Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Searching for Creative Partners

Leadership Team (L to R): Allegra Romita, Artistic Visioning Partner. A. Nia Austin-Edwards, Strategic Visioning Partner. Sydnie L. Mosley, Founding Artistic & Executive Director. 

For the past year, I have been witnessing the fruits of SLMDances' Strategic Planning labors. Our implementation game has been STRONG. *insert biceps emoji* I couldn't be more proud or excited of how far we've come. Still, with the implementation of strategic changes has come other changes that I couldn't have quite predicted.

Many of the dancers who helped shape SLMDances in its prime have moved on to their next level of badassness and sorcery. I mean these bawse women are pursuing MBAs figuring out new models of dance company business, PhDs researching labor of Black women in the concert dance field, developing new somatic practices, in seminary school studying African diasporic spirituality, becoming curators, producing festivals and concerts of their own, touring with other artists, and more. As I wished them well and sent them on their way it didn't occur to me that we were in a time capsule brought together by a series of unique circumstances to form a magical creative partnership.

2014-2015 Company (L ro R): Allegra Romita, Sydnie L. Mosley, Nehemoyia Young, Kimberly Mhoon, Rachel Russel, Candace Thompson, Kayla Hamilton. (Not Pictured: Autumn Scoggan, Katherine Bergstrom) photo credit: FFVisual 2014

As we've held auditions for new dancers - two times in the past year already, and we're gearing up for another - we've struggled to find the words to describe and capture the magic of the role that artists play in this company. Are they just dancers? Are they dancers and teachers? Do we ask them to submit an administrative resume? We're offering a lot of professional development, but we also ask people to read books and essays -- is it more of a fellowship? Do we ask people to pay us to be here? How did previous dancers know to bring ideas, questions and research into the studio? 

From these questions, what rises to the top for us as most important is that we are organizers who are committed to using dance performance and education as a means toward liberation for Black women and girls. In that process, we understand the utmost importance of leadership development of and collaboration with artists - particularly women, particularly women of color, particularly Black women. We are asking a lot from artists, but we also invest a lot in people because we need a strong collective to move this work forward.

As such, we know that we are more than a dance company and we needed to name the role artists take on accordingly. After lots of word play and simmering for some months we landed on Creative Partner, an all encompassing job title that embraces the artists' role as dancer – teacher – organizer – badasses who believe in our core values: Dreaming, Activism, Authenticity, Individuality, Community, and Learning. 

2017-2018 Company (L to R): Jessica Lee, Sydnie L. Mosley, Allegra Romita, A. Nia Austin-Edwards, Maia Bedford, Stephenni Miller-Allen. (Not pictured: Rochelle Wilbun) photo credit: ShocPhoto 2017

Participation in SLMDances’ work as a Creative Partner asks artists to show up and engage in the decision-making in each aspect of SLMDances’ work. Our Creative Partners are resourceful and creative collaborators bringing ideas and research into the dance-making process. They are teaching artists and community facilitators in our education programs that address topics such as gender and economic equity. Lastly and maybe most importantly, they are administrators and organizers working as agents of change, often producing events with community partners. 

Creative Partners are compensated for their time in each aspect of this work as SLMDances believes in investing in whole people. This intentionally crafted approach expands the traditional role of the performer in dance studio rehearsals, and creates space for them to self-actualize lives of their choosing. Through our unique organizational design, these women acquire tools and resources that ripple toward their own organizing work outside of SLMDances that often addresses further intersections of people of color’s experiences. (See: Candace Thompson's Dance Caribbean Collective and Kayla Hamilton's Nearly Sighted.)

There are some logistics that need to be considered. One of my long time goals has been to move our regular class and rehearsal schedule to day time work hours because as we all know, dancing is work. That means this role is only right for someone on the road to figuring out their freelance / consulting / part-time work hustle. (If you haven't, but are willing, we can help with that! Sign up for our evening Professional Development workshop on June 26.)

