September 15th, 2020 / posted by paularath

Marnita Billups

Just last week I discovered a new dance class that’s really resonating with me. It’s called Afro Fusion and it’s taught by Marnita Billups, who arrived in Honolulu a little over a week ago and hit the ground dancing.

Marnita brings an infectious energy and joy to the live online Zoom class, which is sponsored by the Still & Moving Centerhttp://www.stillandmovingcenter.com

It’s held from 4:45 – 5:45 Wednesday afternoons.

The music was unfamiliar to me. It stems from the Afro Brazilian Culture and is called Samba Reggae. It originated in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil and is heavily influenced by Jamaican Reggae (think Bob Marley).

Marnita brings all of her training from the African diaspora, hip hop, house and modern to the choreography. It’s definitely an aerobic class and got my heart pumping. The choreography is super-fun and simple enough to follow, at least for the first class.

Marnita has deep roots in the music, having been part of Batala in New York City, an All-Women Afro Brazilian Samba Reggae Percussion Band.

If you are feeling the urge to dance and want to bring something fresh and energetic into your stay-at-home life – you can sign up for Afro Fusion at http://www.stillandmovingcenter.com,

  • Paula Rath
August 31st, 2020 / posted by paularath

Anthony Mmesoma Madu in the Leap of Dance Academy

“When I am dancing, I feel as though I am on top of the world,” said Anthony Mmesoma Madu in an interview with a Newsweek reporter.

You might be one of the 20 million-plus Instagram viewers who saw this charming 11-year-old dancing ballet in the rain in a sodden suburb of Lagos, Nigeria. His joy is unfettered as he pirouettes through the puddles.

Anthony’s is an amazing story. After that viral video in June, he was discovered by the American Ballet Theatre and was offered a full scholarship for a virtual summer training program. This has segued into a 2021 program in the U.S. through Ballet Beyond Borders.

Anthony learned to dance at the Leap of Dance Academy, owned and run by Daniel Owoseni Ajala. Bravo to this brave gentleman for introducing ballet to the children of the impoverished suburb of Ajangbadi, Ojo, west of Lagos.

Ballet must have been a tough sell for Mr. Ajala. It’s hard to imagine a more radical change from traditional West African Dance. While ballet is regimented and disciplined, West African dance is fluid and free flowing.

In a New York Times article by Noor Brara, Mr. Ajala said “In the beginning, people kept saying ‘What are they doing?!’ I had to convince them that ballet wasn’t a bad or indecent dance, but actually something that requires a lot of discipline that would have positive effects on the lives of their children outside the classroom. I always say, it’s not only about the dance itself – it’s about the value of dance education.

I lived in a suburb of Lagos called Apapa in 1973-74. At that time, there were open sewers; that may still be true in Ajangbadi. It was a challenging place to live, even for an expat with employment and the means to live in one of the more pleasant suburbs.

It was a military state and the men in uniform rode around in trucks and Jeeps with their rifles at the ready, always with menacing expressions and mean words. They would taunt me (visibly pregnant with Duncan at the time) when I tried to cross the street.

The corruption in Lagos was appalling. You couldn’t avoid it, and I mean that literally. If you wanted to drive legally, you had to pay dash (bribes) just to get the forms for the license. There weren’t many ways for a young dancer to get free of the slums in Nigeria.

Now a gifted 11-year-old has found his way out of Ajangbadi, all for the love of dance. What a joy!

Paula Rath

August 27th, 2020 / posted by paularath

 

There’s something within us that makes us want to dance. It’s an inherent need in many, many women. And far more than a few men.

To dance is to give the body an opportunity to create its own poetry.

This desire, this passion, this need, doesn’t disappear with age. Despite injuries, arthritis, increasing stiffness and loss of balance, our bodies still yearn to dance. So why not let them?

For many years I danced hula with kumu hula Cathy Ostrem. I loved hula and Cathy was the perfect kumu for me, but then shoulder and knee surgeries, and finally a broken neck, rendered hula an improbable activity for my body.

I needed to find a way for dance to be part of my life, without causing further injury.

Of course dance can mean simply moving to the music on your phone or your radio. It’s about dancing through your home without anyone to see or judge you. It’s about releasing whatever emotions you’ve been holding in. It’s about allowing yourself to get comfortable in your own skin on your own terms.

I’ve done my fair share of that kind of dancing, alone and unfettered, especially since Honolulu has been under quarantine and lock down.

Photo courtesy NiaNow

But I also found a way to dance with a group of like-minded people. I discovered Nia dance when I wrote a story about the first Nia class in Honolulu, held at the Honolulu Club. It was love at first step. Nia is all about being good to your body and not doing anything to hurt it. The choreography and music are inspired and inspiring. Nia choreography incorporates Duncan Dance, Alexander Technique, yoga, martial arts and tai chi. And it’s not about dancing in lock step with your teacher or following every step in the routine. It’s about finding your own body’s way.

Nia classes are all suspended right now because of COVID-19, but when things settle down to a “new normal,” they will likely resume at the Honolulu Club, Pacific Club and Still & Moving Center. I am fortunate that, as a white belt student in Nia, I obtained quite a few Nia routines on DVDs. What a godsend they are during quarantine! All I need is a yoga mat in front of my TV and I have a ready made Nia class in my home. I dance whenever the mood strikes.

Nia is a wonderful way to work out, and leaves me feeling mentally, emotionally and physically alive and like all is right with the world. Learn more at www.nianow.com

Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson   Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dancing duo doesn’t have to mean formal ballroom dancing, especially if your partner isn’t into it. When Jerry and I were first going together, I encouraged him to go to Arthur Murray with me. It wasn’t a disaster, and it didn’t cause a breakup, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience either.

