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Guest Author Eva

A life of loving dance

by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Dakshina is featuring guest writers on our blog telling us what drew them to dance and the arts. We’re very proud to have Eva Yaa Asantewaa start this series for us.

Music touched my life even before I drew my first breath. When she was pregnant with me, my mother used to listen to Latin music all the time, which could explain why I still feel a strong pull to that music’s Africa-rooted warmth, lilt and mighty percussion and feel these wonderful things in every cell.

We always had frisky calypso, classic jazz, old R’n’B, American standards and Broadway show tunes. (It’s amazing what’s still deeply, ineradicably stored in my memory banks!) All of that music played in our house and other family houses when I was growing up. At least one aunt was heavily into classical music and opera. I eventually added my personal taste in soul, Motown, funk and an eclectic range of rock and world music–Middle Eastern? Check! Afro-Brazilian? Check! Breton? Check!–to the already dizzying mix.

Hard not to be drawn to dance when there was always so much diverse, danceable stuff in the air.

Music and dancing were the only things that could override my childhood bashfulness. I could barely talk to people but, for some reason, I had no trouble dancing in front of them. I danced and danced. It came naturally to me. I improvised long before I knew what improvisation was, just following my heart.

Even though I never became a professional dancer–my striving, immigrant family put the kibosh on this potential career choice–I made dance classes a central part of my life. Graham technique, Duncan technique, Afro-Brazilian, jazz, belly dancing. In fact, some of those classes helped me recover from a brief bout of depression. Ultimately, my other childhood talent, writing, offered me a way to serve dance–as a journalist. I now have more than 33 years in that field.

My experience in taking classes and in observing performances, both as a fan and a critic, has convinced me that dancing or seeing dance has profound transformative and healing effects. Artists in other disciplines use physical skill to create art; a calligrapher, painter, guitarist or violinist develops and applies fine manual control. In dance, however, the whole body is employed and expresses itself.

We humans represent different histories, cultures, languages, beliefs, and ideas; our bodies look different and work with different abilities, but we all have bones, muscles, nerves. When a dancer moves, something fundamentally human within us fires up and answers in empathy and sympathy.

Choreographers and dancers are, to me, shamans and royalty. My thoughts go to Baryshnikov, to the incomparable Judith Jamison in Cry, to Trisha Brown’s outstanding troupe, to flamenco’s Soledad Barrio, to Nora Chipaumire, to the late, great Gregory Hines and today’s incandescent tappers like Jason Samuels Smith, Savion Glover and Tamango. But there are so many more that I could mention. Fill in this blank – ______________ – with your own pantheon, your treasured memories and reflections.

I believe that dance shared with others offers hope for reaching, understanding, and embracing one another as we strive to heal the complex problems, injustices and divisions in our society and world. I know that dance, at its best, makes a visceral, emotional, intellectual and spiritual impression upon me and reminds me why humanity, at its best, is powerful and precious.

Dancers and dance organizations have taken a big hit in the economic crisis, making this already underfunded art imperiled as never before and making it imperative that those of us who love it fight for it all the harder. I long for dance artists to receive the respect and support that they deserve for their mad talent, diligent work and creative innovation. I hope that my work has made and will make at least some modest contribution towards that goal.

Eva Yaa Asantewaa
InfiniteBody blog and Body and Soul podcast