The Wisdom in the Room Part One: The Dallas Partners

(Editor’s note: Further reflections from our 2014 Summer Institute Communications Work/Study, India Harville, on her experience at the Institute. You can read previous reflections on the Institute here and here. Stay tuned for India’s final few reflections! –Amanda Newman)

So often I am in a room with a lot of people, but there is one person in leadership for the event. In these situations, I don’t get the chance to know much about the other participants in the room.  I am so happy that Dance Exchange had the foresight and the humility to pass leadership over to the Dallas Partners to lead us through various activities and aspects of their work. The Dallas Partners are community members that represent various Dallas-based organizations who are also committed to moving racial equity forward in Texas in partnership with Dallas Faces Race. They brought a wealth of knowledge and information to our time together. This is the first blog in a three part blog series with my reflections on the 15-20 minute presentations or workshops led by each of the Dallas partners throughout the week.

Crysta Caulkins Clouse is a Dance Artist, Educator, and the Co-Director of Big Rig Dance Collective.  She shared a lovely movement exercise from Jane Hawley’s Movement Fundamentals.  I really appreciated the opportunity to tune into how and why I was moving the way that I was.  It helped me discover some movement tendencies and then it allowed me to be at choice around whether they served me or not.  The exercise helped to create movement literacy in the room. Also, it was analogous to the process we were engaging in–examining our thoughts to evaluate whether or not they served to further racial equity and increasing our racial literacy as well. Both components proved important in creating our final performance showing.

Linda Jones is a freelance writing consultant and the founder of A Nappy Hair Affair.  She shared an amazing presentation about holding workshops for black people who have internalized shame about their hair quality being different than white people’s hair, which black people have been taught is superior to their own.  She shared her “Naptionary” with us, a dictionary of terms, acronyms, and hairkus (haikus about hair) with us.  She said that many black women have “traumatic tress syndrome” and need hair-apy (therapy about their internalized oppression around their hair texture).  I appreciated being able to laugh about a topic that is in fact quite painful for many black women, including me.  She showed footage from various hair gatherings she held.  For me, it was particularly nice to see black professionals, both men and women, engaged in positive, loving intimacy by taking care of their own and each others’ hair– something that is not always showcased in the mainstream media.

Claire LeBlanc works for the Institute for Urban Policy Research and studied dance, primarily ballet throughout much of her youth. Claire shared an exercise where we were in groups and we were asked to describe people in various photographs.  It was very interesting to hear the assumptions and projections that workshop participants put on the people in the photos.  I think a lot about this already as I write text descriptions of images for blind people in my line of work. It is challenging to make neutral commentary about what we see.  This exercise was an excellent follow up to the implicit bias work that we did early in the Institute with Race Forward.

Maura Sheffler is the Community Relations Manager at The Arts Community Alliance (TACA). Maura was brave in asking the Institute participants to be a think tank for how TACA could encourage more diversity in the arts.  Many people shared wonderful suggestions – site specific work, discounted ticket prices, offering shows in Spanish, engaging the youth more through school assemblies and special programming.  I was impressed with Maura’s willingness to be vulnerable and with the group’s ability to generate ideas.  Many people followed up with Maura at later points in the Institute and it generated a lot of positive dialogue.

The process of hearing from each of the partners was so enriching and deepened many of the lessons we started earlier in the week. Without having the Partner Presentations, I would have never known the extent of the wisdom in the room. I was humbled and moved by all that the partners shared with us. Stay tuned for my next two blogs when I share about the other Dallas Partner presentations!

About India Harville

India Harville is a dancer/dance instructor, somatic practitioner, diversity educator, mediator and activist dedicated to facilitating people in personal and collective healing and transformation. India has been committed to social justice and community organizing for over fifteen years. She has helped create diversity centers, diversity education curricula, and has taught workshops and graduate course on diversity. Her eclectic resource bag draws from Dancing Freedom, NIA, Process Work, Theater for Change, Nonviolent Communication, Generative Somatics, and Rosen Method Bodywork. India likes to incorporate drama therapy exercises, movement, dance, voice/singing, breathing and centering practices into her workshops as she is committed to encouraging her participants to be deeply present. She holds a BA in health psychology from New College of Florida and a MA in Integrative Medicine from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). India lives in Berkeley California where she manages a mixed ability fitness studio, teaches dance classes, and runs a healing arts collective for people of color healing from internalized racism called The Movement.