More than anything, I am looking to work with people who are ready and willing to show up with their whole selves. People for whom this dancing thing, specifically dancing to affect change for the liberation of Black women, is of utmost importance. People who want to do this work in community. People for whom their dancing is the means to their personal liberation and are looking for a home base to tie all of that work together.

The upcoming SLMDances audition is a part of our summer intensive Professional Development for the People! taking place June 26-29 at Brooklyn Studios for Dance, 210 Lafayette Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11238. Please contact for any questions about the workshops or audition process. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

She's Gotta Have It

Spoiler Alert: Read at your own risk, or after you've watched all 10 episodes.


‎⁦‪#ShesGottaHaveIt‬⁩. Starting Thanksgiving 2017, we have the pleasure and joy of meeting Nola Darling, again. Her character and the characterization of a place we know and love - Fort Greene, Brooklyn - are brilliantly updated for 2016 - 2017. It seems like Spike Lee has been taking notes on the content created by some of our faves which surely were influenced by his iconic works in the first place. In this series, Insecure's insecurity meets Atlanta's magical realism in Brooklyn with Spike Lee's glasses on. I also hear-tell it was an all women’s writing room. Thank you Eisa Davis, Cinqué Lee, Joie Lee, Lynn Nottage and all else who were there.

With She's Gotta Have It, I’m looking at my world in the mirror. I find myself desiring to only talk to my Black New York City artist friends about this. I’m looking at dancer peers on screen, and the art work of fellow anti-street harassment art maker Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. I'm witnessing Pat Hall teaching at Mark Morris Dance Center with friends Rosamond King among regular class takers, knowing that downstairs at the same time my heart Candace Thompson is teaching Soca. I'm unwittingly re-enacting scenes by just living my life.

Kiss. "I love you." "I love you more." Walks down brownstone stairs. "Call me when you get home." "Thanks mom!"

I mean, this series came out the gate strong. Stop Telling Women To Smile because I’m a sex positive polyamourous pansexual who prays to Oshun and pays respects to the ancestors by laying red roses on their graves and confides in my black woman therapist because Lawd Knows I have to take care of my mental and emotional health living this artist hustle life and while I’m at it here listen to this track cuz whatchu know ‘bout dat youngin’ and look at how beautiful my hood still is even tho the white folk have come wit dey ol’ conquering asses - STRONG.

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We also get the treat of Spike’s signature camera angles: Nola sitting and rotating around herself at length, knowing looks at the camera, full face talking to the viewer, and the dolly shot. The work is self-referential and self-reverential. And if that’s not what your into, remember that Spike Lee does not deal in subtlety. He never has, and it looks like he never will. That’s an intentional choice y'all. Spike’s specialty is beating you over the head with the plight of Black people. I mean look at all the SHOTS FIRED against:
  1. The Academy Awards, 
  2. gentrifying white people, 
  3. wannabedown white people, 
  4. Black folks who play white people’s game for access to money-notoriety-power, 
  5. art critics (ahem Alastair Macauley, or whoever that dude is in the NYT art or film sections), 
  6. Agent Orange aka 45 aka DT, 
  7. NYPD, and to my dismay
  8. vulnerable Black women. 
Yes. Despite a tenacious attempt at a feminist perspective throughout, the harshest treatment in the series was given to the most vulnerable, marginalized Black female character and I can't let it slide. Especially when the men are treated with nuance and care, notwithstanding their glaring flaws and Nola’s rightful and righteous dismissal of them all.

Sister Shemekka on the other hand is a Black single mother trying to make ends meet by any means necessary. The violent treatment of Shemekka’s backside is shoved into our face; so violent in fact, I had to mute the television at her screams and peek through fingers for the scenes' conclusions. We do not get an unpacked understanding of what brought her there aside from the booty-centered sideshow that appears on every television screen and jealously of how much more money the Hot & Trot dancers are making. Is that motive enough for such extreme alterations of her body? How is it that we get to understand the backstories leading to the various conceits of each of Nola's lovers, but not the detailed backstory of Nola's best friend? How is it that Shemekka is not as enlightened as Nola's middle school student Reggie who knows that Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda is a role that isn't for every one, but rather a ploy for financial success in our capitalist hell-hole of a society? And even more urgent, why are we witnessing the gruesome explosion of Shemekka's ass? That shit ain't funny.

