‘Zines are quick and snappy. ‘Zines offer writers and artists a means of production that is fairly barrier-free. ‘Zines are pretty easy to organize and range from low-cost to moderate-cost production.
Comments about the Intertextuality Process.
I undertook a few days’ research to learn about ‘Zines. I had only made one before, and that was an old-school process; with paper, scissors, copier and a special type of stapler- a saddle-type. While I am fascinated by book arts, fibers, and hand-made goods, I decided to make this inaugural edition digital.
I put out a call to approximately 100 folks I knew from my earlier career as a dance artist. I also reached out to students in the Creative Writing and Literature Programs at Eastern Michigan University, my alma mater.
Submissions trickled in at first, then built to a steady stream. I love the diversity that is represented in this first volume.
Poets, cyber-artists, photographers, musicians, ballet dancers, somatic therapists, body workers, labor organizers, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs all have thoughts about the theme “Words on Dance.” I actually couldn’t fit in all the submissions. Thanks to all the artists and writers who trust me with their submissions.
I hope you enjoy the ‘Zine. Due to reader interest, print copies are also available. If you’d like to purchase a paper copy, they are $12, mailed via USPS, to any where in the US. International orders are $15.
Message me or respond to this blog post to order a copy, or just enjoy the ‘Zine electronically.
Donations are accepted.
My Venmo handle is: @Christina-Sears-17. If you’d like your own paper copy, remember I will need to collect your mailing address. Email that to me please and place “Zine order” in the subject line.
As a Fiber Student in Advanced Fibers study with Professor Suzanne Boissy at EMU School of Art and Design, I’ve been having a blast learning new techniques and skills. I’ve been applying these new skills to my first Project in Fibers. I consider this an extension of my multi-media journeys, as this piece includes my original poem “Monk’s Hour at the Pompidou Museum.”
I wrote the poem six years after a visit to the famed Pompidou in Paris.
The piece is made of: An upcycled Degas Print “The Dancing Class” (1874), layers of lavender chiffon, screen prints, and more. First I had to learn how to make screen prints, which I did with some success. I love the magical process of screen printing. See the materials list below for a comprehensive list.
Linen fabric for screen print
white and lavender chiffon
gold embroidery floss and thread
Vintage photographs (mine are by Parisian Photographer Yvon Guy Greff, marked Greff studios from the 1940’s.)
Since September 2018, I have been studying Creative Writing @ EMU. No stranger to EMU, having been a member of faculty in Music and Dance since 2011, I’ve always enjoyed the campus and community. However, studying with Creative Writing Professors in the program has been an incredible journey. One aspect that makes the Creative Writing Program at EMU special is hybridity.
Many higher education programs (MA’s, MFA’s) direct writers into a stream of study right from the point of application. As a multi-genre Movement Artist making the leap into Literary Arts, I had a deep desire to explore it all-
Poetry, fiction, flash-fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, and hybrid forms. This blog post documents my third project in MultiMedia, the art booklet. Today I’m sharing a photo gallery of DOCuDrama of a Dream, my second artbook project. I’m discovering a whole world of art books, collage, and multimedia composition.
As a person with health challenges and some level of disability, I’ve really had to take quarantine seriously during COVID-19. Even though I’ve struggled with social distance limitations, for example having to put my band BadjaMutha on complete hold, I’ve really never been more creatively productive.
Part of the impetus has been due to my extreme thirst for creative exploration, part of it is due to having a wonderful collaborative partner/teammate and delightful community of artists to interact with/ and learn from, and part of it is slowing down and attuning to my inner rhythms and the energy of the earth.
Winter, even in the disordered climate-change version of winter, offers opportunity for peering inward, and contemplating shifts, affinities and contrasts. I haven’t been posting a lot on my blog due to demands of life, job and school-work- I hope you enjoy this December post.
In today’s blog post, I offer glimpses of my new art booklet DOCuDrama of a Dream. I used many different compositional tools, techniques and technologies to construct this piece.
