This essay describes CaribFunk, a dance technique I created in response to the marginalization and oppression I experienced growing up in the former British colony of the Bahamas. This movement technology explores Caribbean cultural performance as praxis. It manifests “the erotic” through the spiritual, sensual, and political, resisting narratives that demonize Black female sensuality, sexuality, and expression through the sinuous rotations of the pelvis—the hip wine. Within the investigation and construction of CaribFunk, I engage with Transnational Black Feminism (TBF) and Critical Race Theory (CRT) as theoretical frameworks. These offer nuanced perspectives that attend to the race, gender, class, and respectability politics that are embedded in critiques of the winin’ body. The teaching praxis of CaribFunk, which I call C.E.L, follows 8 core principles and methods: visualization, self-love, self-reflection, personal narrative, creative writing, passion, compassion, and the respect of history and culture. This pedagogical praxis offers a (re)imagining of undergraduate curriculum, one that applies critical pedagogy, Afro-Diasporic principles, and movement to resist and transcend the hegemonic whiteness of dance pedagogy.
She leads with a powerful shift in her pelvis—sometimes percussive and other times sinuous and methodical
She loves to move her winding hips
Diggin’ deep into the earth with bent knees and an arched back, she feels the ancestors beneath her feet
She is a Black woman
She is raced in the place she calls home, but she does not surrender to the stereotypes that don’t see the beauty of her erotic power and prowess
At times she feels she has no space to move her ass to the rhythm
She is a Black woman
She can feel the detestable historical representations of the hatred the mark her Black body
She is SCANDALOUS
She is SLACK
She is a BLACK woman
She is raced, classed, sexed, and policed
She is VULGAR
She is a Black woman
She moves her winding hips to the rhythm of resistance, rebellion, and revolution
Mama Africa lives within her soul
SHE IS A BLACK WOMAN
I wrote these lines to convey my recognition of my ancestral heritage as a Bahamian with Africanist traditions and how it feels to live and move in this body. It is precisely these elements that guide and influence my process, pedagogy, and praxis as I navigate my identity as a Caribbean woman, artist, educator, scholar, and activist in the ivory tower and beyond. The act of writing prose and poetry serves as a poignant excavation of life events as a “way to help give name to the nameless so it can be thought [and visualized]. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives” (Lorde 1984, 25). Lorde’s eloquent poetic articulation and engagement with poetry and prose serves as a form of representational politics allowing the writer to express why representation matters and to whom. Through the art of lyricism, one can articulate fears, desires, successes, and histories. This is a strategy and methodology used in Critical Race Theory (CRT) to subvert the dominant common assumptions and suppositions about people of color, challenging their “truth.”
Race and Racism in the United States and the American Colonies
I lift my leg up and wine my hips to the euphoric sounds of Jamaican dancehall and Trinidadian soca
In real time, in my imagined outdoor beach party, I am gettin’ on bad
I love to wiggle and pop to that dirty south trap music too
In the eyes of the oppressor, these stylized Black cultural dance forms have no place in the dance studio or curriculum, and certainly not on the concert stage
The white gaze
They stare and whisper assuming that I don’t belong here
They desire and revile this contested body
Is she “ghetto” or “vulgar?
