As a dancer, acrobat, and aerialist, how do you carry magic through your body? How do you use your art form as a tool to create your reality?
My body is the beginning, the root of everything else, not just dance, but how I've come into this world. I built this body, and this body created me. I don't believe the body is just a vessel for our spirits - its everything, literally, the collective memory of ancestors, the potential for future consciousness. There is something here that I cant even put my finger on, that Ive been thinking about over the past year. I talked about it in my solo show - An Angels Manifesto that I performed this past February in Oakland. That show was centered around reflections on what it means to be Black and Femme in a world that targets your power, reflections on my body, and my memories of the infinite.
As a dancer aerialist and acrobat I use my body to tell stories - this is what I am most interested in - telling stories, creating possibilities for being, creating rituals for healing, creating experiences for an audience to go off and scream because that shit was so good. The body holds so much, and to work with it means working with generations of experience. To bring a vision into this world with your body is huge. Its a ton of work. When I make a vision real through dance it's me creating myself, making myself more real. Me giving birth to myself. When Im working with other people, it is us creating ourselves together. And thats a very powerful magic.
Do you identify as a witch? What does it mean for you to be a witch?
Short answer, yes. And I always have since I was a child. Although Im not sure Witch is the word Id use to describe how I hold my magic. Witch as an identity has become popular in the past four years or so, which I think is really positive in a lot of ways. I just don't feel all the way sure about that word as something I claim.
I have however always paid a lot of attention to magic and spells and spirits. And that is what it means to me - to pay attention to what is happening, to my visions, to the colors of the roses Im drawn to when Im walking down the street, to how I can use my powers of intention and ritual to create, to honor my experience and put love out into the world around me. Giving thanks is also a huge part of it. As I've gotten older my powers have gotten stronger, and Ive learned how to recognize and work with spirits and power in different ways.
Clearly from your work and collectives you've created such as Topsy Turvy Queer Circus and Body Waves, you are very intentional about creating performance spaces for people of color and specifically black queer folks. Why is this important to you? Why do you think that having spaces for body exploration and artistic expression are important to black queer people?
I wouldn't be doing what I do if I weren't doing it with and for and with people of color and Black queer folks. I create the spaces that I do, and collaborate and build with the folks that I do because its necessary for my survival. Its affirming for me personally, its affirming for the folks I work with and its affirming for our audiences. The work I create is unique - and it couldn't exist if it weren't being created within Black and brown queer community. To see queer Black bodies literally supporting each other through partner balances and stunts and telling narratives that are reflective of our experiences is incredible. Its also so simple. I don't think it could be any other way.
You spoke a bit about your journey traveling in West Africa and how it was a significant spiritual experience for you and how you view yourself as a deeply spiritual person. What does spirituality look like for you in your everyday life?
**Well, Im not sure that I view myself as deeply spiritual..did I say that? lol. But I am definitely spiritual, and its a big part of my day to day. **
Yes, when I was 22 I travelled to Mali for a study abroad program. That was huge for me. In my dads house I grew up with afrocentric spiritual practices, which were tied specifically to West African drum and dance and spiritual traditions. Going to Mali was the next level though. It wasn't until then that I really started to connect to my own personal understanding of spirit. Music, Art, Dance, and spiritual practice are so interconnected there. Ceremony is everywhere. I connected strongly with Mami Wata for the first time and learned about Jinns. I was also learning about the Orisha's through my studies and how they have manifested through art and culture and worship in the Americas. To have names for these gods that have their own stories and aesthetics, and to be able to see that reflected through art and nature was really significant. It helped me to understand myself and the world more.
I have an altar in my room where I pray every night. Its a time for me to give thanks, to talk to the spirits that surround me, to set intentions and ask for help where I need it. I pay attention to nature and my intuition. I work with different spirits or energies more at different times depending on my growth or what is happening in my life. Spirits will often times reveal themselves to me instead of me seeking them out. So I pay attention. I leave offerings for who is showing up, it helps me to honor what ever it is Im going through.
What is a spirit that you channel often in your work or that you feel heavily influenced by?
There are many and this is always changing. This past February I was working with Pomba Gira in my solo show An Angel's Manifesto. Pomba Gira is powerful, a seductress, a sex witch, a protector of women and queer people and not to be messed with. A few years ago I performed a pole act called Axé at a queer women’s showcase in Toronto called Strange Sisters (later renamed Insatiable Sisters). I wore a red robe and gorgeous red veil made by my friend The Lady Ms Vagina Jenkins. This act was the embodiment of Axé - the power to make things happen. It wasn't until later when I learned about Pomba Gira that I realized that I was also working with her power in this act. For An Angels Manifesto I performed that same act outside in downtown Oakland at night at a major crossroads. The performance was an offering calling for the protection of femmes of color on the street. I made sure to honor Pomba Gira in the process, and to ask her to lend her protection and guidance.
