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reflection/my body is a church.

you don’t want no problems with me // it feels like blessings keep falling in my lap // i wish i could tell you it’s ready, tell you it’s ready today, but they don’t give nothing away. you gotta fight for your way // all my days, i’ve prayed and prayed, and now i see the finish line. oh i’m gonna finish mine // cuz at the end of the day [art] is all we got.

*cue praise dance*

Chance the Rapper has literally written the song[s] to this season of my life on his album Coloring Book. He inspires me in more ways than I can even articulate right now. Literally every single line above has been an affirmation, a prayer, a word for me when I have needed it most. The Lord has given that man the platform to change lives, and folks are being redeemed because of him. Beyond that, Lil Chano from 79th’s words has been especially applicable to my journey through my senior year to the piece that became known as my body is a church. Or, where the dance becomes sacred.

you don’t want no problems with me. “‘No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 54:17 NIV

More than anything, this is an affirmation that my safety is in the Lord. God’s got me. You don’t want no problems with me because the One who is greater than us all is my shield. Don’t ever play yourself, homie. *DJ Khaled voice*

it feels like blessings keep falling in my lap. Really, truly. It seems like everywhere I turn, there is some new blessing that I don’t deserve. Opportunities that I didn’t know existed have been opened to me. Things that I didn’t know I was capable of, I am now doing. In the most unexpected ways, people keep speaking life into my dreams and goals and visions.

i wish i could tell you it’s ready, tell you it’s ready today, but they don’t give nothing away. you gotta fight for your way. This is such an affirmation for my future and an acknowledgment of how hard I’ve worked to get where I am today. My time at OSU has been the result of dedication, tenacity, and sacrifice from both me and my entire family. There have been people that told me that my artistic voice/vision wasn’t unique enough. There are people who don’t get it and who don’t want to. To get here, I’ve had to push them to the side and keep it moving. To get where I want to be, I’ll have to fight too.

all my days, i’ve prayed and prayed, and now i see the finish line. oh i’m gonna finish mine. When I tell you I heard these words pouring through my headphones the weekend of my senior concert and cried… Ya’ll. This senior project has been gestating within me for two years now. It’s incredible and surreal to me that I have this amazing, tangible thing to show for the seed that I have been nurturing. Beyond that, I’m about to graduate from college Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Dance and a minor in Creative Writing. I’m only the 2nd generation of my family to attend and graduate from college. My parents’ generation was the first. My grandparents don’t even fully comprehend what it is that I’m doing all the way up here in Ohio. They’re just proud of me because I’m doing something that they literally never even dreamed of doing. That’s why this finish line is so important to me. And when I become the first in my family to receive a masters degree and PhD, I’ll be doing it for them too.

cuz at the end of the day [art] is all we got. I’m so excited to be able to pursue my art full time. To be able to pour my time and energy into changing the world with my art. This thing that I just started on a whim when my family moved to South Carolina is my passion now. It’s my heart and soul.

I cannot express what a blessing it’s been to share my heart with the world. The Senior Concert was an absolute success for everyone involved. My classmates are truly incredible, and I can’t wait to see where we all go from here. Folks keep asking me if ‘my body is a church‘ is over, and for me that’s such a confirmation from the Lord that he’s not done with it yet.

Catch me next at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum on March 29th. I’m now writing my distinction thesis paper and will be defending my thesis later on in April.

My senior year is literally a month and a half away from being over. The journey has been amazing. See some amazing images from my senior project, my body is a church. Or, where the dance becomes sacred, below. Photo Credit: my lovely classmate, Hana Newfeld.

Love and Light,

Kylee

 

Finally, A Sisterhood

I’ve spent the last few days completely surrounded by pure Black excellence. Inundated and wrapped up tight in it.

This was my first time at the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference , and while I was very excited to go, along with a group of 7 other students from my Department, I am struck now (as I am writing this on the plane back to Columbus) with how important IABD & spaces like that are, especially for young artists like me.

