Ohio State University

#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

&…

Bear with me, the title will make sense in a bit, but first let me provide some context…

Today, the Department of Dance hosted one of the most iconic figures in dance, Arthur Mitchell.  He came and gave us an amazing overview of his incredible life — from growing up on the streets of Harlem, how he found dance, becoming the first Black man to dance with the New York City Ballet (then under the direction of George Balanchine), to when he founded his own, now world-renowned company, the Dance Theater of Harlem.  He’s such a beautiful soul, so full of joy and life at the wonderfully seasoned age of 81.  (His 82nd birthday is next month, actually!)

He talked so long that we didn’t have much time for questions,  but my hand shot up as soon as we were able.  I thought of this last night: How do we change the perception surrounding dance in the Black community and engage more Black youth in ways that encourage them to pursue dance professionally.  So often, there is this perception that dance is not good enough for us.  We have to achieve more, do better, and prove ourselves to society.  “Anybody can dance.  We need more Black doctors, lawyers, etc.” is what I’ve been told.  I asked Mr. Mitchell about this, and he told me that “you just that you have to make up your mind for yourself.  You set the example.”

In a blessed coincidence, I happened to be at the elevator at the same time that he and one of his dancers, Paunika Jones, were being escorted back to their car.  Paunika started chatting with me further about my question, and we ended up walking out of the building together.  She then proceeded to blow my mind and challenge every single perception of myself that I have. She asked me if I was taking the ballet class that Mr. Mitchell was teaching later today.  I told her no, and she asked why not.  I said, laughing, “Oh, I’m not a ballet dancer!”

She looked at me and said, “Do you hear yourself?”  I stopped and was immediately blown away by the way in which I was refuting myself.  Ballet is inextricable from all classical forms of dance.  I do ballet here in my studies at OSU.  I grew up in the ballet technique.  So why do I label myself?  Why do I put myself in a box?  That’s part of the problem, Paunika told me (in reference to engaging Blacks in dance).  We tell ourselves that we can’t do things; we limit ourselves in our minds.  Just because something isn’t my greatest talent, doesn’t mean I’m incapable of doing it.

I found myself tearing up.  My biggest fight since I’ve been in dance has been overcoming myself.  My insecurities about my body, about my technique, about my inadequacies — no one has ever given them to me.  They have all been dredged up and put on by me.  Mr. Mitchell said today in his talk that we can be anything that we want to be.  We just have to work to be our best selves at it…

My name is Kylee Cedreice Smith.  I am a Black dancer…

& a contemporary dancer

& a modern dancer

& a ballet dancer

& a choreographer

& a writer

&…

whatever else I ever want to be.

No more limits. No more, “I can’t.” Starting today.

Thank you OSUdance, for continually bringing me these opportunities that change me and allow me to grow in invaluable ways. Thank you to Arthur Mitchell for sharing, & thank you to Paunika Jones for taking a few minutes of your time to be a true mentor. 

Me & the Legend, Arthur Mitchell. 

   

  

Overcoming Aesthetic Differences: It’s All about Attitude

Happy 2016! I know it’s rather late in the game for me to be saying that, but this is my first post of 2016, and absolutely not to be the last.  I have been telling some of my latest followers that it is my goal this year to establish a more regular blogging schedule.  I am really learning so much in my life right now, and I want to share this journey with all of you.  So, please help me stay accountable and be on the look out for a post from me bi-weekly (every 2 weeks)!  I’ve made it a goal for this semester to be more regular and intentional about private and public self reflection, and my blog is a huge part of my public reflection.  I’m so excited to continue in this process with you.

Now, to the meat of this post —

Over the last five and half months, I have been working with one of our graduate students, Kristina D’onofrio, on her Masters of Fine Arts thesis project.  She had this amazing idea of incorporating the Psalms into dance, and when she told me about it in Fall 2014, I thought it was an amazing idea and definitely wanted to be a part of the work.  When Fall finally came, I was still committed to working with her.  However, it became really evident soon into the project that we have some really major aesthetic differences.  She’s an extremely talented ballet dancer, and I have never ever wanted to be a “‘trina” and have become really steeped in modern dance since I’ve been in this department.  I found myself feeling way out of my comfort zone and struggling to master the choreography as quickly the others were.

Then, we started having rehearsals with dancers from BalletMet’s trainee program — girls that were hard core ballerinas aiming to make real, professional careers out of ballet. I was so intimidated.  I had a scheduling conflict that caused me to be late to rehearsals, and so I would always be a little confused about what was happening.  This compounded with the insecurities I felt about being around these girls who were dancing in pointe and left me doubting myself.  I came into every rehearsal thinking, “These BalletMet dancers must think that I am a fat, lardo, trainwreck of a dancer.” (So many of my insecurities are still body centered, but I’m working on it.) I started dreading those two hours twice a week, and I saw myself as really insignificant to the overall success of the piece.  I spent a lot of time thinking, “How late is too late to drop out?  If I had known I would feel this way back in October, I would have definitely quit then.”  I carried this with me right into tech week.

But then, I had an amazing speaker come in and talk to my Buckeye Leadership Fellows cohort.  His name was Dwight Smith, and he founded a program called My Special Word, which goes out and talks to young people about their values and then helps them to come up with a word or group of words that they feel encompasses who they are or who they want to become.  He led my group through a similar activity.  The word I came up with is creator.  I want to create a better world for girls like me, especially in dance.  This has long been my goal.  I’m a dancer and a writer; I create movement, stories, and worlds with my body and with my words.  There — that’s who I am.  This reminder was so focusing and clarifying.

