Raja : Hello
R: It’s so wonderful to have the one and only
C: Oh stop it, stop it, stop it. It’s so wonderful to be with the one and only… raja
R: Oh really
C: thrilling for me to be with, in the presence of, raja feather…
R: Oh, Charmaine
C: Raja feather kelly, raja feather kelly, let me say it many times, raja feather kelly
R: Charmaine Mother Warren!
C: Stop it! Stop it! You can’t say it more than me!
R: *laughs* I’m gonna start using that as an explicative, like…. Ugh! Mother Warren!
R: Gurrrrl! All these Mother Warrens out here!
C: Please don’t!
C: Meanwhile, maybe I’m not gonna say it, because you know, we won’t be deleting… but, somebody called me Mother Warren– Mother Charmaine— Momma Warren not too long ago, and it wasn’t uh, somebody that should.
R: Oop! You were like… um? Well… okay?! Uhhh I’ll get back to you on that. I’ll get back to you on that!
C: Mmmm… Like what are we doin…
R: Okay so I’m gonna try to, because you know we could get into everything, but we have put this time aside–
R: For Future Impossible. And so, I’m gonna jump right in.
R: Mama Charmaine. Because I can!
C: absolutely! Abso-freaking-lutely.
R: I feel that in my bazonezees and in my tootsies
C: *laughs* ‘Cause we go way back.
R: I mean, look, I’m really gonna jump in because I’ve got my interview hat on. Speaking of going way back, um, and I know you are one of the youngest people I know–
C: Come on! Come on!
R: But let’s just talk about… devotion. For a moment.
C: Okay! Devotion, I’m with you.
R: Because I’ve spoken to, and I’ve obviously curated this group of people to talk about the Future Impossible and if I am doing my job, I am just picking up where many people have left off, in the conversation, right?
R: And a part of my interest, and I know is a part of your interests, is to create an anthology, to create a history, to create an archive, of like… Ya’ll people have been out here doing the work. And–
C: Wait! Can we put the word ‘Black’ in there? A Black Anthology. A Black Archive.
R: A Black History. A Black Oral Communication. A Black Archive.
R: But you know, it’s always, this past year, this past becoming, has been people trying to meet the… how do I even say it? They’re like, ‘oh! It’s time to do the work.’ For which like, I don’t even know what that means. But what I do know is like, I’ve always been doing the work.
C: *laughs* Just sayin.
R: And you have always been, and I mean, if I feel that way then I can’t even imagine how you would feel.
C: *exhales* Exactly.
R: It’s like fine time for people to play catch up.
C: That’s right. That’s right.
R: And so my first question to you is like, what have we missed?
C: Oh my gosh.
R: What have we missed?
C: And the we is err-body? Or?
R: It’s not me, although, I say we– *laughs* But you know in many ways there’s a couple different communities. I mean we as in the younger generation. But I also mean the people who might read this who are not me, who are not Black, who have not been doing the work, and who are coming to be like, ‘it’s time to do the work’. And I’m like right, but you will need to catch up. RIght? Like I spoke to Sydnie last and Sydnie helped me realize like, oh right, we’re already in the future.
R: So that’s why my first question is what have we missed?
R: What have we missed?
C: Okay, so I don’t think the ‘we’, the Black folks, have missed anything. We’ve been on the other side of the tracks for a long time. And people who have not come on that side of the tracks have missed a lot. But we’ve been doing it. And as I said at the end of Black Dance Stories when they first, finally said federal, okay Juneteenth. Ya’ll better thank a lot of Black people. ‘Cause you don’t know that… you haven’t realized that we’ve been doing this for a long time and 99.9% of the art you’re making comes from the rich history… from when we came out of the womb… when we came out of the belly! We’ve been dancing! And because ya’ll people said let’s have a stage and now let’s have people to sit down and watch it! Come on.
R: And you know something I have to say, Charmaine, I had a… I was mad a couple weeks ago on Juneteenth. And I learned a lesson. Because I… I don’t wanna be too crass. I called someone who was supposed to be doing some work for me. Let’s just say that. Someone I pay. Not an employee, but someone in the world who I pay to do some work for me. And their assistant had a voice message on that was like, “In observation of Juneteenth, we are out of the office.” And I was like, “why am I working?!”
R: I’m sorry… Why am I working?!