First, I concentrated on harvesting and recycling images and language from my dreams. I dedicated my focus to writing as soon as I wake, no matter what the hour, for a period of about 14 nights. Later, I processed the language into edited hand-written compositions. In these compositions, I hone the text into a bi-fold article: the meaning of the text is important, but the visual element of the writing has equal weight. Therefore, instead of typing the text and applying the usual (computer-based) options to the text, I tried to really focus on the act of writing as mark-making. I’m obsessed with line!
Textual Meaning and Materiality
Style of writing gains import here. I invented a kind of block-lettering that reminded me of early computers. And by early, I’m talking about the computer technologies of the late 70’s and early 80’s- ginormous computers that had a footprint of 20 square feet. My father, Dave Sears, an engineer at Allison’s at the time- took me to visit this computer at work. Allison, a branch of General Motors, was HQ’d in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I was born.
This computer used punch-cards and binary coding to function. It was a far cry from the nanochip tech we all have access to today. But this vintage tech was an aesthetic motivator for the hand-lettering you see below.
Additionally, I fleshed out my dream-material with character names (Lisa, Jill and Arthur Robinson, Barney, etc.) and gave Lisa, a leading lady, her own enscriptive style, a loopy cursive script. I even created a signature for her. Finally, I typed up the bulk of the content on a vintage typewriter I scored of Ebay. I was absurdly excited for the typewriter and it’s accessories, two ribbons, one black and one red to arrive. Quickly, working as a choreographer does, I established some aesthetic rules.
First- due to typing on unusual paper(s) I decided to accept all mistakes as fate, and work them into the flow of the text. One reason was that the corrective technology for this mid-1960’s Coronamatic typewriter is pretty primitive. The second reason was aesthetic: imperfection proves this item is made by human hands.
My own life is full of mistakes, shortfalls, and imperfections. Why should this booklet be any different? I decided to accept the mistakes of this booklet process, and integrate them, even when errors of spelling or fact occur. This led to another interesting sidebar- Tabloid type elements.
Some of the mistakes I made were mundane, but some were early steps in my research process. For example, one day, during a hike in the woods, my partner and I were discussing the Beatles’ song: “Give Me Money.” We both had a sneaking sense that this song, is, in fact a cover. I dreamed about it later, and dreamed it is a cover of a Bill Withers’ tune. That proved incorrect. I discovered a fascinating music research line. Berry Gordy’s administrative assistant at the time, Ms. Janie Bradford, is a co-writer of the song. She also was in the Motown Offices on the day the Beatles expressed interest in covering the song, and probably took the call where the deal was sealed.
Is she appropriately credited? Yes, today she is and does receive royalty compensation for her many songwriting credits. Check out this cool blog post for more about Janie Bradford, her accomplishments in music here. However, this is not the typical outcome for musicians, especially in blues and rock-n-roll music. Even in the case of the house bands for Motown’s various labels, many of the musicians suffered from poverty and instability in their careers and lives. Thus, creative exploitation, and a specific sidebar, exploitation of women, became a thematic sub-current in the booklet. This theme can’t be identified in the photos, and likely will only come to complete fruition a the next version of the project. (Spoiler: women’s reproductive capacity and monetization of biological reproductive capacities through the practice of surrogacy, sperm and ova donorship, etc. will be a theme in future drafts.)
The booklet components lay fallow for about six weeks this past fall, while I tried to decide upon a strategy to complete them. With the aid of art found in a little free library (LFL’s) on Oak Street in Ypsilanti, MI, I generated a cover. Memories of growing-up times with my father are layered underneath the medieval lady (greeting card art) on the back cover: a jingle from a radio advertisement for Smith Brothers’ Wild Cherry Cough Drops is penned in messy gray and royal blue marker.
On the front cover, I include a photo I took in 2009 on a visit to the Dominican Republic. The signage in English reads “No Passage, Private Property.” According to Frederick Engels’ 1884 Book, Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State the conceptualization of Private Property, ushered in a transition from matriarch to patriarchy. Family bloodlines and the establishment of trackable paternity made monogamy and privatization of land the new system in 18th century Europe. Industrialization in the mid-19th century allowed for the development of the middle class, and the widening divisions between workers, landowners, middle class managers of industry, etc. Finally, nuclear family practice and models of patriarchal tradition formed the perfect vehicle for the transfer of white privilege through heirs and inheritance. As society continued to evolve, a centralization of wealth and familial lines through the father created a cult of domesticity for certain classes/ races of women. The fence in the sepia-toned photography, and the off-center sign speak to all of these meanings.
