Moving Reflections

Moving Reflections: April Associate Curator Kayla Harley on Africa’s Shifting Beat

Moving Dialogs opened its second series focusing on specific cultural communities; in order to illuminate a global exchange of thoughts and concerns that utilized dance as the base of knowledge. April’s associate curator, dancer Kayla Harley shares her reflections on the dynamic conversation of Africa’s Shifting Beat at United Church of Hyde Park, Tuesday, April 1.

The space of United Church  of Hyde Park awaits those coming to the dialog

The space of United Church of Hyde Park awaits those coming to the dialog. Image by Sarah-Ji Photography

This particular Moving Dialog engaged in distinctive conversation and performative sharing on the legacies of African and African-American culture; curated by Baraka de Soleil and produced by Audience Architects. The evening featured emerging dancer/choreographer Vershawn Sanders Ward of Red Clay Dance Company alongside national choreographer Reggie Wilson of Fist & Heel Performance Group, who premiered his newest work Moses(es) at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago. It was moderated by dance scholar Dr. C. S’thembile West.

The room was pulsing with conversation and exchange of names with new faces. We were accompanied by sound/video recording and photography to capture what was about to transpire, in a wooden canal meeting hall of The United Church of Hyde Park. It was a place where more than one denomination of Christianity shared a space for religious ceremonies–the perfect parallel to Moving Dialog’s efforts of bringing together different communities in a shared space of ideas.

But it wasn’t until Vershawn began to move in space, the center of our circle, did the evening of Africa’s Shifting Beat commence. The formation of a circle is meant to represent community, togetherness and an equalization of voices being lifted. Throughout the evening our circle expanded as more voices emerged in the space…OUT OF NOWHERE Vershawn of Red Clay Dance began to rock her body –lunging and reaching at every edge of the circle, swiping the space with open palms that drew us in. In fact it was said that she “danced us into the circle…she danced who we are and what we were about to become”.

Following this, the group posed one of many questions that evening –What if at all, does the interpretation of movement cause you to think, to feel, to experience? This notion of authenticity revolved around the room as a mental picture of movement in relation to Drill music came up. Drill Music is a urban-style characterized by its pounding bass, lyrics incomprehensibly shouted, or jutted, a force of energy that runs ceaselessly through the entire body which moves in sync with the music. The authentic connection between musical and bodily experience becomes the premise of movement but the interpretation of movement itself depends on the perspective of the viewer. As viewers, with varying perspectives we all felt and experienced different things with Drill Music for some, aggression, excitement, confusion…

As we continued to explore these ideas Reggie offered us insight into his choreographic process that allows him to be void of judgement and unnecessary speculation. The question of–What is it that the dancers are doing? We often put emphasis on the statement of which the creator is trying to make instead of the movement itself. What is happening when the dancer is doing this… What is meant by the action of that… What is the movement representing?

Dr. C. S'thembile West moderates the dialog. Image by Sarah-Ji Photography

Dr. C. S’thembile West moderates the dialog.
Image by Sarah-Ji Photography


Dr. West answered these questions by setting us into motion. One side of the circle claps in rhythm, while another stamps their feet and claps in rhythm and another juts their voices into the air fired from the belly sounding something like… Uumph! Our bodies began to move in harmony with the sounds we made.. There was a beautiful layering of culture that intermixed and became the sound of oneness. We could’ve been conjuring something, making a call to the outside-in or trying to achieve an intended goal. But it was neither of these things. Instead we were focused on each other, committed to the movement while tuning into the communal sound that had been created.

The discussion simmered into a hush as we shifted from talk of dance to talk of food. Delicious Indian food from Hyde Park’s own Rajun Cajun, a mom-and-pop family restaurant, served us Samosas, Spicy Lentils and Honey Butter Chicken. With bellies full and hearts open we parted ways taking the beat of the African-presence into our homes and into our lives.

–Kayla Harley, dance artist & associate curator for April’s 2014 Moving Dialogs: Global Exchange Africa’s Shifting Beat


Please join us for the next Moving Dialogs: Global Exchange  event Moving In/Out of “Tradition” on Thursday, May 1st at 6:30pm; moderated by choreographer and dance studies scholar, Dr. Ananya Chatterjea; featuring  dance scholar & Wesleyan University professor Hari Krishnan and emerging choreographer and founder of Soham Dance Space Anjal Chande. Curated by Baraka de Soleil.  It will be held at Soham Dance Space, 922 N Damen Street; in union with Soham Dance Space Open Doors Event at 6:00pm. A project of Audience Architects for Chicago Dance Month 2014!