Hi, dance friends, and welcome once again to The Dance Edit Extra!
This episode features a conversation with Abdiel, who started their career as a really extraordinary principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company. (At that point, they were known as Abdiel Jacobsen, although now their artist name is just “Abdiel.”) They left the company back in 2018, but even before leaving they’d begun exploring the possibilities of gender-neutral partner dance, both in the competitive ballroom world and in the social dance world. In 2019, they and their partner Kristine Bendul became the first professional quote-unquote “male-female” couple to compete as gender neutral in DanceSport, which is competitive ballroom dance—they both wore heels and they actually swapped the roles of leader and follower back and forth.
Now, Abdiel is both a scholar and a teacher at the University of Washington, where they are investigating the historical roots and the creative evolution of New York Hustle. Most of the world only knows of Hustle via disco culture, via Saturday Night Fever and “Do the Hustle,” but those are actually pretty poor representations of the form. It really originated in the early ’70s as a dance of liberation, a way for people of every race and gender and sexual orientation to express themselves. And Abdiel talks about how, as a queer genderfluid person of color, they feel deeply connected to that history and deeply committed to the cultural preservation of Hustle.
So, without further ado: Here’s Abdiel. Enjoy.
Abdiel, welcome. Thank you so much for coming on the Dance Edit Extra today.
Thank you for having me.
I think the last time I interviewed you—and you might not remember this, because it was a total whirlwind of a day—but the last time I interviewed you was for a Pointe magazine story back in 2012, when the ballerina Diana Vishneva was putting on her own show at City Center and one of the pieces on the program was Graham’s Errand into the Maze. And you were dancing with the Graham company at the time, and you had been chosen—it seemed very much like you had been chosen—to partner her. I got to sit in on one of those rehearsals and I remember being very moved by how empathetic your partnering was. You were the most empathetic minotaur.
Yeah. That’s like a very odd juxtaposition, right? Empathetic minoaur. [laughter]
That must have been a wild experience.
That was a wild experience. It was exhilarating, extremely challenging. Yeah. I remember that very vividly, because I actually I was filling in for another principal dancer who got injured. I was in the second company at the time, Graham 2, the ensemble. And I had just gotten to New York, less than a year. And I was dancing with the ensemble for about six months. So I was brand new to New York City, to the school, and the artistic director called me and was like, we need someone to fill in, and we would like for you to fill in. And I literally had three rehearsals with Diana. That was it. And I had a week to rehearse on my own.
And it was exhilarating. I just like, was thrown into it. And it was just one of those moments where it’s like, okay, this is your moment to show what you have to give. And I think what’s really exciting about that moment was like, at that time, the company was still very much focused on the Graham rep. It was still primarily the programming, was Graham, and then some contemporary. So going into the ensemble and the second company was really, really useful to preparing for those kinds of situations. Because, all we did was Graham rep. We did Graham technique, Graham rep, everything, like six to eight hours every single day. So Graham was definitely in my pelvis and all over my psyche in and out. So I was ready for it. And I was so grateful to have such an opportunity to sort of…be my welcoming. My first performance in New York with the company was that performance.
Wow! What a way in. The reason I brought that up is because that compassion in partnering seems very connected to the work that you’re doing today with gender-neutral partnering in ballroom and in social dance. And it’s interesting—I don’t mean to get stuck on your time with the Graham company, but despite the fact that Graham herself was such an innovator, a lot of her choreography is very, like, he-man and she-woman, these very conventional gender roles on stage. Which of course is not true necessarily in the newer pieces the company has started to commission. But back when you were doing all Graham all the time, that classic Graham rep, how did you think about and navigate all of that?
That’s a great question. We are constantly shifting, as people as humans; I like to think that our existence is evolutionary. So at that moment I was a different person in many ways. Also the same as today. I think at that time in my life, there were definitely feelings that I had inside that I was very conscious of, but I didn’t know how to express it or honor it in a way that felt safe to me. So I always had this desire to want to perform, for example, the female identifying roles. And very much actually that’s what drew me to Graham’s work, were the psychological dramas of these women and their perspective in these epic dramas. But I think I was just like—I didn’t even care, I was just like, I wanted to be able to just be in the world. And if that meant I had to play this heteronormative male portrayal just to get close to the work enough to just be within that world, I was fine with that.
