We have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture.”
~ Terence McKenna
Have you ever came across someones work and said to yourself, “How in the heck did they do that?” When you see some amazing project, performance, or work of art that leaves you speechless do you nod your head in wonder and say. “Wow, what did it take to pull that off?” Do you ever fall prey to that little voice of doubt where you measure yourself against someone else’s accomplishments?
The fact is, we all have something in us that seems remarkable to most other people. We all have some talent or skill or way of being that seems totally impossible and out of reach to almost anyone else. It’s the magical melange of human potential that makes this world of wonders that we call society possible.
Way back in the early 90’s when I started writing about dance culture and discovering how much of a charge I got out of putting ideas on paper, I realized my head was full of novel concepts and ways of looking at things that were unique and worth sharing. When people around me who were rock stars in their own fields would praise my writing it gave me encouragement to keep it up.
I remember one of the big-time DJ’s at the time telling me, “You have a way with words, you should keep it up.” His comment was met with immediate self-doubt and disbelief, I couldn’t believe he was serious. How could this guy, who was one of the very best in a field that I thought was reserved for those with special talent or God-given gifts, take notice of my meager paragraphs that to me were a snap to spin? Thankfully, his words stuck with me and here I am today.
One of the themes that I delved into in my early writing was to look at dance and DJ culture through the lens of Terence McKenna’s theories. I credit my acquaintance with him for being the catalyst to a life of writing and still see his work as a springboard to many of my current concepts. He wrote and spoke extensively about the idea of ‘dominator culture’ vs ‘partnership society’ foreshadowing many of today’s conversations about sustainability and interconnectivity of the biosphere.
I immediately recognized that at it’s heart, DJ culture at it’s finest was (is) a shining example of partnership society in action. The act of spinning records is a meta-performance. It’s not the same as picking up a guitar or microphone and spilling your guts on stage, relying on your own ego and emotions to carry the day. When you stand at the center of of a dance event as the DJ you are simply one link in a long chain that makes the overall experience happen. You’ve got an army of artists to back you up, yet without you, they are nothing.
To DJ is to participate in a partnership. There’s you, and then there’s all those artists who made the records in your box. When you play them for a group of people with the goal of making them dance, the sum is greater than the parts. DJ’s need records, artists need DJ’s. That’s why DJ’ing is about riding the wave and being in the flow, improvising in the moment rather than trying to control the energy or pre-plan the experience.
I liken the feeling of spinning vinyl on a dance floor to standing at the intersection point of an infinite loop. In front of you is the swirling energy of the dancers, behind you is the library of your most meaningful music. The mixer between the turntables is the the point where you guide the energy at the nexus of the figure eight.
When it works, it’s almost like flying. I tell people that spinning records is about the most fun you can have standing up. We proved it once again this past Friday night, it was the two-year anniversary of me carrying the torch for Dance Jam in Berkeley, (the Bay Area’s oldest conscious dance dating back to the late 70’s). My long-time creative partner with Conscious Dancer magazine Laura Cirolia has been learning how to DJ and building her vinyl collection for the past few years, and has been cutting her teeth on the big sound system doing opening sets for us as DJ Lolly.
For our two-year celebration we offered a special night, a ‘SoulTrain Singalong’ with a sweet selection of tunes that invited our dancers to raise their voices and belt it out, shower singing in public if you will. It was Lolly’s first full set on our dance floor and it was so great to see and hear her spin the songs that opened our hearts and put our feet in motion.
Last week also found me going to see Hamilton – An American Musical, the Broadway epic currently performing in San Francisco. Three hours of the most amazing storytelling delivered though song, dance, costuming and choreography, it’s American history updated into a modern idiom. This over-the-top extravaganza deserves every ounce of praise that is heaped upon it.
My girlfriend Teresa’s son Elliot has been steeped in the Hamilton mystique for months, reading the book in his 5th grade history class and pining for an opportunity to see the show. Suffice it to say he was over the moon when he realized where we were taking him as we approached the marquee of the Orpheum.
Afterwards, perusing the program and playing the records, (yes, she went all-out and bought him the box-set LP soundtrack), I began to ponder the magnitude of this production and it brought me back full circle to one of my earliest metaphors and the theme of today’s newsletter. Staggered by the vision and achievement of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, playwright, and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, I realized we’re all just doing our part to uphold the balance and beauty of our culture.
The Inuit people of the arctic have a tradition called the blanket toss. You may have seen this, a circle of people all hold on to the edge of a big round blanket, and loft a person into the air in the center like a big trampoline. No matter what circle we’re part of in society, we’ve all got our piece of the edge to hold up.
Your place on the edge might seem easy and insignificant, but to someone on the far side of the circle, it’s vitally important, (and equally perplexing). It doesn’t matter if they’re a prize-winning playwright or an NBA basketball star, you’ve got a touch of greatness inside you that no one else can touch. That’s what keeps our world in balance!
Let’s celebrate our great circle of culture with a dance, and I’ll see you next week with more Monday Love!
Dance First Spotlight: Catlin Cobb, Susan Osberg, & Mireille Feyzeau
hosts of the 9th Annual Dance as Ritual / Dance as Performance Retreat!
This weeks spotlight shines on a trio of teachers who are collaborating to bring you a unique opportunity to head to Europe and ‘Dance Across Borders’ in the Bordeaux region of France.
Billed as “a dance laboratory in the vineyards of France, open to people of all backgrounds, to discover the ritualistic nature of movement and contemporary performance – a holistic study crossing borders of language, culture, and creative expression” — this week-long workshop is formed around the primal and ecstatic nature of movement.
Taking place at the spectacular Jardin d’Alice, a private center for artistic development nestled among the vineyards and pastures of Bordeaux, the theme for the week is “A Secret Garden – Outside and Inside.”
Weaving together movement, spiritual traditions, and the natural world, participants will blend traditional and contemporary modalities to experience both the spiritual state of dance, as well as the innate intelligence of the body.
This intensive week-long retreat is an immersion into an experience that crosses borders of language, culture, and creative expression. This is the 9th annual edition presented by Dance Across Borders – a floating international festival for independent dance artists established in 1995 in the United States.
Dance as Ritual / Dance as Performance offers certification to participants who complete 3 workshops (150 hours) among other requirements.
You’re in for a special treat with the Dance as Ritual / Dance as Performance retreat! Make this a highlight of your summer Europe trip, and tell your friends on the continent about this dynamic somatic opportunity. Learn more and reserve your spot now before rates go up on June 20th.
Dance as Ritual / Dance as Performance – a Dance Across Border Retreat with Catlin Cobb, Susan Osberg, and Mireille Feyzeau
July 9-16, Jardin d’Alice, Bordeaux,France