“Just be curious about your own floating.” James Graham teaches a style of dance called Gaga—via zoom— on Tuesdays and Thursdays from his studio apartment in the Bay Area. I can see the wooden ladder that leads up to what must be a loft bed off to his right. It’s still daylight there. If I click on grid view, I can see three pages of wriggling bodies in partial dress, observing a diversity of internal tempos. Some are outdoors, or in empty dance studios. For a few it’s early morning. This class was the first truly new and good experience I had after lockdown began.
“We’re still trying to float, but we’re using too much effort.” There are no moves to Gaga. It’s a pedagogy of metaphor and sensation, developed by choreographer Ohad Naharin, at the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv. There’s a movie about him that’s pretty wonderful. He talks about sensitivity, delicacy, explosiveness. Mirrors are verboten in Gaga studios. James’ class begins at 6:15pm his time, 8:15 in Chicago, now 9:15 on the East Coast, so I can see my reflection on the darkened window, which is kinda cheating. But I’m trying to drop down into my body and feel what’s happening in here.
“Like an octopus, can you leave the idea of front and back?” My physical yoga practice had become difficult: I couldn’t visit my teachers or practice with my community, and teaching had all at once become a desk job. I’ve studied yoga for about 20 years, so I’ve fallen out of love with my practice enough times to know I’ll come back to it. But in March the postures felt rigid, the information felt literal and pedantic, and online classes felt like a poor, 2D rendering of something I wasn’t that interested in anyway. I was going through the motions, and the ambient fear, anxiety, and sadness was sinking into my muscles, wrapping around my bones. I craved a new feeling.
“We’re going to stay with the octopus all night, I think.” James plays remixes of club remixes from his computer, and wears wireless earbuds to say strange things to us as he dances around the 10 foot square of his house. We might begin with a quality of movement: heavy/weightless, connected/disconnected, lateral/vertical; or a specific body relation: send a pulse from one foot to the other, never let the skull be directly over the hips. He talks about fantasy: imagine there’s something sweet in your mouth, then spread it around your body, imagine you were orating or singing, then sing from the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet, between your buttocks. These qualities, parts, fantasies are added and added, until a kind of peak moment when we are dancing them all together, alone together, sweating, breathing, losing our balance, freaking out our neighbors, delighting ourselves. Class ends with a full-body slapping exercise. It’s easy to bring your hand to your heart, but try taking your heart to your hand next time. Gaga has shaken me loose and permitted me to come back to yoga.
“Every moment is the moment that you open.” There are a lot of things that can feel frivolous when people are dying from Coronavirus in wartime numbers, and militarized police are moving on Black Americans and their allies across the country, during the hottest global May, now June, on record. My very existence begins to feel frivolous so far away from Chicago, as I participate remotely in my political life. I float very differently in my mother’s lakeside cabin than I did in our living room in the City. And I also know that every person’s liberation begins inside their own body, through breath and movement. Any good I have to offer, I must stir up from the bottom of myself. The weight of being alive must be borne. I am practicing how I bear it.
This class will continue til at least the end of the year. You could come too!
Tue/Thurs 6:15pm PST/8:15CST/9:15EST