A Conversation over Zoom:
Hello, Good morning. My name is Adanna Kai Jones. I am a black woman, of Afro-Caribbean descent, from Trinidad and Tobago. I teach Dance and Dance Studies at Bowdoin College. My research is around winin’ and the Trini-styled Carnival. I specifically look at the ways that this dance called winin’, mediates a lot of different political identities from gender, sexuality, nationalism, as well as emotions, including love, lust, anger, hate […] the whole gambit of it. So, essentially, I look at how winin’ is culturally embedded in mundane practices as well as spectacular practices. So things that happen in the privacy of one’s home, all the way to things that happen on the streets of Carnival.
So in looking at the questions that Raja Feather Kelly sent, the first question you ask is: How did we come to this? And I’m like, which “this”? There are so many “this-es” happening right now. From deaths to multiple pandemics. And not just COVID, but also the continued pandemic of anti-black racism.
Then you ask: how did we get here? Well, we have always been here. *Laughs* We have always been here. *Dramatically Pauses* It’s just that when you have emergencies, like a pandemic or people dying by the thousands, in addition to a public reckoning (with regards to anti-black racism), things feel more dire, futile, and agonizing. So that’s a conundrum for folks who weren’t thinking about the way power and racism go hand in hand. If the problems are “brand new” to you–i.e., if it’s never been in your consciousness–then you might be shocked; but, if it’s your everyday life, the problems feel just like “same shit, different day.” Sad, I know. We black folx have always been saying that the problems are here, and have always been yelling, screaming, and saying, we need to change the problem. We can go back hundreds of years, and we will find black folks yelling out: “this is a problem!!” And it seems that this country does not even know how to begin to address the problem. *Pauses* Step number one is to say, “I am part of the problem.” And that’s really hard for people to do. So, yeah. How did we get here? We’ve always been here. Now we just have to hold ourselves accountable to changing things, and I think that’s the scary part for folks.
Okay. The next question you have: Would you say more about what “now” means to me? So now, right now we are in December of 2021; and when COVID officially became “labeled” as a pandemic, it was March of 2020. So we’re almost two full years into pandemic mode. In the middle of 2020, I remember being hopeful and believing that we would be returning to something that reminded me of a normal past. To quote Sam Cook, I believed that a ‘change was gonna COME; from the end of COVID (as a threat to our livelihoods) to racial justice, I was here for it to change! People who were CEOS and presidents of major institutions, kept putting out statements in support of “Black Lives Matter.” And I was “Here for it!” I believed that they were ready and willing to hold themselves accountable. You know, it was all of these moments that made me believe that people were ready to galvanize and make change! So, again, I remained. “Here for all of it!” You know?
I remember still being really hopeful well into the beginning of this year (2021). And I was working HARD to implement change! I was on the Dance Studies Association Programming Committee as one of the chairs of the Programming Committee. I was also one of the faculty members in a working group for my college, working towards changes that specifically addressed anti-black racism. As members of these committees, I continued to feel hopeful and was like, “let’s do it! We’re making all these changes and we’re shifting how we interact with each other. We’re going from a hierarchical model to a communal/collaborative model. YES! I AM HERE FOR IT!” (Here, I’m bringing in the philosophy of Ubuntu, which is “I am, because we are; we are, because I am.”)
And then, […] And then […] you get burnt out! And I feel like that’s what most of 2021 was about, recovering from the exhaustion of trying to answer the questions like: “what does it take for this change to actually be successful? What does it look like? What does it need to look like? Who needs to do what? Are they willing to do that? Are they even ready to do what it’s necessary? Etc. etc.” Ok. The fact remains, institutions are made up of people, so it’s the people who have to do the work. And in order to get there, let’s call it the promise-land, you’ve got to work on yourself. How you are inserted in this system of power, how you are perpetuating it, how you are using it, how you are navigating it, and how that impacts others in the system. So like what harm it might cause. What good it might cause. What problems it might cause. Are you upholding a system that is always already problematic?
So yeah, 2021 was like, *Laughs* recuperating from the burnout. And this moment, right now in December 2021, is about reflecting, stepping back, taking stock of all the things that we have accomplished, of all the things that we tried to accomplish, and of all the things that we are still trying to accomplish. Taking back and taking stock.
*Breathes-in and then slowly exhales*
So the next question is: Are you thinking about the future? I’m thinking about the future all the time. And would I expand on that? So in terms of the future, I really want to continue diving into the philosophy of Ubuntu–from the Bantu people in South Africa–into that space of collaboration. I’m not into hierarchy. I’m not into, you know, the bottom line is “x,” and everybody then should squeeze themselves into “x”. I’m really into building an understanding of communal collaboration and what that could look like. And that means that everybody has to be in the room. So if you’re not in the room, you’re not going to be represented or heard. And I don’t believe that somebody else should represent your voice. Your voice, your experience is unique. Nobody could truly understand where you are coming from. They could only really understand it from a, “if I was you in that situation, X, Y, and Z would be my truth;” you know? So, yes, for me Ubuntu is really the future I am moving towards.
My prayer is that we reach the promised-land, in a way that does the least amount of harm. With that said, we will be uncomfortable. But we must be willing to shift and mold in order to get there in a way that allows us to create different ways of existing. Um, that’s more than just, you know, um, men do this women do that, you know? Or that theater looks like “X” and dance looks like “Y”. I just think we must imagine expansively about what exactly it is we are trying to put out there in the world. What messages? Which voices? Whose faces? And what are the multiple ways we can do that?