So it was a challenge because I received a lot of comments, like, “Dance like a man,” or, “You need to build more muscle so that you have a more heroic look.” These were comments that were coached into me because of having to play these stereotypical masculine roles. And I did. I did it. And I think at again at that time, I really wasn’t trying to come out necessarily. I was just trying to learn and just absorb whatever what was given to me. So it was fine with me in those moments. I really enjoyed that perspective, and it taught me so much about that side of my expression.
I think that for me, I relate to gender as very fluid. So even though that was at that moment was very binary, I was able to really dig deep into what that meant in this culture and in the society. And I learned so much from that and it taught me a lot about how I identify with masculine tropes or all these things that we say are like, man. And then it taught me like, yeah, that’s not me. And I’m like, yeah, I don’t identify as that inside. So it’s like, in some ways it also helped reveal who I was, by going through that so deeply. I think that’s why at one point I was like, okay, now it’s time for me to leave, because I need to find the other side of me. Because I would never be able to perform a female role—it was not an option. So it was like, I want to now explore the other sides of me and I can’t do it within this company.
So that’s when I really started to explore more with my personal expression. And I don’t know, I don’t want to run on too much, but just touching on your comment about the partnering side, yeah—partnering, it is very interesting, because, like, the Graham partnering is very much different from the ballroom partnering that I had training in before coming to Graham. Because it’s like, the partnering at Graham, it was very much like, okay, I’m going to lift. And it’s very two dimensional. Martha used a lot of inspiration from like hieroglyphics and the male figure was less three dimensional and more flat. So the partnering kind of mimicked that for me. And when in ballroom, it’s a lot more circular. We actually dance in the round. So a lot of it, the partnering elements was just, it felt like I moved from this circular spherical way of relating to a partner to this like a flat, 2D.
So it was very different. But coming from ballroom, I was able to apply that to my partnering at Graham, and I did. And I think that helped me also keep that sense of three dimensions within the choreography that I was able to do, which I really loved and made me connect more to the partnering elements of Graham, which is, it’s very sculptural and it’s so beautiful. It’s like you’re watching moving sculpture with Graham’s work. And so I think approaching it from the ballroom lens allowed me to tap into that sculptural element of Graham that is 3D, rather than it feeling like, okay, I’m just going to like, big plié, press up. Because there’s just a lot of those. I think of Cave of the Heart or Errand into the Maze—it’s like, it’s really kind of… Yeah, exactly. [laughter]
Oh, that’s so interesting. Like a planar approach to dance as opposed to a three-dimensional, circular approach to dance. Maybe that’s part of what I was responding to watching you in that rehearsal and then on stage.
I think a lot of members of this audience, this listenership, are more familiar with your work in concert dance. But can you talk about your background in ballroom, and then how you began reconnecting with that side—or maybe that was something that you had continued throughout your time at Graham? I actually don’t know as much about that history.
Yeah. My first classroom training was at Arthur Murray Ballroom Dance Studios. And I went as a guest for a friend of mine who was like, if I bring a guest, I get a free class, so just come take the class so I can get a free class. So I did, and I went with my sister. And I was in high school, this was when I was 15 years old. And I ended up training over the summer, and I got certified, and I began teaching when I was 15 years old at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio. So that was my first classroom training, was what they call the American Smooth and Rhythm genres of ballroom dancing. So that includes foxtrot, Viennese waltz, American tango, cha cha, rumba, East Coast swing, mambo, salsa, all these partner dances, rumba from the ballroom world.
So that’s what I did, and I was obsessed with it. I ended up performing in it. I went to college. I continued through college, which was when I first discovered Graham. I went to the University of the Arts, and through my time discovering contemporary and ballet and jazz dances, I continued to do ballroom throughout college. And I actually ended up starting to compete professionally in college.
