MOCO MOJO! New (FREE trial) Classes at Sacred Studio in Bed-Stuy

Connecting to the FREEDOM of the GET DOWN and the SWEET JOY of SURRENDER…

Finding COMMUNITY on the dance floor…

Dancing BODIES elevating SPIRIT…

This is MOCO MOJO! And you can experience it for FREE at Sacred Studio Brooklyn.

Aimee Cox will be teaching free demo classes of Moco Mojo (short for Modern/Contemporary Movement-Joy) the following days and times:

Tuesday, February 14th 4:30 p.m.

Wednesday, February 15th 7 p.m.

Thursday, February 16th 8:30 p.m.

Class Description

Our moving bodies tell uniquely beautiful and powerful stories. This modern dance class creates an affirming space to explore new ways of moving, feeling and expressing these stories. In the spirit of fun and loving challenge, Moco Mojo integrates movement from modern contemporary, ballet and African diasporic dance vocabularies. We begin with a centering guided meditation that allows us to reconnect with our bodies. The meditation transitions into a feel good methodical warm-up that loosens the joints, awakens the muscles, and begins to free up the spirit. Across the floor phrases may incorporate a range of movement textures including big, space eating movement, quick rhythmic and small gesture work, airy lyrical movement and grounded sensuality. Each class will culminate with a lengthy combination that pushes us to play, experiment, seamlessly flow through different movement techniques, laugh, celebrate our beautiful moving bodies, make community with other dancers in the room, and uncover new ways to tell our stories. The music is banging and the perfect inspired compliment to the magical energy we generate. Moco Mojo provides a doable and fulfilling challenge to all regardless of dance exposure or experience. This is an OPEN LEVEL class.

Aimee’s Bio

For me, dance is breath, joy and freedom. Whether we realize it or not, we dance through life. Sometimes the tempo slows down and the steps feel muddled, but in the best of times and in the lightest of days, we move from our hearts and embrace the world with the beauty of our glorious moving bodies. In the jostle and aggression of the city, it is easy to leave our bodies behind. My intention in teaching dance is to remind us to retrieve our bodies, find ourselves and love what we rediscover when we move from the very center of our spirits. I am less concerned with what movement looks like; what interests me is what movement feels like.

I grew up training in classical ballet at institutions like the pre-professional scholarship program at the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music and the Dance Theater of Harlem. I danced professionally and toured extensively with Ailey II/The Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, and have taught master classes throughout the United States and abroad. In some cases, I felt as if training sucked all of the joy and passion for dance out of me, in other cases I was pushed to reveal myself in dance. I teach with the hope that you will find the courage to show yourself, and have a ball in the process. I believe the dance class must be a space of joy, self-affirmation and community building. We can leave the competitiveness and exclusivity to those who have yet to realize that dance, above all, is love. Currently, I am a professor of performance and African American Studies at Fordham University where my work unites my interests in youth culture, performance practices, the African diaspora, and social transformation. I am also the creative director of a young women of color-led arts activist organization based in Newark, New Jersey called The BlackLight Project. As a proud resident of beautiful Bed-Stuy, it is an honor and a gift to be able to teach at Sacred. I can’t wait to see you at the center of the studio, smiling and shining brightly.

Aimee Cox

Come out and bring a friend…or three!

Sacred Studio is a brand new, immaculate space frequented by the most beautiful people (inside and out) you will ever meet. The vibe is open, fun, accepting and affirming. This is a non-competitive, community oriented studio where you can push yourself and play. Read the slew of positive feedback on Sacred here. Please contact me or Sacred Studio if you have questions. See you on the dance floor!

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Dunham in the Air

I am on my way to Santa Fe marveling at the technology that allows me to be online in flight. I slept through the first leg from JFK to Minneapolis struggling with how to finish the piece I am writing on Katherine Dunham. I woke up as the plane touched down with greater clarity than I’ve yet to have over the past few weeks of grappling with the questions at the center of this chapter. Dunham was in my dreams.