C: I worked on Juneteenth also!
R: I worked on Juneteenth!
R: While everybody’s taking their weekends and vacations and I was like it can be amazing how quick something so wonderful to celebrate immediately gets absorbed into something that now it’s like, we gotta… Did you miss the memo?
C: Okay, okay. What was the question? What have we missed? Hello. MLK Day?
R: We missed the memo apparently! They missed the memo! I didn’t miss the memo. But, you know… yikes! I was a little like, and this is why we ask for more. This is why it’s like great, we have Juneteenth.
C: Okay but it’s not asking for more, it’s taking though. Can we do that? We’re taking what’s been ours, and now it’s federally recognized. Come on, MLK had to get a federally recognized– the man had been working for us years– no, laboring, for us for years. And then you say, ‘him dead now. Let’s give him a day.’ What? Come on. So yes, I hear you.
R: And it’s like now we can all just stay at home and do no kind of remembrance, but just have a day where we don’t have to do work because–
C: That’s right.
R: It’s just so weird!
C: Because we gave you something, we gave you a little space. Stop it. Lift every voice and sing really loudly, because we’ve been doing this since the time we came out. Thank the Black people! From the time we came out of the womb… Thank the Black people!
R: If anyone was going to take a day off, maybe what they should have done, is like, and Black people can take a day off. Paid!
C: That’s right.
R: You know? Everybody else, ya’ll should go to work.
C: Go to work!
R: You know?
C: And catch up! Catch up with what you’ve been missing. Catch up on what you’ve been missing.
R: Yeah, so um.. Is the future impossible, Charmaine?
C: No. You know why it’s not impossible? Because we are the leaders. Come on! We are the leaders and we make things possible. I’m not even going to use the word impossible. We make things possible. We make things happen. And you know you’re with me when I say it’s that idea… where you’re trying to sleep… I put my head on the pillow and I’m gon’ take a sleep! And all of a sudden the things in your head just start shakin’ and shakin’… there’s no sleep.
R: Oh… I am 100% with you. I had a conversation with two people recently where I read something and I was like these are my feelings exactly. And the quote was just like, someone was talking about their success and they were like, ‘my success is because I work while everybody else is sleeping.’ And you know I felt a kinship to that because you know, I only go to sleep when I do so I can get up and work.
C: That’s right!
R: Like, let me go to sleep so I can get up and get some shit done.
C: Right! And I have to take care of me, because I know it’s hard for me to go to sleep without having done that other thing. And also, when it’s time to go to bed and you’ve done the things that you’ve written down to do, then the things that you forgot to do, then you go, ‘oh, dangit!’ Now I’m up. And then you gotta finish it. And then my ass is so tired I’ll go to sleep.
R: Right. Yeah, my husband often makes fun of me because he says when (I) get up, I get up like that. Like I’m asleep and then I’m like here we go.
C: Lets GO! That’s right.
R: Get up! There’s no like… I don’t do one of those that you see in movies. I don’t lift my hands up and stretch and roll over…
C: Okay but then I did have to stop… Okay here goes the old lady. Well no, I’ve been learning to take care of myself so that I can make the future possible, I did have to stop and say, every morning you wake up, take one breath, not two because that’s too many, take one breath and put your feet on the floor and say ‘I give thanks for today.’
R: Aw fuck. Now I’m gonna do that. You know I got to.
C: And you have to! You have to. And I just sit there and I do it. And THEN I do my practice. I do my yoga practice, or on my Fridays I do a mini class and then do what I need to do. I don’t even turn on the phone. I don’t do anything electronic.
R: I feel like people have often asked, ‘what’s your secret?’ and I feel like you just told us all.
R: You take care of yourself and you keep it moving. Inside and out.
C: And listen… old age. Old age. But that’s one of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, cause people will tell us, ‘aren’t you going to warm up before you dance?’ *laughs* Before you rehearse? Nah, I’m fine. Remember?
R: Oh I remember. Oh I’m still one of those performers. I’m like…
C: Oh my god, leg! Leg!
R: But I also will say that I think a part of that is because we never rested. So we were just ready to go.
R: What do you mean warm up? I’ve started!
C: What do you mean warm up? And nothing good about COVID. N-U-T-I-N. Nutin’ good about COVID. But it made us slow down. So…
R: Oh it did. Oh it did in such a way that now, I’m just like… I’m not doing that.