So it’s funny that you say that, because the ballroom was always kind of in tandem to my other trajectory with contemporary modern dance. Ballroom was always there with me. It was also how I made my living. So it was like, I needed it just to make money on the side. But I always kept that present with me. And I think that’s what gave me an edge.
I’ll never forget the ballet master at University of Arts, Andrew Pap, he said to me in our juries—this was end of junior year. And he said, “You’re the only one in the school that dances from your waist up. You need to learn how to dance from your waist down.” Because of the carriage in ballroom, the the top line, there’s so much expression that we do in our top line and the carriage of the torso and the uses of the head. There’s so much attention to that detail and that awareness how we move in space and in ballroom competition, when you’re doing heats, where you have many couples on the floor, you’re not allowed to come off the floor for more than one beat. So basically big jeté jumps, lifts, those things you don’t really do, unless if it’s like a cabaret division, but I didn’t compete in that. So it’s interesting that he picked that out.
So that stayed with me, throughout my training, that ballroom sensibility. And so entering into Graham after college and going into the company, I really connected to the technique of Graham, because she also focused on the torso. Sitting on the floor, we just focus on the spine. So Graham really was a beautiful way of merging the ballroom approach to movement and modern dance. The more I think about it, I’m like, I think that’s really what allowed me to make that bridge.
And so when I got into Graham, I left the ballroom world. I took a hiatus. I returned back to it four or five years into the company because I had wanted to explore my femininity more. I wanted to start tapping into my feminine expression, and just being around Graham, I was so, again, enthralled with Graham’s philosophy as a woman, I was like, I want to experience that for myself. But like I said before, I couldn’t experience that in the repertoire.
I had a partner at that time, Kelsey Burns. And so I started working with her and we worked together, we collaborated and created a piece called “A Walk in My Heels,” which I was doing while I was in the Graham company. And I started a blog and I just documented my time wearing heels for the first time in New York City, like in public spaces, down the street, at social dances, salsa parties, and taking classes in heels and just discovering what that meant for me, my relationship with heels.
And that really opened up a whole new world. So I ended up choreographing a piece called “A Walk in My Heels.” And it was about that discussion. Like, what is my relationship with high heels? I was very drawn to it. My whole time doing ballroom, I was training women how to dance in heels. So it was like, I thought that was strange. I’m like, here I am, this man. And I don’t have an experience of dancing in heels, but I’m teaching you how to dance in heels. So it didn’t make sense to me. And that was the standard of the culture of ballroom. You see men teaching all these women all the time, how to dance in heels, how to feel themselves and they have no experience of what that means. And so we’re superimposing this masculine male dominance on these women constantly.
I think being in the Graham company made me actually conscious of that, because of Martha Graham’s activism as a woman and standing up for her identity as a woman. So I was like, I want to explore that more. So I started to push in that direction, and I would start teaching in heels, in the ballroom studios, in my classes, I would teach in heels. I would teach all my students in heels. So I’m like, I’m now with you. I’m a student too. I’m learning, let’s figure this out together. And it opened my eyes.
And so Kelsey Burns and I, we created this piece and it actually it really opened up a whole new realm for both of us—her as female-identifying, me as a male, both wearing the same exact shoes, these three and a half inch stiletto open-toed shoes that they call Latin competitive shoes. We both wore the same exact shoe, and we started to change. She started to lead me. I would lead her. I would follow her, she’d follow. And we would just start playing, like, how does it feel to both be in the same platform, literally be in each other’s shoes, literally? And then also being each other’s shoes perspective-wise and shifting roles. And it just created this whole new dynamic.
And we’re like, this is so cool. Anyways, we ended up performing for Cape Dance Festival, Thelma Hill festival—we kind of toured it. And we performed it at the Martha Graham studio theater. So it was great to get the feedback from different worlds. We wanted to go into the ballroom world and show it, but we didn’t get a chance to. And so that’s not how I get to Hustle.
Okay. It started with the heels.
It started with the heels.
