As the world-wide-wave of solidarity distancing and confinement washed from East to West, the world of black dance was eventually directly engaged – and active!
On March 17 the one and only Debbie Allen hosted a free class on Instagram, that was hilariously blogged. Shérane Figaro of Aurée Danse Création fame has moved her innovative ESANS technique classes online, too – shimmy on over to the Facebook group and get your yanvalou on every Saturday at 11 am. The legendary Alvin Ailey company is also broadcasting a performance every Monday at 7 pm. Be there, or be square!
Fellow Nyata Nyata alum dancer and dance historian Rhodnie Désir is using her Facebook to signal boost performing artists – check it out and maybe even reach out if you have a project you feel needs amplifying. Eva Yaa Assaantewa’s groundbreaking dance blog Infinite Body has a new series, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. Definitely to be put on the top of your reading list!
Like a number of events over the past month danceGathering Lagos pushed forward and simply moved online. The gathering brought together over 100 people to answer the question “how [to] dance together when our bodies are separated?” Follow the hashtag – #danceGATHERING2020.
Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the crop of choreographies come fall “anchored in the movement lexicon of coronavirus gestures”. Because, woo-wee! This is the typical routine of a Chinese doctor putting on PPE to treat COVID-19 patients.
For those of us missing club dancing, DJ D-Nice regularly breaks the internet with his Quarantine Parties, and DJ Gardy‘s sets are already a fixed date in my calendar. #DontTalkToMeImBusyBustinAGroove
[From Cap-Haitien, I sent this email to friends outside of Haiti on January 17 2010. The local Pharmacie du Centre donated medicine (pain relievers, antibiotics, etc.) and the funds collected were used to hand out small cash sums and food staples to close friends, acquaintances and performing artists as referred by arts organizations active in Port-au-Prince.–Nadine Mondestin]
(feel free to forward far and wide)
Hello friends and family,
of you have received updates (albeit, brief ones) from me either via
email or Facebook over the past week. I have heard from or of nearly all
my loved ones in Port-au-Prince and can only rejoice in the fact that
there have only been relatively minor scrapes and bruises.
In other words: we are alive, but still in great pain.
there has been dramatic loss of life (estimates are now at 70,000, and
rising) and homes. But Haiti suffering from the extreme unequal
(under)development which is typical of many Third World countries, most
of the state, cultural, economic and intellectual resources that were
concentrated in the capital have also disappeared.
In such a context, there are many ways you can help.
Person to person 1)
If you know someone who has yet to hear of their family or friends and
are trying to reach them, please send me their phone numbers and I will
try my best to contact them and report back.
2) I, like many other Haitians, am scrambling to send food, medicine and
other essentials directly to loved ones in the capital. I would be
extremely grateful if you could support this by sending money via PayPal
to my sister Mafalda (email@example.com) or via Interac to myself firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larger scale initiatives There
is a justified focus on emergency relief via medical care, food, water,
sanitary interventions, etc. Please donate as much time, energy and
financial and material resources as you can to organizations involved in
AT THE SAME TIME
Consider setting aside a
portion of whatever you have for smaller organizations that have less of
a spotlight – and thus, receive a disproportionately small share of the
If you or someone you know is organizing a fundraising event, please
consider setting aside a portion of the proceeds for organizations like
Lambi Fund of Haiti The Lambi Fund’s mission is to assist the popular, democratic movement
in Haiti. Its goal is to help strengthen civil society as a necessary
foundation of democracy and development. http://www.lambifund.org
Cine Institute of Jacmel Jacmel
is the southern town my paternal grandfather’s from and has also been
very badly hit by the earthquake. The Cine Institute, and its
International Film Festival are some of the most exciting developments
in Haiti’s cultural scene in years.