You also mentioned having a fascination with your body and movement that you recall from a very early age as well as being very subconscious about your body in your early years. How has your work as a dancer helped you to step into your power and live well in your body?
When I was little I was enamored by my reflection. Id get lost in all kinds of reflective surfaces, storefront windows, TV screens with the power off and of course mirrors. I was always dancing, and experimenting with what I could do. I was hyper aware of my body and the world around me. One of my earliest memories is the vividness of walking down the street at night with my mother. I remember how everything felt, and how careful I was with my steps, and how centered I was in my tiny little self.
The world we live in is incredibly toxic in regard to how we are taught to feel about and care for our bodies. As a little black girl growing up there were so many violent messages coming to me about my body and my gender. My body has been a constant target since I was a child. When you’re taught to be ashamed of your body, that there there are so many things wrong with it, that your femme-ness is weakness, and actually bad, and at the same time you’re being hyper sexualized and fetishized on a daily basis, it really messes with your power. And at the same time, I had and have all of this joy, expression, creativity and vision. Dancing and performance has helped me so much to access that power, to be in and with myself, to show up for myself. When I dance or choreograph I am creating space for my own power, and the power of those I’m working with. I can be seen, I can share my love and my body in a way that I want to.
What is one of your favorite rituals?
I take baths at nighttime. I use them to reset, unwind, and to keep my muscles from getting too sore. There's an altar for Yemeya in my bathroom and her candles get lit. I select crystals from my collection depending on how Im feeling and use bath salts. I talk to Yemeya and thank her for helping me to cleanse. Baths are an accessible ritual that makes a significant impact physically, mentally and spiritually for me.
Are there any black femme witches that inspire you?
Well, Im surrounded by Black femmes, and they are all incredible There are a lot of connections that keep growing. I live in a Black Femme house in Oakland so just coming home is inspiring. Right now Beyonce's #LEMONADE is doing a lot for me - I see a lot of spell work in that project, and its happening through media which is really amazing. Id like to start doing more film and media work soon, so that was inspiring to see. More about Black womanhood, that black femme experience but still so powerful. Some other names - Indira Allegra is an incredibly talented poet, weaver and performance artist and friend of mine. She inspires me with the immense care she puts into her work. My sister Meghan Elizabeth has an Herbalism practice called Femme Science and inspires me to constantly be in my power. Kim Milan who is a writer, artist, activist and speaker inspires me to honor the power of my voice. Juliana Huxtable, poet, artist and DJ who I don't know but admire from afar, has inspired me a lot over the past few years. She slays monumentally. The list could go on and on....
What are some current projects that you are working on?
On June 3rd and 4th I will debut PARADISE, a full cast full length narrative aerial, acrobatic, pole and vogue epic at Brava Theater in San Francisco. PARADISE is a huge project, and in essence evokes a new queer Black Mythology. The story follows an angel who falls from a pole that connects heaven to earth. They have to navigate a world of magic and demigods, as they try to make their way back home. PARADISE will be told over two years. Ive been working up to this project for a long time, developing the story, and building relationships with incredible queer circus artists and dancers of color that make up the cast. You can find the event link here
I n d i a D a v i s
is a trained acrobat and aerialist, combines physical feats with dance to illustrate the breadth of her inspirations. Also skilled in moving image and writing, India has been a solo and collaborative creator of numerous productions including a one-woman show, a full-length queer musical, and an Afro-futuristic short film about a water spirit’s journey through the desert. She is the co-producer of Topsy Turvy Queer Circus, which was featured as part of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 National Queer Arts Festivals. India is a founding member, dancer and choreographer of Body Waves, a queer Black acrobatic dance collective located in Oakland. India recently finished a four month residency which culminated in a solo multidisciplinary performance and visual art show, An Angel's Manifesto in February 2016. India’s visionary work has been seen across the country and abroad and is always guided by themes of multi-dimensionality, spirit, and the link between legacy, timelessness and future manifestation through the body. India lives in Oakland, CA and teaches aerial, acrobatic and pole classes, including classes specifically for Queer and Trans People of Color throughout the Bay Area.
Outdoor pole dance, dedicated to the protection of black femmes on the street and calling on Pomba Gira.