C: Intentional, quote-un-quote, “coming back”. Intentional coming back.
R: You’re like, oh, things will be fine.
R: You know, I have to take the moment to acknowledge, like, I have my health.
C: That’s right.
R: I have a place to live, my rent is paid. And I have work. And you know, I think sometimes that as we have been taught recently like, oh the scarcity model! The scarcity model! Allow abundance! But abundance can also mean not doing too much.
C: Oh my gosh… remember! We said it! We shut it down, then we put our head on the pillow, and there’s all that abundance going on in our head. Right? So we–
R: I’m not lacking ideas.
C: No! I got ideas. I have an abundance of ideas. So I have to slow myself down. So that I can recharge. Yeah, for sure.
R: I also wanna just say, people may miss some things, but I’m just excited that they will get to peer into how we are–
R: Um but, my next question is… What… This is again like another future question, obviously, but I’m just kinda like… What do you wanna do that you haven’t been able to do? That you haven’t been able to do?
C: Give a LOT of money to young, Black artists, but specifically dance artists. But young, Black, artists. I want to give them a space where they can experiment for as long as they need to. And I want to, oh my gosh, I have been doing a little bit of mentorship, but I wanna really make a program where young Black artists, again, specifically dancers, will have mentorship at the touch of a finger. What’s the American saying? At the somethin’ somethin’
C: Just, at the tip of their fingers. Yeah, I want that. I want money for them, support for them, mentorship for them, and to help them with the next step. So once they get to, you know that nebulous word, ‘emerging’, whatever that always means. I get that. But, they do move on. Like raja feather kelly.
R: Who’s that? Who?
C: Oh, let me look that name up and I’ll get back to you!
R: Oh! Yeah yeah! *laughs*
C: I need a minute with that one!
R: Okay yeah I’ve been googling on a day-to-day basis who is raja feather kelly?
R: Who is this kid?
C: Who is this kid? *laughs* See, and that’s the thing, the ‘emerging’ keeps going. Kid– whaaat? That’s what I wanna do. Oh my gosh that would make me so happy. And of course, bringing them together in community. So they can also support each other.
R: What’s in the way of that? Is there anything in the way?
C: Well of course Black Dance Stories helped to bring the community together, but now, real life. So COVID has been in the way, but before COVID it was a lack of finances. There’s nothing good about COVID, but to bring the community together in that small space, the platform, that was satisfying. There aren’t that many platforms for this to happen. Harlem Stage is one. I’m not there any more, I’m supporting 651 Arts in the best way that I can and they don’t have a space right now so… I don’t know so much that something’s in the way, but I think financial resources are a big deterrent, I hate to say it, but it’s true.
R: Right. And it’s interesting because there is money out there.
C: People keep saying that there is…
R: Right! There is money.
C: Yeah but let me tell you, when you are Black. Oh gosh, Mikki Shepard was just talking about this last night, I don’t know if you watched. Oh maybe this was a post talk about how white organizations that have the money will look at our budget and say, ‘that’s all they paid for that?’ When you know… the 24/7 is real, laying my head on the pillow… that’s working. But they need numbers. I don’t always have the numbers. So when you turn in an application to the white organizations that are funding and they don’t see the numbers that they’re used to, because the white company has a development person, has a budget person, the list goes on. And our teeny tiny organizations are how many people? Two? Three? And what jobs do you hold? ALL of them.
R: All of the jobs. All of the Mother Warren Jobs.
C: All of them! So financially, money does stand in the way. Sadly, you can’t apply and say, ‘give me all the money that’s out there because you can’t prove that those non-working hours are working hours. Isn’t that crazy? It’s a dance.
R: That’s all I do. And I know it’s the same for you, all I am doing is thinking about strategy. I’m like, how do I figure this out? How do I get there? How do I figure this out? Okay. And I’m tired of talking to people and seeing things in action and I not be the recipient of, you know–
C: Because you’re strategizing all the time.
R: And it’s hard to get something to feel good. ‘Cause you’re like yeah, someone threw something at me, how great. I’m so fortunate. And it should feel better than that.
C: Absolutely. It feels like a little… good boy… what’s the word? What’s the American saying? Anyway, good on ya. Ya know.