Sure, She's Gotta Have It isn't about Shemekka specifically. It's about Nola Darling, but Shemekka's character isn't a prop. She along with Clorinda, Opal, and Raqueletta Moss are multiple facets of Brooklyn's finest; archetypes depicting a range of contemporary young Black Brooklyn womanhood -- in much the same way the women casts of Living Single and Girlfriends operate in their worlds. These women's stories are intertwined and their liberation is interconnected. Seriously, how can I be free if my sister is not free?

If Shemekka's character including her body and story can not be treated with care, can we truly buy into Nola Darling's liberation by series end? Especially when Nola's artistic and personal journey are catalyzed by what she calls the "free Black woman's form" - quite literally, a portrait of Shemekka.

As much as I adore Lee's craftsmanship in re-imaging the groundbreaking 1986 film into this series with a number of smart choices in casting, writing, photography, sound score, plot development and more (there is really so much YES!), the Shemekka storyline undercuts a great deal of that work. How can She's Gotta Have It uplift Nola Darling for sitting in her power and navigating her freedom and at the same time violently shame Shemekka and women who may think just like her?

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

we won.

photo credit: Risa Shoup

I took a "nothing for nobody" day yesterday because after Monday night, time for rest, reflection, processing, and settling was necessary. I spent much of my time writing (and writing and writing) prayers of gratitude and acknowledgement. I am extraordinarily proud to be awarded the Bessie for Outstanding Performer as a part of the ensemble cast of *the skeleton architecture, or the future of our worlds* brilliantly curated and convened by Eva Yaa Asantewaa (also awarded for her Outstanding Service To The Field Of Dance).

As I reflect on all this and think about who I am grateful for that has made it possible for me to be present now doing this dancing *and* recognized for it, there is one name that is supreme: Ava Fields.

I mean, this award is for Outstanding Perfomer in an Improvisational Performance amongst a Multi Generational Community of Black Women and gender non conforming people that took place in a Church.

This was my entire dancing childhood.

I remember every class, rehearsal, performance, and moment in between with Aunt Ava. Those early years when she told me You can't do that dance because you haven't been through anything yet.

Those moments when she would thrust me onto stage with 30 seconds notice. I was the soloist. Time to improvise.

Our shopping trips to the thrift store for costumes.

The scrappiness of putting on a show with and for your community.

The day after my grandfather passed, I showed up at dance class and she said, I didn't expect to see you here but makes sense. I was 16 and heartbroken. She made space for me to dance it out.

The importance of waiting and listening for vision, as she shared her stories of walking the dog at 3am and becoming clear on the next big work.

The moment she proclaimed that "The Potter's House" was my dance. Something had shifted in my dancing. I was changed. Mature.

She showed me what it truly means to be a T E A C H I N G  A R T I S T.

How to meet people where they are - the community center, the street, the church - and open their hearts with movement.

Auntie Ava, you taught me how to do things with dance.

photo credit: AK47 Division

And so this recognition is for her, and for all the dance teacher Mamas and Aunties who raised us, who set us on our path, and made space for us to fly.

May this recognition, this visibility, this witnessing not only write the names of the cast of skeleton architecture into dance herstory, but write the legacies that we come from and the legacies we are building.

SLMDances at The Bessies.
From L to R: Kayla Hamilton (Outstanding Performer recipient, skeleton architecture), Courtney Keene (SLMDances Board Chair), Nia Austin-Edwards (Strategic Visioning Partner), Sydnie L. Mosley, Candace Thompson (former Associate Artistic Director, Board Member), Stephenni Miller-Allen (Apprentice), Jessica Lee (Company Member).