I choose, with great zeal and joy, to stitch the whole booklet together on a fancy modern sewing machine. This choice of technique echoes centuries of female labor and points to women’s integrations and roles in testing technology. Also, women’s roles in fashion, textile production, manufacturing garments.
“Art is the spirit, we can’t live without it. It has a bigger force than any pandemic.”
On Weds. June 24th I had the pleasure of taking a dance class (on-line through zoom) with Movement Artist Ya’ara Dolev.
This class was organized by the Dance Program at Oakland University. Many thanks are due to Michigan Dance Council, Associate Professor Elizabeth Katner, Gregory Patterson, Dance Department Chair and Associate Professor, for organizing and disseminating such excellent and international content for dancers in Michigan.
A special thanks is due, of course, to Ya’ara herself, whose gorgeous dancing, and generous and ferocious spirit infuse the Gaga practice. Ya’ara is a stunning artist with a long and diverse international career. Ya’ara’s accomplishments have garnered quite a list of prizes and recognitions. For more about her, visit here.
This writer, having been a professional dancer for over 20 years, has faced many injuries and chronic illnesses, including asthma, cancer and fibromyalgia, perhaps that is why I was drawn to class with Ya’ara today. There are many days now where I am unable to dance. But today, I was able to join in and participate in 80% of the class. Therefore, this blog post is created from first-hand lived experience.
The class experience is amazingly robust. Gaga is a style of dance and a movement discipline which is physically, mentally, emotionally and imaginatively challenging. Ya’ara dances with us, and her physicality belies her grace, efficiency, and strength, even through the distancing lens of video capture. Her verbal cuing is elegant, alternatively cerebral and somatic, imagistically vibrant and welcoming.
During a portion of the class, where I needed a short rest, I danced at my desk and composed a poem, entitled “Tama,” in honor of the feelings that movement practice generated in me. See the poem- in draft form- here. This poem includes reflection on “Tama” which is a movement pattern organized around repetition, mindfulness, spine movement which echoes cranial sacral rhythmic patterns, and the loose concept of energetic reciprocity.
In this poem, these feelings are connect with the materiality of the world through cotton. Cotton is a truly international material good with an expensive past, present and future. Cotton is resource-intensive to grow and develop into cloth, and sadly has been produced with unfair to horrendous working conditions for the past 300 years or so. The project of the poem is to explore patterns of multi-geographic fiber production, and it grows from my practicing of Tama with the class cohort on June 24th. Additionally, my interest in cotton production is intersectional, but takes its strongest philosophical grounding from embodied knowing and the imperative for fair trade and respectful human stewardship of earth’s resources. However, I want to specify that the poem grew out of the experience of dancing with this group.
After the movement portion of the class concluded, we had a chance for Q & A with Ya’ara. This portion of the meet-up was informative, as Ya’ara has recovered from several extensively debilitating injuries.
Dealing with injury
Yes, dancers, musical performers and athletes deal with injuries all the time. However, during a long career, which we all hope to have, the accumulation of natural aging of tissues, and trauma, which includes past injuries, can compound. Ya’ara provides an anatomical background and lived somatic framework for the “protection instinct,” most humans have around injury:
“The body wants to protect an injured place with a blockage and inflammation. When I bring movement to an injury, it opens up the blockage. When I am/ have been injured, I would put music that inspired me on my headset, and lie down on my back in the studio, and…close my eyes, imagining inside that I am moving and, also, moving inside water.”
Ya’ara brings appreciate inquiry to life as she asks, inwardly- self to instrument:
“How can you bring more and more softness and patience to your movement? Always believe that the tissues of the body, we can heal them. We can heal it.”
She continues: “I had the craziest injuries and doctors couldn’t even believe it. And they were saying, no way. But I had an international career after that…” (conquering the injuries, and moving on.)
Greg Patterson asks, how did you come to Berlin?