Wow. That’s so cool. So yeah, now let’s talk about Hustle, because it is at the heart of so many of your current projects. And a lot of people have bad and cheesy ideas about what Hustle is and what it’s supposed to look like. Can you talk about, first of all, how you came to Hustle, and then a little about the history of the style and how it connects this history of social movements around sexuality and gender and race?
Yeah. So just a little bit of a history about Hustle. Hustle is a partner touch dance that most people still identify with this misnomer of like finger pointing and like…
Saturday Night Fever.
Exactly. Saturday Night Fever. And it’s like the furthest away you could get from what Hustle is as a form and as an expression. It’s a partner dance that emerged pre-disco era, in the early 1970s, before disco was a thing, in the boroughs of New York City and from the Latinx and African American communities. Teenagers were experimenting with partner dance forms. There’s a dance pioneer, Willie Estrada, who wrote a book, The Dancing Gangsters of The South Bronx. They were doing it in response to their parents not wanting them to grind on each other, because there was this dance called the 300 where they were just like grind and they would do it at these like house parties and family functions, and they would always have to be broken up. So they’re like, no, you can’t do that. So they’re like, okay, well, if we have to dance together, we have to find a way to dance together. So he was saying that it actually emerged from that response, which I think is fascinating.
But also another fascinating point is as the advent of disco music was starting to come in the early mid 70s, it was also response to the music and the sound that was coming in popular culture. And so you had that, you also had the influence of mambo, salsa, all these things that these teenagers were experimenting with. And it started in the streets in what they call hooky parties, basement parties, rec centers. And then it quickly migrated into the clubs with the advent of disco, and in the club culture is where it flourished and became the dance of disco, Hustle. Everyone was doing the Hustle.
What pulled me to Hustle just as far as the history is, a lot of these—like for example, the Latin Hustle, which came from the South Bronx, a lot of the pioneers were actually just teenagers, gang members, people who you usually don’t think would like be partner dancing, but a lot of them were finding ways to be together. And in that time, there was so much going on: you had Vietnam war, civil rights, gay liberation happening right then 69 into this early 70s. There’s all these political social movements really happening that were really pivotal in US American history. So social dance is a reaction to also the time, what is happening around this. Whether it’s conscious or not, it’s an expression of the moment. Because of all of that as well, that also affects how people are emerging through their bodies, their expression. And a lot of people wanted to come together. Just thinking about the queer history of it, Hustle is unique because it’s one of the first, if not the first partner dance that is completely gender neutral. There were no distinctions of like, well, this is only women, only men. You began to see openly in public—and this is important, openly in public—men dancing with men, women dancing with women, and women leading men. We’ve seen same-gender partnering happen before, like Lindy Hop and Argentine tango, many other dance forms were like same gender. But to my research currently, Hustle is still the first that I know where women were openly leading men, not as a novel practice, but actually as a common place. So that always fascinates me, the role, too, of the women as a leader in society and in the dance.
So there’s a lot of dynamic shifting in this practice through Hustle. And then I think also, when we go into the club culture, this is happening in tandem with the dance form is the club culture, right? So we’re starting to have the role of the DJ come in, which is shifting how people are expressing themselves in clubs, where now the DJ is intentionally playing and curating a soundtrack that’s there to make you dance, to get up and move your body, and playing music that’s very diverse and eclectic. So it’s not just one genre, but there was rock and roll, rock music, funk music, soul music, Latin music, African music, obscure music, popular music. There was all sorts of things being played and then mixed. So even the music and the sound itself was fluid.
And then one of the research I’ve been doing on is, like, David Mancuso, who started The Loft in 1970, which was a pioneering legendary club that really influenced the underground nightlife and mainstream nightlife in New York City and all over in that he was really thinking about not just what was being played, but also how it was being played. So he collaborated with sound engineers to replace tweeters and sub woofers to create a visceral experience with the sound. So it was almost like a sonic somatic experience too.
3D sound. Yeah.
And so it’s like, whoa, this whole, like, so the space itself is creating an atmosphere that is there to evoke this physical expression. And so Hustle is in that too. And so that’s why there was such exploration going on, not just socially, but also just in the dance form itself, people were really expressing the boundaries of what they could do with this new dance.
