New Moves, New Haven

OluShola A. Cole

Tell me a story, New Haven. I want to hear about a time when the arts breathed life into every single thing in this city. What did it feel like for a neighborhood group, artist, or organization to go through a day without having to step over the broken remains of creative programming – a victim of the economic crisis and slashed arts funding? What was it like waking up during this haven’s heyday and hearing about international legends of jazz, theater, literature, and dance coming to and heading out from this city en route to faraway places? I can’t get enough of the tales of the old jazz clubs and the Q House. I have many questions about the dance studios in various neighborhoods, like Dee Dee’s Dance Center and Bowen-Peters School of Dance, literally moving the community through the highs and lows of life in New Haven.

Speaking of movement (per my last commentary, on art and race in New Haven), I’m declaring that physical movement in its most basic and accessible form is the key to creating the change you want in your community and bringing out its best. For example, I’m glad to see such a wide range of movement across this community – from line dancing at the Dixwell Senior Center and social dance with the New Haven Tango Club to the National Drill Squad and the Elm City Dance Collective. This also makes me think about movement sometimes being the best way to do what you want instead of talking about it. By doing, I’m specifically talking about coupling the complex and racially charged hot topics of art and race in New Haven and dousing the pairing with the cool spontaneity of a flash mob. A “flash mob” is simply defined as a group of people doing something thematic and spontaneous at a specific place and time.

I know for a fact that some of you received my frantic e-mails looking for dancers, movers, and actors for a public service announcement. Several of you made your way to the Caldwell Dance Center to work with co-organizers Shari Caldwell and Sherece Sellem (Artistik Expressions), and you all learned various types of movement, from dramatic to mime and gumboot dance. While I had a grand vision of pollinating New Haven with movement by way of a public service announcement, I wasn’t prepared for a change in my perspective. Somehow, over the course of the rehearsals, the initial need to gain huge, record numbers began to shift. All the co-organizers (and the participants) became appreciative of the diversity of New Haven. Thirty-five to 40 people – young, old, thin, tall, short, thick, brown, white, pink, mocha – in one room, laughing, learning, break-dancing, miming, moving, sweating, brainstorming, etc., together. Adding another layer of spectacular depth to this event were members of Vintage Voices, a group of folks 65 and over who like to sing and move. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You should have been there. We found a New Haven we hadn’t even realized we’d been longing for. Combined with the dedication and patience of Shari, Sherece, and the performers, the staff at Union Station, and Quinnipiac University film students, it was truly a collaborative process and a great event. For many, these new moves represented the namesake of the public service announcement and this project: New Moves, New Haven. The event literally happened in a flash – it started out as a plan to organize a flash mob and ended up being a collective desire to create movement while building community.

What happens from here? New Moves, New Haven is a community tool that represents my vision of city residents expressing themselves through creative and accessible movement. It has the potential to build meaningful relationships based on what I call “tactile diversity.” Yes, folks, all shades and ages of people working together in close artistic proximity. It started out as a group of people making a choice to engage their creativity. It’s not as if I’m reinventing the wheel (I look to the marches of the civil rights era, union protests, civil disobedience, and critical-mass bike rides): All forms of movement (or stillness – remember sit-ins?) stem from countless stories of desire, anger, injustice, grief, and social unrest. I’m just adding another creative spoke to the complex wheel of social movement here in New Haven. I hope it will address issues of arts and access (among others) while being an expressive and fun step toward a racially and creatively integrated New Haven.

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