Ya’ara and her husband and family moved to Berlin for a fresh start. “Okay I thought, this could be beautiful….With four suitcases and two children, we landed and set out.”
“Literally from coming with my suitcase and nothing, they have made a life and career with many different (artistic) projects. Berlin is a great place for the arts, with lots of flexibility and great atmosphere in Berlin.”
As Europe opens up from COVID-19, Ya’ara pauses to reflect on life after the pandemic: “I see projects in Berlin, its like mushrooms after the rain.”
A student dancer asks, what was your worst injury ever?
Ya’ara briefly describes spinal injuries, involving likely vertebral fracture and a slow recovery process she undertook while working.
“While injured, I had to create a solo, so I was just lying on my back, imagining I could sit. And heal very fast.”
Of a traumatic Knee Injury, she remembers: “It was a complete loss.”
“ I was working on a commercial set, jumping these crazy slow motion jumps…(on a trampoline)” It turns out the equipment set-up was not adequate, and safety precautions were not a priority for the producers. Ya’ara’s trampoline was not balanced, and there weren’t adequate mats around the set-up… She fell back and smashed her neck and right knee.
She describes the slow progression towards healing.
“Cross ligament completely torn, knee was cracked, meniscus was completely gone. A total loss for my right knee. I did an operation there, repairing the front cross ligament. I had a physical therapist who worked with Olympic athletes, and my father (her face lights up) was a healer, a reflexologist, and after working to make the knee strong, I would rest, take reflexology.
…After working to make muscles on all sides of the knee strong, it would be red and inflamed. So I would rest. Apply ice compresses, heat compresses. And work again.”
This kind of stubborn persistence, combined with kinesthetic knowledge, spiritual patience and positivity, imaging the best outcome, even while in the devastating moment of loss, characterizes several of the world’s star athletes. Ya’ara is in good company with Tennis Star Serena Williams and NYCB prima ballerina Misty Copeland. All three have rebounded multiple times from potentially career-stopping injuries. Ya’ara exhibits a super-human growth mindset, and that is a habit of mind that anyone can aspire to cultivate.
For more information on Gaga, I recommend this excellent documentary, Mr. Gaga, released in 2017, and under the direction of Tomer Heymann. This film focuses on Gaga founder Ohad Naharid’s life and work. (Image credit: still from the film, which is available for viewing now.)
This semester I have had the privilege of studying with Dr. Elisabeth Däumer from the Department of English Language and Literature. The course finished now, and despite the Quarantine and finishing the course in lockdown, Winter 2020 was a wonderful semester, in terms of our course: Literature in the Age of the Anthropocene. My eco-criticism final project for the Course is a paper entitled “Luna Lake: EcoCriticism, History and Land Use in Ypsilanti.” There is also a conjoined hypermedia notebook in the hopper. Meet me at the River is a multi-modal creative investigation of the Huron River and my study of it over time.
I have the pleasure of speaking with Matt Seigfried who is a self-employed historian. According to his website, Matt is a historian, writer and researcher originally from Cincinnati, Ohio who has lived in Michigan since 1996. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University with degrees in History and Historic Preservation, much of his work has been on connecting local history to broad historical moments.
Matt’s Master’s Thesis Project resulted in the publication of an impactful website. This site centers around the cultural and sociological histories of African-American Families in Ypsilanti around 1900. Matt and I spoke about the gaps in what history has been preserved in terms of land use, ethics, and social and cultural norms and practices of African-American families. Matt stated:
“If the information wasn’t collected 150 years ago, it’s not (going to be) available now…When we look at history, there is an absolute necessity to use an informed imagination.”
When I explained a bit about my project, and that several of the components in my hyper-media e-book, Meet Me at the River, are inspired by a somatic sensing of place, I wanted to get a professional impression of my research process.
As a Somatics practitioner, I have found that this work infuses everything. A somatic sensing of place allows one to collect distinct impressions of place through one’s sensory apparatus, energetic attunement, and intuitive creative visioning. I call this process of somatic attunement “Deep Time Listening.”
Due to there being significant missing pieces in Ypsilanti’s social and cultural history, there was a lot of sadness and sense of loss in this study. One particularly disturbing gap is the lack of record regarding First Peoples and this area.
