“We are family...I got all my sisters with me...We are family...Get up everybody and sing...” ...My mother's favorite song when I was growing up. She would sing in her beautiful broken english accent and I would revel in the moment and dance along.
Like most families, we were dysfunctionally functional. We had no idea how to communicate with or help each other. So, I used dance as an escape...an escape from family, my own thoughts, the world. But rarely did I ever share that with my family. I danced for myself.
It’s not that my family didn’t like to dance. In middle school, I often came home to my older brother and sister and their goofy high school friends trying to do the running man or the cabbage patch in our living room. I was too shy to join them but I would watch with envy from the stairs with my face lodged between the rails. Eventually, I would go off to college and join the working world, and finding a dance group/community, wherever I lived, became essential to my standard of living.
Recently, I had been living in San Francisco when my mother had an aneurysm. It was almost a miracle that they found it. I couldn’t handle the thought of losing her. So, I decided to move back to Maryland and vowed to help her address the very real disease that plagues her and millions of other Americans—stress. I knew it was an incredible opportunity that I had just been given. Yet, I was worried because I didn’t know if there was much of a dance community here in DC.
Clearly, I didn’t do my homework. Thankfully, Tsunami introduced me to Urban Artistry
and put me in touch with Junious Lee Brickhouse, the company’s Executive Director, Founder, ultimate mentor and guide. So, I began going to the house classes, but it wasn’t until several months later, when I joined Urban Artistry, that I realized Urban Artistry would change my life.
“It’s not really about dance," - a common sentiment we hear from Junious, about Urban Artistry. At first, I didn’t know what he meant. But after half a year of practicing together twice a week, going to classes twice a week, performing with the group, eating with and getting to know people in the group, organizing events with the group, cyphering and going to the clubs with the group, I have come to understand that it truly is not just about dance. What is taught in the classes and beyond are tools to help you feel comfortable in the cypher, and ultimately, with yourself. What is created at practices is the safe space to try new things and fall in the process, yet to get back up and try again. What is demanded of every member in the group is a commitment to be authentic ambassadors of culture, to truly challenge and support each other, and to be unselfish with our knowledge, skills and opportunities. So, it’s about honoring the process of finding dignity, integrity, and grace within oneself and extending the same to others, which naturally leads to growth in one's identity as an artist.
Through being a part of Urban Artistry, I am finally conquering my fear of being in the cypher—a fear that I’m realizing is rooted in not knowing how to communicate. This has become clear in the past year since I’ve moved home and begun to address long-standing issues with my family. As I try to enter the cypher more often and work through issues with family members, I realize that this may be a long journey, for there are no shortcuts. But the path is becoming clearer – the more I attempt to communicate with my family, the more confident I become in the cypher and in my artistry.
I see the circle of life in UA. We come together because of dance, we then build and grow and are committed to each other because of our humanity, and then we exchange and inspire and teach through dance. So now, I want to share dance with my family, with my Urban Artistry family, with friends and others. Now, instead of dancing for myself, I dance for them. I dance for family.
Lesilie Liao is a Board Member and artist with Urban Artistry