Friday, February 25, 2011

The Uncultured Culture

Last night I had the experience of a lifetime. It seems as if I’d been holding my breathe for 24 years and was finally afforded the opportunity to see The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre up close and personal. My mother had seen them and one of my sisters had seen them (twice) and I’d resorted to immersing myself in the company via DVD and Youtube and if the heavens opened up they may appear on Oprah. However that hadn’t happened in almost six years. I spend about an hour a week looking over the tour schedule and this particular performance lined up with my pockets and I was finally able to go. It was to be held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For anyone that doesn’t know who Alvin Ailey was, he was a dancer and choreographer made infamous because of a production he produced entitled Revelations. A series of pieces that connect the struggle of humanity, the weight of living, and it illustrates the ritual of baptism in the African American community. This production opened during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement and the company became famous because it was a completely African American company of skilled modern dancers.
My sister accompanied me to the performance. We arrived a few minutes late (due to an accident) so we, among many other guests, were asked to watch the opening performance on the flat-screen televisions in the foyer. It was still just as moving. I leaned over to her and said, “Even though we have to watch this out here, just to be in the same building with them is such a privilege.” She nodded and kept watching.
I took a gander or two around the vestibule that seemed to be packed with late arrivals. It seemed like an even mix of cultures. More African American and Caucasian than any other culture. However, this was before we entered the theatre.
When the opening performances ended, we were allowed to take our seats. By the time we entered, the house lights were up and the audience was hardly mixed. There were a few of “us” but I was disheartened by the fact that “we” were still the minority at such a performance. I refuse to use the location as an excuse. I seriously could have taken my sisters and my hands and counted the number of African American patrons in the audience. It was bitter-sweet. I relished in the beauty of seeing a predominantly white audience appreciate a man who revolutionized dance during a period where African Americans were considered less than, mistreated, beaten, and excluded. It was amazing to me that his craft had transcended race and obliterated color. So much so that there were two Caucasian dancers in this performance. Remember this used to be a completely African American company.
Even with all of the standing ovations, the encore, and the cheering, I still couldn’t get past the idea that we don’t appreciate our own. I take that back, if the title reads “All the Good Men Are Gone”, “Hips and Lies”, “Mr. Chocolate”, or “Stripper Chronicles” we seem to always be on board. We seem to feed into stereotypes and the parts of us that are beautifully artistic we shy away from. This isn’t restricted to the arts. We had dinner first at a gorgeous Mediterranean restaurant in a very well mixed part of Durham, NC. We were the only people in the restaurant that looked like us. I remember hearing a conversation between Michael Baisden and George Wilborn about a year ago. Michael urged his listeners to stop reading only black authors, seeing only popular black movies. He went so far as to say, “Stop ordering Ranch dressing and chicken when you go out to eat.”
I could go on about this for paragraphs and pages but all I’m trying to say (as Black History Month comes to a close) is that we are such a gifted group people. It goes far beyond rapping and dribbling or hiking a ball. We’ve pioneered medicine, literature, philosophy, and started major universities. Surely we can dig deep enough to support the good in us and not just the stereotypical, token, and EXPECTED parts of ourselves. I’m just sayin’.

1 comment:

Racquel said...

Wow, I couldn't have said it better myself. I wish our culture was more cultured. I wish that we had lines wrapped around buildings and corners, for more than seeing a man dressed in drag making us laugh. Or even got sore feet from having to park a mile away from the actual event and had to walk in 3 inch heels and shoes that were not well broken into, ignoring the pain because of the excitement to see our culture displayed on a stage-especially when there was a time when we were not even allowed to enter a theater. We've come a long way and have gone no where. I just hope that we will not be an embarrassement to those who paved the way for us. we are more than women who "shake our money makers" we are more than men who hussle on the street, we are more than black on black crime, we are more than that.....we really are!