The Prospect Park which marks the epicenter of this lived history project is particularly complex. What I was able to establish from historical record is that Luna Lake and Prospect Park were widely used as hunting lands by at least three tribes (bands) simultaneously. The area was plentiful with game and water, having been documented as “Swamp land,” on a platt map.
However, this area, bordered to the East by International Water Way and the Port of Detroit, to the immediate North East by the powerful Huron River, and the South by Ohio settlers and bands of people migrations from East to West, was lively and multi-cultural from the get-go. European influence came from the British and French wars, military history, fur traders and trappers from French-Canada and so on. Consider all the impact of this past, and then add “Great Migrations” of African Americans. Families travelled northward following the Emancipation Proclamation, and continued to seek better employment opportunities in through mid Twentieth century. The progressive manufacturing activities of Edsel Ford are intricately tied to Ypsilanti history. Ford used the river extensively, and hydrology and automotive history play a big part in the industrial development of the area. Additionally, Ford designated housing for factory workers, and the connections between Detroit families and Ypsilanti are hinted at in my poem, “Boys in Dress Uniform.” (DM if you’d like to read a draft.)
Of particular note, burying grounds have an important function in cultural life for all people, and land cultivation as well. In the past, Prospect Park was a burying ground for cholera victims, though these remains were exhumed (presumably respectfully?- one hopes) in 1892 as a activist efforts by local women were undertaken to “improve” the area.
Facing these complexities, during one 15-week semester, which was disrupted by COVID, was a daunting task. I imagine the possibilities of undocumented land use, in January 2020 I began a poetry series inspired by the place where I live. Most of these poems are set in the time period between 1890s-1930’s, and I have wondered how valid Deep Time Listening, combined with sociological and biological factual points of reference and poetic prompts are as literary inquiry.
How important is imagination, interrogations of place, and an examination of built structure in terms of interpreting history? Was I totally off-the-wall in my practice, which like most other points of inquiry, is multi-modal?
How does investigative traditional research, books, scouring newspaper accounts and making detailed examination of photographs, drawing, cartoons, etc. interface with the lived body? I’ve long been fascinated by oral history, especially given its mainstay as a feminist mode of inquiry.
How do conversations, news accounts, and found items play out with the experience of living in a historic neighborhood?
I floated a few questions about the research process I used during LIT 592 to Matt, during our interview. One gem from his response below:
“I do nothing but walk around and imagine what things could have been like. You have an informed understanding of the past, but you must use your imagination. All history requires imagination, in one sense or another.”
This position was reassuring to me. As a white LGBTQ+ woman, living with hidden disabilities, ethics and anti-racism are an on-going concern in my research and life. I’d been juggling historic papers, from City and Michigan State University sources, contemporary pro-Black farming studies (notably Ms. Dorceta Taylor’s comprehensive reportage on African-American farmers in Michigan and nationwide, published in March 2018) with observational study, perusing platt maps, vintage photographs, and the like.
Balancing historical traditional research, primary research and the emergent “Deep Time Listening” made for a heady stew. In order to compose my paper and create aspects of my conjoined hyper-media project, “Meet Me at the River” I required a professional historian’s point of view. It is and was imperative to me, that the research be as immaculate as possible.
Matt conducts walking tours and considers the built and natural environment an invaluable resource. Matt shares:
“One of the reasons I do walking tours is because history is what we walk around in everyday. History is in our built environment… history navigates the… relationship of the built environment and our natural world. Roads are racially-coded, and the built environment is a really important place to understand history and how social differences are built and encoded into place.”
Visit Matt’s impressive website, which documents African-American families, neighborhoods and life-styles here. The feature image, at top, is a photo from the website, and marks an intersection of major historical import in South Ypsilanti. Similarly, the second image, a candid of Matt, shows him standing in front of a former theatre, on Michigan Ave. where Frederick Douglass spoke twice.
To contact Matt and book a place on one of his tours, or inquire about other programming, send him a note through his website. I personally hope to go on a walking tour with Matt soon, and will be sure to share a bit about it this summer.