Ciné Institute provides Haitian youth with film education and
edutainment, technical training, and media related micro enterprise
opportunities. We integrate educational film screenings into classrooms
of public schools, train aspiring filmmakers in all aspects of
production, and develop and produce films of all kinds in partnership
with our students and graduates. http://www.cineinstitute.com
Fonkoze Fonkoze is Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor. They are the
largest micro-finance institution offering a full range of financial
services to the rural-based poor in Haiti. http://www.fonkoze.org
FOKAL FOKAL seeks: To Promote the structures necessary to establish a just and durable democratic society, based on individual and collective autonomy and responsibility; To Support the autonomy of individuals, critical spirit, clear judgment, sense of responsibility, initiative, creativity and free cooperation through education, training and communication; To Reinforce the organizational processes which promote within groups the power of discrimination, the acquiring, sharing and comparing of knowledge and know-how necessary for an active participation in the democratic administration of public affairs and the flourishing of social, cultural and community life. http://www.fokal-usa.org/ http://www.fokal.org/
award-winning animal husbandry projects have set new standards for
development work in Haiti, most successful of these being its Let Agogo
product, which markets Haitian dairy at a scale heretofore impossible
for small-scale producers to reach. http://www.veterimed.org.ht
Haiti Soleil / Bibliotheque du Soleil Haiti Soleil is a nonprofit corporation based in
Berkeley, California. Haiti Soleil is founded on the belief that to
bring about social change in Haiti, the country needs to empower young
people by giving them access to safe nurturing spaces, and providing
them with opportunities for intellectual exchange and creative
These are organizations that have a mostly Haitian leadership and staff, and work on a range of issues: economic development, arts and culture, social justice organizing, women’s rights, etc.
Also, considering that we are expecting high levels of outmigration from the capital to surrounding towns and other major cities like Cap-Haitien (where I live), I would be remiss not to mention the two organizations I work with here in Northern Haiti:
SOIL Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti. http://www.oursoil.org
Konbit Sante Started in 2000, Konbit Sante Cap-Haitien Health Partnership is a Maine-based volunteer partnership to save lives and improve health care in northern Haiti. Rather than developing a second, parallel health system, Konbit Sante works with the Haitian Ministry of Health and with Haitian colleagues to build capacity within the public system for Haitians to care for Haitians. http://www.konbitsante.org
Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) helps individuals
and communities get affordable and environmentally sound access to
electricity, sanitation and clean water. Through a combination of
business incubation, education, and outreach, we help people get
technology that will better their health and improve their lives. http://www.aidg.org
One thing about black dance that illustrates it as a perfect life-movement ethic is the skipped beat. Yes, you’re always on rhythm, but can also keep your stride when life tries to throw you off.
The Women’s World Cup took place this past June. For the occasion South Africa’s Banyana Banyana gave us a pretty thorough demonstration of how every life mode has a move to help you keep marching on, always on beat.
Walk straight forward, landing on the balls of your feet. [Go about your business as planned.]
Do a two-step, rear up on your heels. [Protect your back, get ready to face foreseen challenges.]
Hop up on your toes. [Stay limber and jump over chasms.]
And finally – skip a step. [Ou panche, men w pa kase. That collision may set you back a bit, but you’re far from being down for the count.]
Dance of the African diaspora will teach you all you need to know about falling up in life. 😀
[BONUS! For more about how soccer, above and beyond snazzy dance steps, is more than a game: students from Laurent Dubois‘ Soccer Politics class put together these hot takes on the Women’s World Cup 2019. Happy reading!]
I was in grade school when my mother bought our first personal computer. It was an Apple II/c and I eventually learned key passages of the user manual quasi by heart. The one that fascinated me the most was a paragraph in the back, where they talked about accessories you could get for your computer. I would read about this thing called a modem that allowed you to connect with other weirdos like yourself [myself] and I’d go all dreamy-eyed.
Fast forward to 2019 and like a growing segment of the world population, a good chunk of my entertainment, a non-negligible amount of my socializing and nearly all my income is secured via this series of tubes. All I need is power, a decent ‘net connection, and all systems go. I could theoretically hike to the top of the Morne Laselle and bang out translations so flawless you’d get a tear in your eye.
In real life, it means my work commute is a 10 foot walk from my bedroom door to my [not-so-little] desk corner in the living room.
So I, like untold numbers of freelancers, have to put in thought, deliberation and a bit of self-trickery into staying hearty and hale. In the absence of stairs to climb up, or photocopiers to take a brisk walk to, how does one stay as limber of body as of mind? How do I, like Janelle, get the vim to last forever and the vigour to dance all night?
Oh, let me count the ways…
Take a Break…
My first tool is my work break timer, Workrave, an open source title that I’ve used for over 15 years. You can set up two kinds of breaks, both of which lock down access to your computer for amounts of time to your liking. If you’re ultra-disciplined you can also set it up to lock down your computer completely for the day. (Not my Netflix-infused life, I can guarantee you that!).