Some background on the racial formation of the Black Atlantic provides a framework for understanding power relations, resistance, domination, and access (Omi and Winant 2015). Sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s concept of racial formation is fundamental to the understanding of how racial beliefs and systems of hierarchy and oppression are formed in any given social, cultural, political, and historical context. In the particular racial formations of the United States and the Caribbean, (mis)understanding of the Black body and its (in)abilities work in tandem with the ways in which Black bodies are scrutinized and othered, which contribute to the denial of Black people as sources of knowledge production. Omi and Winant’s discussion of race as a social construct and of the fluidity of racial meanings and identity focuses on the legacy of racial violence and inequity beginning with “white settlers, slave owners, colonial and later national elites” (Omi and Winant 2015, 3) who constructed a system of race to enact control over Black and Brown people. To be clear, historically, Black bodies in the Americas were used for pleasure, reproduction, capital, and punishment while being seen and treated as subhuman. This system associated intelligence and ability with skin color. Within this system, race was based on phenotype and other superficial classifications which identified non-white people as inferior and weak thereby justifying the oppression and exploitation of these groups (Omi and Winant 2015). Early social scientists furthered these falsities of racial construction by applying a Darwinian theory of evolution to social and cultural contexts in white supremacist ways. They also set up a dynamic that persists to this day in which whites were the only producers of knowledge. These beliefs on race and its implication that whites were superior formed the basis of American society in the areas of “education, art, social policy, law, religion, and science” (Omi and Winant 2015, 7). Omi and Winant’s work provokes me to question who is allowed to create systems of knowledge, or more specifically for dance education, systems of movement? This work helps me think more broadly about my pedagogy and praxis in terms of my approach to African diaspora movement and theory and its relationship to the dance technique CaribFunk that I developed, and to see it as a form of knowledge production and a way of knowing.
What is CaribFunk?
CaribFunk dance technique was created in “response to systems of marginalization and oppression that I experienced growing up in the former British colony of the Bahamas” (Carey 2018, 241). This movement technology explores Caribbean cultural performance as praxis and “the erotic” through the spiritual, sensual, and political, resisting narratives that demonize Black female sensuality, sexuality, and expression through the sinuous rotations of the pelvis—the hip wine. It “identifies the body as a site of knowledge, illuminating the transformative performances of the pelvis” (Carey 2018, 235). CaribFunk fuses Afro-Caribbean traditional and social dances, classical ballet, modern (Lester Horton, Martha Graham, and José Limón), and fitness elements (kickboxing, aerobics, and dance fitness).
CaribFunk takes inspiration from Rosamond King’s (2014) Caribglobal perspective, which “recognizes and takes seriously the linguistic, ethnic, racial, cultural, political, and economic differences within [the Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora], yet remains convinced that there is enough shared history and experience among [Caribbean people] to warrant an inclusive approach” (King 2014, 5). I apply this perspective more broadly through the C.E.L. teaching praxis, treating people from all backgrounds as having enough shared experience to take an inclusive approach in the classroom. Thus, CaribFunk offers students a Caribglobal journey through a creolized movement vocabulary and philosophy (Carey 2018).
CaribFunk engages Transnational Black Feminism (TBF) as a theoretical framework because of its nuanced perspective that attends to the racial, gender, class, and respectability politics that are embedded in the critiques of the winin’ body. In this essay, I investigate how the CaribFunk technique constructs a space for female expression, exhibiting a Black performance aesthetic I call hip-mancipation. The term hip-mancipation offers an opening to discuss how women’s sensuous pageantry is a subversive practice of liberty and virtue. Hip-mancipation describes the power, agency, and sovereignty expressed through the rolling, inflections, and gyrations of the hip. It is “embodied freedom and erotic agency in wider contemporary contexts of the neocolonial restructuring of citizenship, sovereignty, and power across both national and transnational terrains” (Carey 2019, 120), offering citizenship to those who are criminalized, ridiculed, and policed for performing movements that are inclusive of the hip and pelvis.
Transnational Black Feminism (TBF)
She dances to the beat of polyrhythmic pulsations entrenched in the spines and hips of her African ancestors
Their vertebrae carve, curls, and caresses the ancestral memory of their culture in virtuous variations of power and passion
Expressions of her kinship with the motherland are performed in measured oration and bodily gestures
Her majestic stature is coveted by those who see her as a threat
She enters and exits the space with regal grace
She is a Black Queen
As a theoretical framework, Transnational Black Feminism (TBF) privileges the histories and experiences of marginalized communities (Monroe 2011. It has been argued in the tradition of Black feminism (Collins 1990; hooks 1981) that Black women’s everyday experiences should be validated and fashioned into the fabric of our society. These discussions are critical in advancing discourse centered on Black female subjectivity and the Black feminist movement at large (hooks 1981).