Yesterday, I sat in a workshop led by the indomitable Dr. Brenda Dixon Gottschild, one of my personal idols and a pioneer of Black dance theory, & a panel of five other Black women. One had just received her doctorate from Temple University. Another is a professor at Appalachian State University. Gaynell Sherrod, from the dance department at Virginia Commonwealth University was there. Zita Allen, one of the best dance critics to ever enter the field, and a pioneer for writing about Black dance/Black dancing bodies, spoke. And Vershawn Sanders-Ward, graduate of Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and founder of Red Clay Dance Company in Chicago shared as well. There were so many other important, notable dancers and artists in the room…

…and everywhere I went. I took class with folks who had studied with Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham personally. Folks who travel all over the world to work with royalty. I sat in the room with some of the primary figures is Black dance — Karen Brown, Cleo Parker Robinson, Joan Myers Brown, Lula Washington, to name a few.

But as I sat in that circle of women, I found myself becoming emotional. All these women are where I want to be one day. They have lived the life I want, walked in the places I hope to go, and are sharing their wisdom with me. I sat there choking on tears as woman after woman spoke life into me, thinking, I want to know you all. I want you to be my aunties and mothers and sisters. For the first time in my dance life I felt like I had a sisterhood. I felt supported. I felt loved by a group of women who didn’t know me, or know anything about me. I wanted to stay in the safety of their embrace forever, and the truth is, I can.

That’s why all Black art spaces like IABD are important. There are the people who know, who understand our common struggle. There’s no cliché in our truth, there’s no doubt about the validity of our stories. I’ve spent so much time wondering whether my stories are okay. Whether it’s okay that all I want to talk about, write about, make about is completely wrapped up in my experiences with race, class, and gender. And at IABD, I was reminded very clearly that my artistic voice and perspective is valid.

I’m so grateful for this experience. It was such a necessary blessing.

Love & Light.

#ButForOhioState

I’m sitting in the Ohio Union right now in a spot I’ve sat in countless times in my time here. I just finished meeting with a friend and making plans for our Buckeye Leadership Fellows capstone project — a business, a unique brand with my name on it.

Three years ago, I never would have even imagined myself as being able to use my art form to change the world. I never thought about owning my own business or branding myself. My time at Ohio State has taught me so much. I was pushed so far outside of my comfort zone and that pressure was so necessary. I was a diamond hiding deep underground. I had no idea what I was capable of or what I could even do with dance. OSUdance and Buckeye Leadership Fellows have opened my eyes to the world beyond the ballet barre. There’s more to the dance field than just being a ballerina in American Ballet Theatre or a star in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

There’s so much theory and history behind what gets presented on the stage, and while I love to move and create and want to continue to do that with my life, there is so much more that I have to offer to this field. It took me coming to college to find myself – a Black woman – at the heart of American modern dance. I struggled to love myself, my body for so long until I learned that my ancestry sits in the heart of so much of American culture and performance.

I want to make sure that no more little black girls have to wait until they’re 19 to learn that truth. The research and work that I am doing now for my senior project within the Dept. of Dance seeks that goal. While I thank God for Horton technique and Alvin Ailey, knowing about Black women choreographers like Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham would have proved life changing for me in high school.

Beyond that, I refuse to be a poor, starving dancer living in a shoe box in New York, broken and bowed because I’m not dancing with fill-in-the-blank company. I want to use dance to do something – to challenge the status quo, to change the way that blackness is portrayed of and on the performance stage, and to diversify the bodies that we put on stage as well. I want to have my own collaborative dance company as an avenue for that creativity.

But there’s more… I want to be an academic. I want to fill the gap in academic literature that deals with Black performance theory and the African/Africanist elements in Black American culture, American pop culture, and American performance. I told my friends today that I’ll be sending them copies of my first book within the next five years.

And about that brand that I mentioned at the beginning of this – that’s going to happen too.

There’s so much in my heart, and over the years of my education, I have learned that there is no need to limit myself. I can do, and be, whatever I want.

Now, as I sit at the cusp of making everything that I’ve talked about a reality, one piece of Scripture my mom has instilled in me my whole life resonates deeply in my spirit:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘ plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

Looking around me and recognizing where I am now and remembering where I have been is proof to how great the Lord’s plans for me are. I’m graduating with Distinction in May 2017, but I’m not afraid. I finally feel that I’m walking fully in my calling. His plans for my future are big and bright, and I trust Him to help me achieve them.

