My signature project was a two week dance tour in Salvador, Brazil with the OSU Dance department. We performed as various venues including schools, professional dance companies, other college dance students, and other community organizations.
This trip was the first touring experience I’ve had as a dancer and it changed my perception of what touring would be. We had classes as well as performances, and it was a lot on our bodies. The heat also played a part in the physicality of the tour. It was a learning experience because every venue was different and it was interesting having to adjust show programs, order, and costumes according to the space. As a performer, it is so important to versatile and open to changes.Every show was a different experience, which is something I really enjoyed.
Every audience was different as well, and there were so many people that wanted to come talk to us after every performance and I enjoyed hearing their feedback about our show. It is interesting to me how every person interprets our show differently, and even differently that us as performers interpreted it. We were able to have some really conversations around race, gender perceptions, and what it means to be black in Brazil and the United States. Learning about their struggles helped me put some of my opinions into a different lens and look at situations in a new light.The Brazilian culture is very diverse, but they acknowledge their history, and that was a nice difference between Brazil and the United States.
Their culture is deeply rooted in the African Diaspora and that influence is present in everything they do and all their pop culture. They are also able to have open and honest conversations about that heritage and that influence, while differentiating between what were African influences and what were indigenous influences. They also pay a lot of homage to their indigenous influences and still use their traditions throughout everyday Brazilian life. I appreciated how they were able to tell me where everything came from-i.e. specific dances, music rhythms, clothing influences, and foods. They are very knowledgable as a people about their heritage and lineage. This made me think about how the different influences in the United States are not acknowledged and what would happen if those rightful influences got the reference and recognition they deserve. This is in direct reference to pop culture and music being influenced and created from African Americans without their recognition.
It shows how unaware the American people are to acknowledge culture, and ignorant in not wanting to know where references come from. That was heightened when I saw how aware the Brazilians were. While we were in Brazil, as mentioned earlier, we took classes in different Brazilian dance styles and culturally important styles of movement. We took Samba and Swing dance classes, Capoeira classes, and History of Orixa’s classes. Learning styles that were important to Brazilian culture changed how I saw Brazil. It allowed me to connect with the people and culture on a deeper level because it gave me more than surface level knowledge of the culture. It didn’t just tell me what was important, it offered an explanation as to why certain aspects were important. It gave context as to their importance historically and how Brazilian’s have changed it to make it important contemporarily.
I was surprised to find that Brazil encounters a lot of the same problems around race that the United States deals with. However, it was interesting learning about how they deal with their race issues and it made me question the way the United States deals with race relations. Being able to identify with black Brazilians and their struggles challenges the way I look at issues around race as an international problem. I tend to get narrow vision around race issues as they only pertain to the United States and Africa, when they are issues that occur internationally. And if a country like Brazil who embraces their African history and influence can have issues around race, it makes me question how much bigger the issue is and how the United States will work through its similar issues.
This experience as an African American in a different country was eye opening in how much I learned about the African influence that is throughout Brazil gave me insight to heritage and lineage of Africans that in turn is infused in African American culture because of the lineage of Africans through slavery. As the trip continued, I found it harder to distinguish what was Afro-Brazilian and African American because there were so many similarities or things I could relate to that I see in African American culture. I also think it taught me to appreciate what their culture had to offer. Without learning about Afro-Brazilian and Brazilian culture, I wouldn’t have a clear understanding of what I wanted to influence my work as a dancer, my understanding of music and dance, and cultural influence. Learning about their culture gave me context and vocabulary to more effectively communicate my ideas and my thought processes in movement. Their understanding of music gave a plethora of ways to communicate what I was thinking about a movement or where it came from, and them understanding it in my body became easier. This will definitely influence the work I do because some of their vocabulary is irreplaceable, and there aren’t other words or visuals to use to describe it except for that specific context.
Besides pulling from African American culture and lived experience, I have never pulled from any other context to create work because that was what I was most knowledgeable about and what I felt comfortable doing. However, after coming back from Brazil, I feel knowledgeable to pull from their vocabulary, and cultural context, and do it respectfully because I have learned about it. Not only have I learned their dance and music through educational classes, but learning from locals, college students, and professionals have given context to how the residents feel and thus giving me versions of their lived experience to inform my appreciation of it and how to work with it.