Bricks & Bones: leading with questions and learning as we go along

Join Dance Exchange tonight in our studios in Takoma Park as we bring our recent work from Dallas, Bricks & Bones, to our HOME series. Bricks & Bones: a performance series in response to the erasure of Black lives and communities in Dallas, Texas, and the movements to recover, rebuild and honor those lost histories, co-directed by Cassie Meador and Paloma McGregor, premiered in Dallas in November 2015 after almost 2 years of research and engagement, and included performances and engagements at the Freedman’s Cemetery, Saint Paul United Methodist Church, Southern Methodist University, Dade Middle School, and the South Dallas Cultural Center. We will share excerpts from the performance project, show video from the premiere, and invite you to reflect on questions this work surfaces for you. To help us contextualize all that was uncovered through our work with our partners in Dallas, and to help us usher in tonight’s event, we share with you Part 1 of a 3-part-blog series by Bimbola Akinbola, our project documenter that journeyed with us. Tonight’s event kicks off at 7pm; $10-$20 pay what you can.

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This past November I had the privilege of spending ten days in Dallas, Texas with Dance Exchange as Project Documenter of Bricks & Bones: A performance series in response to the erasure of Black lives and communities in Dallas, Texas, and the movements to recover, rebuild and honor those lost histories. As project documenter, my role was to observe and archive the creative process from a variety of angles as the Dance Exchange team and Dallas cohort generated choreography, rehearsed, and facilitated community engagements all over the city.

On our first day in the dance studio at the South Dallas Cultural Center, we considered the need for a deep excavation of Black Dallas history and explored dance as a process of deep excavation in and of itself. Questions posed by the group included: Why do we learn lost/missing histories? How do we learn these histories? How do we teach or pass down these histories? How do we carry history in our bodies? What do we do with the excavated materials? What’s next? What’s next?

Excavation alludes to a process of deep digging and discovery—in Bricks & Bones we were not only excavating Black Dallas history but also unearthing the histories held in our own bodies. This consideration of the embodied knowledge we all hold is a crucial and yet often underutilized step in the struggle to better understand where we all are situated in systems of oppressions, how individuals perpetuate and are marginalized by institutional racism, and what steps need to be taken towards racial equity.

I often felt like a fly on the wall, watching as DX mined and gathered information, always circling back to the questions that we laid out on the first day: What do we do with the excavated materials? How do we teach or pass down these histories? What’s next? What’s next? This process of excavation sometimes looked like conversations full of tension and gratitude following a long day of rehearsing. Other times it looked like collecting and archiving the stories of the many people we met who call Dallas home. It always involved simply getting in our bodies and seeing which movements rose to the surface. There was a real sense that there were stories everywhere and no observation or interaction was too small to make its way in. If you have ever attended a Dance Exchange Summer Institute, HOME event, or workshop then you know that this type of risk-taking, experimentation, and play are at the heart of what makes Dance Exchange’s work so powerful.

This was epitomized during the day we spent at the African American Museum of Dallas where we created movement phrases inspired by the the artwork, the artifacts, and the space. The conversations we had about the material generated in the museum brought up important questions about the role of women as story bearers, the everydayness of loss, and what it means to hold joy and violence at the same time. Questions we walked away asking included: How do we talk about intersections of oppression and solidarities? How can abstraction be erasure? What is our responsibility to the actual pieces in the museums and the intended meaning?

As our time in Dallas came to a close and the pressure to pull all of the threads from the week together grew, I was hit with the bittersweet realization that it would be impossible to share all of stories and movement we had collected throughout the week—much of the material, which I was already attached to, would likely not make the cut.

On the night of the final performance I was caught off guard by my own tears as the lights dimmed. I realized that the final performance was never intended to be a full picture of what we had done in Dallas, but rather a handful of snapshots designed to give the audience a sneak peek into the countless individuals, places, and struggles that Dance Exchange and the Dallas cohort encountered over the last two and a half years. After all, how does one fully capture the mundane everydayness of people surviving, the quiet trauma of racial violence, or the laughter of the many people who we brought together simply to dance?

The magnitude of what Dance Exchange does is hard to communicate but it is perhaps best observed through the individual lives touched, relationships forged, and questions we find ourselves asking months…years later. Perhaps that is what is most important about Dance Exchange, how the work exceeds the parameters of a tidy final product. It ultimately does so much more by offering tools for self and community discovery, and affirming the knowledge and strength that we already carry in our bodies.

About Bimbola Akinbola

Bimbola Akinbola, is a doctoral student in American Studies at the University of Maryland, and currently engages with Dance Exchange on a number of projects and events, giving voice to the process through documentation.