Love and Light,

Kylee

Nou Led, Nou La

Over the course of the past six months (November 2015-April 2016), I was in the process of creating my second major choreographic work,  a trio entitled Nou Led, Nou La.  I had the pleasure of working with three super talented dancers, Cole Henry Jones, Maxi Riley, and Sheila Zeng.  

The conception of this piece actually began while I was making Bloodlines last spring.  I was then, still am, and will always be pondering issues of race and class, oppression, and injustice, and how these things function societally and within the dance field.  I was thinking then about the mold that I see in dance and how my own body does not fit in it.  So, what came to be Nou Led, Nou La was birthed out of a desire to explore the presence, or lack thereof, of black dancing bodies within the field of dance.  

Translated from Haitian Creole, the title means “we are ugly, but we are here.”  It functions within Haitian society as a acknowledgement between women.  As a former French colony, Haitian women existed in the same sort of limbo as did many women of colonized countries.  White, European women set the standard for beauty and femininity; as former slaves and black women, it was an ideal that was forever out of their reach. Yet, Haiti would not exist as it does if it were not for its black women.  They say to each other, “We are ugly,  but we are here.  We are important.  I see you, my sister.  I recognize your beauty.” 

That’s what this piece was for me.  Recognizing the beauty in the pereceived ugliness that is black dancing bodies.  For the longest, we were told that we could not do ballet.  We are cut from shows like So You Think You Can Dance because we don’t fit Nigel Lithgoe’s idea of what a proper dancer should look like.  But we are still here.  Still feeding this American society as we always have.  

In this work, I wanted to play with and explore the idea of what is ugly in form and appearance.  I didn’t want to make a pretty dance.  I wanted to make something that challenged in some ways what an audience thinks they are going to receive when they go to a dance concert (especially at OSU).  I choose a cast entirely of people of color — a Black man, a Black woman, and a Chinese woman.  I set it to “The Beginning” by the infamous jazz musician and composer Sun Ra.  (Check it out; its very cool!) 

The actual performance of this piece was everything I imagined it to be and more.  There’s a special kind of nervousness that only choreographers know when we are sitting in the audience waiting for the first cue to go on our piece.  There’s a special pride we feel when our dancers nail a particularly tricky section of choreography.  It’s hard to let go and realize that it’s really not your piece any more — it’s theirs.  Those dancers who have showed up and stayed late week after week earning your trust and faith.  I’m so thankful for them and grateful for their hard work and dedication.  I’d also like to thank all my advisors, friends, and family who each played an integral part in my success.  

I claimed this piece to be a sort of prerequisite for my senior project.  I look forward to delving into the heavier coursework over the course of the next year, and I am excited to keep making and exploring the things that I love.  

Service, Nerves, & Honor – a Quick Update

So much has happened since I last posted.  First, let me apologize for falling off my bi-weekly plan.  Hopefully, I will resume my regular schedule now.  Keep reading to find out what’s been keeping me away from you all…

Spring Break. This school year, I’ve been talking about how much I wanted to get more involved in community service.  That being said, I was very interested in going on a Buck-i-SERV, OSU’s alternative break program, trip over SB this year.  I ended up getting on a bus full of 49 other people I had never met before, and driving down to Biloxi, Mississippi for one of the best learning experiences of my life.  I spent two days in a swamp removing an invasive species that was harming the environment (if you know anything about me, you know this was a big deal for me!), painted baseball facilities, went kayaking on the Mississippi River, and even spent a day in New Orleans where the beignets were every bit as good as I was told.  However, what stood out to me the most on this trip was learning about Hurricane Katrina and the very real affects it is still having on the community there in Biloxi.  We would ride around town, and I would be struck by this thought, “Wow. This used to be completely submerged under feet of water.  None of this used to be here.”  I was in the 5th grade when Katrina hit; it was something that never really had a lasting affect on me that had suddenly been brought sharply into focus.  I also felt that it was incredibly powerful that we came and partnered alongside folks who had worked in their communities for year without much support.  It seemed to me that we came alongside them and said, “Hey.  We see you.  We believe in you. Let us help.”  That’s a powerful and necessary message to share.