Join Christina-Marie and the Creative Writers Association for a Flash Fiction Workshop this coming Sunday March 8th, from 4-6 pm at Cultivate.
Write a short short story of 300, 500 or 1,000 words and bring it to the workshop for peer or small group review.
Look for our table at Cultivate, in the Main Cafe area. Excellent coffees, beverages and snacks are available for purchase, but purchase is not required to participate.
This workshop is free and open to serious creative writers. For those who are not currently students, a suggested donation of $7 to $15 applies. Funds raised will support the Creative Writers Association of Eastern Michigan University. We ask that writers commit the full 120 minutes to the workshop, so everyone has a chance to receive feedback on his/her/their projects.
Last August, I began teaching CRTW 120, Composition I: Writing the College Experience. As it is, whenever one begins a new adventure, I had a lot of new content to embrace. A new text, a fantastic cohort of teachers in the First Year Writing Program, a new Pedagogy professor, and finally, a full group of lively and talented students at Eastern Michigan University.
We’ve had a wonderful semester together, and in 2020 I will be moving on to Instruct WRTG 121, Researching the Public Experience. I couldn’t be more excited to meet and face new challenges that allow me to refine my pedagogy, learn from my fellow Graduate Student Assistants, interact with expert FYW Director and co-directors, and engage with a dynamic community of freshman students.
As I go forward, I am thrilled to be able to look back on all we’ve done in WRTG 120. Research will be my polar plunge for 2020!
This is a home-based creativity space with classes in music and dance, somatics, and yoga. This is a family-owned and operated wellness studio. Come as you are! Enjoy arts experiences, workshop, small classes, personal instruction, safe space for everyone. LGBTQ friendly. Payment is donation-based.
There is a staircase down to the studios, so Maple Street has limited ADA accessibility. For Full Accessibility options, Programming is available at Riverside Arts Center.
Our first ArtsShare was a lot of fun! This casual gathering is a wonderful way to meet other creatives and share your artistic practice.
Highlights include Bombay Jam with Miraya Fit. This is a woman-owned dance and fitness business. My friend and colleague Mukta Joshi reached out to me in 2018, as she had just moved to Michigan with her family. She is a classically trained Indian dancer who is also a personal trainer.
At Arts Share we enjoyed dance, food and fun, and poetry. Three poets read their work in this intimate and supportive setting. While you are enjoying the holidays and trying to beat cabin fever this winter, consider taking a workshop or class at Maple Street. If you are wondering what else is happening in the studio, Tap is hot and improves memory, balance, coordination. I have been a tap teacher and dancer for over twenty years. sooooo…
Learn tap dance with me!
Tap Dance is an American classic form, and it’s brain and body friendly. I have beenb a tap dancer since the age of three, and I love sharing the joy and fun of this rhythmic form. I consider tap dance an extension of my musicianship, and perform it with our cover band BadjaMutha.
This semester, part of my Outreach has been with Ypsi Writes. This series of workshops has shared leadership, and we have so far met for two hour-long workshops. Both have been on the smaller side, but overall have been very successful. The lesson plans for our workshop time have been created by Joe Bishop.
On the first workshop, we met our young adults, who identify as having a disability, and the content concerns word choice, synonyms and antonyms. Among the three young writers who were present, Grey presented with the most content. Grey is already hard at work on a short story. The text has a great deal of detail, interesting characters and plot-twists.
Gray set a goal of completing her story within the 2019-2020 series of workshops. Other folks were also setting goals, particularly “Lawrence” who works part-time as an auto-detailer while he completes his education. “Lawrence” is writing more and really ramping up his imagination. I noticed this in last Saturday’s workshop.
Because I was seated near “Lawrence” I got the opportunity to work closely with him on lesson #2, Maps. In this lesson, participants drew a map of an imaginary place. Our small team of three decided to draw a village set into the side of a mountain, and from there, details, economies, imaginary creatures and topographic information sprang forth. Our inventions included: Fields of Frolic (a recreation arena), Mines of Requirement, Shepherd’s Heath, Lama Crossing, Mermaid’s Lagoon, a swift flowing wide river well suited for trade and commerce, etc.
