Outreach: Project Motion Goes International, Thank Goodness We All Speak Rhythm!

Forty-three Brazilian Youth Ambassadors packed the Meyer Studio at our Atlas Performing Arts Center studio location last Monday. As a project of World Learning, their trip to the States included a visit to JOMDC to learn American Hip Hop dance and culture from our faculty member, and resident Hip Hop expert, Aysha Upchurch. But who ended up getting schooled? Here’s Aysha’s firsthand account of her 2-hour immersion in the maravilhosa world of Brazilian teendom.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXRnHWv479Q]

By: Aysha Upchurch

The prophetic musing my friend spoke in passing has truly become my career and revealed itself to be my life’s mission. “Aysha, you can just become a dancing diplomat.” What my classmate suggested to me my sophomore year in college as I struggled to reconcile my interests in seemingly divergent careers has truly come to life. Majoring in International Relations and going on to receive a Master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, all while putting in long hours at the studio led me right here.

And where is here? Well, last week “here” was the JOMDC Atlas studio where I spent two hours with about 40 of my new Brazilian friends conducting a bit of Hip Hop dance diplomacy. My “Tales of a Dancing Diplomat” usually require me to use my passport and my minor in Spanish to get the job done. Well, this time I had the honor of playing on my home field. While I pride myself on my ability to pick up the basics of most languages, I had only mastered about 3 phrases of intelligible Portuguese. However, I was sure there would be an interpreter should the “5, 6, 7, 8,” “boom-khack,” or hand gestures not be sufficient for getting the main points across. Well, imagine how relieved I was that these students were fluent in English. They still taught me some basic dance phrases and relevant body parts in their native tongue. (Now my internal dictionary of useful but non-sequitur Portuguese vocabulary has greatly expanded…obrigado!)

Brazilian swagger

However, as I have found in other similar experiences, rhythm is a universal language. Sure countries and sub-cultures have their own traditional sound and movement, but we all have just that – sound and movement. My new friends already know what should happen when you hear music. I simply gave them some new tricks and options for how they can react to the beat. Applause greeted every move I introduced to them and proceeded every time they executed it. We top-rocked, mean-mugged, popped, locked and grooved it out. I shared the what, when and why of Hip Hop and then got schooled about the Brazilian-side of things. Yup! You better believe the cipher turned into a full-out dance party exchange. I got some one-on-one samba tips, got a live Capoeira demo, and learned many other Brazilian dances and rhythms.

Smiles were abundant. I love my job. I get to share something I love and learn about how it looks in other cultures…for a living. After a full-out paparazzi session of photos and hugs, our session was over. But I continue smiling for two reasons: first because I know that everyone part of that workshop (the youth, the staff and myself included) will hold on to what we learned, and secondly because my friend was such a prophet and that workshop was just further evidence.

Many thanks to JOMDC for hosting the event and to World Learning for creating such a program. Stay tuned for more Tales of a Dancing Diplomat…have passport, will dance!!