I ground my discussion in K. Melchor Quick Hall’s explication of TBF, offering a brief introduction into the genesis of the framework and how I engage with it in my praxis. Hall suggests that the field of international relations (IR) has neglected to recognize the “Black feminist living legacy” (Hall 2020, 1), though Black feminist scholarship has had influential impacts on several fields within the social sciences. This omission and the repeated avoidance of addressing race and racism in the discipline of IR was the catalyst to Hall’s intervention. Engaging with a Black feminist framework in international studies interrogates “contemporary state borders and their significance in the analysis of the lives of Black, indigenous, and other marginalized peoples” (Hall 2020, 2). This attention to the experiences and social realities of Black women transnationally across borders was imperative to the development of CaribFunk Technique.
Hall introduces five precepts within this intervention: intersectionality, scholar-activism, solidarity, attention to borders/boundaries, and radically transparent author positionality (Hall 2020, 3). I will define the terms and discuss how I engage with them in my praxis.
Intersectionality recognizes the interplay of multiple oppressions that Black women experience (race, gender, class etc.) and how they combine and compound oppression. As a lens, intersectionality illuminates the power structures that adhere to white privilege and how these experiences of white privilege manifest for whites, particularly “male elites” (Crenshaw 2000; Hall 2020). This lens of intersectionality helps us understand the assumption that white men of the elite status are the only legitimate knowledge creators and producers and actively resists this, as the prominent theorists of intersectionality are themselves women of color.
I apply intersectionality within the context of erotic performance to discuss the history of the Black female body in terms of the ways it has been characterized, stereotyped, and racialized as well as how dances of the African diaspora were critiqued by missionaries and planters in the eighteenth and nineteenth century (Nettleford 1985) as well as in the twenty first century.
This tenet is focused on the role of the researcher and the ways in which their work “decolonizes and transforms” (Hall 2020, 6). Within this construct, TBF asks scholars and researchers “how they are working towards solutions in terms of the inequities and oppression that are revealed in the process of the research and how will they use their power and privilege?’
Within CaribFunk, my aim is to amplify the voices of the women who perform erotic agency and autonomy, providing them with the opportunity to share their stories, histories, and experiences to counter the negative stigma associated with their performances. Writing about their experiences and sharing them in scholarship, visually (through a documentary), and through choreography will hopefully demonstrate the transnational struggles and connections of Black women.
The TBF approach to research promotes solidarity by creating bonds and relationships within communities where the research is conducted, making “mutuality, accountability, and the recognition of common interests” (Hall 2020, 10) central features of the research methodology; it acknowledges difference and diversity and builds community, relationships, and allies on these divergences, instead of erasing and omitting them.
Building solidarity is important in my praxis to create trust and acceptance within the teaching/learning space. It is important to stress that commonality and difference are acceptable in building alliances and that seeking sameness in experiences, background, and/or nationality are not essential elements in building solidarity. One’s ethnicity, nationality, and/or privilege should not exclude us (me/them) from building community. Instead, these aspects of our identities should foster awareness and empathy.
Attention to Borders/Boundaries
Hall builds on Mexican feminist Gloria Anzaldúa’s discussion of Borderlands, or “wherever two or more cultures edge together, where people of different races occupy the same territory” (Anzaldúa 1987, 19). Borderlands is an important lens for thinking about not just race but also class, space, and bodies. Political borders feed ideologies of us versus them; they serve to dichotomize, to segregate and create division.
CaribFunk draws attention to the Borderlands of bodies themselves – consider the undulating Borderlands of winin’ hips and the way they trouble the upright uptightness of the body under regimes of respectability politics and whiteness. In CaribFunk pedagogy, we discuss the borderlands of class, culture, morality, and religion in erotic performance, addressing and attempting to dismantle the us versus them dichotomy.