As a result, we didn’t dance together for quite a few years. But once we started taking cruises and had access to a dance floor and live band every night, we got it right: just dance! Ignore all the rules and the formal steps and start moving. I had to let go of some expectations, and that allowed for freedom. We can dance together! We both love to move, especially if there’s a dinner (or a few cocktails) to work off. Who cares if there are couples who know all the steps and go whisking past us? Honestly, it’s Jerry and Paula who were most appreciated by the band and often got applause from the patrons. They simply love it when the music inspires romance. And that’s what dance does for us now.

Photo courtesy LA Dance Project

If you are feeling a need to bring dance into your life, I just discovered a new app that offers dance classes, premiers of new works, interviews with dance luminaries such as Misty Copeland and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and lots more. You can have a free trial for a week and see if it resonates with you. It’s by the Los Angeles Dance Project and you can find it at now.ladanceproject.org

Dance will always have a place in my life, now and for as long as I can move.

Paula Rath

August 19th, 2020 / posted by paularath

The iconic Rath Building, named after my grandfather, James Arthur Rath.

Palama Settlement’s oral histories will be featured on KHPR, Hawaii Public Radio’s “The Conversation” tomorrow at 11 a.m.

I will be talking to host Catherine Cruz regarding a program called “Weaving Voices” being sponsored by the UHM Center for Oral History and the Hawaii Council for the Humanities. The stated purpose of the program is to weave “voices from oral history and today, carrying resilience into the future.”

The impetus is a series of oral histories that my parents, the late Jacky and Bobby Rath,  and I coordinated for the 1996 Centennial of Palama Settlement. (Of note: We are now preparing for our 125th Anniversary in 2021.)

One of the oral histories is my father’s. He talks about growing up as the son of the first Head Worker  and founder of Palama Settlement, and what the Palama neighborhood was like in the early 1900s. He mentions the Fresh Air Camp and the area kids’ passion for sports. He also says that nobody knew he was the “bosses son” or a haole because “I was in the sun so much I was dark, and they couldn’t tell my pidgin English from theirs. I’d get into fights like anybody else and get into groups. I was part of the Nishikiya gang, for instance, and I was just one of the kids….none of them knew I was haole. I think they thought I was probably Portugese Hawaiian. When you get into competitive things none of that matters any more.”

Another of the selected oral histories is that of Moke Kealoha, a Palama boy who went on to University of Miami and Columbia University, then became an executive at Servco Pacific. He grew up at Palama and he used to love to say “I would have been in prison if it wasn’t for Palama Settlement.”

Please join me for “The Conversation” from 11 a.m. to noon tomorrow. And if you can’t make the time then, after 2 p.m. it will become an Oral History Podcast on KHPR.

In addition, next week Wednesday, August 26, from 4 – 5:15 p.m., there will be a panel presentation of “Weaving Voices” on Zoom.

Paula Rath

August 18th, 2020 / posted by paularath

Ghislaine Chock, “Starry Night Fragments,” handwoven twill in a complex woven pattern (one of five)                           All photos courtesy of Hawaii Handweavers’ Hui

Jerry and I decided to change our walking itinerary today. Instead of walking in various neighborhoods in Nuuanu Valley, we combined our walk with a few errands, including a trip to FedEx and UPS in Downtown Honolulu. It’s such a foot-friendly city and has sidewalks, something sorely lacking in our valley.

Another of Ghislaine Chock’s exquisite “Starry Night Fragments”

While Downtown, we decided to take one last look at the Hawaii Handweavers’ Hui exhibition in the beautiful Mezzanine Gallery of the Pauahi Tower at Bishop Square. You may recall from my January blog that the show is called “Suitable for Framing.” It’s a wonderful opportunity for weavers and other practitioners of fiber arts to show their work in a public venue with good lighting and generous wall and air space (super high ceilings).

Linda Taylor’s “Installation 2.0, handwoven wool tapestry, cotton canvas

The show was organized by extraordinary weaver Ghislaine Chock, who did everything from securing the space to communicating with the artists and hanging the work, which is a real challenge with those high ceilings.

The show was originally scheduled to be taken down July 11, but….a certain virus got in the way.

Now the take down is scheduled for September 4, so there are just a few more weeks to go and see it.

Joan Namkoong, “A Meandering Thread,” stitching and handwoven twill

The juror is Sara Oka, who recently retired as textile curator at the Honolulu Museum of Art. In her Juror’s Statement, Sara wrote: “Textiles have an ability to connect with so many audiences and viewers because of the familiarity textiles provide. From body adornment to home embellishments, from ceremonial, religious and festival applications, fibers take center stage in so many aspects of our lives.”

My own “North Shore Surf’s Up,” hand-dyed mix of fibers with rust and indigo

It’s unlike any show I have ever seen, much less had the privilege to be part of. Yes, there are some beautiful woven pieces using traditional fibers such as twill, linen, and silk kimono. But there are other artworks that weave in surprising materials: photographs, clay and copper wire.

My own “Summer on the South Shore,” hand-dyed mix of fibers with rust and indigo

My work is a combination of fibers – silk charmeuse, linen, cotton, raw silk, silk organza – dyed with either rust or indigo. I also experimented with some fibers interwoven with metals that were given to me by a Korean textile artist. Every fiber takes the dye differently, so the variety is endless.

They represent the ocean and beaches where I grew up, at Papailoa on the North Shore.

This show is an ideal antidote to the times we live in. Give yourself a break and enjoy a lovely exhibition in an elegant, quiet setting. And then pop in to Kai Coffee for a coffee and some of the best pastries in town.

Paula Rath