Friday, August 25, 2017

SIX OF MY FAVES: MOVIES AND VIDEOS ABOUT FEMALE ATHLETES


I am a big fan of the Go for Your Dreams! genre of movies, especially if they feature female athletes. It is greatly inspiring to see female teens, young adults, and women take on big physical challenges in the face of sexism and racism.

Here are six of my faves (descriptions taken from the Internet).  Take a peak at each!

1. Bend It Like Beckham
"Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), the daughter of a strict Indian couple (Anupam Kher, Shaheen Khan) in London, is not permitted to play organized soccer, even though she is 18. When Jess is playing for fun one day, her impressive skills are seen by Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley), who then convinces Jess to play for her semi-pro team. Jess uses elaborate excuses to hide her matches from her family while also dealing with her romantic feelings for her coach, Joe."


2. How She Move 
"Raya (Rutina Wesley), a gifted student and dancer at an elite academy, must return home and attend public school after her sister's drug-related death. She has a bitter rivalry with Michelle (Tré Armstrong),in which the two try to see which is the better dancer. Raya convinces Bishop to let her join his all-male dance troupe as they prepare for an upcoming competition."
 

3. Salute the Women of Team USA
"Little Mix’s 'Salute' is being used in a promo for team USA Olympics! This features some of the best female athletes in the world like Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin, Allyson Felix, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and the USWNT Soccer Team!"


4. A WHIRLWIND OF A DREAM: SHANAZE READE
"A short film on BMX Olympian - Shanaze Reade. Her life in her own words and her journey to both Beijing and London Olympics."


5. GRACIE
"Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder) is the only girl among her parents' four children. Her brothers and father (Dermot Mulroney) eat, breathe and sleep soccer, and practice the sport every day. When her beloved older brother, Johnny, is killed in a tragic accident, Gracie attempts to come to terms with her grief by petitioning the school board to let her take Johnny's place on the boys varsity soccer team."


6. WHIP IT
"Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) lives in small-town Texas and yearns to break free of her mother's (Marcia Gay Harden) world of beauty pageants and conformity. She sees her chance when she meets the Hurl Scouts, a roller-derby team; she tries out for the team and wins a slot, lying to her parents about her new hobby. Bliss finds friendship and freedom with her teammates, but a conflict between a championship game and the Bluebonnet beauty pageant threatens to spill her secret."
 






Monday, August 14, 2017

A CLEAR-CUT SPACE FOR WOMEN IN HIP-HOP

Inspired by the just-completed 13th Annual Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival here in New York, I am re-printing my piece about the LOHHF culminating event - the showcase - from 2012.  For more information anout the festival, please visit their website and consider donating to this fantastic tradition.

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For two nights in a row, the audience sprang to its feet to cheer, yell and stomp in a standing ovation for "Paying Homage," a hip-hop piece choreographed by Akira Armstrong for the dance group Pretty Big.  People were psyched out of their minds to see this tribute to female MCs from the last two decades, a list which included Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, Da Brat, and Queen Latifah. The mood of the piece was joyous and celebratory, but also proud; never over-smiley, the dancers wore facial expressions that read "We are the real deal and we take ourselves seriously."

"Paying Homage" was one of many outstanding dance numbers presented in the 8th Annual Ladies of Hip- Hop Festival, an event brought to New York by Michele Byrd-McPhee.  Women came from all corners of both the U.S. and the globe to compete in a Ladies Battle, participate in two days of dance workshops, and dance in two consecutive nights of performances.  A full agenda for sure, and reflective of the many dance forms that fall under the umbrella of hip-hop, including waacking, krumping, dancehall, popping, house, and flexing.

Ms. Byrd-McPhee gave form to the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival out of an awareness of "the narrow opportunities for women in Hip-Hop" and a desire to create "a safe space, a neutral zone where the art does not get lost or stifled because of complexities of male/female relationships. Spaces were it is okay to be women as you define it, not as defined by others. " (Source: LOHHF website.)

Everything about the two nights of performances showed that creating a space in hip-hop where women can define themselves has enormous payoff.

First, there was the overall spirit/mood/vibe of the performance nights.  The host, Shernita Sofly, put the audience at ease with her hugely funny and off-beat humor, and ability to connect with what the audience was doing and feeling in the moment.  By cutting loose and having fun, she set things up so the audience could do the same.

Then, there was the awesome diversity of how the women presented themselves - playful, raw, rough, angry, sensual, sexual, graceful, defiant, athletic.  Yet all of this never seemed forced or externally imposed; every feeling and image conveyed seemed to come from within.  The dancers fully inhabited their bodies, quite a departure from the way much of dance for females is structured so that we are treated as the vessels for someone else's vision or are put out there just to please or pacify a crowd rather than to challenge the audience emotionally or intellectually.

You could see from the backstage and off-stage interactions between the dancers as well as the interplay between audience and performers that all of this was a team effort; everything in the festival was about women backing other women.  Also: whenever Michele, the LOHHF Founder and Director got up to speak, she made sure to credit all the other women who supported her and were part of her team.  She made it clear that it took a village to raise a festival.

Women from the audience (including other dancers) cheered fiercely and joyfully for women onstage.  Choreographers designed pieces so that dancers visibly pulled for each other while performing.  A great example of that was "Gracefully Strong," choreographed by Valerie Chartier for the krumping crew Buck Swans.  While each krumper stepped forward for her solo, the others would surround her and emotionally and physically validate what she was expressing through her body. The effect was gripping.

In sum, a clearly-defined space for females in hip hop to lead other females and be led by other females looked good on everyone involved - both performers and the audience.  Right there in the theater, I could feel the effects of racism and sexism melt under the intelligence, leadership, and serious artistry of a mighty army of women.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

TAP CHOREOGRAPHER AYODELE CASEL: "WHILE I HAVE THE FLOOR"

Almost two decades ago, I saw tap dancer/choreographer Ayodele Casel perform in Savion Glover's dance troupe Not Your Ordinary Tappers. (N.Y.O.T.)  I was so excited to see a big article about Ayodele in a recent issue of The New York Times, and learned that she had recently performed a one woman show called "While I Have the Floor."  Here is an excerpt from that show, where she shares what it's like to be a woman and a person of color in the world of tap.

Stay tuned for my interview with Ms. Casel!