Radically Transparent Author Positionality
Radically transparent author positionality offers a view of the motivations, intentions, and viewpoint of the author, researcher, or teacher. Knowing about the teachers’ background and their connection and relationship to the material helps to shed light on their authenticity and integrity as well as their subjectivity, calling into question the objectivist paradigm of research historically dominated by white men.
TBF attends to the experiences of Black women transnationally, addressing social injustice and other systems of oppression, and radically transparent author positionality gives the experiences and knowledge of these oppressions authority within knowledge production. Transparency and positionality are essential for my praxis in terms of sharing my experiences with emotional trauma from the critique and stigma of moving and dancing in certain ways. As I teach and lecture across the country, face to face and virtually, many students have shared how they were shamed and ridiculed due to their too “sexy” and “inappropriate” dancing.
C.E.L. Educational System
I remain committed to my mission as an artist/scholar teaching in higher education to develop a praxis centered on social transformation, providing all students with experiences rooted in Africanist traditions woven into classroom policy, theory, and methodology. My role as a critical dance educator includes examining curriculum from a social and critical lens and challenging existing cultural, social, and historical policies addressing race, class, and gender; this has informed my educational philosophy. This educational philosophy is termed C.E.L and is predicated on three principles: 1. Preserving the Culture 2. Embarking on a new Experience and, 3. Speaking a new Language (Carey 2016). This philosophy emphasizes community engagement, equity, and diversity and takes an interdisciplinary approach to a cultural experience.
As I continue to parse out theories that inform my praxis, I explore the “critical pedagogical praxis” Paulo Freire set forth in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1993). Freire’s critical pedagogy centered on problem-posing education as a means to liberation: 1. Identify a problem; 2. Analyze the problem; 3. Create a plan of action to address the problem; 4. Implement the plan of action; and 5. Analyze and evaluate the action (Duncan-Andrade and Morell 2008, 25). These five steps are useful in developing a praxis centered on educational reform and empowering the student to feel engaged in the process of community building and resolve. Takiyah Amin (2016) argues that dance curricula in higher education should be re-imagined. African Diaspora dance can be used in this reimagining to “destabilize the central position of Western and historically privileged movement and approaches” (Amin 2016, 15). Amin’s critical pedagogical praxis is in alignment with the Paulo Freire’s problem-posing critical pedagogy. Focusing on Amin’s thesis and the five stages of Freire’s critical pedagogy, I tailor each stage to attend to the challenges I address in my teaching praxis.
Five Stage Critical Pedagogy
Identify the problem: Epistemological Apartheid: the centering of European concert dance forms as the universal ideal for dance training in the classroom and in the studio, as well as on stage, always re-instituting whiteness in curricular and pedagogical practice.
Analyze the problem: The continual marginalization of African diasporic and non-European voices in curricula; the privileging of ballet and modern in curricula; the use of “technique” to refer to only European forms such as ballet and modern; and the need for equalizing technique credits, “assign[ing] equivalent value for dance technique courses or required the same number of credits for various dance techniques reifies white supremacy and racist constructs” (McCarthy-Brown 2014, 126).
Create a plan of action to address the problem: Following Amin, the goal is to include “African derived dances and their aesthetic principles within higher-education dance curricula” (Amin 2016, 15). C.E.L. is a plan of action to achieve this goal and address the problem. This philosophy features a transgressive framework that is inclusive, ambiguous, fluid, and exhibits evolving expressions of Africanity and Caribbean-ness specifically through the fusion dance technique CaribFunk.
C.E.L’s mission consists of imagining the future of critical dance studies—one that addresses the shifting demographics and the social, economic, and cultural diversity of students in the 21st century. There are eight principles featured within the philosophy: visualization, self-love, self-reflection, personal narrative, creative writing, passion, compassion, and the respect of history and culture.
