Blog Salon #3 “On Losing Hope and Falling Together” by Amara T. Smith

About 2 1/2 Years ago, I began a journey with Dancer Sherwood Chen that is now known as Headmistress. Our ongoing artistic collaboration really began as two lovers of house music wanting to take the chemistry we had late night on the dance floor at the People parties in Oakland into the studio and then possibly to share with others in performance. What it has become is an ongoing exploration of how do we take on each other’s movement identities, then rip them and each others our own apart? How do we forget what we know and stay in the mystery?

It is painstaking. Because there are questions at every turn: ; what are these movement identities we are taking on? why are we doing this? is it appropriation? is that OK? why are we doing this? what is it about? and oh yes, why are we doing this?

Despite never being able to truly answer these questions we keep coming back together, keep doing it, being in the dark, both literally and metaphorically and reconvening on the dance floor in various locales around the globe.

It is always easier outside of the US. Especially when we are places that are not dominated by European thought. It is in these places where we can just be. Where there are no successes or failures. Where we do not have to explain ourselves, where we can be the mutts that we are – stained by the various cultures, landscapes, experiences, people and movement vocabularies that become part of our artistic quilt that we wear and add to, though not identifying exclusively with any one.

And what am I trying to say with all of this? We live within a culture that operates under what I call, the “Heaven and Hell” mentality. This mentality which we have all been socialized around can only grasp two possibilities- Good vs. Bad, Right vs. Wrong, Success vs. Failure.

If I were to make bold statements about what we should all do, I would say-
we need to become more spiritual.

Here is the thing- Aside from some oppressive radical sects, most religious/spiritual doctrines speak of the in between; the “gray” area; the maybes and the “neither here nor there”s.” This is really about duality. You see it in the Yin and Yang symbol. There is one side that is black, and the other is wWhite. However, inside the light is a circle of darkness; inside the darkness is a circle of light. This would seemingly indicate that the concept of absolute does not exist.
In the Yoruba spiritual tradition known as Ifa, there is no such thing as the devil. The Orishas (deities) which are worshiped in this tradition represent all aspects of nature, and the inherent duality that exists in nature. Folktales about the Orisha many times tell stories of failure amongst the gods. These failures are not seen from the perspective of “Good vs. Bad”, but speak of the importance of failure as the key to greater understanding.

This is the doctrine which guides the often unsteady, rocky and uncomfortable creative process that Sherwood and I create from. We spend most of our time falling in the dark- together.

Trusting in this process is not easy. We are socialized in the “heaven and hell” mentality, and that mentality will continue to prevail if we are not diligent in our efforts to consciously unlearn that belief system within everything we do and in how we make and view art. It will always keep us qualifying, arriving at conclusions about what we think is “good art” or “bad art”, what is a “success” and what is a “failure”,” when what we need to do is be present in that moment.

When we attend a performance, or in life, in general. you are there. there you are. And you get out of it what you get. It requires a willingness to trust the question. Maybe we all should stop going to shows planning to love or hate it. Hoping to be satisfied or learn something. Maybe we abandon hope and accept that each performance is what it is.




[box] Amara Tabor-Smith- San Francisco Native/ Oakland resident/artivist/dancer/choreographer. She has performed with choreographers and theater artists such as Ed Mock, Joanna Haigood, Ronald K. Brown, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Anna Deveare Smith, Liz Lerman, Adia Tamar Whitaker, Aya de Leon, Anne Bluethenthal and Jacinta Vlach. For 10 years she was a performing member and Associate Artistic director of the Urban Bush Women dance co. in NYC. Amara is the Founder and Artistic director of Deep Waters Dance Theater and co artistic director of Headmistress, an ongoing collaboration project with dancer Sherwood Chen. She is currently on faculty in the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.

Current Projects:  Deep Waters Dance Theater will reprise their dance theater piece, “Our Daily Bread” at CounterPULSE Theater; November 15-18, 2012. Amara will be an artist in residence at Dance Exchange in Washington DC from Dec. 3-7 and will present a new work as part of Dancer’s Group’s ONSITE program in June 2013. This new work is a site specific piece in honor of San Francisco dancer/choreographer Ed Mock and will explore issues related to legacy, queer identity, race, the effect of AIDS on the bay area arts community in the 1980’s-90’s and gentrification in San Francisco. For more information on all of these projects visit Our Daily Bread [] He moved Swiftly/Ed Mock and Green Choreographers

Seen Next:  Anti-binary in duet work (with Sherwood Chen): “There is no failure if you do not believe in the binary of Failure vs. Success. But working against that binary is a lifelong practice, since we operate in a social framework where it is constantly reiterated.” [/box]



  1. Hi Amara. I love this. I see a parallel between the work you and Sherwood are doing–the interconnection/cross-communication that happens between two people feeding off each other on the dance floor // with how you are talking about duality vs. interconnectivity. It makes me think about the construct of duality – how it has been imposed on things and people, how it has been harmful, the fakeness of duality. How duality makes everything in the middle cave in upon itself. Does duality induce collapse? As someone of mixed race and mixed gender, interconnectivity/intersectionality is a lived and embodied truth. There is always “the middle”, the “between”, the neither/both where we exist, where things become created and dissolved and reconstituted. Yes.

  2. Thank you for your words. And for dancing into the in-between – at my best, I am opened by being in the presence of those who per/form. I like your idea about abandoning hope to accept what is. I am sure I could do this more in my own process of making things, and would love to hear more about how you and Sherwood go about doing this. Do you need a partner to find it? Is it the destabilizing that makes it possible, or the trust, or the two together plus an audience to share yourselves with? How does the audience complete the circuit for you?

  3. No expectations!

  4. Awesome! Just what I needed!

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