From a young age, I possessed what they call, natural rhythm. I could pick up beats in music and move in time with them. By the time I was five, I could memorize and execute short routines. Lucky for me, I had plenty of opportunity to dance.
Some of my earliest memories of dance was Kindergarten. At this time, I lived in Oakland. Our P.E. teacher, Ms. Milly also doubled as the after school dance teacher. The gym was filled with students, the younger group, and the older group. Being the only 5 year old, as Kindergarteners were actually not allowed to join, I was put in the younger group. I don’t remember how Milly agreed to let me dance. I remember my mom saying that I was allowed to stay because I was able to keep up. Most other students my age could not, and that’s why they weren’t allowed to join. I suspect that my older sister was in the dance club and I wanted to be involved as well. Good thing I had the skills.
I remember learning several routines with costumes for each dance. There was jazz, samba, hip-hop, probably more. I loved it, dancing came natural, and performing and seeing how the audience reacted to my performance, was almost nurturing to me. I felt like people really understood me when they saw me dance. Their compliments were reward for all the practice I put in. One performance, I was in the audience watching the older group of students who performed after us. I leaned over to my mom, pointing out dance moves they did that were the same as ours, but at a faster pace and said “I can do that.”
What I appreciate about my younger self, even to this day, is I knew who I was, and I knew what I could do. I wanted to dance, so I did, and I was hungry, to learn more and excel to higher levels.
Once, our church participated in an African Dance workshop. Complete with the guy sitting off to the side with a BIG ass drum. After the class, we did a drum circle. That’s not the official term, but that’s what I’m calling it. There was the drum guy, and everyone had a chance to go in the middle of the circle and dance. Guess who went in the middle and danced? This kid. I love the attention and the cheers, and I went on for too long, I knew I did, but I didn’t care. Everyone had to see that I could retain choreography we learned earlier, as well as the ones I practiced at home. There was one move in particular when I would drop to the ground with my hands touching the floor in front of me and my legs bent outwards like a frog. Then I would bounce up half way and stick one leg out to the side with my heel touching the ground. I would continue this bounce, alternating legs. (A few years later when I tried that same move, it did not work. Age gets you)
Another one of these places of dance was church. In Oakland, our church home was a Baptist church filled with many of our extended family members. I participated in the choir and the praise dance team. Praise dance is a form of worship. Dances are choreographed and performed to modern day worship music, usually of the dramatic or high energy variety. We used our emotions to portray the love and joy that God brought into our lives, or we fake cried through the struggles we went through in life before God extended his holy hand to lift us out of the ashes. I enjoyed going to the church after hours to learn the dances, especially to have a featured role. But the best part of it all, was the audience.
Black churches are very vocal, very loud, very alive. I always knew that they would be so supportive and cheerful. As soon as we walked down that aisle, the praise began. I would give the performance of my life, often front and center. Thinking back, I would become pretty upset if I was put on the side in the formation. My mother was on the adult women’s praise team, I knew their dances too of course, from watching rehearsals.
These experiences were my first “official” introductions into structured dance. I had found a niche.