Soloist and Resident Choreographer Raphaela Riemer getting down for the Dance Like You® Project. We asked her how does dance make her feel she answered PROUD. Because she started from no skill to where she is today. Enjoy! and remember to Dance Like You…PROUD! <3
The other week I had the pleasure of attending Ecstatic Dance Gathering NYC at Union Square Ballroom. Ecstatic Dance provides a dance party that is a safe environment free of judgement, where individuals can come to express themselves through dancing and connecting with one another. The event was hosted by Daniel Michael, an amazing man who brought the Ecstatic Dance Gathering concept to New York from the West Coast. Ecstatic Dance is a project that Daniel was inspired to create through his experiences as a dancer, producer and “rabble rouser” for the Ecstatic Dance Oakland community. The phenomenon started out in Oakland, and after he was introduced to the group in 2009, he fell in love with the community, and decided it was his duty to bring the party over to the East Coast.
Elana “Meta” warmed us up with a beautiful combination of stretching, a little bit of body conditioning, and other exercises that were influenced by The BLADE Dance Technique®, yoga, and different forms of martial arts. The warm-up created a beautiful sense of unity between everybody in the room, the energy was serene and at ease, and after a short introduction from Daniel, DJ Chela got the party going with a unique set filled with chilled-out alternative electronic tracks. The lights dimmed, music started playing, and everybody started dancing and introducing themselves to one another through movement. The tense energy of judgement that one may often experience at parties was not present.
Something very unique about this event is that it is respected as a drug and alcohol free environment. Many times these substances can used as an escape from our emotions and from ourselves. However this particular evening I sensed that we were all very present with ourselves and our emotions, and were thus able to connect to the music as well as with one another.
In my experience, it has proven challenging to find a judgement-free environment where all community members are free to express themselves with their movement. When there is judgement present, it becomes more difficult for individuals to explore their bodies with movement, or express themselves with movement. Our perceived expectations limit us, and block our flow of creativity immensely.
How might we release these expectations? First and foremost, we must look at the root of the issue. We’ve grown up in an environment where we’ve been judged by others, and have been taught to judge ourselves and those around us from a young age. Identifying this allows us to find clarity and gives us the ability to approach dance, or anything else we may do, from a new perspective. This gives us the power to be true to ourselves, and to be able to express ourselves through movement in a way that is pure. This freedom of expression can be very therapeutic and liberating.
I see many parallels between the Ecstatic Dance environment and the environment of my company, H+ | The Hip Hop Dance Conservatory. At H+, we begin each of our rehearsals with a meditative exercise called Shuang bì míngxiǎng, a practice that is 10,000 years old and has its origins in the martial art of Wu Shu. The objective of this meditation is to release any thoughts or emotions lingering from our day that will not serve us during rehearsal, to cultivate a mental presence, and thus create unity within our community. This then builds an environment that is free of judgement and competition. We recognize that all dancers have infinite potential, and that everybody is learning and growing in their own, unique way and at their individual pace. This is why each and every day we step onto the floor with the goal of improving ourselves by cultivating a self-respect that will then project outwardly into our community, thus helping others’ also learn, grow, and cultivate their own self-respect.
It was beautiful to see another community approaching dance in a similar way. I am very excited to attend the next Ecstatic Dance gathering and introduce others to the environment. I would highly recommend checking out the next event if you’re looking to connect with a truly down-to-earth community, and be part of an environment where you can really let your guard down, and express yourself through movement.
H+ | Apprentice Jenna Weiller
Special thanks to Daniel Michael, the founder of EDance in NYC. He also travels around the world DJing as “Clever Alias”. You can check out his Sound Cloud at https://soundcloud.com/cleveralias. In addition, to stay up-to-date about different events coming up, be sure to follow the Ecstatic Dance NYC blog at http://ecstaticdancenyc.wordpress.com.
Side by side with Adidas Originals SoHo, H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory threw their H+ | Dance Like You® Summer Gala 2014 in celebration of their upcoming ventures and the kick-off of their world-renowned, international Summer Intensive.
Dance moguls and industry executives from varying fields were in attendance. From Hip-Hop pioneers like Roxanne Shante and Grandmaster Caz, to tap legends like Jason Samuels Smith, to street dance legends like Float Master John Rich, the venue buzzed with an insatiably diverse vibe. Guests enjoyed an open bar, eclectic hors d’ouerves by Chef Mohamed Ghazi, a private shopping experience at Adidas, and the energetic vibes of the one and only DJ Sabine.
L-r: Eduction Director Yvonne Chow, Principal Dancer Camilla Cusini, Artistic Director Safi Thomas, Architect Kate Kuta, Executive Director Porshia Derival, Associate Artistic Director Yasmine Fequiere, MC Roxanne Shante
The climax of the evening began with the Founder and Artistic Director Safi A. Thomas disclosing plans for the immediate future, in which H+ will be expanding from their foundation in pedagogy and repertory into the areas of policy and infrastructure.
The 5 companies now under the H+ entity are TOTEM® (Theatre Of ThE Mind), Vitriolum® (The BioMedical Research Facility), LemnisKate Consolidated® (Architectural Design Firm), Dance Mart® (A Food Market for Dancers), and AK47® (High-End Design & Media Services for Businesses & Individuals).
