We have created constructs that subliminally or consciously reflect the fallacy of race and drive our actions and reactions along racialized pathways. Black dance is one of these constructs. Taking this line of thinking a step further, the black dancing body exists as a social construct, not a scientific fact. However, this phantom body, just like the phantom concept of a black or white race, has been effective in shaking and moving, shaping and reshaping, American (and now global) cultural production for centuries. It has been courted and scorned—an object of criticism and ridicule as well as a subject of praise and envy.
Brenda Dixon Gottschild, The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool
DISCOTROPIC is the name of an ongoing project by New York-based dancer, niv Acosta. Proceeding in a series of ‘episodes’–each occurring at a different place and time— DISCOTROPIC deals simultaneously with astrophysics, the history of disco, and a Black sense of danger. With his group of performers, niv has performed various iterations of DISCOTROPIC at the New Museum, MoCADA, Cooper Union, Lehmann Maupin, amongst other notable New York arts venues.
During one particular episode of DISCOTROPIC, for example, audience members were invited to move over and over in a whirlwind, collectively invoking the experience of a roller rink. The only rule was that each participant had to stop when they reached a point of exhaustion. Said in another way, the dancers were instructed to continue on in the dominant motion until they perceived themselves to be in danger: we can think of exhaustion as an extreme vulnerable state, when one’s capacities for defending and protecting are diminished. This particular form of organized dancing (moving in orbit with other bodies) serves both to create a kind of moving union (a shared space of transformation) as well as to create a state in which this moving union is no longer possible—and because each dancer is charged with deciding when the dance ends for their own body, Acosta as choreographer succeeds in capturing the exhausted moment (the end of the dance) within the dance itself. The collective dance, then, becomes a kind of superhuman entity, not hindered by any one body’s limitations.
The Afrofuturist dance must necessarily concern itself with endings in order to situate itself within a ‘genre’ whose central questions could be phrased as: When will our present world end and to which world will we flee when that happens? We can even go a step further and ask: Is it possible that this world will continue on without us? In other words, when the existence of the Black individual is simply no longer sustainable on Earth—and the individual is forced to flee ‘elsewhere’—is it possible that Earth will endure despite the alien migrant’s departure?
When I spoke with niv, we talked quite a bit about how to perform the Future. Neither a proper beginning nor a proper ending, the Future pours imperceptibly out of the present moment. How then to isolate the Future in the context of a performance? One way, niv described, is to dance in such a way as to bring the Future into the present moment. In choreographing pieces, niv emphasizes what is futuristic about now, perhaps in a similar way, he said, that “Octavia [Butler] created futures before I was born.” It is possible to perform the Future—to dance the Future—because one needn’t be in the future to do so. We all have some sense of what is or isn’t ‘futuristic.’ Our smartphones, which get smaller and smaller all the time, are futuristic. Our lives on the Internet are futuristic. And twerking, niv reminds me, is also futuristic.
“I’ve been working with twerk as a dystopic means to control gravity,” says niv. “I’ve thought of our asses as planetary bodies that have their own gravitational pull which currently looks like twerking.” Early in his exploration of twerking and its relation to both planetary movement and an African diasporic movement lexicon, niv attended a “twerkshop” with the activist-healer Fannie Sosa. Twerkshops with Fannie Sosa occur all around the world, spreading the twerk gospel—namely, to “center your power back into your cunt and ass,” niv explained. In an interview with Berlin Art Link, Fannie Sosa elaborates on this:
Any holistic medicine will tell you that when you move the fat in your body you are moving your emotions: they are linked. As gendered human beings, we are told not to have fat on our bodies. If we have fat, we’re told to hide it or to tone it. To accept that you have fat in your body, that it’s visible and that you feel hot, goes deep into a lot of gendered ideas about what beauty is and what femininity is, what respectability is.
The politics I try to transmit with the twerkshops are ‘pum pum politics’: the pum pum is the ass but also the pelvic floor. We have hierarchized our bodies and we have lied to ourselves, making the center of gravity the second center, and making our brain—our ego body—the main center of our bodies. Online, we only exist through the mental and the ego self. The twerkshops reconnect us with the center of gravity, our first brain. We have neurons in our wombs and for a moment, we get to taste what it feels like to have our center there.
We’re decolonizing our bodies. The pleasure politics are also very important: being a pleasurable, fun body of color is a political stance. We live in a system that wants these bodies dead, in pain, invisible. So pleasure is power, in a non-hierarchical way. This organic power is one of the most subversive and awesome political stances. It’s very much aimed towards the political transformation of public spaces: this is a tool to gather our sisters and brothers, to get talking and moving our asses.
I think over and over about the phrase “the political transformation of public spaces” and decide there can be no Afrofuturism without it. When I talked to niv about his performances, he told me that oftentimes when he performs for all-white audiences, it feels traumatic. “There’s no room for my work,” he described having felt at certain junctures. Yet part of what is so captivating about niv’s work is its ability to command the space in which it is taking place for the sake of the dance.
Acosta’s “denzel again” (the final piece in a four-part ‘denzel’ series) is one such example. Exploring the notion of impossible bodies, niv forces the audience to consider the Black body, the transgender body, the Black transgender body; to be present in an-other space with and for the impossible body. For a moment in time and space, the Black body dancing is not a social construct but instead a reality in which to dwell—a reality which is neither present nor past, but instead comes about by way of a performance of a future-point at which such a reality is not only possible, but occurring. In order to experience such a moment, you must go with the dance to the realm into which it projects you. You must leave your present-self and take your future-self.
Anaïs Duplan‘s writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, [PANK], Birdfeast, Phantom Limb, and other publications. She is a head curator at The Spacesuits and an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
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