Saturday, November 7, 2015

Kizomba and the Single Life-Part 2

I was listening to a Kizomba CD on the way to work this week. I like the music because it’s soothing and hypnotic, and it allows the rhythms to marinate in my mind in between classes so that I can become more in tuned with the music and the dance. I did the same thing when I was learning belly dance. You would have thought I was from the Middle East as much Arabic music as I played.

I'm riding along and listening, and I begin reflecting on Monday night’s class. It was both fun and frustrating. Fun because the ladies in the class are hilarious. The camaraderie is good, so we joke and tease.  On Monday everybody was a bit subdued. Maybe it had something to do with the time change. Class starts at 8:00 pm, but I think our bodies were still in the 9:00 o’clock time slot.  Some of us were a bit challenged by the combination, and there were only two guys, so we kept going out of order, blaming the guys for messing up, and making faces.

We all have to dance with the instructor at some point, but I usually get to try it out a few times before it’s my turn. Not this time! One of the two guys, was Ken—the instructor. When it was my turn, I wasn’t feeling the combination. Something was off for me, and I was kicking myself because had been doing so well a couple of weeks prior. I felt like I was getting the hang of it, and Annet, the other instructor noticed, too and told me so. So, I was feeling pretty good—until Monday. I kept messing up, and nobody wants to get it wrong in front of the teacher!  Ken kept reminding me not to anticipate, and he told me not to help. I never did quite get the hang of that combination, but I left there with some reflections on dancing, relationships and life.

1. Trust is not given; it’s earned.  Trust your partner. That’s what I keep hearing, but on or off the dance floor, my partner needs to know that I will not follow him blindly. He doesn’t have to execute the steps perfectly, but I need to know that he won’t bail on me. No matter what we’re working on, one guy always says “We got this,” before we even start. And we may get it right, or we may not, but I know that as my partner, he’s got me.
2. it’s hard to be led by someone who doesn’t trust himself.  We’re in the class learning together, but some of the guys are so intent on getting it right, that they don’t allow room for error. If you mess up, so what? We’re going to do it again. If my partner doesn’t trust himself, why should I trust him? If I have to follow, my partner has to lead.

3. Be me. Everyone else is taken. There are people in the class who dance well.  I enjoy watching them dance, so I look to them for guidance and direction. I don’t want to be a carbon copy of them no matter how well they dance. I can take pointers, but I must ultimately find my own way and it will be at my pace, and that’s ok.

4. Put my cape away. Yep, that I'm independent woman likes to show up to class, too even when I try to tell her she’s staying home for the evening. I love her to life, but this is the one time I need for her to take a seat.  I need to learn to follow, as Clarence, one of the instructors likes to remind follows, submit, submit, submit. Not in a 50 Shades of Grey type of way, but to allows my partner to lead me through this dance. This brings me to my final point.

5. Relax! Woo sa, woo sa.  It’s a dance class. If I knew what I was doing, I wouldn’t be here. Some things will come easier than others, and when I don’t get it, there’s always the next class.
These lessons come in handy on the dance floor and in life. Until the next time, happy dancing!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Kizomba and the Single Life

The first time I saw Kizomba, I fell in love with the dance. It’s a sexy, sensual, sizzling couple’s dance out of Angola.  I was determined that when an opportunity presented itself for me to learn this dance, I was going to learn it. I take classes with Black Diamond Steppers Elite who also teach Kizomba. 

I’ve been taking classes for a few months now with Ken, Annette and the rest of their crew. As Ken says, “It’s easy to learn, but hard to master.” Kizomba is a dance that must be felt. It’s a dance of connection. It’s not grinding or dry humping or any other form of “nasty” dancing, but it is definitely hot when it’s done right!
Every week we review the basics, and learn a combination or two.  But a couple of weeks ago, Annette and Ken decided to have us change things up a bit and work on connection. The activity sounded simple. Leads had to be able to execute the steps for Follows without the use of arms and hands. It’s the Lead’s job to lead and the Follow’s job to keep the connection, the instructors said. 

