OSU

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.

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Commencing 

Well, year three is in the books.  I am sitting at (my new) home, in Utah, still sort of in shock over the fact that I have completed yet another successful year at The Ohio State University.  OSU has actually become more home to me geographically than anywhere else.  It’s where I have spent the majority of my time and energy over the last few years.  I remember the first time I actually called it “home” and how weird that felt. Now, I have one year left until I will be making a new home somewhere in the world.  

I titled this post “Commencing” because a few days ago, I finally began work on my senior project.  It eerily became real because now I am actually doing all of the things I have been talking about doing for the past year. (You can click this link for more information about my project) The end of this past semester was full of so much confirmation that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  I took two classes that paralleled my interests in blackness in dance and helped me to explore blackness more generally in America and musically throughout the Diaspora.  It was so powerful for me to make connections and to see that the things that I observe at work in the dance field have larger, societal roots as well.  In my Music of Africa and the Diaspora class, we had a guest lecturer, Dr. Denise Noble, talk about Dancehall music in Jamaica.  I was intrigued by the way in which Black women’s bodies functioned within this Jamaican context, and I immediately felt that it had some connection to the ways in which Black women’s bodies in America function as well.  Dr. Noble and I  connected later as I interviewed her for my final paper that I wrote for that class. One of the biggest things that I took away from our conversation is that this thing — this particular structure that surrounds and suppresses Black people — is global.  It’s a part of the legacy left behind that touches every single country in the African Diaspora and every African nation that has been colonized by Europeans.  I am now struck by the vastness of what I want to do. 

I think I have found (one of) my life’s work(s).  I simply cannot get at everything in a year while taking general education classes and trying to graduate on time.  But what I know is that my work will not end simply at the end of my final year of undergrad.  I wrote in my senior project proposal that I want to work to ensure that no other little black girl has to grow up feeling the way that I did/do.  As a woman, finding peace with your body can be hard work — especially when your body is encased in black skin.  This applies broadly in America where black bodies still are under attack, but more specifically in a dance studio. I had know clue how much meaning this statement would take on when I said this three years ago as I wrote my artist statement for this blog, but dance is for everyone.  There is no perfect body or size.  No one should every have to question their place or if they belong here for any reason. My sister, you will fit, because I am breaking the mold for you. 

So as I commence this process, I am very excited, very nervous, and borderline already overwhelmed, but I am motivated.  I’m not just doing this for me.  I am taking the first few steps now, but I refuse to be timid.  I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me! To God be All the Glory! 

&…

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! 

    
    
   

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 🙂

 

Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Dance with Jimmy Ortiz

My two weeks in spent in San Jose, Costa Rica, were beyond amazing.  I can’t really even put it into words — all the positive adjectives that exist can be applied to my experience.  When I first arrived to San Jose, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I was getting myself into.

On the first Saturday of the trip, I met the choreographer that we were going to be working with, Jimmy Ortiz, and his assistant/translator, GrEivin QuezAc.  Jimmy was a visiting choreographer at OSU last fall.  I wasn’t in his class or his choreography, but I had classmates in both.  I gathered from them that he was an extremely physical mover, specializing in a type of dance called “flying low.”  My classmates and I spent the first weekend of our stay in Costa Rica with Jimmy and GrEi, touring San Jose and visiting one of the country’s inactive volcanos, Volcan Irazu.  On Monday, we started dancing.

Day One: I cried. I was totally physically and mentally unprepared for the class that Jimmy gave us.  I felt so weak and completely out of my league.  In the weeks and months before the trip, I should have been running and lifting weights and doing push ups and conditioning. On Day One with Jimmy, I learned that physical fitness should always be a priority, even as a dancer.  We have to be prepared for anything.  We had several guest teachers while we were studying at Promenade, all students of Jimmy’s, each with their own unique style of movement, and all completely different from anything that I’ve ever done.  But my body surprised me; Day Two with Jimmy was much better, and I didn’t feel like such a complete failure.  The following days were never easy, but I didn’t allow myself to give up.