This impressive listing of H+’s redevelopment into the fields of medical research, architecture, healthy living for dancers, and design and media, over the next decade, incited a roar from the crowd. And if that wasn’t enough, Education Director Yvonne Chow continued the announcements with the final “pièce de résistance”: the first architectural designs for the H+ | Safi A. Thomas Arts Pavillion®, an 80-story building that will serve as a community in a community, boasting a state of the art performance venue, subsidized living for dancers, economical art studio space, an outdoor skatepark, a graffiti art space, and several other elements to be announced in the near future!
Executive Director Porshia Derival and Associate Artistic Director Yasmine Fequiere closed the prodigious evening with a toast to a new era for Hip-Hop, dance, arts, and theater and expressed their warm gratitude for all the exquisite party goers of the evening that joined in on such a momentous celebration in the history of New York City!
Artistic Director | Safi Thomas & H+ Architect Kate Kuta
Special thanks to Adolfo Banchieri of Adidas Originals SoHo and all the staff of the evening, DJ Sabine, and Chef Mohamed Ghazi.
Hors d’ouerves by Chef Mohamed Ghazi
Photography Credit: AK47Division
I consider “Wild Style” a visual manual of Hip-Hop culture. Cue “Crazy Legs” with his awesome swipes. Cue “Lady Pink” and her “don’t mess with me” leadership and intellect. Cue “Chief Rocker Busy Bee Starski” in all his lyrical smoothness and those unforgettable glasses.
H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory with Charlie Ahearn, Director of “Wild Style”
It is a montage of teenage dancers freestyling their generation’s expression, of the vibrancy that plastered those old NYC subways (where you could actually open the windows yourself), of teenage spirit in a burned/burning Bronx; life still high even with treatment so low.
I can’t watch “Wildstyle” enough. The first time I saw it was in a theater on the Lower East side when it first got transferred over to 32mm film. Ahearn raved on about how guerrilla style the whole shindig was. I only imagined how crazy it must have been to film that ending concert scene with the police roaming around.
The second time I had the pleasure of watching it was at the HighLine where I also had the honor of meeting Chief Rocker Busy Bee Starski. The summer day on that park coupled with the summer aura that glowed from the screen was a perfect environmental marriage.
And now this Thursday evening being my “third time charm” at the Museum of the City of New York for their public program, “From Wong to Wild Style An Evening with Charlie Ahearn and Friends.” This event was in conjunction with their graffiti exhibit, “City on Canvas: Graffiti Art from Martin Wong Collection”, a very appropriate curatorial venture for this urban birthing ground of Hip-Hop.
Each time I watch the film, my appreciation grows exponentially for its historical contribution to the culture what with the full uninterrupted scenes of the spirit and the vibe that surrounded Hip-Hop: the parties, the drama (Cue “Zorro’s” watchful eye on “Lady Pink’s” self-confident freedom with other men), the familial tension (Cue the scene between “Zorro” and his brother in their bombed bedroom), and the class/race hierarchy (Cue the scene between “Zorro” and the lady art buyer).
What made this experience unique unto itself was the opening with Ahearn’s endearing video portrait on community-loved member, Martin Wong, a Chinese American man born in San Francisco and relocated to New York City. ZEPHYR and SHARP, along with Ahearn, spoke to his character and his reputation, drawing a full picture of his presence and meaning to Hip-Hop. Known as an accomplished visual artist, Wong also was a top supporter who bought these young graffiti artist’s work and in turn shifted their minds to see their work as worthy both in cultural/artistic significance and thus in monetary value. Along with his investment in the graffiti culture, he also shared his beaming creativity and extensive art knowledge with the community.
I very much chuckled my way through the introduction to this eccentric character, a man with a vibrant and steaming mind, proven by Wong’s amazing works that seemed to so effortlessly bridge the gap between the life-size graffiti murals of the 80s and the Chinese (American) experience what with the cultural symbols of dragons, Buddhas. Two scenes magnified Wang’s very warm soul and visceral self: the up-close and personal documenting of the cutting of a fish’s head to serve and Wong’s slurping of dim sum in all it’s greasy splendor.
There is a humanistic quality to Ahearn’s filming. There is a trust built: a sensual permeability. Walls don’t exist in his world behind the camera; people just are who they are, something that is not at all difficult for the unapologetic Hip-Hop generation. This authenticity is so effervescently captured in both “Martin Wong” and “Wild Style,” an effect of the approach that Ahearn takes to a beautiful, raw, subculture spawned from the Black and Latino cultural heritage.
Charlie Ahearn, Director of “Wild Style”
H+ | Artistic Director taught me that Breaking: though “beautiful” is definitely not “pretty”. I transfer this very simple yet poignant distinction to the cultural invention of Hip-Hop. In the highest compliment possible, there is nothing pretty about either documentary; instead both exist as a beautiful real-life portrayal of a world that was a mystery to most (until the documentary landed in their hands), which is what magnifies the valuation of their place in New York history, in American history, all of which must be seen as synonymous with Hip-Hop History.
H+ | Education Director Yvonne H. Chow
H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory at Museum of the City of New York
Special thanks to Frances Rosenfeld, Ph. D., Curator of Public Programs of the Museum of the City of New York.
Photography Credit: AK47 Division