Senior Project Proposal. I’ve been talking about my senior project as if it has been a done deal for several months now.  However, while I have long known what I wanted to do, recently, I official turned in my first (and hopefully only) draft of the official project proposal. It will be reviewed by a committee, and Lord willing, it will be approved.  I am so incredibly excited to formally begin the process, but a bit nervous as it makes its way through the committee.  My project is unapologetically pro-Black and rooted very firmly in my own personal experiences.  I was quite concerned that it would be taken the wrong way until an old friend shared a message of encouragement with me: “It’s your truth, and it deserves to be heard.”  I’m resting at peace in that now.  My perspective and thoughts have value.

SPHINX.  Sphinx is senior honorary here at OSU and is the oldest honorary on campus; it was founded in 1907.  On Friday, I had the honor of being “linked” into the family.  Sphinx is one of the oldest traditions on campus, and I am incredibly proud to become a part of that legacy.  I’m looking forward to developing 23 new friendships over the course of the next year.  What made it even more special was the fact that my mom flew in to surprise me.  I was making the “Long Walk” from one end of the Oval to the other when I saw her and promptly burst into tears. My dear friend Dominique had called her months in advance to tell her I had gotten in so that she would have the opportunity to make arrangements to be here for me.  It was such a well-timed blessing to be able to celebrate such a momentous occasion with someone who loves me and to spend a relaxing weekend away from campus.  I think it was just what I needed to power through the next few weeks.

Looking ahead.  This coming week is the premier of my latest choreographic work, a trio, entitled Nou Led, Nou La.  I am so excited to be presenting our months of hard work, and to be on the other side of the stage for once.  You can visit here for more information about the entire concert, showtimes, and tickets.

Be blessed!

Love and Light,

Kylee

 

Dance Education: Teaching

This past semester, I took Dance Education 3501 as part of requirements for my major.  It was a pretty general overview of the education system at large here in America and how dance/fine arts fit into the curriculum.  At the conclusion of the course, we explored “best practices” of teaching by leading forty-five minute sessions for our classmates in a genre of our choice. At the beginning of my journey here at OSU, I was astutely against teaching.  I vowed that I never wanted to teach because I felt that I didn’t have anything to teach.  I didn’t (and, to some degree, still don’t) feel that I had the technical ability or training in any specific genre to teach anyone anything, especially my extremely talented peers.  Frankly, teaching intimidated me.  However, I decided to draw from my love for improvisation and taught a improv jam for my Education class.  Surprisingly, it went really well.  I think that the peers that danced with me were the perfect individuals for the experience because they were so open-minded, engaged, and kind.  I am forever thankful for that.  They allowed me to relax and enjoy the experience for myself.

The class started off with some simple, guided “across the floor” explorations.  The focus of my class was the sensation of the body moved through space — what if the space was thick, light, heavy, resistant, etc.  In order to help the dancers find their way, I used a lot of imagery to better articulate my point.  The class then moved into some partnered exploration of negative space.  This was a really cool activity to watch.  The dancers were so creative and innovative.  The objective of this exercise was for it to start off slowly and sporadically and build into a constant, regular quick speed.  Afterwards, I decided to include a favorite from my first contemporary class here at OSU taught by the phenomenal Ann Sofie Clemmensen.  She introduced an open-space improvisational exploration; the major objective was to enter and exit the space while making choices.  Sometimes there were other rules, but that was the primary standard.  I used the same goal in my class.  This portion of the class was my absolute favorite; fortunately one of my classmates was able to get a portion of it on video for me.  I was able to dance with my friends and further engage in the experience for myself.  The link to watch is posted below! Enjoy. 🙂

 

Martese Johnson

Gabriella Wiltz

I don’t usually talk about the police brutality that surrounds this generation, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. It’s hard for me to process and comprehend the scrutiny people of color are under constantly and it is especially difficult because I am surrounded by people that can’t even begin to understand what it is like to be a minority in this country. My heart aches for the Trayvon Martin’s and the Michael Brown’s and the Eric Gardner’s. No man is deserving of what they endured. No one period.

Martese Johnson is an honor student, a man of Kappa Alpha Psi, the latest victim of police brutality, and my friend. If you looked him up on google prior to yesterday’s events all you would see is articles on the scholarships he’s been awarded, how active he is on his campus, and pictures of his goofy grin and nice bowties…

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Daryia, Disappointed.

Daryia, Unbalanced.

