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The gaze and the vessel of pain

I have been thinking for the past week about the exercise I took part in at the Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT) pre-show party on August 13. I am a new board member of ADT. The exercise was to place someone in the middle of a circle and they were to guess who the leader of the change process was in the group. This leader would subtly make changes in their movement that would trigger the whole circle to make the changes as well. It was described that I have the power to gaze at the circle and scrutinize each person to see who was making these changes in movement (paraphrasing here).

The party was at the home of a donor's family member. I left the backyard as they decided who would be the leader. I thought about "the gaze" that women of color live with, deal with and how it is a part of my life, but do not think about it until I am in a new situation. This would be a new situation. I was called back and was vigilant in my gaze at the outer circle. Knowing what it is like to be looked at to the point of staring, I tried to do the same, but also tried to look for those subtle movements.

I felt empowered. I moved quickly and then stopped, turned and stared and by chance, luck, I was able to pin point the leader.

ADT is a space for all women of color to create community around social justice and social change. The dance productions incorporate the gaze in their ensemble pieces. I have always been amazed by these parts of her production. As a writer, I believe dance expresses where words cannot. I am at times moved with so much emotion by the movement as it expresses a deeper meaning.

There are times I cannot express how I am feeling. I get caught up in which words to say, how do I communicate what I am feeling without being the mean black woman or the hysterical, overly sensitive female? The emotion I am feeling seems to get attached to my inability to speak clearly or freely. And when I see dance, like Ananya's, I am restored as her movement, dance performances express me. She puts words to my life.

What would have happened if I was unable to find the leader? Would I have felt as empowered as I did when I jumped into the middle of that circle? This exercise allowed me to see how there are times that women of color are able to see what is happening and do something about the change happening. And other times when we do not catch the change and are trying to catch up or figure out what to do.

The gaze is powerful and is often not something that we think we can embrace. Or maybe some of us already do. But we should as those of us who can or by chance catch the change in our communities can help those who have not caught the change or need to catch up.

I write this and then wonder is this how women of color become the vessel of pain? The work that it takes to be the one who is hyper vigilant in making sure that our community is not falling behind? In helping those women who need our help to stay the course that may have changed, do we then become the vessel of pain as we help them? Does that make sense?

A friend is with out a job for six months and is starting to feel stress from not having enough money to help her family survive. In talking with her do I become the vessel of pain as she unloads some of this to me and I take on part of her pain? In watching the dance ensemble of Ananya's dance ensemble I feel that I am part of that group taking on the work of social justice and social change. I will become that gaze and that vessel.

Lori Young-Williams