C: Ooh! Yay! Yay! Not well-deserved…that’s the other part, it has to be sustainable…
R: It feels like a consolation.
C: Precisely. A consolation.
C: We’ve been here. We have been here.
R: Do you think that there is going to be a significant, measurable, visible, legible change post-COVID?
C: Ooh boy.
R: Because there was obviously a lot of like, ‘I feel! I see! I support! I stand!’ Do you believe that that’s going to last? That that’s going to be measurable?
C: No. No, no. Again, I’m quoting the elders last night, Mikki and Auntie Joan Myers Brown– she’s gonna be ninety. And she said, ‘I’ve done this many times.’
R: Right. We’ve been here.
C: We’ve been here! And then Mikki was talking about the movie that’s happening, that opens today, Summer of Soul.
R: Oh yeah?
C: Yeah. The then mayor of New York started that to quiet the riots that were going on. MacKenzie Scott is giving away lots of money, why? ‘Cause BLM. Right? We have to go through a tragedy for you to see that the work continues. We’ve been here. We’ve been doing the work. Just support us.
C: And yes, the work that we do will continue to say the things that are happening in our lives, because what better way to show life than through art?
R: What next?
C: Mikki said, ‘Call me. I have ideas. Let’s talk.’ And what do I do? I just listen to all of them. Come on! You know that’s what we do. Our elders, we’ve been here.
C: I mean, we too are now mentors. Right? We’re mentors now. But that’s it. When they say, alright let’s talk,’ we say yes!
C: That’s all. More community work. That’s what I– in my little world say and do — more community work. More bringing the people, our people together. More responsibility and then of course, intentional change. Let people know, let people see. Those… we’re bringing it back to the beginning.
R: Show me measurable–
R: I wanna see, I don’t actually wanna hear nothin’. Leave the emails in the inbox, unsent.
C: Show me!
R: Show me! Show me, you ain’t gotta tell me.
C: That’s right.
R: You know what I mean?
C: It speaks louder than words.
R: You don’t even have to tell me you’re doing it. I’ll just see it.
C: C’mon. Let’s go back to your first question, what have we missed? Show me what you’ve missed. And then let’s align with what’s happening now, and with the future that we already have planned. Or as Sydnie said, we’re already in.
R: Literally. Join us. Or don’t.
C: Join us! Exactly!
R: Join us!
C: Make that list of what you’ve missed. Make that list, compare it to what’s happening, and then we’ll bring you along, maybe.
R: We will greet you when you show up!
C: We will greet you! Hello!
R: We will greet you when you show up.
R: Maybe that’s, you know, as I say that out loud and as I obviously, you know, observe these institutions, these white institutions, there’s so much about this desire to be first, this desire to make something new, this desire–
C: That’s right.
R: And it’s like, the problem is, you’re not ready to be surprised when you think you’re building a door, and you open that door and we’re like, ‘hey!’ and you’re like, ‘woah woah woah! I thought I was building something!’ But we actually have been here.
C: That’s right. And this couch? We’re actually renovating now. ‘Cause it’s a little worn.
R: It’s worn out!
C: It’s worn out.
C: But good that you’ve come to join for the renovation!
R: Yeah yeah, it’s a good– oh, do you mind taking that out? Since you’re here? Will you bring in the mail? Since you’re here?
C: While you’re up!
C: Since you’re just coming in. We’re not gonna stop–
R: Who’s in the driveway? *laughs* They think they done built something and we’re like, we’ve done been here.
C: Listen. We’ve always been here, and it’s nice that you’ve come to thank us.
R: So nice, so nice. Come on in, have a seat.
C: Come on in.
R: Can we get you something? You thirsty?
C: What’s next for you?
R: I don’t know. I mean, you know, I feel like a listener and a vessel.
C: That’s really important right now. Listening and being a vessel. Absolutely.
R: So you know, I feel buzzy, I feel vibrations of like, that there’s something possible, that there’s like another corner to turn.
R: And so, if I know anything driving, you gotta kinda like press on the brakes–
R: You can’t just like– *screeches* see that corner coming up and put the gas on.
R: You gotta check your rear view–
C: That’s right.
R: Your side view, maybe check that everybody in the car is okay, lightly press–
C: Seat Belts are on.
