Empowerment Through Dance

Before walking into class I knew nothing about Dr. Mark Broomfield and what he teaches. All I knew was to wear comfortable clothes to move around in. Therefore, when I walked into class on April 1st, 2019, I was stunned. The classroom was turned into a dance studio. Dr. Broomfield instantly got to work with dancing. He wanted me and my fellow classmates to ground ourselves in the music, and connect with each other. First, we started off simple by following the beat of the music through the shuffling of our feet. At first, it was strange to see everyone dance. But, I took it upon myself to let loose and have fun. I treated it as if I was in a Zumba class and allowed the music to dictate my movements.

When Broomfield made us look at our classmates as we moved I felt connected to the music but also my classmates. Before when I moved my body I was looking down averting my gaze towards the ground. But, Broomfield pushed us to interact with each other through our eyes and dance movements. Once I took that leap of faith and went for it, I felt like I was at a big party having fun. I was carefree and couldn’t wait to see what was next.

As the class progressed, Broomfield kept pushing both/and with dancing. He split the class up into four groups that roughly had five to six members in them. He wanted us for the first exercise to individually think of feminine and masculine gestures that are stereotypical. I instantly thought of my hip popped with a hand on it for the feminine gesture and directing my hands towards my crotch region for the masculine. When my group came together we all had similar thoughts. However, Katie thought about when women drop towards the floor and emphasize their butt in their movement. Hearing and seeing all the gestures done was interesting because I saw how everyone perceived each gender stereotype. After discussing and going back and forth with ideas to the fluidity of our choreography, we eagerly wanted to perform first. When we performed we were in our circle and I felt comfortable performing some movements that may be deemed as “sexual” in society. I was confident in my performance, so much so that it didn’t feel like my classmates and my professor was watching. I was just performing.

 

Second Line II by Steve Prince

After our first performance, Dr. Broomfield wanted us to transform these stereotyped gestures in a way that would defy them. Instantly, I threw out the idea to my group of how we personally feel about each movement. So, our idea was that three of us would keep the original composition of the gestures while the other three would put a spin on it, defying preconceived notions of these gestures. Then at the end, we formed one line and did our own movement to express ourselves. For mine, all I pictured was Steve Prince’s Second Line II with his interpretation of the Four Horsemen. In this composition, he poses the horseman in an expressive manner that would be deemed as stereotypically feminine. The reason I thought about this image instantly in class was because I remember how free and expressive the horseman’s pose is. It reminded me of the Baby Dolls in the anthology Walking Raddy: The Baby Dolls of New Orleans. In the anthology, it goes into detail about how during Jim Crow laws women found their space in society through the streets and bars by dancing. Black women reclaimed their space by grounding themselves in the music and the culture that it allowed for expression. That is why the Baby Dolls were created — to allow for both expression of individuality and creation of a sense of unity.

Prince bends the preconceived notion of genders through his art pieces. Just like the one depiction of a horseman, it wears a suit which in society is seen as men clothing. However, it defies the notion to act in a “manly” way by having freedom of expression by placing a hand on the hip, the other one in the air with the handkerchief almost screaming “I own this pose and I do not care what others think.” During class, Sabrina mentioned how our group did our poses with confidence. For me, this confidence allowed me the freedom to dance and create my own space in a way that I normally wouldn’t create in a classroom. Similarly in Prince’s piece, the horseman creates and relies on his own confidence to form his own room for expression that exists outside of his prescribed role.

This confidence protruding off of the image strongly reminds me of the confidence with the women in the Baby Dolls. When they participate in Mardi Gras they own their space. The women do not care who watched or what people thought. They did it for freedom of expression in a society where they were oppressed. Their confidence created a drive for black women to feel empowered when society denied them this empowerment. I believe that if the Baby Dolls did not possess this confidence the Baby Doll community would not have established such a meaningful role in New Orleans culture.

Throughout the entire lecture given by Dr.Broomfield, he emphasized: “Knowing is doing.” Now I understand how dance can be so expressive. Before, I would dance and let loose that people during dances would be shocked because during a normal school day I am reserved and act a certain way that I believe is deemed proper in society. But, when I am at a dance or at a concert I let loose and claim the space around me as mine through the music and the energy going around. The classroom on April 1st, 2019 was me claiming my space by forcing myself to be grounded into the practice. This lecture awakened me to the fact that dance gives me power to express myself and allow room for freedom. It also illuminated how dance has been, and continues to be a powerful tool used for freedom of individuality and expression.

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