Implement the plan of action: Teach and write about C.E.L., following its eight principles.
Visualization: Is used to incite power, freedom, and ownership over one’s body when discussing the various systems of oppression. This includes thinking, seeing, and imagining your freedom and liberation.
Self-love: As Oshun (the Yoruba deity of love) adorns her body with gold jewelry, embellishing her beauty, moving through the space with power and confidence, students are taught to accept who they are. They are encouraged to embrace who they are (height, race, sex, color, religion, sexuality, size, class, ability), own it unapologetically, and know that they are enough.
Self-reflection: C.E.L. encourages introspection and check-ins that focus on the mental, emotion, spiritual, sensual, and physical state. One must acknowledge and come to terms with how they achieved this sense of empowerment and the journey they took.
Personal Narrative: Students are encouraged to tell their (own) stories through oration, writing, or movement. There is something about radical transparency that moves the reader or the listener to enter your zone and embrace and respect your truth.
Creative Writing: Students are encouraged to participate in performative writing to share their stories.
Passion: Love and appreciation for oneself (self-confidence), both internally and externally.
Compassion: The teachings, discourse, personal stories, research, and scholarship encourages respect for humanity.
History and culture are vital to one’s growth and development.
Analyze and evaluate the action: I am still in the process of exploring how other scholars are approaching epistemological apartheid by including “African derived dances and their aesthetic principles” (Amin 2016) in curricula. There are many scholars attending to these concepts (Monroe 2011, McCarthy-Brown 2014, Kerry-Berry 2016 and Davis 2018), providing rich scholarship on the issue of race and racism in dance practice and curriculum. Ayo Walker (2019) furthers these discussions by offering an alternative pedagogical approach titled “entercultural engaged pedagogy” which attempts to dismantle current “monocultural epistemology” (Walker 2019) vis-à-vis a sophisticated system that attends to culture, history, and traditions of Black and Brown people to balance the focus of pedagogy in terms of equity and inclusion (Walker 2019).
I offer C.E.L. and CaribFunk as another pedagogical approach to dismantle the current Eurocentric model taught in many dance programs nationally. CaribFunk reflects a contemporary praxis, one that is rooted in CRT and draws from the principles that Amin (2016) suggests are needed to rupture, destabilize, and shift current dance curriculum. The eight principles – visualization, self-love, self-reflection, personal narrative, creative writing, passion, compassion, and the respect of history and culture – allow for a (re)imagining of an undergraduate curriculum, one that applies critical pedagogy and Afro-Diasporic principles to “actively resist and transform the pervasiveness of white cultural hegemony within dance in the academy” (Amin 2016, 2015). As critical dance educators and activists continue to work on dismantling the current system, it is important that we ensure that the new and emerging philosophies and pedagogy: 1. Provide a comprehensive experience for the dancers in multiple dance genres while simultaneously rupturing hierarchies; 2. Build on the students’ competence and knowledge of diverse dance forms; 3. Not privilege any one form; and 4. Prepare the students for research and performance in dances of the African Diaspora and western forms.
With the recent death of American dance pioneer Mama Kariamu1 and the public acknowledgment of her accomplishments at her memorial, I am thinking (more) about legacy and the importance of archiving. Those that spoke at the memorial brought several points to light: mentorship, “pouring life into your passion,” “doing the impossible,” “doing what you can when it is possible,” and utilizing your gifts. Through my work, I am attempting to share CaribFunk technique and philosophy, but I also desire to bring Bahamian dance and culture into the archive. As a Bahamian artist/scholar/educator/activist, it is important that I continue to carve pathways for those who desire to do this work and are seeking models and representation. My call to action is adding to the archive, giving life to my passion, and doing what I can to add to this history of Black Caribbean dancing women.
1. Dr. Kariamu Welsh’s influence as an African dance scholar, educator, activist, dancer, and choreographer and the progenitor of the dance technology Umfundalai have been profound. back to text
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