Chenise Mitchell

 

As a dancer growing up in Toronto I had always felt belonging as a student, but as I grew into an adult and a woman I could not find belonging as an independent artist. I went searching for this belonging a few times, but coming back home always felt right. When COVID hit, my art had the opportunity to flourish in a way that was not available before we were all forced in. Forced into our homes and into ourselves. My career/life as an independent artist and teacher became what I’ve always wanted it to be; my main thing!

*Chin retraction

So at first I was on a high. But staying inside meant all those voices in the back of mind were harder and harder to ignore.

*Shoulder shrug

First, I realized that what was telling me I wasn’t worthy was outside of me. When people succeeding around me all looked similar; had straight hair, white skin, slim bodies, and moved with the trends it was easy for me to stop fitting in, then stop trying to fit in, then stop trying to be seen, then become uncomfortable being seen, then become uncomfortable being heard. These feelings came in waves as a child, as a preteen, as a teen, as a young adult, as an adult. Of course I kept at my passion, enduring rejection. And this is why I am called a “strong Black woman?”

*Stomach ache

I am White. I am Black. Neither, either, both, all. I realized that no matter if I’m hiding “half” of myself in order to try to thrive in this Canadian dance community, I am hiding. Period. I can’t separate my Blackness from my Whiteness. You can’t separate anything that is mixed, but some people in authoritative positions wanted only to see what they know, what they are not threatened by.

*Clench fists

My Blackness is creative, my Blackness is rhythmical, my Blackness is joyful, my Blackness is bold, my Blackness has a good sense of humour. My Blackness also hadn’t had the chance to shine without being policed externally or internally. A constant dance within. “What a strong Black woman.”

*Eye roll

My experience as a mixed race woman was unfolding before me. I AM an interracial relationship. I decided to accept that this conversation, this back and forth, this dance is always happening within me.

*Clench fists

The reason I dance comes from the part of me that I hid so others would see me as worthy.

*Sigh

I wrote a poem, Detangled, years ago while I was living in Calgary studying Jazz. Jazz dance had finally given me the freedom to be myself! I felt so much belonging in this place where I did Guinean dances every week, where my groove wasn’t corrected, where my hips, my booty, my strong thighs were an asset. Unfortunately, finding belonging didn’t open the doors for me because gatekeepers celebrated Jazz on the long legged, straight haired, slim and White. Jazz became “elite” and exclusive, and once again I didn’t fit the new parameters. But Jazz is a social dance! Something to be shared!

*Tight chest

Someone told me that these gatekeepers are probably jealous of me.

*Tight chest

I had spent so many years listening to these “surrogate guardians” that I could not fathom why they would be jealous of me! It honestly took me until the week before performing this piece to understand that could be true. Jazz is a mixed baby, just like me! Being Black is not something you can buy or learn or make up. They can never relate to Jazz the way that I can! Wow. I said that.

*Sore throat

Talk about eclipse season… Eclipse/darken/cover/hide/veil/conceal. But that which was shrouded now shines.

*Ears burning

It’s not a smooth transition from ignoring a huge piece of yourself to embracing it. But

I am worthy of being seen… ? I am meant to be exactly where I am…? It’s okay that I’m broken and whole at the same time…?

*Headache

Detangling was created from the little pieces of me that hadn’t learned to be quiet, that pulled me out of those tumultuous self sabotaging spirals. It is intended for those little mixed kids who are not threatening anyone, who simply need to be accepted and taught to accept themselves. It is intended for my Black ancestors who want to see me joyful!

*Close eyes

I wondered if I was being selfish. But beautiful Black women around me reminded me that healing my wounds inspires others and makes my ancestors jump for joy. So I stopped questioning and told myself, “Jump for joy!”

*Breathe

COVID quarantining brought me to spiritual habits, swift connections I never explored and questions I used to keep secret.

8 of cups, The Moon, Emperor, Hierophant, Temperance, Magician, Rebirth, 6 of wands

Not only were their images and descriptions inspiring, but they showed me what I already knew and was afraid to admit. “It’s time to accept that your success is yours and that it looks different than anything you’ve seen. Go ahead and shine.”

*Shoulders drop

“Be yourself. You’re a good person so there is no proving it. It just is.

Be. You are worthy. By just being.”

*Hips release

I know these discoveries are not only mine. Black and mixed race Black women are often noticed for our strength to endure, but what about our anger, what about our joy, what about our sadness, what about our vulnerability, what about our passion.

*Smile

Ah haaaa! Instead of living for yesterday, maybe I’m better off creating tomorrow.

*Breathe