R: And you gotta take that corner and then accelerate.
C: Then accelerate.
R: You know, so…
C: Okay analogy!
R: I feel myself approaching a corner, and so I am lightly, you know, punching that brake.
R: And then checking out, checking the rear view, what if I– what’s back there? Check my side view, what’s approaching? Checking that my team is all together. Maybe I’ll put on my indicator, as my grandmother calls it, put on your indicator.
C: I say it too!
R: So that everybody knows I’m about to take this turn, let me put on my indicator.
C: Indicator, yes!
R: You know? And then–
C: That’s better than a precipice.
R: Exactly! So you know I feel, and, as I approach this corner and realize I could turn right, I could turn left…
R: I could actually go to the next corner. I could park. You know?
R: You know, I’m feeling like there’s, I do believe I am living in the future, I certainly do believe that. I think that, you know I really love Sydnie, and I think that every time I talk to her I say things and then she asks me some clarifying questions and I’m like who’s interviewing who here?
R: And then I’m like right, clear. Thank Black women. She was like, we’re in the future. And in some ways I’m like there’s no rush. You know?
R: Sometimes it’s like oh I gotta get there, and maybe I’m already there. So–
C: That’s right.
R: Take your time. I’m scared. And I’m excited.
C: Yeah… there’s so much there. There’s so much… there’s so much out there, there’s so much in here, in each of our bodies. And I wanna make sure, like the driver, I wanna make sure that I absorb all of the things that I’m supposed to and share it out.
R: Exactly… open a window.
C: Open the windows. Yes!
R: You know, your air is my air.
C: And pull over and get a new passenger!
R: Yeah! Enjoy the sights.
C: Enjoy … c’mon.
R: Yeah. But that corner is coming, so–
C: Mmm. You know, as the sixty year old… and I don’t want to say precipice, because I love your analogy, but I think I’ve started the corner and I’m probably going to be starting more corners… I think. If I look out there.
R: A world tour! Take that world tour!
C: Okay! A world tour! But that’s because you’re at one of those corners. That’s because Sydnie’s at one of those corners. And I can’t help but get there. So that’s what I know for sure. There’s no waiting. There’s contemplating but I gotta keep going… keep going to the corners, and the next corner, and the next corner… ‘cause that’s how we do it. That’s how we build community.
R: Yeah. Maybe I need to pull over and pick up a bus…
R: You know?
R: It’s time to upgrade! So I can just, you know–
C: Yes! It’s not even a station wagon! It’s a bus!
R: Yes! It’s a bus. Get on the bus.
R: Get on the fucking bus.
C: Come on.
R: And I’m taking everybody with me.
C: Yes. Duh, c’mon. Of course! And look, in Jamaica we wave down the bus. There’s no waving.
R: You better get on! You better get on! That’s a rite of passage.
R: Get on that bus.
C: You betta jump on the bus. Wait, what does the bus say on the front?
R: I don’t know…
C: You better get on? Or, we’ve been waiting. Or… or… This is for you.
R: This is for you.
C: I don’t know.
C: The future possible!
R: The future possible! That’s what it should say on the front of the bus! Or just, the future!
C: The future! That’s it. That’s what it says.
R: And you better jump, because we’ll keep going! You better jump… twist… there will be a few people with their hands out to grab you but you still gotta be ready!
C: Oh yeah!
R: Okay, I’m calling it otherwise we’ll just go for two hours.
Charmaine Patricia Warren performer, historian, consultant, and dance writer, is the founder/artistic director for “Black Dance Stories” and “Dance on the Lawn: Montclair’s Dance Festival,” Producer of DanceAfrica, and Associate Producer at BAM. She is the Director of dance at The Wassaic Project, curated E-Moves at Harlem Stage and danced with david roussève/REALITY. Charmaine is on faculty at Empire State Colleges, a former faculty at Ailey/Fordham, Sarah Lawrence College, Hunter College and Kean University. She writes for Amsterdam News, Dance Magazine, and has served as a panelist for Robert Battle’s New Directions Choreography Lab. Charmaine holds a Ph.D. in History/Howard University, a Master’s in Dance Research/City College, and Bachelor Degrees (Dance/English)/Montclair State College. She is a 2017 Bessie Award Recipient for “Outstanding Performance” as a member of Skeleton Architecture Collective.