In every class, we practice the moves and we always switch partners because it gives a chance to dance with different people and adjust to the various styling that we bring to the dance individually. The night was no different. We have to stand chest to chest or cheek to cheek to make sure that we are “connecting” with our partner in the way that we need to be. We’re partnered off forming a circle around Annette who’s going to lead us. She uses her fingers to show the Leads what steps to take while the Follows have our eyes closed. No peeking and no anticipation.  This forces partners to connect. 

Ken is in the circle as a Lead because there are usually more women in the class than men.  He stands facing his partner.  Just so happens that my partner is the guy of Ken’s partner. Annette reminds us that we have to stand close to our partner. Me and my partner are chests pressed ready to go; His girl is not. She’s hesitant to move closer to Ken. There’s a pregnant pause. Then her guy assures her that it’s ok. Everybody laughs except me and the woman moves closer to Ken.

I’m feeling weird. My melon-sized breasts are pressed against this man’s body, and I don’t know what to do. Should I step back and wait for her to give him the ok?  Should we trade partners? No because we’re going to switch partners after doing it two or three times. The music starts and we stumble through “connecting” laughing because it’s challenging to dance without using our arms and hands. We practice connecting for a while and then we move into the combination we’re working on for the week, and the remainder of the class goes well. But I’m left pondering what happened.

 I didn’t know if the discomfort was just her or if her guy was going to be trippin’ later. I also didn’t understand why she felt she needed permission to move closer to her partner, when her guy was not struggling in the least bit with us standing close together.  Why take a class like Kizomba if either partner is insecure or jealous? Or make it known that you only want to dance with your significant other. 

This incident reminded that the rules are always different for women than they are for men. And I wonder if my resistance to this double standard is why I remain single? Shouldn’t respect for a relationship go both ways? I don’t want the burden of maintaining relationship to rest squarely on my shoulders. That’s too much of a load to carry. If there are compromises and concessions to be made, they have to be made by both.
I love dancing Kizomba. And I hope to find a dancer and we connect in a way that allows us both to enjoy the dance to the fullest. If he’s unattached, that will make it all the more better.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Road We Travel

Viola Davis is a class act. She continues to address criticism against her by taking the high road. Viola is a phenomenal actress who is finally getting the recognition that she deserves no matter the backhandedness of some of it or the pure, unadulterated ignorance of those who fail to understand that Viola’s Truth might not be theirs, but it is still Truth. Davis deals with racism, sexism, colorism and ageism. She’s not afraid to speak out against these –isms nor does she allow discrimination to stop her from trudging forward. 

As the star of How to Get Away With Murder, Davis has the opportunity to shine in a role that is complex and multi-faceted. Annalise is smart, beautiful, and sexy and . . . . flawed. She’s human, and Davis’ brilliant handling of the character allows us to get up close and personal. When NY Times critic Alessandra Stanley described Davis as “less classically beautiful” than other actresses on prime time, Davis let the comments roll off her back. The comments were nothing new because she has heard similar comments all of her life, she said.  Stanley’s use of pretty language did not cover the fact that Stanley was calling Davis ugly because Davis doesn’t fit the European model of beauty that we’ve been brainwashed to think is more attractive. 

Just recently when Davis gave her acceptance speech for winning an Emmy, she referenced Harriet Tubman and called out Hollywood for its lack of diversity. And there were those who took offense at Davis’ comments. Nancy Lee Grant, an actress from General Hospital went on a Twitter rant complaining about Davis’ statement that there was a lack of opportunity for Black women. Grant didn’t think the acceptance speech was the place to address racial inequity. Grant seemed upset that Davis focused on Black women instead of the issues faced by all women. When asked about Grant’s comments, Davis acknowledged that someone was upset and refused to comment further.

Just recently Whoopi Goldberg said she doesn’t understand what Davis was talking about because there are opportunities for African-American actresses and went on to point out that Kerry Washington is on Scandal and “working her butt off.” Goldberg seems to think it’s not a lack of opportunity, but getting that pat on the back and the green light that it’s ok to hire Black women. I listened to Goldberg and shook my head. She sounded like she was contradicting herself. Black women do need access to showcase their talent and then they need acknowledgement.

