DJ give me life. Feb 9, 2015

by Leah Vendl

I came to Last Night a DJ Gave Me Life: DJ as Revolutionary, Dance as a Tool of Liberation #DanceIn #Ferguson bringing my identities a dancer, a blues dance DJ, and one who believes in liberation through embodiment.

I had hopes of transformation —

"investigate tension and release", "shed layers of injustice" and "instigate healing" the Facebook event said. 

Once there, I had danced with and admired the beautiful black dancers pre-show and I now stood in a circle with the rest of the audience, DJ Manchildblack still spinning, facilitator/dancer Monstah Black asking us what everything I had seen so far—hooded onezie-clad dancers lying on the ground, chalk outlines drawn in salt around them, images of bloody protests and die-ins bombarding the screen above—made me think. I said "appropriation" into the mic. 

I dance at and DJ events and parties whose art form is derived from blues dancing. From black dancing. Grounded movement that came from African rhythms, from slaves' exhausted movements, and songs coated of the kind of pain I'll definitely never know. These crowds are predominantly white.

This was the most multi-racial dance party I had ever been to. 

The facilitated choreography-turned-unification exercise using movements derived from the audience itself dissolved into a dance party with the most diverse dance styles happening at once. Well known Seattle artists from all disciplines moved about the floor—a butoh dancer riding the slow undercurrents of the beats, a tango couple slithering ochos in the spilt salt, b-boys and club girls working it so fierce, a contemporary dancer extending vectors of energy far into the stage lights. 

The members of HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? invoked that the event taking place was about everyone there, about unity, a collectiveness. 

I felt incredible tension that the salt outlines that held memories of dead bodies were now being trampled under the dance party's feet. But the group had decided those were not sacred lines. Maybe we were dancing to celebrate them.

I was constantly navigating the "about me-ness" of my experience, negotiating the privilege at play in my self-centeredness.

I quelled my physical urge to do the worm across the spotlit salt. Instead I sat back and watched. This was not about spotlighting any individual. No one drew attention to themselves more than any one else. I took a #selfiesintheround with the intention to pair it with footage of a blues event I was DJing like this one.

Trying to figure out my restless feeling, I pinned it down, in part, to a structural contrast: in social blues dancing, there's generally an opportunity every four minutes to politely thank my partner and make an exit. With DJing in a club or with Manchildblack, the song never ended. It constantly morphed into another. No ending until the end.

When I decided to leave, Christina Bell brought the mic back into the conversation, saying "I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE. I LOVE BEING BLACK" to the beat. I loved it. I wanted more opportunities to shout it with her. But why did I need her to guide me to that?

I left the dance with little more than a genuine "Nice party" to say to OtB when I had hoped to walk away saying "Nice transformational mental-through-physiological paradigm shift". However. If I hoped anyone or anything might do the kind of transformational work I need to do to counteract all the fucked up ways I've internalized racism by growing up in this country, and the ways I play it out in my communities, I would be a fool. 

No one can transform me but myself.