The physical challenge of dancing was actually incredibly rewarding.  I craved the the intensity.  Some days, I had to talk myself through the class, but it was always worth it.  I am totally aware that I wasn’t always (or often) successful in achieving the aesthetic or movements for which our teachers were asking, but I tried to always do my best and give it my fullest effort.

While dancing at Promenade, I got to know several of the dancers with whom Jimmy is currently working.  There were all phenomenal individuals and supremely talented movers.  Part of what made me love dancing at Promenade was being surrounded by so many people that exuded this raw, organic passion for dance.  Watching them take class and perform had a huge impact on me and how I approach dance now.  I would love to stay and continue to learn from them.

I hope to return to San Jose (or wherever Jimmy is) and dance some more.  I have so much that that I can still learn and experience to better myself and grow as a dancer.  I experienced a great deal of personal growth in only two short weeks.  Lord willing, I still have many years of dance left ahead of me and many more opportunities such as this one.

No Habla Espanol

So… the national language in Costa Rica is Spanish.  Which happens to be the language that I decided not to take during my sophomore year of high school because I wanted to take a math before I took the PSAT, and taking Spanish would not allow me to do so.  I fell in love with the French language in 10th grade and continued to study through four levels in the three years that I had left in high school.  During my second semester at Ohio State, I officially declared a French minor and am continuing my studies in college.

In the months leading up to the trip, I was super busy with rehearsals and a full course load so I didn’t really have time to learn any Spanish. I knew we would be staying with host families that have had experience housing American students before, so I expected to find that they spoke some English at a minimum.  My surprise to learn that the organization that was responsible for choosing host families looked for families that specifically did not speak English quickly turned into a serious concern.  Literally, I do not speak Spanish.  Thats basically the extent of all I know how to say confidently.  I was extremely worried when I found that my family really spoke very little English.

That being said, communication was extremely difficult for me.  I understood very little of what was being said to me most of the time, and even when I did, my responses were very limited.  I found that my family didn’t believe that I understood because of my face didn’t often express complete understanding.  Towards the end of trip, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with my inability to communicate.  I kept thinking about how I if I was in a French speaking country, I would be perfectly fine.  I felt lost in a culture where I didn’t even have a reliable life boat.

Considering the fact that I entered the country with little to no Spanish knowledge, I actually learned a great deal.  I can now communicate on the basic level of  a 2 year old learning to speak.  I do think that being thrown into a situation that I was clearly not comfortable with caused me to learn quickly — it was either sink or swim.  I chose to swim… or at least stay afloat.  I have developed an appreciation and interest in the Spanish language and would like to continue to grow in my speaking capabilities as I would like to return to Costa Rica in the future and often.  After all, being multilingual is one of my life goals.  🙂

Adventures in Choreography

This semester I had the pleasure of being involved in a number of pieces of choreography.  As the semester began, I auditioned for a  piece by Noelle Bohaty, an MFA candidate in the department.  She chose to accept all six of the dancers that auditioned for her; all of us were freshman.  This experience was very educational for me.  Originally, Noelle was creating the work as part of a MFA class she was taking with BeBe Miller, but she decided to adjudicate it for the Spring Sneak Peak performance that was to take place in April.  Sitting in on the discussions that Noelle’s class had after every showing was a really eye-opening experience for me as well.  I learned much about the choreographic process and the many things that have to taken into account as one is creating work.  This was a very nice compliment to the Dance Composition class that I was already taking.  BeBe especially offered tidbits of advice or suggestions that caused me to seriously stop and ponder my movements and the choreographic direction that we were being given.  Noelle’s style of directing was unique too.  We didn’t work linearly, but rather we created phrases, manipulated them, kept playing and exploring, and before knew it, we had an entire piece.  Noelle entitled it “between us; or bare.”  This was my first opportunity to perform as a member of the department; I was very excited to see our hard work and many hours spent in rehearsals on Sunday afternoons pay off.  I am very proud of myself and my cast members.