The e
nsemble of the skeleton architecture, or the future of our worlds is one of four awardees for Outstanding Performer. The cast includes Maria Bauman, Sidra Bell, Davalois Fearon, Marjani Forté-Saunders, Melanie Greene, Kayla Hamilton, Jasmine Hearn, Marguerite Hemmings, Nia Love, Paloma McGregor, Sydnie L. Mosley, Rakiya Orange, Grace Osborne, Leslie Parker, Angie Pittman, Samantha Speis, Charmaine Warren, Marýa Wethers, Ni’Ja Whitson, and others*

Curated by Eva Yaa Asantewaa for Danspace Project’s Platform 2016: Lost and Found

For a history-in-the-making performance that dismantled improvisational dance norms to create a robust, disruptive, and dynamic world. For a cast of individuals who used a full range of movement styles to take the audience from Dakar to Kingston, the Bronx to Bushwick, in a fluid dance of connection.

*Edisa Weeks and Tara Aisha Willis were also in the cast but are ineligible as they serve on the Bessie Selection Committee

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Haunt-Mourning-F*ck

October 23, 2016/Morning
Last night the energy was bubbling high. We were just happy to be in a tiny room together. "Marya's cute y'all!" Charmaine hollered out. All eyes on her as she shimmied in her midriff.

We walked out. Single file line. And as we arranged ourselves on the altar listening to the words that beckoned our presence and our power I noticed the overwhelming number of white faces staring back at us. Waiting patiently to see what our next move would be. This is first time I have ever done THIS work - church dancing - in white space.

A video posted by Danspace Project (@danspaceproject) on

I chose my prompt: the haunt.

Monday, July 4, 2016

sipping Lemonade, savoring pound CAKE

Today/July 4, 2016.
It’s taken me 15 months to get this post out, and today of all the days – the 4th of July – is when I finally feel free enough to finish this writing. Today, when the United States of America celebrates its independence with a day off, too much food and drink, and sparkling lights exploding overhead. On this day, I find myself lounging on my parents’ new porch, gazing at the trees, and inhaling more fresh air in the past 24 hours than I have since who-can-remember-when.

We moved here three weeks ago. Packed up 28 years of life on Woodbrook Avenue, stuffed it in a Budget moving truck, and dropped it off at a new house, only 10 minutes from the old one. We’ve always known this neighborhood and this street, North Avenue, but it’s still new in so many ways. That day was a historic one. The last of the Mosley’s moved away from Woodbrook Avenue where our family has lived for 66 years. Yes, you read that right.

When we arrived to the new house, Grammy greeted us with moving day-vittles and a pound cake. Damn, that cake was good. Maybe the best one she ever baked? Will she bring one when she comes by later?

Daddy put four whole seasoned chickens on the grill. He’s lining up sausages and hot dogs to go on next. I’m wondering, maybe we should make some lemonade for later?

April 25, 2016.
Exactly one year ago today, in the waning evening April sun, I picked up the phone and called my mother.

"Mommy, why is our neighborhood on fire?"

We were on Facetime on a Monday evening. She and I both alternated looking at each other's faces, and then back at the television screen’s live broadcast of a burning CVS on the corner of North and Pennsylvania Avenues, 6 blocks south of our longtime family home.

"I don't know," she said.

The nausea that began in the pit of my stomach that day has not gone away yet, even a year later. Maybe it subsides, but total disappearance? Not yet.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Shining, Shaping + Standard Making: Candace Thompson Crafts Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE

photo credit: Jamerlyn Brown

Before "shine theory" was in our lexicon, there has always been a general ethos amongst the women in my squad of, "When you shine, I shine." These are women in my world with whom I am absolutely in love. People with whom I trust my life and reflect back to me the best parts of who I am and who I want to be. Candace Thompson is high on that list of people. We met the first day I walked into Christal Brown's INSPIRIT rehearsal over 6 years ago. Christal partnered Candace and I for a duet. I think it's safe to say we've been dancing that duet ever since.

Seriously, I have never known someone more driven, committed and goes-hard-in-the-paint no-matter-what than Candace. She is brilliant, and there is not enough I can do to lift her up, but today, I am trying.

