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Afro Fusion Dance: Preparing Safe Space for Kinesthetic Afro-Cultural Conversation With Afro Dance Artist and Teacher, Abagail Fritz
A RAW & Righteous Interview by Katherine Elizabeth Jackson
Katherine Elizabeth Jackson: Tell me about your journey as a dancer.
Abagail Fritz: Oh my gosh. My whole journey… wow! For me, dance has been a part of my memory my whole life because my mom and dad were musicians, not by profession but through the church and my dad played in a band growing up. He played base and guitar and my mom plays piano and they both sing, so growing up there would always be music playing in our house, recorded or live, and we would always make videos as a family and dance. It was a part of our foundation and our tribe and our upbringing. When I was in elementary school, I was very drawn to percussion, all kinds of forms, and I started studying drum kit. The kind of music I was drawn to was anything with a heavy bass or percussion. I liked R & B and Hip-Hop. Living in my tiny little mountain town... Steamboat Springs, Colorado... there was no Hip-Hop teacher in our town, so I just taught myself [to dance]. In high school, I found West African through a peer who had studied with a woman who had gone one time and had brought it back to our town to share. So, it was just this very filtered down [lesson] but it still exposed me to African dance with recorded music, and again it was the percussion, it was the beat that really grabbed me. In college, I kept going with West African and I was awful, so awful, but I just loved it anyway. I just pursued with that heart passion, so I decided to take a semester off and go to Africa to just follow this thing that I was feeling. I guess my career really started as a drummer. I remember this one night in our [drum] lesson, these two little kids came around and they sat down, and they watched us and as I was getting the rhythm and playing it repetitively, the kids stood up and they started dancing around and that was a kind of medicine and… it left a really strong impression on me. I started to feel something and understand something on a different level. The function of this drum and dance. In 2008 I went to Guinea, specifically to study [dance] and since then I’ve just been in.
KEJ: What do you feel that your Afro Fusion dance teachings can bring to the lives of your students?
AF: There’s a lot in these last 15 years… a lot of initiations I’ve gone through, a lot of challenges, a lot of triumphs, a lot of obstacles and just overall so much experience that I don’t have the skill to necessarily articulate into writing, into words, through voice. My way of communicating is through movement. So, for me, choosing to teach… I resisted it for a long time because I guess I thought ‘I’m not ready, I’m not a master, I’m not a direct descendant of the culture or I don’t want to take opportunities from other people’, or whatever excuse I had… but not only were my teachers like, ‘you need to share your knowledge’, but I also had people I don’t even really know messaging me like, ‘I need to learn from you because I am currently going through…’ this issue and this issue and ‘my body needs this’. I finally was like, if I don’t start to share, like, I have so much experience to share… and for me it’s not about making money off of it, it’s about honoring and supporting my teachers in the culture. In creating this Afro Fusion class, I’m cultivating space for other people to come and share their art, their history their culture, their practice. It’s hard, when you’re a full-time artist, it’s really hard to show up and start a new class. It takes a lot of financial and energetic investment. I want to kind of cultivate a space where teachers can come, students can come and they can have an experience together. I’m preparing the students, and I’m preparing the space for the teacher at the same time. Afro Fusion is my journey through studying different forms, and I am fusion. Like, just my being there creates a fusion. It feels the most authentic to me. I do offer myself to teach Guinea [dance style] or Sabar or Dancehall. I can individualize the styles I’ve learned, but I feel like my most authentic self is in Afro House Fusion. I want to create a space for other people to be introduced to some of these different styles and then hopefully be inspired to go out and try those specific classes and teachers. KEJ: We had talked earlier about safe spaces on the phone, and what makes something a safe space. Do you consider your class to be a safe space? How and for who? AF: So, first of all, I don’t want to teach just anywhere. BrasilBrasil [Cultural Center] … is one hundred percent in alignment with what I believe, what I want to support. Since day one I’ve had a great experience with them. Already I feel like the space is set to be safe. I try to just be aware of everyone who’s in the room. I know that different people have different needs. [For example] maybe today we won’t switch lines in a class because there are people who have chosen to stand behind experienced dancers; they have a model to look at. So, just gaging the space. By me bringing my clear intentions as an instructor leading the space, it allows other to just be themselves. I also try to let myself out and be really expressive so that people know it’s okay. It’s okay to yell, to sweat, it’s okay for your mask to come off. Those little things are to encourage people to let it flow. Besides that, I encourage the femininity to come out of everyone, and the masculinity. There’s parts of the choreography that are super sensual and parts that are really strong. Some people aren’t comfortable with going one way or the other. It’s super layered for everyone! [I’m] reminding people that with these movements, you take it to the edge you want to. This isn’t just about doing a step identically but relating it to your body and feeling the music.
KEJ: How do you think your mediums of art affect the world and its history in a positive way?
AF: Community. Bridging. Just by showing up. It doesn’t even have to be in the perception of performance and technique. Putting ourselves into action, especially now with technology, where you don’t even have to hardly move, is just really powerful and needed. I think it’s kind of revolutionary nowadays to stay in action. Whatever we talk about, walk it, live it, do it, be it. I will be going to Colorado in August to do the Steamboat Music Festival, which is my hometown. I’m basically returning home, full circle, with all of these experiences and tools to share with my community. I’m going to be on their panel discussion, sharing with my home community. My art form is allowing me to do that work. It’s so much deeper than just the dance.
KEJ: What is art to you?
AF: To me art is hope. It’s something that keeps driving you forward. It can inspire you, and the inspiration opens something. It opens your mind, your heart or compels you. It’s something that keeps us evolving, I think. Without it, it would be so boring! I think it’s really important for the human spirit.
KEJ: What is/are currently most important in your life?
AF: Healthy relationships. My relationship with myself, with my family, with my partner, with my work, with my colleagues. Dance, because it’s my release. It keeps me mentally sane and helps me to communicate with people, to communicate my heart. Health, wellbeing, sharing. Sharing that positivity. Sharing the abundance. Being present.
KEJ: The RAW & Righteous vision is to connect people to a worldwide community. How do you see your work relating to that?
AF: Directly. That is a goal- to be a bridge. Dance and the music is a bridge to other places and cultures. And they on the other side want to connect with us too. I think I’m definitely in a position to facilitate those exchanges and to help to curate the spaces for that integration to happen worldwide. There’s so much sharing that needs to happen.
Thank you Abagail Fritz. Find out more about her movement on her Instagram, @heart.dancer or Abagail Fritz on Facebook.