess oolong tea has given me liquid courage and carried me through many dance classes and rehearsals. Tea is an essential component of my post-class recovery.

Speaking of recovery: I’ve just finished a two-hour rehearsal for an upcoming performance. There’s definitely a pot of tea in my immediate future. What about yours?

Do your dance. Move. Above all, be free.

Cups up! No pinkies necessary.