We had a lot of fun with making our map, and “Lawrence” and another volunteer created a short paragraph describing it. A goal is just to inspire “Lawrence” to write more and grow in confidence.
Everyone is having a great time at workshops, and the volunteer team have a good rapport. There is a budding sense of community developing, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
This post explores the idea that Somatic Living and Restorative Justice are intertwined. For those of you new to this way of thinking about resolving relational harm, Restorative Justice began in the 1970’s as a broad concept about crime, injury to the victims of crime, and alternative ideas about repair and reform. It has been expanding in recent years as an important curricular development in education. This framing of Restorative Justice as a tool in education can be extended toward many areas, including community repair,relational support and individual healing. RJ presents what I think is a revolutionary framework for the care of self and others. This blogpost makes a first step into how RJ can be integrated into social and community settings.
As an educator, I consider myself a member of community in a leadership role, but firmly believe the educator (read: teacher, professor, tutor, artist-in-residence etc.) is not the expert, or even the only leader in education.
Rather, students learn from each other, in peer relationship, and are the living examples of growth and development for each other, and yes, even for the instructor. As such, I was the leader, for example in ballet, tap and compositional instruction, and my students were leaders in Hip Hop Dance, including Beat-Boy/Girl, Pop-n-Lock, Classic Footwork from Jit and House Dance, and so on. When we dance together, I can learn from student dancers, and they can learn from me. We are engaged in a Teaching and Learning relationship and I have carried this value of Relational Learning into every facet of my life.
I first encountered Restorative Justice when I was the Director of Dance at Everett High School in Lansing MI. As a caveat, I would like to preface this post with complete self-disclosure: this time in my life was intensely stressful, and I was at a vulnerable stage in my personal life.
However, being able to function quite well while under intense stress is one of my super-powers.
Teaching 6th-12th graders dance at Everett High School held enormous challenges and I did need to engage my super-powers to succeed! I learned so much from the position. It was during my Fifth Hour Class/Community that I first experienced a Restorative Justice Circle. My Fifth Hour class was unique. In it, I had several special needs students with significant unique needs, a cadre of talented hip-hop dancers with strong personalities, and a few who dancers who really wanted to branch out into Ballet, Modern and other dance forms. I organized the semesters into Units of Study, but Fifth hour, in particular, had a bumpy adjustment between different styles of dance and lesson plans. Perhaps this was due to the time of day, right after lunch- more on that later!- or in-group rivalries. However, I was able to accomplish a fair bit of creative dance and assist the students into tapping into movement to release excess anxiety and stress. This is one of the class communities that captured my heart. It is special to me that this group asked me to join a Restorative Justice circle.
Learn more about the program I developed and taught at Everett in this short film Why I Dance by Chandler Keyes. Chandler was my ballet student at Eastern Michigan University, Winter Semester 2017, and graciously served as a mentor and Guest Speaker after our college semester ended. Travelling with me up to Lansing’s former “magnet school for the performing arts,” Chandler spent a full day with the dance students at Everett. I chose Chandler as a mentor because she was an excellent student in the EMU Dance Program, and was an Early College Alliance student. She was about two years younger than the senior, so right in the middle of the age range at Everett.
In introducing Chandler to my talented dancers at Everett, I felt her excitement about a life in the arts would be contagious. As a Youtube Creator and well-rounded entrepreneur, Chandler’s achievements both on-screen and off filled the students with positivity and enthusiasm. They were impressed the Chandler had built a budding career in style and personal fashion through branded Youtube video content.
Chandler visited Everett as a Guest Artist left a lasting impression on the students, many of whom have now graduated. I am grateful to Chandler for investing in the youth of Lansing, and going above and beyond as a Peer mentor.
I use Logos, Rhetoric and Analysis in my day-to-day life, so I like to ground my writing with this recognition: Logos is a super power, too. After over 20 years as a teacher, I always like to examine facts and best practices.
So, let’s fact-check: what is Restorative Justice today?
Consider this excellent definition, which I excerpt from Author David Yusem: “Restorative justice views “harm” as a fracturing of relationships, rather than something that demands punishment. A restorative justice process is a way to uncover true needs and heal relationships via meaningful accountability.”
