Bloodlines

Fall 2015 – Reflections and Preparations

There are like a hundred other things that I could/need to be doing right now (sleeping, doing work, sleeping, reading one of the 20 books that are currently on my reading list, sleeping…), but the semester is nearing a close and some reflection and looking toward the future is long over due.

This has been one whirlwind of a semester.  I was crowned Ohio State’s African American Homecoming Queen/Miss Black and Gold (an experience in marginalization that opened my eyes to the reality surrounding students of color on this campus in a new way), and won first runner up in the district Miss Black and Gold pageant as well.  I have delved deeper into my minor in creative writing and discovered just how connected choreography and writing are and found so much confirmation that I am pursuing the right path.  In many ways, I’m excited and can’t believe that I only have three more semesters until my undergraduate career is over, but in other ways I’m so overwhelmed by my looming future.  I’m really excited about the year and a half left because I have decided upon a topic for my senior project and am beginning to embark on that journey.

I took a History, Theory, and Literature of Dance class last spring with the amazing Dr. Hannah Kosstrin (who is serving as the advisor for my senior project, yay!) which focused a great deal about the African/Africanist influence in modern dance (and ballet!) here in America.  My final research paper explored an interest I had in this topic and sought to help me better understand and accept my own self in this history.  The title was “Black Female Bodies in American Culture and Performance.”  This class really ignited a spark in me; I finished the paper, but found myself looking at race, identity, culture and community in almost everything around me.  As I was taking this class and doing this research, I was simultaneously choreographing Bloodlines.  All of these thoughts and ideas are closely bound to my own journey of self-love.  I seek to understand the Black dancing body as a whole in hopes to better know myself and where/how my own body can continue in the steps of my predecessors.

So this is my senior project — continuing to research Blackness in American dance and culture and to develop choreography (group and potentially some solo work) as a response to my research.  I am planning to do a distinction project, which will require me to do defend my thesis before a jury and then do some rewriting.  Overall, I am super excited to begin this journey, and I am incredibly thankful to the women who have inspired and helped me thus far — Dr. Hannah Kosstrin and Bebe Miller.  I am so looking forward to working with the both of them on this endeavor.

Hopefully, I will do a better job in the coming months of documenting my work and you all will be able to join me.

On a side note: I am writing this post on a laptop that I fear will quit on my at any moment… I am in desperate need of a new one that will allow me to record all of my notes and work without worry and unwarranted technological frustration.  If you would like to help me fill this need, please feel free to visit this link and make a donation.  I am so appreciative of every little bit! Thank you 🙂

 

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Bloodlines

This weekend my first choreographed work, a solo entitled Bloodlines, premiered in the OSU Department of Dance’s Spring concert, “Absolute Existence.”  This piece was inspired by the lineage of my ancestors as African Americans in the Deep South.  All my life, I have grown up hearing stories about how my family lived and worked in Abbeville, South Carolina.  I have been brought up with a strong sense of pride in the people from whom I come, and their experiences of lynching and discrimination have fueled my desire to be all that I can be and to take advantage of the opportunities that they risked their lives to provide me with.

My distant uncle, Anthony Crawford was lynched in Abbeville in 1916 because he refused to settle for the poor price that a buyer offered him for his cotton crop.  His legacy has traveled from generation to generation to me, and I have been rocked with the understanding that one of my blood relatives was murdered in cold, hateful, and evil blood.  It fills me with a sort of righteous indignation akin to what I feel when the media splashes the death and mistreatment of youth like Martese Johnson, Mike Brown, and Trayvon Martin across my news screen.

Wess McBride, my paternal great-grandfather, my Great-Granddaddy, was the first black police officer in Abbeville County, where his grandfather was lynched.  He was also the first black sheriff’s deputy in the county as well.  This was a man that I knew; a man of whom I have faded memories.  I remember going to his house and sitting on his scratchy couch.  I remember his wrinkly face.  I know the stories that my father still tells of the kind of man he was today.  He was an upstanding man of integrity — much like the kind of woman I am striving to be today,

Mary Alice Smith, my paternal grandmother, my Nana, truly lived the role of the Help.  She started in domestic work at a young age, working in the homes of many affluent families in Abbeville as well.  She raised some families’ children from infancy, and they still hold her in high regard for this today.  She went on to work in the sewing and textiles fields, and carried herself with the dignity our ancestors has passed down.  For this reason, she was favored, and placed in positions of prominence in these fields as well.

Lastly, Walter Smith, my paternal grandfather, my Papa, was a man who has further instilled in me the value of hard work.  He worked on CSX Railroad, formerly Seaboard Coastlines, from the age of 14 until he retired.  He laid rail all the way up and down the Eastern seaboard.  The hot southern sun turned his skin a deep ebony, earning him the nickname Blue Steel because his skin had a faint blue tint. My Papa passed away when I was 11, but the color of his skin is something that has always resonated with me.  I look so much like him; in my baby pictures, he holds me to his face and our skin mingles together, almost the same shade.  Thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes; I miss him so much.

These are the things that were in my spirit as I began the process of making this piece.  I wanted to honor my family, and all that they have done for me to be able to live the life that I currently enjoy.  Sharing this part of myself with the world has been an incredible experience.  I have been totally humbled by the responses that I have received, and I believe that it truly was a success.

I will close with the spoken word segment that I conclude my performance with:

These Bloodlines run strong in me. 

Coursing through my veins, driving me. 

See,

the blood on the root never dried. 

The fruit on the tree never died. 

No

A seed was planted. 

You — Uncle Anthony, Great-Granddaddy, Papa, Nana — live on in Me.

Below are pictures taken by my lovely classmate, Hana Newfeld, of Bloodlines.  

Enjoy.

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.