Workrave has a built in sequence of recommended exercises meant to relieve the most frequent desk bound worker ailments: eye strain, tension in arms and shoulders, etc. Over the years I’ve gleaned my own resources here and there to add a bit of variety. I am forever indebted to the Workrave team – but those exercises haven’t changed since 2003…
… Or Break A Sweat
Those strategies have been helpful in keeping the worst of the kinks and knots at bay during the workday. The larger challenge remains of committing to a sustained and regular workout. What’s a freelancer who’s a natural homebody and who doesn’t play any team sports to do? I’d tried many a formula to rope friends into being virtual workout buddies (including inviting folks to join Fitocracy) – but nothing seemed to really take.
The default messaging app of the Global South, it seems to find its true meaning with its groups feature. Not too long ago I decided to leverage my WhatsApp peeps and finally get the workout buddies I so longed for – and it worked! The winning formula was tackling as a group workout challenges from sites like POPSUGAR or Buzzfeed. I heartily took on the role of team cheerleader-slash-taskmaster.
Ti pa, ti pa
Working out is great – but your body still needs to actually walk a certain distance per day (2 million years of evolution as nomadic/hunter-gathering bipedals will do that to ya.). So, how do I “force” myself to get those steps in? StepBet! For me, it’s the perfect carrot and stick solution. You put an amount of money into a pool (usually around $30-40) and if you don’t make your daily step goal just for that week – YOU LOSE ALL YOUR MONIES!!!
The leftover pot is split between the app and the other players in this pedometer-enhanced Darwinian endeavour. Despite the name you’re not actually gambling, since results aren’t left to chance but are based on your own will to get up and talk a brisk walk.
With this app I’ve gone from almost completely stationary to putting in 8-14k steps per day over a matter of months – while making a smidge of beer money. Yes, I love the positive impact StepBet has had on my health. Its echoing of the Haitian community finance strategy of sòl (similar to West African tontine) warms the cockles of my better-beating heart.
So that’s a quick roundup of my tips and tricks for not letting my body fall into complete and utter disrepair. One day, I’ll be able to win crip walk marathons alongside the best of them…
How do you keep that body moving? Tell me everything in the comments…
Fête du travail et de l’agriculture. In Haiti, May 1st was consecrated as a paid national holiday in the 1961 Labour Law. Celebrated worldwide, International Workers’ day flows well with entrenched ideals that go back to Haiti’s struggle for independence: that the people who do the work should not only enjoy the full fruits of their labour, but that these should allow themselves and their loved ones to flourish.
May Day happens to fall two days after International Dance Day (April 29). This year the Haitian dance scene SHOWED. OUT. Events were held across the country – open houses! master classes! lectures!
One of the fewer discussed aspects of the art, though, is how fares the dancer-as-cultural-worker? Where does she learn the craft? How does he chart a career? How much will she earn – and when can she expect to make more than a living wage? What happens when he gets injured, falls ill? How does a dancer make ends meet in their old age? Is decent work for dancers something that’s attainable, or just a pipe dream?
Decent work, according to the International Labour Organization, is work that is “productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment” for all genders.
Today, sticking to that one (and easiest) indicator – pay – with a bit of digging you can find (deplorable) statistics on dancer incomes in certain developed countries. In Canada, for example, dancers earned on average $15,100 per year, a whopping 64% less than the national median for all workers, and about half the average recommended living wage.
Its much more of a challenge though, finding equivalent information for the Global South. Over the last decade there’s been a more sustained effort to quantify the economic heft of the cultural economy here in Haiti, for example. Barbara Prézeau-Stephenson’s La richesse culturelle d’Haïti : mythe ou réalité ? (2007) was the first widely accessible foray into the field. More recently, Ayiti Mizik, Haiti’s musicians’ professional association, published the nation’s first ever music industry mapping. Unfortunately, neither of these studies covered dance and choreography, or livelihoods associated with them.
Cap-Haitien, where I lived for just over a decade, is one of the rare places in Haiti with a local folkloric dance association. We can thank the regular performances for cruise boat tourists visiting Labadie for that. With some nudging, I was able to get one of the dancers to reveal that they were paid 750 gourdes per performance, but no pay for rehearsal (this was in 2009, when the equivalent US dollar value was $18.75). In comparison, minimum wage had just been raised from 90 ($2.25) to 125 gourdes ($3.12), and the starting salary for a doctor at the local public hospital was 15,000 gourdes ($375 US) a month. Today a living wage is estimated to be at minimum 1,750 gourdes per day (42,000 gourdes per month, and in today’s constantly in free fall exchange rate $495 US).
As it stands, cultural worker + developing economy = extremely precarious living conditions by default. Hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll see more energy, intelligence and action devoted to changing this equation.