Living in New York thrills me. It’s filled with people and families who came here from all over the world, for so many reasons, to make a better life for themselves and their children. We all came to New York from somewhere. I live in Sleepy Hollow, NY at a cross-section of cultures. When I walk down Beekman Avenue, I hear Spanish conversations, the rhythms of Dominican music flowing from car stereos. I eat Ecuadorian food from the bodegas. I smile at my Spanish-speaking neighbors and hug the children that I have worked with at Morse Elementary. I feel privileged to live in a place that is now home for so many new immigrants. What tremendous stories each person must hold.
I do not speak Spanish well enough to express any of this through that language, but I love my neighbors and I admire them for coming to New York and braving the challenges of American culture.
I have found that the best way to transcend differences of language and culture is through dance and music. Last summer, I worked with the children and staff of the RSHM Life Center as a member of the Circus Latino project. We danced all day, in the sweltering hot summer sun on the pavement behind the building, to music from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. I felt vibrantly alive and more connected to my neighborhood than I ever had before. I told Sister Susan Gardella, as I was leaving that afternoon, that I would love to work with the Life Center again.
Thanks to generous donors, I received a small grant to make a dance piece for spring 2016. I went back to the Life Center and asked Sister Susan if I could dance with her students. To my delight, she said, “Yes!” I began arriving at the Life Center every Friday afternoon, creating an exciting dance and theater laboratory with the first and second graders. The third graders are constructing scenery with me. Their creativity and innovation is truly inspiring.
I asked the Warner Library if they would host an afternoon community dance event, and they graciously said “Yes!” The Warner Library has been incredibly supportive of my art career over the years and I am eternally grateful. I have been studying capoeira, a Brazilian dance and martial art, with Cai Na Capoeira for almost three years. Capoeira intrigues me and infuses my life with positivity and determination.
I asked my brilliant capoeira instructor, Contra-Mestre Cabecao Teixeira, if he would dance with me for this new project, and he said, “Yes!” (Oh boy! Wait until you see our scene!) I asked my lovely capoeira friends (Sarah Bergstein Teixeira, Emilia Silva, Sil Dominguez, Pete Specce, Irene Kabot and Luis Barcelo) if they would play Afro-Brazilian percussion instruments with me and they said, “Yes!” (Such rhythms!) I asked two beautiful capoeiristas, Beth Thompson and Carmery Battle, if they would help me with storytelling during the show, in Spanish and English, and they said, “Yes!” (They rock!) I asked a musician friend, Fredi Meli, if he would play upright bass for our show and he said. “Yes!” (He plays gorgeous, magical music!) When I asked my talented costumer friend, Stewart Lee, if she’d work with me, she replied “Yes, you monkey goddess!”
For almost a decade, I have been a solo artist. But now, I have a cadre of artists and children and community organizations working with me, and I am loving the process. I interviewed friends who moved to this country, I wrote an amazing story, and began choreographing, painting, workshopping and rehearsing.
On June 11 at 3 pm, we will present a soulful and fun collaborative piece to the families of Sleepy Hollow at the Warner Library in Tarrytown. This labor of love, “Solo Una Banana/Just One Banana!” will include singing, dancing, capoeira, live music, storytelling, puppetry, spoken word poetry, and interactive playfulness.
“Una Banana, Solo Una Banana…One Banana, Just One Banana!”
Photo Credit: Mark Liflander – LJ Studios