How might restorative justice apply to a conflict? Restorative justice allows the impacted parties to talk about what happened, how they are feeling about it now, the impact it had on everyone, and ultimately what can be done to make it as right as possible. Restorative approach can help school communities avoid the need for exclusionary discipline and reduce repeated offenses. People who have been harmed often have questions that only the person that harmed them can answer. Often time these questions are simple like “why me?” or “what led you to do this to me?” The process allows for these and other questions to be answered and these answers can facilitate the healing process.
Restorative justice originates from an indigenous paradigm, instead of a patriarchal capitalist paradigm: it is community based, relational, and inclusive. The process creates equity by giving everyone a space to talk and be heard and by addressing the root cause of harm. We often say harmed people harm people, so it is important to uncover and address “original” harm too.
“The restorative talking circle process is often implemented to start this conversation.” (Yusem, David, published by Mindfulschools.org.)
At Everett High School and New Tech, Fifth hour was after lunch, and frequently, this class, in a nutshell, was pissed off and stressed. Remember, I promised we’d return to lunchtime. Lunchtime at physical synchronous school is extremely social, multifaceted and loud. At Everett, as well as many other high schools, this was a time when students leave campus, are marginally supervised, if at all, and are mingling with preferred peers. There are in-groups and out-groups and for many of my Fifth Hour students, lunch time was stressful. At least one of my Fifth Hour students used lunch time as an opportunity to settle a beef, by setting up a physical fight/challenge with another young lady. When this student asked for a bathroom pass, she was really using the pass as an excuse to meet and fight with a classmate. This and other concerns were impeding our progress as a Learning Community. Thus, we needed to able address concerns calmly through A Restorative Justice Talking Circle. While this Circle was my first, I had attempted to do this process several times in the past, with Everett classes and with other groups of folks. We were able, with the help of a RJ Staffer to itemize and examine grievances from Fifth Hour community members.
Own Choreography? Students only wanted to work on their own ideas.
In fighting, peer to peer disfluencies, personality conflicts.
Schedules changed? Principal would frequently change students’ schedules. This would only aggravate the students and set back our class progress.
New students coming in all the time? Difficult to maintain status quo.
My style of hip-hop? I’m a white mid-westerner. Students were concerned about my ability to lead and direct their dances due to my race and ethnicity.
Personal Memories of this first RJ Talking Circle:
How I was nervous! As a conflict-avoidant person, I thought something scary or negative might happen. This was not the case!
I remember the sense of relief, a kind of group exhale: everyone stayed calm.
How students really only wanted to be heard.
How each student needed time and space to share.
Students needed to be heard by each other.
Once members got started, the whole process really flowed.
In this case, I was floored at how one circle pretty much cleared everything up, for example, at the end of the 45-minute Talking Circle, when asked if we should schedule another circle, students were pretty much: “Naw, we’re good.”
My permission and acceptance of their need to stop and dedicate a class period to just talking feelings, thoughts, and beliefs out respectfully meant so much to these young people.
What we achieved, ultimately, in this class and in the program:
Four concerts of dance (between October 2016 and May 2017)
Over sixty pieces of Students’ own choreography (performed in the studio or on the stage.) Many are documented in the Why I Dance film. Filmed and edited by Chandler Keyes, pictured below.
Somatic/Emotional explorations of movement (particularly in Fifth Hour)
Artists created our own costumes (Fifth Hour) or selected their own from the Costume Closet.
Mentored and included special needs students, in full. The kindness and support these teens could offer each other often astounded me.
Created a safe space for everyone to grow artistically, intellectual, physically, socially and emotionally.
Everett Dance Program Photos: Why I Dance
Personal Photos captured by CM Sears, 2016-2017. All Dancers signed waivers.
In summary, my experiences thus far in Restorative Justice have been positive, even though they can be a bit uncomfortable. These experiences have led me to believe and advocate for a greater expansion of RJ techniques into interpersonal disputes and relationships. It is a helpful tool for educators to remember that mindfulness and impeccable communication enrich the learning environment, the students and the educator’s experiences.