In addition to performing for the Spring Concert, I was also involved in two Music and Choreography pieces for upperclassmen within the department.  Music and Choreo is a class that is offered as a sort of upperclassmen level composition class; they explore group choreography.  The assignment that I was a part of was to create a work to one piece of music, and then recreate it to a different song.  I danced for Kimberly Isaacs and Jada Green.  The two of them created very different pieces, and it was very interesting for me to watch and learn about choreographing from them as well.  Even though the pieces were being performed for a class, there was still a great deal of commitment and time required.  We had several rehearsals and worked very hard to produce the works.  It was lengthy and tiring process, but I can definitely say that it was worth it.

These three pieces account for a large majority of my time spent outside of class during this semester.  I was super busy, but it was a good, fulfilling kind of busy.  They were a part of what made my 1st year experience so grand.  Thanks to them for allowing me to be a part of their endeavors!

Catching Up

So, there is literally so much more that I have wanted to do with this blog that I have not had the time/taken the time to do.  But as this my first year of college is nearing its end, I find it extremely necessary to take a study break and share with you just a little reflection on where I am right now and how I got here.  Be on the look out for some more posts filling you in on my year in the near future as well.

Let me start by saying that I am so extremely blessed beyond measure to be here right now.  I can honestly say if not for the work of the mighty God I serve I would not be here. The  Ohio State University Department of Dance was a dream that I did not think would become a reality, and yet here I am.  For that, all the credit must go to Him.

This year has exposed me to a multitude of things that I have never had the opportunity to even imagine experiencing before.  I have learned about myself and found new interests.  The classes I have taken have been incredibly influential in opening my mind to a world previously unknown.  If I were to be transparent, I came into the Department knowing very little about this world in which I want to make a career and name for myself.  From day one, my Freshman Seminar class started to push me to understand myself and why I dance.  The Artist Statement that is featured on this blog is a product of an in class assignment.  I have grown from a girl who just “loves to dance” to a woman who dances because it is the form of expression in which I feel that I am most free, open, and myself.  But let me not get side tracked, visit the page to read more about it.

I am part of (in my opinion) one of the most incredibly talented classes that has come through OSUdance.  They don’t call us the “Amazing Freshman” for no reason!  Over the course of this year, we have sweated together, learned together, and grown together.  For me, one of the most intimidating parts of coming into this program was being surrounded by all of these phenomenal dancers.  I am in awe every time that I am working with my classmates.  They are part of the reason why I have developed as I have — they push me to become a better dancer.  There is nothing like the feeling of coming into technique class everyday and being surrounded by the 30 of your closest friends; people who actually know you, who understand your passion and drive, and don’t have to ask you,, “So what do you do as a ‘Dance major’?”.  To my classmates: thank you for being who you are.  We are the Amazing Freshman now, but we will continue to take the Department and the dance world by storm in the years to come! I love you guys.

I would also be remiss not to mention the two people in the Department that have had the hugest impart on me:

Sofie, I love you much.  As I told you last week, you now have 33 children.  You have become “Mommy Sofie,” and like any mother, you have not only been there for us during the good times, but also pushed us outside of our comfort zones at times as well.  For me personally, I learned so much from you in your class last semester.  I’m not sure how much of it you were able to see, but I know that I would not be where I am without your great instruction.  For that, I thank you!

Abby, literally, I was heartbroken not to be in your choreography for Drums Downtown this year, especially because you are leaving us for U of I next year.  I don’t think you understand how much of an impact you made on my life.  In your class, watching you dance, I learned more than just technique.  My body grew physically (I now am aware of muscles I didn’t even know I had) and my mind was strengthened as well.  The raw physicality that you exuded so effortlessly and demanded from your students was at times almost overwhelming, and I wanted to quit many times because of how frustrated I became with myself.  But yesterday, you told me, “Don’t stop.  I would have given up a long time ago if I had listened to what everyone told me.” That is what I took from you.  It doesn’t matter what any one says now because I know within me that I will make it.  Thank you for sharing that with me.  I love you with all my heart, Abby, and OSUdance will miss you next year.  Don’t be surprised when you see me pop up sometime lol 🙂

To all of my other instructors, your classes have all been an extremely formative experience for me as well.  I am thankful for everything that you all have given me.  Trust that I will not forget.

With that, I must return to my studies.  I don’t have enough words to express this year… but let’s just say that it has been really incredibly, amazingly, perfectly (and imperfectly) GOOD.