I am part of a group of very lucky scholars/artists who are participating in a week long seminar at the School for Advanced Research investigating the intellectual, theoretical, artistic and social justice (just to keep the list manageable) impact of Dunham’s legacy. In the chapter I am (still) working on, I write along the seams of anthropological theory, ethnographic practice, youth cultural studies and dance. Continually challenged by and irritated with my own and others ill defined, overused and implicit interchangeable usage of the terms social justice education and arts activism, I am writing (and dancing) towards what I crave: clearer, more productive definitions, along with greater specificity in the application of the pedagogical and creatively transformative work these terms are meant to represent. Throughout, Dunham serves as frame of reference and guide. 

Over the past year and half that I have been living and working in Newark, NJ, I have been sustained by the work with young people who fearlessly dance, write and perform new pathways for realizing community transformation. In the words and movements of these incredible young women and men of BlackLight, I’ve seen the most elevated aspects of who are as a global community. And yet, as buoyed as I am by their passionate and fearless belief in themselves and a city that some would have us believe only a Cory Booker could  love, I have to remind myself to not operate from a place of fear. Even after a successful series of events that culminated with a powerful performance in May, as well as the possibility of expansion and new collaborations with other grassroots organizations, I am always anxious about sustainability. Will the kids stay? How will we go on with little to no funding? How do I continue to honor this work and get tenure? Are we really having an impact? does it matter? I have recently begun to realize the arrogance of these questions. These are questions that emerge from a mindset that believes that adults have to “program” and “project” social justice for young people, and that the only way to stay relevant is through the financial support of the very foundations and corporations that necessitate our need to organize and develop radical interventions in the first place.

I have learned so much from the participants of BlackLight in both Detroit and Newark. Most of what I have learned has come from really listening to their  brilliance and paying better attention to the way they move through the world outside of the context of our program. One of the first young women to join BlackLight in Newark, Jasmine, is a member of one of the close to a hundred youth-led  street teams in Newark. On the surface it looks as if these groups of 40+ young women and men ranging in age from 14-25 are just throwing parties for other young people. Take a closer look and you will see one of the most progressive models of cooperative economics, community building and social networking in our society. The online presence and marketing capacities of the street teams encourage hundreds of young people to come together in peace – dancing, making music and nurturing the type of careful solidarity that leads to (or already is) mobilization. The ways in which Jasmine and others on her team have to navigate city politics and establish relationships with diverse contingencies of adults and young people throughout  the greater NJ/NYC area provides them with a greater understanding of how systems work and stronger capacity to affect change  in and beyond their communities — this is the real social and political mobility we often just talk about. The philosophy of BlackLight has always already been a part of how young people see their roles in community – a fact that will remain so with or without the structure of a program. But, we have much to learn from one another so instead of thinking of action as something that happens either inside OR outside of BlackLight, much like h0w most of us who care about our public school systems have come to think about education, I understand BlackLight to be everywhere – sometimes ambiguous, sometimes explicit and sometimes an emergent action buried beneath an idea, encased in a feeling. We are always starting somewhere and always moving towards new ends.

 The Sexy Walk, The Patty Cake and the other dances that creatively emerge nearly every month out of a collaborative improvisation of street team DJs and the club dancers who bring the DJs playlist to life, are a visible and visceral roadmap of black folks embodied cultural history in the U.S. I love the fact that, as Jasmine told me, a new dance usually hits when someone who is trying to get (perform with skill and a distinctive aesthetic stylo) one of the current popular dances fails and comes up with their own physical riff on the original. That, to me, is the essence of who we are – continually making something newer, flyer, bolder, hotter than what came before….and not for nothing. The money the street teams raise from the parties goes back into the organization and often supports the community in charitable ways , the lifted energy they create is the fuel, the vapor in the air of cities like Newark that keeps us all alive – whether we realize it our not.

In an interview conducted in East St. Louis in 1977, Katherine Dunham talks about being “inculcated with the idea of eliminating social injustice.” We feel you, Katherine. We feel you on our streets. We feel you in our bodies. We feel you as we keep making plans and making art – fearlessly. 

