This morning I am reflecting on my year in 2013, mainly I am reflecting on how my own personal politics and philosophies have developed this year and how I can see those philosophies in my art. Several strands of thoughts are floating in my head presently and I know I can stitch them together if I sit here and really hash them out to find out how they are extensions of one single revelation.
My new year resolution in 2013 was to hold the Hermit as my totem (and to not shop at Wal-Mart – with probably 5 trips to that store this year I almost succeeded on that one). The Hermit is a symbol that encourages me to develop a relationship with my internal self.
He reminds me to be self-reflective, not to share everything that comes to mind, and to hold ideas and feelings inside myself to keep the fire of those ideas burning and ever-present. The Hermit encourages me to come back to my yogic practice, to sit quietly and look for peace within. As I grow older and learn more information about how this world operates, that peace within me grows more tumultuous, anger-filled, and hopeless. This is the first year of my life that I am grappling with existential crises. This is the first year of my life that I have realized that humanity is on the wrong track. I have always known that but I suppose I thought it was reparable. I think I realize now that there is no coming back from how off track we are. I think the future is potentially hopeless for us. Peak oil, peak topsoil, genetically modified monoculture crops, corporations and religions operating as artificial intelligence way beyond human control, factory farming, the destruction of every green space on earth, the gross consumption and destruction of human-slave-produced material goods that eventually end up in unmanageable deserts of waste, nuclear disasters that are we are not equipped to deal with, to name a few issues. We are on the wrong track, humans. Undoubtedly this material, paternal, overpopulated society we live in will be the death of us. So where does that take me?
2013 is also the first year of my life that I don’t self-identify as a student (a student of life, of course, but not a student of specific institution of learning). I look at my university education in Dance and Cultural Studies and I feel that I have come 180 degrees from the concerns I used to have –the concerns I was supposed to have as a grad student in the postmodern cultural studies realm. I was trained to think lofty thoughts about identity and cultural specificities. I was trained to be very careful not to apply universal assumptions onto individuals. I’m talking: you and I can not purport to have the same experience of having a body because we are each so individually specific in how we identify with the cultural constructions of race and gender. The more I realize how off track humanity is the more I realize that academic ideas about cultural specificity are pretty much useless. We need a humanist approach, we need to cut through the divisions between us. We are all a part of the human race. That sounds so corny but I finally get it. For example, as long as lesbians are fighting with transgender people about the gender binary we aren’t getting anything done about these big issues. We are just fighting with one another.
Forgive me as I jump now to another thread of thought that I suspect is more than tangentially related to my existential predicament:
In 2012 I made a set of choreographies that I was so passionate about. These dances were politically motivated. They were a response to me becoming an adult in the economic recession and realizing that there is no made future for any of us, the American dream –in addition to being unsustainable- is also unattainable for regular ol’ people like me. So what can we do? Have working class pride, make art, extricate ourselves from the matrix machine that distracts us with shiny goods. Those dances were angry and hopeful. I think I saw a solution to our human predicament if we could just get our political situation in better hands. Obama was the first president I ever voted for. I had the hope of a young activist vegetarian college student. I realize now that the political machine, the materials-producing machine, the military industrial complex –it’s not getting any better. The smart and powerful people of this world know how fucked we all are. They are actively distracting and making money off the masses while they prepare their bunkers to retreat to when it all comes slapping humanity in the face. If you don’t realize how close we are to some major population-killing disasters then you need to wake up and google the word Fukushima, then peak oil, then peak top soil. We are fucked and the people at the top know it. They are just capitalizing off the earth until the hammer comes down. It may not come down in our life times or the next but it is inevitable.
The first dance I made in 2013 was so strange –it was such a slap in the face to all that I was taught in school about how to make smart dances. The dance was playful but it was not thoughtful. I made a dance out of many unrelated parts. The costume, the song, the movement, and structure did not inform one another. There was no internal logic. I used cultural dances as tools in my dada-esque experiment to serve my personal goal to create an ecstatic ambiance for the audience. I would not have shown this dance as a choreographic study when I was getting my dance degree at UCLA. If I had, this study would have failed, as per usual because I was trying to do too much or because I didn’t have a clear direction. (Actually, the deadline may have come around and I may have had to show this dance to my cohorts because that is what deadlines do: force you to create, share, and be done with things). Everyone who loves this dance I share an affinity with because they are in love with what I was trying to create with the dance: a moment of joy, release, ecstasy, laughter, fullness: a moment to enjoy life! I spent the latter part of 2013 feeling embarrassed of this dance. Why did I make such a mish-mash dance of so many different cultural dances? Why did I dance in the skimpiest outfit I’ve ever danced in? Why, a retired vegan, did I wear a leather outfit? WTF was I thinking? My choreography professors would be ashamed.
I realize now that I needed to make that dance. That dance was the next episode in the evolution of my political beliefs and life philosophy. In that dance I made a choice to cast away the cultural concerns I think I am supposed to hold on to. It is a humanist, survivalist dance. It shows my development from vegetarian to thoughtful omnivore, from pacifist to gun range visitor, from angry activist to “fuck it all lets just have a good time”. I personally needed to cast off anti-humanist, divisive philosophies that were limiting me creatively. I learned SO much and developed SO much of my thinking in school but part of me realizes now that all of that thoughtfulness is a waste of time and a major creativity blocking way of operating. I really want to figure out how to make dances that are at once playful and thoughtful, not one or the other. I’m getting there.
I wonder all the time if I should figure out a way to infuse my art with my personal philosophies, but I think I see this year that all the dances I make are infused with my personal philosophies somehow. The decision to dance is itself political. What do we do with dance? We produce a piece of art that is not a material good. It is ephemeral, it is about human connection: dancer to dancer, dancer to audience. Creating a community around dance is one of the most positive and political things we can do as humans. I have been internally dealing with so much baggage about how bellydance and tribal fusion are not culturally PC. I realize now that the tribal fusion approach is a humanist one. The dance carries with it a nostalgia for an earlier time and an appreciation for the beautiful distortion of the human body.
Ok one more potentially unrelated thought: I have been to many Burning Man and like festivals. At a certain point in all these festivals I have a moment or more of disgust with the whole thing. And that is why I’ve not been interested in going to Burning Man in the last few years. Yeah, we have freedom of expression and creativity but we also create so much waste and totally meaningless flashy bullshit. Everyone is dressed perfectly fashionably, shooting gas powered flame throwers in the air, hitting the Wal-Mart before they arrive to buy bulk packs of plastic glow lights and lighters to stock the RV. It is a disgusting materialist veneer masquerading as some sort of political statement or solution to our societal ills. BUT I think maybe I finally realize that all you folks who love it so much must know something I don’t. You must have already come to the conclusion that I am coming to only now: everything is so fucked up beyond all repair that the only thing left to do is party, connect to other humans, and make art. The only thing we can do while we squalor in human created destruction is enjoy all the wonderful beautiful things humans are capable of: music, dance, art, love, and connection.
Here’s to another year! The only think I want for my 2014 is human connection, art, music, and dance. One day I will die and I want to absorb and propagate as much love and beauty in the world as I can while I’m here.