Intersectional & Intergenerational: a Winter Institute experience

[Editor’s Notes– The following is the second of a series of blog posts by Dance Exchange Winter Institute 2018 Communications Work/Study Tajinder Virdee. This year’s institute focused on the creative practices and potentials of Dance Exchange’s work across generations. Read more, and check back frequently, to learn more about Tajinder’s (and other participants!) intergenerational experiences this January! –MC]

On our third day of the Winter Institute, we started off the day with Takoma Park MOVES with Sam Horning and Dance Exchange artist Sadie Leigh. This all-ages class began with introductions where we each shared our name and a movement, as if we were saying our names through the way that we moved. I was delighted to see young children in the room and was struck by how we validated their shyness and playfulness by copying even their unintentional movements. We were honored to have live music by Mark H Rooney, who’s drum beats I felt in my body.

We did an exercise called Mirroring, where one person would try to reflect or mirror another person’s movements. To practice, we started off mirroring with partners. Then we split into groups: one group would choose someone from the other group to mirror. Sadie challenged us by asking us to follow someone from a different generation. I noticed what members of the group were not being mirrored and what members were being mirrored by multiple people. This got me thinking about whose voices are heard and not heard in our society, and how our challenge to follow someone out of our generation may help us give much needed acknowledgement to those whose voices are sometimes considered too young or too old to be taken seriously. It reminded me of how when I was a child, my voice was very rarely taken seriously or validated by those around me, even when I was saying the same thing as adults. After class, we reflected on how children are able to perceive themselves because of supportive environments.

In the next session of the Institute, we reflected on Power and Lunch— directed by long-time Dance Exchange artist Margot Greenlee— the performance (or perforum as Margot calls it) that many of us had attended the night before about food insecurity among youth. The perforum was so engaging that at times, I felt as though there
was no audience. We ended with a collective performance about food insecurity and how to move towards solving this issue.

A Gardens workshop. Photo by Liv Schaffer.

Institute participants were then given a choice between two workshops based on two works in progress – Growing our Own Gardens with Sam, Matthew Cumbie, and long-time Dance Exchange artist Andy Torres and Still Crossing with Elizabeth Johnson, Judith Bauer, and Executive Artistic Director Cassie Meador. Wishing I could be in two places at once, I attended the Gardens workshop. As soon as I walked into the room, I noticed that it was a much smaller space than I had expected. Some of the workshop attendees were community members and some had attended previous Growing our Own Gardens workshops. After introducing ourselves, we watched a performance by Andy and Sam, in which Andy described an experience he had, where he followed a signal used by queer individuals to recognize each other, and was arrested for for being open about his queerness during a place and time that criminalized LGBTQ+ folks. I was so struck by Andy’s experience. I felt pain. I felt grief – as did other participants. I noticed that I grieve more for the pain of the queer community than I do for the pain of my ethnic community.

Following the performance, we walked around the room and were asked questions about queer communities, which we answered with different partners. The first question was: How do you connect with your community? I immediately asked myself – what is my community? My Indian community is not queer and my queer community is not Indian. I am both. My partner for this question was a queer Saudi Arabian individual, and since we both came from cultural communities that do not support queer identities (at least, in our experience), we could relate over the question – what is my community? However, because of this shared diaspora, I felt that this individual standing in front of me was a member of my community. We each created a movement out of our answer to the question and when I saw my partner’s movement, I immediately understood what she felt.

After answering a few more questions and creating movement from each, we combined our movements with a new partner’s movements. Sam and Andy then taught us a piece of their performance, which we added onto the duets we had created in a way that worked for us, starting from a shape of support. In sharing and witnessing the movement that my fellow participants had created together, I felt radical support in each duet just as strongly as I had felt grief after watching Andy and Sam’s performance.

Towards the beginning of the workshop, each participant had mentioned something they wanted to know more about. I wanted to know more about the signal that Andy had mentioned in the performance. In our closing activity, Andy responded to that question and told me more about that signal and how queer individuals used to identify each other. I was honored and so grateful that he shared an experience that I, as a young queer individual, would not have otherwise understood. Most people are born into their communities – because they are ethnic and cultural communities. But for queer individuals, we must actively seek out our community and strive to make it intergenerational in order to hear the experiences of our queer grandparents. For this reason, I will always seek to make my queer, intersectional, diasporic community intergenerational.

About Tajinder Virdee

Tajinder Virdee is an Anthropology and Justice student at Arizona State University who is passionate about queer community building and intergenerational community engagement, especially through collaborative movement.