Goldberg should know better, but Grant is a White woman who will never understand a Black woman’s struggle. Grant’s comments recognize that sexism is an issue, but she fails to understand that racism is also an issue. Goldberg is an exception to the rule in that she has earned a certain degree of success in a field that is dominated by White men. So, it’s not fair for either of these women to downplay Davis’ journey. What seems lost in the commentary on Davis speech is that she is the FIRST African American actress to receive an Emmy for best actress in a drama. Isn’t that enough to validate Davis’ statement? It’s 2015, and we’re still acknowledging “firsts” in a field full of talented actors of color. Davis being a first speaks volumes. And people like Grant and Goldberg need to listen. Yes, this may open the door for other Black actresses, but why are we still on the outside trying to get in? 

Back in July, when Nicki Minaj was passed over for an award for her Anaconda video, she also made reference to the discrimination faced by women of color in the music industry. She all but said that if she had been White her video would have won. This created a “feud” between her and Taylor Swift because Swift thought Minaj was throwing shade Swift’s way. The two of them came to an understanding and the “feud” was squashed, but then a reporter for the NY Times asked Miley Cyrus to comment on Minaj’s statement and stirred the pot again. Instead of saying no comment or at least saying something neutral, Cyrus, a young, rich, White woman of privilege went in on Minaj. Cyrus thought that Minaj’s attitude was one of sour grapes and accused Minaj of being angry and unkind. And during the airing of the VMA, Minaj showed Cyrus just how angry and unkind she could be. After accepting her award for Anaconda, Minaj said, “And back to this bitch who had so much to say about me. Miley, what’s good?” 

Minja was criticized for calling Cyrus a bitch. People like Wendy Williams said that Minaj was too old to be going after Cyrus. In other words, they wanted Minaj to take the high road. In a recent interview with the NY Times, Minaj expressed how she felt about Cyrus comments: ‘‘The fact that you feel upset about me speaking on something that affects black women makes me feel like you have some big balls. You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.’’ But we already know that people want everything but the burden of being Black.

Well, everybody is not like Viola Davis. Some are like Nicki Minaj and when you speak on what you don’t really know, you get what you get. I’m more like Viola than Nicki, but I believe there is a place in the world for women like Nicki Minaj who can snapback with confronted with ass-backward commentary. Whatever field we enter as Black women, we face an uphill battle. And people like Whoopi Goldberg and Wendy Williams seem to forget that. I’m not saying that as Black women we always have to agree, but in a country that is racist, sexist, and elitist—we should never downplay another woman’s struggle. As for White women, it might be wise for them to keep their comments about how we move in the world to themselves unless they’re ready for whatever response we might give them.High or low, the road we travel is not easy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Sad Truths of Straight Out of Compton

I left the movie theater heavy-hearted after viewing Straight Out of Compton. I allowed the positive buzz around the movie to suck me into seeing it even though I’ve never been a fan of NWA. While I loved Public Enemy, NWA was a bit over the top for me. I didn’t then and still don’t like music with explicitly sexual and/or violent lyrics. Words are things. Words matter. So, I’m mindful of the words that fill my head. I detest music that refers to women as bitches and hoes, and NWA lyrics are full of such references. I cringed as I sat in the theater listening to some of their infamous songs about life in the hood.

So, why did I want to see Straight Out of Compton? I was curious: Who was NWA? I wanted to know their story. I wanted to get an inside look at the men behind the music. I’m not the same person I used to be, and I wanted to see if they were different than I thought them to be. I went seeking understanding; I went looking for redemption. I wanted to be sympathetic to their plight as young Black men in urban America; I wasn’t. 

There’s a scene in the movie Doubt where the nun, played by Meryl Streep speaks with the mother of a student at the school who the nun suspects is being molested by the priest. Streep’s character wants the mother to say something. But the mother, brilliantly played by Viola Davis, refuses. The mother wants to keep her son free from the wrath of her husband who rejects his son’s perceived sexuality. Never in my life did I think that I would be ok with not revealing the identity of a suspected child molester! But she made understand why she was willing to look the other way if her son was being molested if she thought it would save his life. 