Ultimately, we should really use this opportunity to just really think expansively, and see how we really are deeply connected to each other. Again, I keep going back to Ubuntu because we […] we need each other […] we need each other. We need to be in communication with each other so that we can value and understand our differences. We could create powerful alliances that allow us to be expansive in what our field can look like, what dance can look like. And then we can create multiple modalities of expressing ourselves through dance, of presenting it, of funding it, of supporting it, etc.
Because we are aware of all the different voices that are out there, uh, we’re making space for, or each other to, um, be heard and be seen in, in, in our fullness. Right? Not be seen in what I could use you for, you know, or I need a Black thing, or I need an Indian thing, or I need an Indigenous thing. I’m just gonna use you for that. But rather, what kind of presentation needs to happen if we come from the logic of indigeneity? what does that then create?? What kind of resources are possible, where do we need to be, and how can we support getting us there? You know?
Next Question: What do I want, and who’s responsible for the future? For me as a pedagogue, I really want critical thinkers out there in the world. I want my students out there asking questions, doing research; I don’t want them to perpetuate problems. So creating students who can hold themselves and hold the world accountable. And these people, my students, I want them to be responsible for the future. And again, I keep coming back to Ubuntu Ubuntu Ubuntu! We’re all living in, in these different, um, relationships to power. And all of that has to now be addressed. We really have to be in community with each other. I have to take care of myself, not just for my own health, but because other people’s health is now my responsibility, in a way that is real and felt, and not in an abstract way. So COVID kind of made us all “family” in that kind of way.
So what role do I play now or in the future? I believe I am a source of inspiration. Just thinking of the work that I did in curating the programming for Dance Studies Association Conference this past fall, which happened at Rutgers University in October. I created a different way of gathering, synthesizing and collaborating ideas, together. For example, we crafted an opening ceremony that included African libations and prayer and dancing. The intention was to bless the space so that we could participate in the conference as our whole selves.
Next question: Do I have a community? Yes! I would say, the Un/Commoning Pedagogies Collective is my community. It is a group of seven of us, all in academia. So, just to name who makes up the Un/Commoning Pedagogies Collective: it’s Dasha A. Chapman, J Dellecave, (myself) Adanna Kai Jones, Sharon Kivenko, Mario LaMothe, Lailye Weidman, and Queen Mecca Zabriskie. From newly tenured faculty to junior and contingent faculty, we are a cohort of artist-educators committed to centering dance, embodiment, and social justice via our pedagogical work. We really, really ground ourselves in that philosophy. We teach across the intersections of diverse fields: Anthropology, Sociology, Black and Africana Studies, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Dance, and Performance Studies. We meet often to workshop what our teaching in academia can look like, especially when it comes to anti-racist pedagogy that centers the moving/thinking body. It’s important for us that the body is centered because the body is very smart, and the body has a lot of thoughts around things that we often don’t give a voice to. As a group, we meet, talk, and workshop problems that come up in our classes; we workshop ideas that we’re trying to implement into our classes. We think about how things land in/on our bodies and how we can make space in the classroom to talk about it. And not just our own bodies, but our students’ bodies as well. We also write together. Right now we are working on two co-authored articles that will be published next year (2022).
Oh! And we also dance together. We create movement together, based on the ways this hard work lands on our very own bodies. Acknowledging the gnarly ways politics of race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, etc. get sewn into our muscles, drained into our blood, and pressed into our physical beings. By dancing together, we process all of these things and create new/different ways of being together and apart. I mean, being with these folks feels really powerful. They are an important support system for me, especially during these really mentally draining times. This community has been especially helpful in the moments when I need cheering. Like sometimes we do great things that for us might not feel so great. This community is so great at saying, “actually, let’s celebrate that!” Or, “We love you.” And, “We’ve got your back; you are doing great things.” So, yeah, these are my peoples, and being with them is a game-changer!
*Breathes-in. Breathes-out. Pauses. Takes in and accepts these moments of joy.*
Next Question: What do I think about the imagination? I think the imagination is paramount. I always tell my students that they don’t know what jobs are going to exist in the future. So they should lean into their passions and see where it takes them. Remember, before 2005, social media was not a thing. And now you have all these jobs in the field of social media. We are at a point where the world is dramatically changing. So instead of asking, what job should I train for; ask yourself, what are the skills do I have? And then, lean into that. Create so much energy behind it, that when you come out into the world, there are a bazillion things that you can do because you are so clear about who you BE. In fact, this allows you to be the one who even creates the new job that nobody else had even imagined. This can only happen if you really lean into your passions, your skills, and the belief that your contribution to this world matters. So, yeah, I believe that imagination is absolutely necessary!
Okay. I will pause here and then come back to this later. *Chuckles* Part two […] coming soon.
Adanna Jones is an Assistant Professor of Dance and Dance Studies in the Department of Theater and Dance at Bowdoin College. She received her Ph.D. in Critical Dance Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and her BFA in Dance from Mason Gross School of the Arts—Rutgers University. In general, she uses dance as a strategy to both generate critical research questions and grapple with the contentious embodied politics of blackness and anti-blackness across the Diaspora. Currently, her creative, research, and scholarly endeavors remain focused on Caribbean dance and identity politics within the Diaspora, paying particular focus to the rolling-hip dance known as winin’.