In honor of the New Traditions Festival: Dance Your Caribbean, that she is producing this weekend June 11 + 12 with the Dance Caribbean Collective, I thought I would give the world a window into our ongoing conversation to see what happens when dance-making, dance extravaganza-producing, sister-friends get on the phone and talk through the work.

This interview took place on June 2. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Sydnie L. Mosley: Well, I want to start by saying, I am so proud of you.

Candace Thompson: Aww. Yay!

SLM: Yes, because in a very short time period - a year and a half - you have not only committed to developing your own choreographic voice, but also to create a platform to uplift that voice within the New York City dance community, and then, make space for other people to do that as well… which is a REALLY BIG DEAL!

CT: [laughter] Well, thank you for acknowledging that. You don’t always get to step back and think about it because you are so busy doing [the work].

SLM: How does that make you feel?!

CT: It makes me feel good. I feel like I started working on my choreography and then it was, “Oh maybe we can do a collective!” because at the end of the day, dance at the basic level is supposed to fun. It is supposed to be something you do with other people. You know?

SLM: Right.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On MHP and Accountability

In case you've been living under a rock and not paying attention to Black girl nerd news, Melissa Harris Perry is no longer on weekend cable news with her MSNBC show, the Melissa Harris Perry Show. After a four year tenure galvanizing diverse audiences and representing diverse voices in mainstream media with segments on every thing from politics to pop culture, activism and other current events, Harris-Perry left MSNBC with a no-fucks-given bang. (I'll leave it up to you to catch up on the details here, here, and here.)

Well today, my favorite podcast hosts Heben and Tracy published an in-depth interview with MHP. Apparently, she reached out over the weekend specifically to spill the tea with them. (Shout out to Black women with platform and power sharing that space with the next generation.)

This interview is a MUST LISTEN. At about 37 minutes in, MHP's dialogue with Heben and Tracy resonated with me so deeply that it brought me to tears. As she breaks down her inflammatory  language in the email that went out to her staff, the one that first alerted the public all was not okay in #nerdland, she says:
When I’m talking about being a mammy, that’s a very specific thing that I am talking about. To me what a mammy is – what historically a mammy is conceived to be – the mammy is the worker in the household who cares more about her master’s family than about her own. She is the one who leaves her family behind in order to make sure that his family is dealt with; that his wife and kids and household are clean and in perfect order. That all things are right there, and is not worried about her own. What I understood Andy Lacks and Phil Griffin and leadership at MSNBC to be asking me to do was to appear on air, in my time slot, and therefore confuse Nerdland watchers so that they thought that we still had a show. Even though I could no longer bring them the content, which we have seen in the response to our cancellation, they were telling me was important. I don’t think I am what people thought was so important. I think, you know, most local anchors are pretty brown girls. What I understand people to be saying was important about MHP show was what we were doing. And what I was being told to do was leave my family behind, to leave MHP show, to leave Nerdland, and to appear on air to make Andy Lacks’ house look in order. That I was not willing to do, and I’m still not willing to do it. (emphasis mine)
What MHP is talking about here is accountability; accountability as a black woman who has been invited to sit at the proverbial table. She understands who her communities are and is unwilling to sacrifice creating space for and amplifying the voices of those who are not represented in white mainstream media. She knows that she is not the center, but rather the conduit through which so much more is made possible. This is what responsible gate-keeping looks like.  This moment cemented MHP to me as a contemporary patron saint for all those people of color who become the token in a white institution; for those of us who are offered a seat at the table and the semblance of some power. She is a patron saint because she isn't afraid to turn the table over, to walk away, to figure out another way.

She is also talking about black women's labor and being unwilling to sacrifice herself at the hands and expense of the master. What she is describing here -- her refusal to play mammy -- is revolutionary. I hear the undertones of Audre Lorde between her words.

As I listened to this moment, I think my tears came from identifying with being the token so many times in my life. Those tears were also from identifying with being offered a seat at tables while living particularly at the intersection of being a black woman, artist and advocate. I try my best to remain accountable, check in, amplify the voices of, offer opportunity to, create space for my families -- and many times that is a difficult thing. I feel blessed to witness a shining example of accountability when the stakes are high, and very public.