All love,

Aimee

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Blanca and Shayla’s Reflections…The Big Day

We have a lot of practice before the big day. Hopefully, many people will come to cheer us on and give us more confidence. We are soooo excited for the Bloom day, so that we can show our families what we have learned. We hope that our hard work pays off on may 22, 2010. We won’t stop here and this summer we will have a bigger space to really come out to Bloom. We have met many inspiring people, who really like to express themselves. We are hoping that we can keep on with our talent with the the teaching of Ms. Aimee in the summer and new people. We all work hard and when we make a mistake we all help each other every time we fall so… Fall Seven times Get Up Eight Time. – Blanca and Shaylah

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Saturday Love…BlackLight in Bloom

Saturday was the first day of BlackLight’s Creative Change Makers’ Training…BlackLight in Bloom. I don’t know where or how to begin. There is no way to adequately capture the synergy in that room in the Paul Robeson Campus Center where we met. In many ways, you just had to be there. And, in many ways you were. We felt the loving intentions and strong spirits of all of you, our participating observer friends, lovers, supporters, community members, and ancestors. You floated in the room with us, filling us with the light we so needed that rainy, chilly Newark morning.

I walked in the room, knowing it would, indeed, be a good day when I saw Brittney and Shauntice already out on the floor warming up in leotards and tights. Sandra Bowie, VP of Arts and Education at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, was sitting quietly, almost meditatively in the corner. NJPAC is interested in housing BlackLight (thank God! infrastructure and real institutional support. finally!) But it was 10:55. We start at 11 and there were only four girls in the room! And then, of course, my phone starts blowing up. “Are we still having it today? It’s raining” “What time does it start?” Where are we meeting again?” As hard as it is for me, I am working on letting go of not only my need to control, but the belief that I can actually control anything outside of my own actions, energy and responses. So, I simply texted back, “Of course,” “It already started,” and “you know where.” 11:15 and the room was full.

While each new BlackLight trickled in, they were given a task to assist in breathing life into the space. Shaylah and Blanca set up the journaling corner with the Kenyan stool, candles and rug I brought from my home altar and the rest of the young women rummaged through the remaining bags to create our materials table, blogging station and talking circle. Some of them walked slowly, carefully looking down at the items in their hands before settling on the perfect placement, some skipped through the room and things landed where they may – perfectly. I watched this new group of BlackLight girls each moving in her own way and saw our first choreographic work take shape. These opening moments, the process of getting settled, setting up and creating beauty in the space may seem insignificant, but establish the foundation from which all else flows. We talked about the permanency of the walls and the other structural aspects of the room that we couldn’t change and what it means to change those parts we can impact: how the space looks, feels and smells. Every time we meet, we will all bring material parts of our life – things we find beautiful for whatever reason – to fill and reshape the room. You know, the politics of aesthetics and all.

Vernard Gilmore is my brother, a gift, a true light and a brilliant dancer and choreographer currently with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. We were blessed to have him join us as our first guest artist. Friday night Vernard performed in all three pieces the company performed at NJPAC. I was exhausted just witnessing from the audience. Nonetheless, he was up at the crack of dawn yesterday calling me to finalize the details for his visit with BlackLight. The few hours before tech rehearsal, which are often the same day as that evening’s performance, most dancers are luxuriating in the opportunity to breathe, stretch and recoup alone. Vernard, however, chose to spend this time giving to BlackLight.

When he walked in the room, we all gasped a little. He is physically beautiful, yes, but what we were responding to more than anything was his luminous spirit. He is surrounded by light. He is light. Ismael, our first male BlackLight member (of the “where are we meeting again?” text) arrived just in time to join our circle and take class with Vernard. I think he may have run all the way from his home. We love Ismael and the quirky, lovely earnest energy he brings. We need him. He needs us. Some of the new members of Blacklight, like Ismael, attend Arts High School and have been dancing for some time. Others have never really danced outside of their bedrooms and define themselves as writers, visual artists or “still discovering.” Since the knowledge that the body holds and reveals is such a core piece of BlackLight’s driving philosophy, we all move. We work towards technique and artistry but refrain from judging our status in that process. Vernard managed to get everyone to dance fearlessly and unselfconsciously. I had planned to primarily watch and film but soon found myself stripping down in the corner to my leotard and leggings. I’ll admit that I might have elbowed a few BlackLights out of the way to get a prime space on the floor. Vernard challenged us with some pretty intricate choreography and refused to let anyone hide in the background or allow claimed shyness to be an acceptable excuse for not going all out. By the time Vernard left, we were all in love with him, dancing, and ourselves. Thank you, Vernard.