The title of this post is probably misleading. As you’ll soon see, the tone of this post will be that of anger topped with a hint of disgust. Shall we begin?
I have a stuffed animal. I made him at Build-A-Bear a while ago with a friend. His name is Ali Shahid Muhammad. You’re probably thinking “this post is about a bear, how angry could she be?” keep reading.

There’s this guy, lets call him… Rick.
Rick and I have known one another for, I’d say, a few years now.  I wouldn’t describe our relationship as “romantically involved” for reasons you’ll soon see.
Rick is, and always has been, problematic.
However, for whatever reason we hang out occasionally.

Rick and I pretend that Ali Shahid Muhammad is our “love child”, constantly bickering about how much time he spends with our “son”, my lack of parenting skills, and Ali’s future; attending…

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Leigh Anne Tuohy, Racism, and the White Saviour Complex

The Belle Jar

Leigh Anne “That Nice Woman Sandra Bullock Played In The Blind Side” Tuohy recently posted the following picture and caption on her Facebook and Instagram accounts:

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We see what we want! It’s the gospel truth! These two were literally huddled over in a corner table nose to nose and the person with me said “I bet they are up to no good” well you know me… I walked over, told them to scoot over. After 10 seconds of dead silence I said so whats happening at this table? I get nothing.. I then explained it was my store and they should spill it… They showed me their phones and they were texting friends trying to scrape up $3.00 each for the high school basketball game! Well they left with smiles, money for popcorn and bus fare. We have to STOP judging people and assuming and pigeon holing people!…

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From Fear to Success

For the final study in my Composition II course, we were directed to make a piece, 3-4 minutes long, to a song/sound/music of our choice. Pretty much there weren’t many parameters set for us.  I had been sitting with an idea for a piece that I was already calling “Bloodlines” in my head, and I decided to use this assignment to begin to develop it.  “Bloodlines” is an exploration of two of my greatest passions: dancing and writing.  I wanted to integrate spoken word into dance, allowing myself to share everything that I had with my audience — the things that I cannot articulate in words through dance and the things that I can best say through poetry.

This piece is for my people — my ancestors.  I have grown up with a strong sense of familial pride. More recently, I have learned the story of how my great great great uncle, Anthony Crawford, was lynched in Abbeville, South Carolina, in 1917.  My great Granddaddy was the first black deputy sheriff in Abbeville, which is recognized as the birthplace and deathbed of the Confederacy.  He could not even arrest a White man for breaking the law on his own.  My Papa helped to build the CSX railway up and down the East coast, a hard and cruel work.  His peers called him “Blue Steel” because his skin was a deep ebony that looked blue at times.   My Nana worked in many of the affluent white households around town for many years; there were times when she had to neglect her own children in order to take care of theirs.  It is hard for me to explain articulately in words, but all of these things stir my soul in a very powerful way.  Today, my Nana is one of the most well-known and respected women in the Abbeville community among both blacks and whites.  I am here at The Ohio State Univeristy, majoring in dance, a concept which could have only been a figment of her imagination for a significant portion of her life and that sometimes she still struggles to understand completely.  My great Granddaddy and Papa passed away many years ago, but not before they could touch my life in an immense way.  I wanted to make a dance that recognized them.  The life, blood, sweat, prayers, and tears that my family gave up in order for me to have the present in which I am living.

I didn’t want this dance to be done at the end of my composition class, so I decided to conquer my fear and adjudicate it for the Department of Dance’s spring concert.  (Adjudication is basically like an audition, but to put a choreographic work into a performance.)  I entered into the process with one goal, to put my name out there.  I wanted the Department to become more aware of my presence, and essentially know, that in the midst of all the amazing talent that we have here, Kylee C. Smith is here, and she has something to add too.  Being selected for the concert was a dream of a dream.

I guess I should have more confidence in myself.  I was shocked beyond words when I received an email saying that my piece was among those that had been selected.

So, “Bloodlines” lives on, and as with any life, it will grow and stretch and change over time.  I am incredibly excited to be given this opportunity.

Below is the most recent video of the work.  Excuse the blurry quality, but technology and I don’t see eye to eye right now.  Don’t worry, I’ll be keeping you updated and posting more videos soon!

Blessings, Love, and Light.