Here I was on the night of dress rehearsal suddenly realizing that I had been approaching this entire experience the wrong way.  I got to perform this past week.  That’s what I want to do with my life.  Not everybody has that opportunity, and I am so blessed to have even held a small part in making Kristina’s vision into reality.  Beyond that, I learned what it’s like to reconcile aesthetic differences; the challenge of this work will be in my heart and mind in the future, because I know that I’m not going to always like every dance that I’m a part of.  I also walk away from this experience with new friends — it’s so great to have bonded with dancers in a different field, and I hate that it took me so long to open up and let them in.  I found out that many of them were feeling the same way that I was about the choreography, and it was really cool to learn about their unique lives.

My mom always told me that your attitude can make a world of a difference in your situation.  She’s so right.  My performance was so much better because I finally brought an attitude of thankfulness and joy to my work.

Thank you so much, Kristina, for not giving up on me and letting me be a part of this.  I’m truly forever grateful.

Blessings and Light. 

Enjoy some pics of me and my cast! 

    
    
   

The Truth about Serving

For our final in my Freshman Seminar Class, we were instructed to do a study on the human body.  The project consisted of three parts: a physical “one hour” study of anything relating to the human body, a written final evaluation of that study, and this blog post.

Photo Credit: Kylee Smith

For my one hour study, I decided to look into how people carry themselves and interact in certain situations.  Specifically, I wanted to observe the wait staff of a restaurant; I was looking for changes in demeanor, posture, and/or body language in the servers as they worked with tables of differing demographics.  I chose Sloopy’s Diner, a restaurant located here on campus at Ohio State.

Ultimately, my plans and reality came together to create something that I had not quite expected.  Before the study, I thought that I would be able to see many clear, different changes in the body language/posture of all the servers.  I found that in general, the majority the servers had a very kind, pleasant, and professional attitude with all of their customers.  I was pleased find some form of what I had hoped to see in two of the four servers I observed.  I have prepared a Prezi presentation in the link that follows to share my findings with you all. The Truth about Serving Prezi

Dancing in Diversity

The college experience is often said to be a hands on experiment with and exposure to the “real world.”  There is so much emphasis about diversity in culture, ethnicity, faith, etc.  But why should diversity be limited?  Why cannot the dance world be explored in terms of diversity?  As a freshman dance major here at the Ohio State University, I am learning on a first-hand basis how diverse my passion is.

Last week, in my freshman seminar class, we interviewed several individuals across the globe in Europe and South America.  I found it incredibly interesting to see that there are Italians dancing in Sweden and to learn about the state of the dance world in Buenos Aires.  Not only are people crossing cultures and creating incredible multiethnic dance companies and groups, they are bringing their individual heritage to their work.  To me, it is extremely heartening to see that earning a living by dancing in a community or country other than my own will not cost me my heritage.  Jessica Andrenacci, one of our interviewees, said something really striking, “Multinational dance allows you to learn more about yourself and others also.”  One of the things that is most beautiful to me about dance is that different dancers can bring so many diverse things to the art form simply by gathering from their life experiences.  It creates life and breath in choreography, taking humble steps and turning them into something powerful.

For me, dance has always been an incredibly global idea.  I have always said that one of the reasons I want to be a professional dancer is because I want to see the world.  It would be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to have my passion for dance take me to places I could never go otherwise.  I also think it would benefit me greatly as a human and as an artist to be able to observe and take part in cultures other than my own.

Currently, I am taking a class in classical Odissi dance, a traditional Indian dance form.  My respect for the precise, exact grace of the movements has only increased throughout the course.  Simple things like taking a class in a cultural dance form can broaden an artist’s perspective in an innovative and unique way.  I feel that such experiences are fundamental to the growth and continued vitality of dance in the world we live in today.

My Midwestern Experiences

Photo Credit: Gabriella WiltzMy Ohio State experience so far has been incredible.  Everyday, I am thankful that God provided and made the way for me to be able to attend this school.  I miss my family and home tremendously, but I know that this is the place that I was meant to be.  Ohio State is literally the school that I always dreamed of attending, and as I began to really begin my college search/application process, I didn’t think existed for me as a dance major.

One of the things that I love most about OSU is the fact that it affords its students so many unique opportunities.  From the involvement fair that they held to the first Sunday of the school year to all the amazing guest speakers and organizations that they bring to campus.  The president of Somalia is coming to speak soon, and I desperately wish I could be in attendance.  Unfortunately, the session is already full, and I have class during the time at which he will be here.  Hopefully, there will be more prominent world leaders that will be here during the year who’s speeches will fit into my schedule.

Also, I am completely overwhelmed and swept up in the fantasitic sense of school spirit that we have here at OSU.  It is truly a Buckeye Nation.  If you have nothing else in common with someone else, it will almost always be that incredible “Buckeye Pride.”  I am also delighted by the fact that we have a really good reason to be proud of our athletic department — our teams are pretty darn good!

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I am anxiously awaiting the complete arrival of fall.  As a South Carolina girl (the best in the world!), I am sure I will miss these warm, summery days, but as a resident of a non-air conditioned residence hall, I relish the moments that I get to spend anywhere that’s cool!  However, I am certainly enjoying my first semester as a college student and couldn’t be happier to be experiencing it here at THE Ohio State University.