Fayemi Shakur is a writer, community change agent and goddess who came to BlackLight to share her healing methodology . She talked about releasing, shifting past darkness, finding self, and deepening understanding through the act of putting pen to paper. Affirmation is a word that many of the BlackLights had not heard before. So, Fayemi talked about affirmations and intentions and what it means to claim the self you want to be. We moved from the high physical intensity of Vernard’s dance class to a more internally focused, quiet space with our work with Fayemi – honoring all aspects of ourselves as we explored these various modalities of coming into our own so we might touch and inspire others. Hard, necessary and beautiful work. All of it.

I am…I will be…My city is…My city will be…

The BlackLights were given two minutes to write in response to each of the above prompts. We took our written responses and translated them into performance poetry pieces and then responded to these spoken words with our bodies through movement. The choreography we have so far – dope. And, this is just the very very beginning.

Our day ended with the glorious Darnell Moore. If you know Darnell, I don’t have to explain the peace and spiritual intelligence he radiates. If you don’t know him, I won’t pretend that anything I could say would be adequate other than, you need to know him. We all need some Darnell in our lives. Darnell covered the walls in the hallway outside of the room with post-it notes. The BlackLights walked outside and selected the notes that they felt represented who they are. We went around the circle and listened as we explained why we felt we are worthy, a social change agent, beautiful, resilient, or courageous. We then talked about the importance of our contexts and our personal histories in not only shaping who we are, but who we choose to be and how we decide to move through the world in the future. We also considered the power in self-definition in a society that defines young black and brown people in ways that are painful and physically, emotionally and spiritually dangerous. The raw openness and exquisite honesty that emerged during that conversation took, I think, many of us off guard. We were sharing and supporting one another like family completely unaffected by the fact that, for many of us, this was the first day we met.

Anyone can build a decent or even innovative curriculum for young people. We can all do a fairly good job of talking about social justice education or arts activism in theory. But, there is no way to teach or train folks how to build the type of safety and love that we all created in that room. There is a certain combination of passion, true belief in the possibilities for individual and collective transformation, and an almost ridiculous attraction to seemingly insurmountable challenge that guides the way Vernard, Fayemi and Darnell think about and act in the world. It is this combination of energies that I also feel in the spirits of each of the BlackLights. It is this energy that will push us on…press us forward…make the types of changes we envision in Newark (and beyond) inevitable. It may not be a dance step, sentence, or affirmation away…but it could be.

Starting Tuesday, my blog and other online presences will mostly (finally) be turned over to the BlackLights so you’ll be hearing from them in these next postings. I hope you stay engaged as they tell the story of their journey through the Creative Change Makers May training. We’ll see you at our BLOOM showing on Saturday, May 22nd. All details on that will be posted soon.

All my love, always.

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Precarious Progress or Why I Love Teaching in Newark

Last year a few weeks before I was to teach my first class at Rutgers, I was working on my laptop at a café in Newark furiously trying to complete the syllabus.

“What you got going on there? You a writer?”

The voice attached to these questions was so enthusiastic and friendly I probably would have told this stranger all the details of my life, but, thankfully, stopped short with

“I am a professor of African American studies working on my course.”  

“African American Studies? He was incredulous. “Isn’t that kind of irrelevant?”

Although I tried to dismiss this stranger’s response with the self-assurances that he was ill-informed and culturally deprived, I can not help but to continually reflect on what his statement means for how most folks think about the study of African American life and history – even or especially African Americans. The advent of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day brings me back to this brief encounter with the patronizing stranger. What does it mean to celebrate what has been shortened to MLK day beyond offering the obligatory sigh of relief for a federally approved day off work? If attending to the entire history of African Americans is deemed by some to be passé, how do we now understand Martin Luther King, Jr. and his day?

The first question I posed to my class that fall semester was whether or not they bought the pundit supported concept of a post-racial society.  I wondered with my students what the real impact of the media inspired Obama effect was in their lives. We thought about how to read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream and measure the progression of equality through the figure of one African American man not yet, but sure to be, President of the United States. It became clear very early on that these young adults, primarily Black and Latino from low-income and working class backgrounds, had a very complicated understanding of what they could hope for and the ways their dreams might be realized or dashed.

