being black in spaces dominated by whiteness is an exercise in psycho-spiritual dissonance. engaging in these spaces as a queer, male-presenting body striving for personal, social and spiritual liberation is like banging on a wall expecting it to become a door, like expecting a puddle to lead to the ocean. all spaces have their limitations. in a way that’s what they are definitively dependent on.
space is as much constituted of what it does not contain as it is constituted of what it does. but that does not mean spaces cannot offer us access into liberating psycho-spheres.
the questions are:
what kind of liberation is this?
how far does it extend?
is it temporally and/or spatially specific?
to expand on this idea, i want to contrast two spaces that i feel activate/construct a kind of liberating psycho-sphere through two different kinds of rhythmic practices, namely, 5rhythms and free your mind and your ass will follow!
5rhythms is a guided movement practice that aims to activate a meditative experience in its practitioners through the use of 5 different body rhythms: flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. the practice was created in 1977 in new york city by gabrielle roth and classes are offered in cape town by trained practitioners.
the politics of the movement are of a humanistic persuasion, meaning that they do not ascribe particular focus to the political identities of race, religion, culture or gender. going to my first class, having some idea of the politics of the space and its practitioners, i honestly thought this was going to be some white nonsense. the fact that on our arrival the space was dominated by white bodies and located in an affluent and majority white area of cape town did not help things. having much experience with being a minority of color in a snow storm i was energetically and mentally primed for some reductive, pseudo-spiritual, culturally appropriative, open-your-third-eye-so-you-can-close-your-actual-eyes-to-the-deep-social-inequity-around-you foolishness.
and these may well have been the politics of those in the space. however, the space that was constructed was highly internally meditative. the facilitator, mary-anne, using various vocal cues and physical demonstrations of her own body, was able to hold the space in a kind of meditative liminality in which each individual was able to access a very personal and phenomenologically specific kind of moving meditation.
me and my friend amy arrived late (because what actually starts on time in cape town?). we handed over our R80 each and began to warm up. the space was low-lit and everyone was lying down in various postures of dynamic or static stretching. there was some music playing in the background which, if i had to give it a genre, i would describe as “world” (but we know this is a problematic term).
basically, it’s the kind of music you would imagine would be playing in a space where the words “chakra” and “energetic alignment” get thrown around with not the least bit of sarcasm.
slowly and gently, mary-anne prompted us onto our feet. working with specific imagery she prompted us to pay attention to specific points on our bodies and aided us in tracing the energy from one point to the next. prompting us to “give it breath”. a prompt that helped us to give each movement the requisite weight, the necessary rootedness.
throughout the moving meditation mary-anne prompted us to focus on the physical sensations we were experiencing, to follow the energy physically and focus on the materiality of our bodies. this emphasis on the corporeal acted as a potent gateway to accessing something more metaphysical.
using our bodies to materialize these immaterial concepts of flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness elicited a very strong and sustained meditative energy (from my vantage point at least). as i focused more on finding the shapes my body could make inside the music and the shapes made by the other bodies in the space, all while holding a soft outward focus, i was able to enter into a trance-like state that was sustained by the continued focus on my body. the giving of breath, the making (and unmaking) of shape and the release of the illusion of control and separateness.
what was manifested was a very strong, individualized, liberating experience. in my singular capacity as one body in space and time i was able to access a very singular and phenomenologically specific kind of freedom that no other person could experience but me. there was no way to extend that experience beyond myself but it was also very much contingent on the presence of other bodies in the space and the guidance of mary-anne. a singularity within a microcosm of pluralities.
in a similar fashion, yet wholly experientially different, the free your mind and your ass will follow! space elicited a singular kind of freedom contingent on the presence of multiplicities
free your mind and your ass will follow! was a protest space i curated along with fellow activists as part of the reclaim the city campaign. the protest was devised as a means of highlighting the interdict reclaim the city had taken out against the province of the western cape to freeze the transfer of a public parcel of land that was being sold to a private investor instead of being used to establish social and/or mixed-income housing units. this in the midst of a near 400 000 household deficit in the western cape.
the protest was held outside the provincial legislature on long street in cape town, outside an art installation called the “open house” (the irony did not escape us).
we danced for 4 hours to symbolize the 4 parcels of publicly-owned land that the province is in the midst of disposing of and the deficit in supply of households of 400 000 previously mentioned. we danced to disco, house, r&b, reggaeton and hip hop music. sometimes in circles, sometimes in lines, sometimes in no recognizable shapes. the body of the protest was comprised of black folk, coloured folk, white folk, queer folk, working folk, student folk, low-income folk, high-income folk, homeless folk and everything in between.
the space began as being quite thinly populated with mostly myself and those who had helped set up dancing. but slowly as the night progressed folk walking past got into the mix. even media covering the event got their asses in gear.
the most potent moments were when folk who actually lived on the streets in town came through and started making the space their own. dancing with each other, with strangers, with people who- due to internalized racism and classicism- they would probably never be this close to again. the potency of having those who have been most affected by spatial violence and social inequity in cape town come out to dance into the night with their children and various kinship networks was something to behold.
long street is populated by a lot of spaces made for dancing and making merry, but only if you have the pre-requisite bank account. to be in a space where people who have been denied access to these spaces of enjoyment and dancing were getting their asses into gear was a kind of freedom that, in that moment, helped us transcend our class categories all in pursuit of the boogie, the get-down, the turn-up.
this kind of temporary transcendence is something that can only be curated when the obstacle of money is decentralized. by decentralizing the money obstacle we were able to curate ourselves as bodies free from the tyranny of capitalism and socio-economic categorization, under the control of nothing else but the beat.
the commonality that 5rhythms and free your mind and your ass will follow! shared was their ability, by the energetic and rhythmic construction of its curators and participants, to activate experiences of freedom- however fleeting and spatially and temporally bound.
i’m beginning to believe that liberation is itself a kind of social practice. a continual and self-aware application of our bodies as resistive and catalytic apparatuses for the reconstruction and reimagining of the internal and external spaces we inhabit.
sometimes that liberation manifests in the release of breath in a church hall on kloof street; sometimes in the resistance of bodies gyrating in tandem to disco music.
whatever your liberation looks like:
find your rhythm,
give it breath,
get your ass in gear and
get free fam!
the song can only go on so long, so get up and dance!