In Nathan McCall’s book, Makes Me Wanna Holla, there is a chapter called Trains that is very difficult to read, but so insightful into the psyche of some young men. McCall explains how the young men in the hood looked up to the old heads, and how the old heads were disrespectful of women. The chapter explains how the boys would trick girls into compromising situations and gang rape (run a train) them. Later in the chapter, McCall goes into detail about having a girlfriend and taking her to a friend’s house for sex, but learns that his boys have set her up for a train. He ends up getting into a fight trying to defend her honor. But a couple of the guys take the girl to another apartment to finish what they started. McCall does an excellent job of demonstrating the warped view many men held of manhood and the roles of women and girls in their lives. He also shows a maturity that I found lacking in characters in Straight Out of Compton.

It has been said that members of NWA were revolutionaries, but there was nothing revolutionary about their music or about their movie. It was a bio pic—based on real life events, and they had the right to tell the story that they wanted to tell. And they did. The only one who was really “about that life” was Eazy-E. Both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre came from stable home environments. It was a well-cast film that left me cold. I couldn’t wrap my head around glorifying what I saw as a destructive force in the Black community. Every time a movie about slavery or the civil rights movement comes out, there’s a chorus of Black folk complaining that we keep telling the same stories of victimization. Well, we’ve seen this story a thousand times as well.  I didn’t find anything revelatory in the nearly 2 ½ hours that I sat and watched.  Here are five sad truths that I gleaned from Straight Out of Compton.

1.       We’re still oppressed—some of us more than others. I was disappointed in how easily Eazy-E fell for the okey-doke. He allowed their manager Jerry to swindle not only the group out of money, but Eazy was also taken advantage of because he trusted this White man that he didn’t know, to do right by him. Even after Ice-Cube and Dr. Dre tried to tell him, Eazy still believed in Jerry. Yea, even the so-called hard-core members of keeping-it-real, fuck-the-police NWA were still looking for a White Savior.

2.       Consumption and greed continues to be our downfall. As soon as the money started rolling in, so did the wild parties, the drugs and the excess of material goods. There was never any mention in the movie of them giving any money back to the community or doing any type of charity work. It was all about how much they could get and spend. Though Dr. Dre and Ice Cube managed to escape the downward spiral that so many of our athletes and entertainers succumb to, Eazy Ended up being a casualty of never having enough.

3.       Colorism is alive and well. Not only did the members of NWA end up with light-skinned women as partners in real life, there was a color caste system used to hire girls for the movie. When the casting call went out, the request was for girls who were classified as A’s B’s, C’s and D’s with the brighter complexions and straighter hair being A’s and B’s, brown girls with weaves were C’s, and dark skinned, poor girls were D’s. I can’t make this up! Here’s a link to the story: And this is what we saw play out on the screen. Most of the women in the movie were light skinned. Early in the film, Eazy E was the only one who had a brown-skinned woman, but she was also “upgraded” for a lighter model. Some of the “blackest” men we know adhered to a Eurocentric model of beauty. Kathleen Cleaver, member of the Black Panther Party and wife of fellow Panther, Eldridge Cleaver spoke of being told to go inside during times of conflict so as not to mess up her pretty light face.

4.       Misogyny was and still is an issue. NWA objectified women. They were boys with toys to be discarded at will. Though they come off as decent guys in the movie, their lyrics and their lifestyles show their disdain for women. Ice Cube married his girl and they’re still together. It’s inferred that Dr. Dre’s desire to pursue a relationship with a woman who didn’t want drama was partly why he left Death Row Records. And Eazy-E was also married in the film, but their references to women as bitches as hoes seemed to also reflect how they felt about women. An abuser doesn’t call his woman honey or babe before he hits her; she’s probably a bitch, or a hoe. Maybe that explains Dr. Dre’s abusive past and Ice Cube’s recent interview with Rolling Out in which he reinerates why some women are bitches and hoes, and only women who fit into those categories should be concerned. When Dr. Dre brutally attacked journalist Dee Barnes, members of NWA thought she got what she deserved. It was only with the release of Straight Out of Compton that Dr. Dre saw the need to apologize for his past transgressions.

5.       Hypocrisy at its best. NWA may have made music that was raunchy and edgy, but at the end of the day, they were entertainers shuckin’ and jivin’ for the master. Their gangster rap wasn’t for the people in communities like Compton; it was for the masturbating voyeurs in the suburbs who played out the racist fantasies of hood life in their minds. NWA exploited what was happening in urban America for material gain. These are the sad truths straight out of the book of conformity and status quo.