If it ever came down to it, may I be able to do the same.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Dancing The African Diaspora: Embodying the AfroFuture

The Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) is an egalitarian community of scholars and artists committed to exploring, promoting, and engaging African diaspora dance as a resource and method of aesthetic identity. CADD’s second Dancing the African Diaspora Conference conference aims to re-ignite the discourse on defining Black Dance on a global scale by bringing together scholars, practitioners, educators, and other stakeholders for three days of intellectual and artistic inspiration.

SLMDances was blessed this year to be able to attend the conference in its second iteration this year to present our own workshop "Discovering Our Future Bodies: Movement Making for the Liberation of Black Women." Take a look at the following storify that includes tweets and snippets from our experience at the conference. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

SPENT (a BodyBusiness epilogue)

May 2016 will mark the 6th year since the first time I publicly presented ensemble dance work in NYC. I was just a year out of grad school, many pounds lighter and babysitting for a rotation of 5-6 families to make ends meet each month.

Since then, SLMDances has been flying by the seat of our pants: taking opportunities as they have rolled in and forging other opportunities when we were clear no one was going to hand us anything. With prayer, we have met our minimal financial obligations each month. I have been grateful in that time for gracious gifts from individual donors, small financial and in kind support from family when possible, the gift of rehearsal space from my alma mater, as well as some of the greatest dancers in the world. These women are my joy. Still, we have been operating on a shoe string budget with most every dime of my personal freelance work going to support SLMDances. I have believed, and still do, that I must invest in myself first to make it work.

Through the course of those six years I have encountered a number of remarks along the lines of: How do you do it?! You're still going! When do you sleep?

The truth is: Not as much as I like, nor as well as I would like.

Since I started this work I have been operating from a deficit, but what I lacked in funds I made up in sheer will and can do spirit. I have been so diligent and committed because making art while building and advocating for my communities is living in my purpose. I have been clear on that since I was a child; the dream is the truth.

Still, I am exhausted. As a fellow dancer I am working with recently remarked, she is "so tired, but you're not allowed to be tired."

Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflections on the 2016 Dancing the African Diaspora Conference

The Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) is an egalitarian community of scholars and artists committed to exploring, promoting, and engaging African diaspora dance as a resource and method of aesthetic identity. CADD’s second Dancing the African Diaspora Conference conference aims to re-ignite the discourse on defining Black Dance on a global scale by bringing together scholars, practitioners, educators, and other stakeholders for three days of intellectual and artistic inspiration.

Dancing While Black invited myself and Candace Thompson to share reflections from this conference experience. Here are my reflections from the gathering.
I didn’t know it while I was preparing over the last several weeks for Dancing the African Diaspora: Embodying the Afrofuture, but attending this weekend’s conference was attending the church revival. The text: our stories, artistic work and scholarly research. The congregation: scholars/artists/educators/students and anyone else invested in the field from the U.S. and beyond. As closing speaker Dr. Nadine George-Graves remarked, “Diaspora Dance is an institution, and we are building it.”

Her talk, a lecture-demonstration with Dancing While Black fellows Orlando Hunter and Ricarrdo Valentine, coupled with a shorter talk by Dr. Mark Anthony Neal were the sermons. Baba Chuck Davis led us through an offering and encouraged us to pass the peace.

I use the reference of church to describe the conference not for hyperbole, but rather to convey the holistic experience that it was for me — someone who has spent the entirety of her academic and artistic careers invested in the myriad of spaces between black and/or dance and/or woman and/or church and/or community organizing/activism in the diaspora. This was not your average academic conference. There was space for all these investigations and more; space for affirmation, critique, questioning, connecting, theorizing, planning, dancing, laughing, crying… and I needed all of it. As I overheard Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin, one of the lead conference organizers say to some student attendees,

“Soak up whatever you need while you are here this weekend, and take it back home with you.”


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