Although I have to admit that I was stunned by their lack of knowledge of key historical events, my shock was far outweighed by my excitement in discovering that they comprehended history in a much more profound way. For example, their animated debates on what they saw as the lack of social consciousness among the black middle class would have made E. Franklin Frazier proud even though they didn’t know who he was until they were assigned his classic, Black Bourgeoisie. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were familiar names, of course, but their philosophies were at first only discussed on the surface of “I have a dream,” and “by any means necessary.” However, these young people passionately talked and wrote about their belief that the seeds of social transformation could be found in their own neighborhoods in ways that echoed King and Malcolm’s most insightful and revolutionary words.  They were committed to identifying and responding to the inequities they witnessed in their communities, and challenged the ways in which these inequities have been concealed with talk of dysfunctional ghetto related behaviors.

In the media’s dichotomized categorization of people into easily digestible labels, African Americans have one of two options: redemptive good Negro or ever-threatening menace to society. My students pose an undeniable threat to the trope of the disaffected, socially marginalized youth of color in urban America usually positioned as the counter-image to the Corey Bookers and Barak Obamas of our world. Everyday, these young people embody the fearless seeking of justice in all of its forms for all people – the hallmark of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. And, contrary to popular belief, this new generation of thinkers are inspired not by the force fed proliferation of  a corporate driven hip hop that we are to assume represents authentic black life, but by the very real lives of the people they know working to improve their local and global communities.  This is not to say that they aren’t excited about the possibility that Obama is a harbinger of more change to come, just that young people, at least the ones I have been fortunate enough to learn from, realize that Obama’s blackness does not make him the answer. They understand his position as leader of the free world is not necessarily a sign that they are more free. Systems of power, they know, are so resilient because they bend just enough to accommodate revolutionary acts so they may be subsumed, deactivated. Martin Luther King may have said it best:  “all progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” 

We need only look to the recent events in Haiti to truly understand Dr. King’s prophetic words in another, yet related, context. It seems incomprehensible that anyone could respond to this recent and continuing tragedy with the sentiments of ignorance and hate expressed by Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. I cringe to even mention these men alongside Martin Luther King Jr. but need to make the point that we must, in the spirit of Dr. King, nurture and support the voices of those young people who have been misidentified as “at-risk” and peripheral. It is their perspectives that we need as part of the chorus speaking back to those who profit from misinformation, divisiveness and hate, and it is they who remind us that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his day are not irrelevant.  Dr. King told us that “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let us use this day (and all others) to locate the light within and offer our love to what may seen the dimmest of places or the shadiest of hearts. I believe that is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would want, and think my class would agree. 

love.

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The WRITE thing to DO.

Sometimes the words won’t come.

There is, once again, unspeakable tragedy heaped on the brilliantly resilient people of Haiti.

What do you say? 

You are asked to write a 750-word piece for a newspaper on what Martin Luther King, Jr. Day means…now.

What do you say?

I hope to have the words. I have to have the words by 3 p.m. tomorrow. 

In the meantime…

I am praying for the international community to rise up with our family in Haiti and demonstrate its first act of visible, proactive love in 2010. 

I am waiting for the words to come so the action might follow.

I am taking action so the words make sense.

mlk's handwritten draft of his vietnam speech

 

 

love

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The Resolution: LOVE

I stopped making new year’s resolutions a few years ago when I realized that most of my transformations, whether they happened gradually or abruptly, never came on the exact day I wanted them to. Although I am filled with countless hopes, desires, plans and strategies, I can’t predict the challenges and blessings that will come my way over the course of this fresh new 365 days. So, rather than artificially constructing a list of ways to be better when I don’t yet know what I will be called to do this year, I have settled on the following. I think of it more as a mantra than a list.

I will respond to all hate with LOVE

I will understand that acts of meanness, inconsideration, hurtfulness, and neglect come from folks in pain. I will respond to all of them with LOVE

I will heal my own feelings of insecurity and doubt with my own LOVE

I will face the mounting work and seemingly impossible tasks with fierce determination and LOVE

I will meet every disappointment and rejection with LOVE

I will overcome the difficulties of releasing bad habits, old unproductive ways and self-sabotage with LOVE

I will move boldly forward with all plans without fear of failure but with LOVE

I will LOVINGLY remind myself of this: every new day, hour, minute, second, and breath offers an opportunity to clean the slate. to be brand new. to do over. to try again.

None of this will be easy. I will fall short sometimes. I may not always feel like it but I will, with LOVE, keep at it anyway.

much LOVE  and happy NEWNESS to you all!

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