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Look fast. Move slow. The ground is on fire, but I don’t worry myself with that anymore. If I was at home I would ask if the fumes were toxic. Now, toxic is relative and intersections are the eye of the storm. In Ghana, ‘Nature’ is the holy book that tells people what to do and how to do it. The land is Jesus. The people his disciples. Judas is the juju that prevents progress, but holds the hands of the baby while it’s learning to walk.

It’s one of the most accessible countries in Africa to which a foreigner can travel. They speak English but … not if they don’t have to.

Dear Ms. Dunham,

The children said there was “no music” so I went to Africa. That day, Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president the United States of America.

end he(r)art

Never in my 11 years of teaching across the U.S. have I seen so many young Black and Latino men dancing. The ladies too, but we never really stopped. “Getting Lite/ Lite Feet” and “Beating” are two forms of contemporary folklore flourishing among black and brown youth in the five boroughs of New York. Not to mention all the Caribbean and Southern dances that the kids have taken to across the U.S.

Almost all my students  do one or the other (“get lite” or “beat”). Depending on which community of black and brown youth you step into, the abundance of folkloric dance and music styles these kids are coming up with is incredible. In Chicago, it’s called “Jook”. Los Angeles, it’s “Crumping”. The Bay Area, has all the dancers that come out of “Hyphy” culture, just to name a few. All use sophisticated structures of poly-rhythm and a clearly identifiable movement vernacular. They all have rules about how the dance and music interact with one another. There are calls, responses and improvisations that happen inside of a circular formation. This in and of itself is a larger call for the community to come see who has come up with the most clever way to rock the step.  They even have teams! And although it’s true that there is nothing new under the sun (yeah we got loose on the playground too), I gotta respect their gangstah. They bump yall!

It’s a Neo-folklorist of the African Diaspora’s dream come true. A world where our children dance away frustration with or without us. Hip Hop before, during and after guns and knives in 2009?! Poly-rhythm already articulated in youth culture. Black and brown kids dancing until they can’t breathe and burst into uncontrollable laughter! They “get lite” until they’re free. They “beat” on desks, cafeteria lunch tables and chalk boards until they are heard. It’s amazing and Africa all day long. They are finally being examples for themselves.  It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed and something I never thought I would see in this life time. And amidst all the short attention spans and technology I have to take away so they can focus in my classes … they ARE dancing to “NO MUSIC!”

freedom (“Ampey!”, part one)

The U.S. is often called the land of the “free”. Before I traveled to Ghana, Africa had always symbolized a certain level of cultural and spiritual freedom that I felt I would never be able to access in the U.S.  I’m not exactly sure how I feel about that now. And, I’m sure this all sounds very nieve to my elders, but it’s a part of what I’m working through in the creation of this piece. I’m trying to understand what exactly happened.

This freedom, this  “liteness” of spirit is exactly how I want to enter “Ampey!” I was on the plane to Ghana when Barack Obama became president of the U.S. The celebration of his victory in those first moments when the world was learning he’d won was ALSO one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. It was the first time in my life that I saw pure happiness and freedom in the eyes of my people, AS A PEOPLE. This became an integral part of the way Ghanaians perceived me and the way I came to perceive myself.

“Getting Lite” is the perfect movement vernacular for me to begin working on how I will communicate this to an audience. Watching my students “get lite” and my people “get free” in these moments when the world is watching or not tells me it’s time dance from a new place. Or at least a new place for me. I have many questions and ideas about what this section could be about. The Haitian dance Ibo keeps coming up in my imagination as well.

Traditionally, Ibo is danced with a drum as the center piece. Not always, but this is a popular option. It’s a dance that symbolizes freedom, pride and culture for the Haitian people. The Ibo were warriors from the kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa. They knew they were not supposed to be a part of whatever slavery was. When the Ibo were brought to the island of Haiti, they revolted so fiercely that their French captures became reluctant to transport them through the Middle Passage. I believe they may have even stopped bringing them across the ocean. Our Ibo ancestors have left a powerful legacy of resistance in the African Diaspora. To this day, if you meet Haitian people that have Ibo blood (and know it) they will tell you that they are Ibo with all the pride in their hearts. This is how I want to begin … with all the pride and freedom in my heart.

For the bucket to catch the water I have to throw it into the well upside down, pull to the right, let it sink, and pull up after it goes under. I walk over three ditches to use the internet, six to use the ATM machine, and ten to get to the gas station, if I don’t cross the street. If I do cross the street, then I have to walk over fourteen ditches all together. I haven’t seen anyone fall in or drop the huge loads they carry on their heads. Yes. I do believe in Africa! I’m just not so sure Africa believes in me.

-excerpt from the Ghana Blogs 2008-

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