I, What, We, How: Ruminations on Community

By Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos


I feel

In quiet moments I begin to notice things that are sensual, things that are always, and my thoughts like fascia holding everything together.

I experience my city-home of San Francisco as an ever-shifting and ever-potential construction site—a cold network of concrete structure and simultaneously a breathing exoskeleton embodying itself with human communities.

I inhabit this variable environment. I embody this concrete organism. I am one of the drops of blood that course daily through the veins of this construction site. I carry my body heat with me, and I sense the body heat of others: the humidity of a crowded bus, the temperature of car horns, the residual warmth from feet on a wooden dance floor. I stop leaning against a wall, and the warm spot of contact between my back and the subway station brick slowly cools like a memory.

Will someone else lean against the same place and remember me? Do I remember other hot spots too?

What’s happening

When I moved to San Francisco over two years ago, an arts administrator friend told me that the city is an incubator for artists and ideas. She said that with the myriad of community-based resources in the Bay Area, artists, activists and innovators are able to develop their voices and their craft in a supportive environment. I found her advice encouraging and use it to nurture my own voice within the local contemporary dance and Queer performance scenes.

Recently, however, I have been noticing an incubation of something much larger than my own artistic and social ambitions. Since the end of 2009 I have sensed an unprecedented surge of energy and excitement welling up, and it feels much more complex and consequential than the mere comfort of a supportive environment. The people and the places around me feel electrically charged with ideas, desires and a sense of fun, and this (dare I say collective) energy seems to penetrate, magnify and charge my own aspirations. I feel a renaissance or a new wave of activity—a sense of hunger complimented by the instinct to gather together.

In talking with fellow artists, we’re hungry to create collective opportunities to delve deeper into artistic/body practice and performance research. More people are musing on and organizing to gather together for less formalized events and situations that are at once part performance, part research, and part socializing fun. I see a shift in the gaze of my peers—now more than ever they are looking to each other as resources, banks of knowledge and reservoirs of potential energy.

Much of this new wave energy seems to be emerging from smaller and more unconventional performance spaces, events and alternative performance contexts. Here are a few examples:

Too Much A Performance Marathon—a 10-hour event instigated by Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero and featuring an unprecedented gathering of various performance/art/activist communities negotiating and investigating Queer(ed) performance.
— The launch of Kunst-Stoff Arts spurred on by the combined efforts of Kathleen Hermesdorf/La Alternativa and Yannis Adoniou- partly influenced by the models of various international contemporary dance research conferences and schools, this new series of programming includes workshops with local and international artists, performance party salons, panel discussions and lectures.
Queericulum at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory—a daylong series of events including performances, sex and relationship workshops and socializing in pajamas for the queer-identified of the Bay Area.
Laura Arrington’s SQUART and Alicia Oh’s and Yvette Choy’s Spontaneous Combustion—both gather artists to create and perform a new work within a 2-12 hour time frame. The entire process is open to the public.
Philip Huang’s Home Theater Festival—invites audience into artist homes for full-length shows—a cost-saving strategy but also provoking the idea that art should not solely be confined to the sanctioned space of the theater or gallery.
Small venues like The Garage have shows happening regularly throughout the week usually with a mixed bill of artists. Pieces range from pure improvisation to choreographed works, and the D.I.Y. intimacy of the space allows for constant experimentation in performance.

As Ernesto Sopprani, one of the forces behind Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, observes, “We’re cycling through a moment where we are beginning to see the power of this push for interacting—of how we can generate change through performance and be activists.” We are living in a charged moment. And whether I and/or other artists direct this energy towards direct social action or digging deeper into the creative art process, or even both, there exists a juicy eagerness here and now—eager for a greater collective consciousness and cooperation. We’re gathering together, and we’re hungry.

We dance

A group of contemporary movement artists started a weekly lab to experiment with ideas, scores and alternate states. A different person facilitates each meeting keeping the power and pedagogy shared and distributed horizontally. Social and artistic status feels de-emphasized, and there seems to be a common hunger to learn, share, and try.

In one particular meeting, each participant was directed to write down a list of actions they would like to see done or do themselves in the studio space. We put these actions/scores in a pile in the center of the room, and each person began independently pulling them out to use. Over the course of an hour…

– people dragged each other across the floor by the hair
– massages were given
– someone was asked to yell at another with the objective of making them cry which was attempted for an extended period of time
– two people experimented with breathing through the other person while making out
– everyone did a group hug
– someone cried
– someone continually log rolled over others
– some people left
– many got naked and exchanged clothing
– some people attempted to do nothing
– someone became a wild cat-like predator stalking their prey
– two people made each other laugh
– slow motion duets happened
– some stopped
– genitalia were hit
– some whispered secrets to each other
– people watched
and more

At the end of our experiences questions emerged and a higher sense of vibrations and presence were felt. What is performance? What is authentic emotion or action and when are we pretending? How are we moving and sensing? I gain a greater awareness that we each have so many bodies—an emotional body, a physical body, a social body—and we can move and act with all of these.

How to keep moving?

There has been a shift in our social ecology. It feels like I’m in the ocean with my performance community and that a wave has just started to lift us up and carry us forward. We look each other in the eyes and recognize the same sparkle that tells us we’re all experiencing an exhilarating moment here and now. We encourage each other on and swim even faster to keep up.

The questions emerge: How did this momentum begin? How big is this wave and how many others are riding it also? How long can we ride it for? To where are we racing? Will we disperse? Will we crash on the cliffs or roll peacefully back into the ocean? How can we keep building this? How can we break through? How can we harness this movement and be a tidal wave?

In cultivating ideas for this article back in March, I posted the following status on my Facebook profile:

Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos Jr What is community? How to belong? Is a new wave happening in SF (people gravitating to the center to feel, draw from and give)? Do others feel this? How to write about it?

Mark McBeth likes this.

Isak Immanuel The idea of “community” is such a precarious thing I feel, particularly at the present moment of commerce and culture converging in such rapid and fractured ways. The idea is always taking many slants, angles, shifts, falls, jumps, and turns…just like dance.

Merry Bee In general folks in the United States are complacent (thanks to capitalism and comfort zones) and not willing to go to the level of actively embodying personal politics because it’s too vulnerable and hard to talk about how we get separated because of class, race, & gender privilege…performance art and queer bodies in space make us vulnerable and more open to talking about the hard stuff, but the problem is that this doesn’t always happen with the performances in our artistic community…sometimes it seems like it’s personal survival vs. community, but as Audre Lorde says, “we were never meant to survive.”

Harold Burns Everyone seems to say that there is something new happening in the queer dance/performance scene in SF. I definitely feel the energy, but don’t have much to compare it to (being a newcomer). I would recommend that we think about the boundaries that we are building through our geographic placement, relationships and performance practices. I also think we should acknowledge that we are a community of people with multiple identities (both in and out of the limelight) and histories. At the same time we need to acknowledge ourselves as descended from a shared genealogy of performance with distinct elders who we share space with, listen to, and even ignore.

The conversation is ongoing, and the wave surges ahead.

This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of In Dance.