So in those communities, in those club spaces, what was very revolutionary was the queer and straight integration happening. Yes, there were gay clubs, there were straight clubs, but there were also clubs that were just there to bring people together and have this fluid exchange. So it was very diverse as well racially—Latin, Black, white, all this integration was really starting to come, because people wanted to come together. They wanted to be unified. I think of like, just for example, I was talking about, well, why did in Hustle, a lot of the movements get really outstretched. And coming from mambo, like it’s more tight, when you’re partnering. But in Hustle, your arms actually outstretch so dynamically. And for me, it’s like, you think about, well, 1970, this is the first time legislation is decriminalizing same gender dancing in the public. It was illegal for a man and man, woman and woman to actually dance together in public. It was illegal! So I try to put myself in that place. And I’m like now, right at the beginning of the 70s, they’re able to do that. So the expression of the movement is literally like break free, be as big as you can, be seen from all these decades of having to hide!
So the movement in itself is a revolution. The expression of it is about freedom, come and just be as big as you want to be. And so I think that is important to note when we really think of Hustle, where it comes from, the essence is liberation. Liberation is the essence of this dance. And if you talk to these pioneers, they all point on that aspect of Hustle. It’s about freedom and everyone can just be who they are.
So that queerness that was becoming centered in the early 70s and then really being centered throughout the decade is a big part of Hustle’s heritage. And that’s what drew me to Hustle, because that heritage still exists today. If you go, that sense of freedom and liberation and just coming as you are, is still present. And that’s why I’m so passionate about it. Because, I think that is universal.
It give you space, gives you freedom to be fully who you are. Yeah. Thank you for that beautiful Hustle 101 class, that was wonderful! I’d love to hear more about your “Do the Hustle” project. Because you have this Launchpad residency for that coming up, you have some Works and Process events on the horizon. What are you investigating there?
Yeah, I will circle back a little bit. Because when I discovered Hustle, it was the first time that… Well, for two things: That I was able to do a partner dance in my heels without being… Because in ballroom competition, it’s actually prohibited. Women wear heels… It’s so gendered, right? Men have to lead and women have to follow as a rule in ballroom competition, in DanceSport mainstream. And so when I discovered Hustle, I was like, oh my gosh, I can wear my heels and I can follow, I can do all this stuff. Then I became enthralled with Hustle, and I was like, oh my gosh.
And so that’s how I met my dance partner, Kristine Bendul, who’s my current dance partner. And we just gelled like so easily. We called it love at first dance. We did our first dance, we were like, okay, yeah, we got to work together. And it was so great too because she had already such a long history with Hustle. She was professional dance partner with the late Arte Phillips, who was a major legendary pioneer of Hustle. And so just being able to learn from her experience with him, it was so rich. And we debuted our first performance. We both danced in heels. We swapped roles. And this was in Canada, at the International Canada Salsa and Bachata Congress, and we got invited to perform. We got a full standing ovation. The audience went crazy. And we were stunned because it was our first time ever doing Hustle before. And we were like, we have no idea how people are going to take this. But people loved it.
So we were like, okay, maybe we have something. So we stuck with it. And we ended up doing our first competition piece, and I was so happy because I was like, finally, somewhere where I can actually compete now! Because I couldn’t in ballroom. I was like not allowed, with Kelsey and all that. It was a thing. And I was like, okay, but in Hustle they don’t care. We could swap roles, I could wear heels, they didn’t care. They were totally into it.
So we did our first competition piece and we… Kristine comes from a ballet background and musical theater background. And so she utilized all of that, I used my Graham and my ballroom, and we did our first competition piece—and this was in 2019—and we won. It was at Disco America. So we were like, okay, we want to do this. And we want to keep promoting Hustle, keep creatively expanding our artistic expression within Hustle.
And then someone came up to us who saw us, a friend of mine, his name is Brian Thomas. And he was like, this is incredible. He came to the competition like, this is incredible. The energy here. And he is like, I didn’t even know Hustle was still being danced. And then he was like, maybe you should take your mission to places where maybe you’re not as accepted to kind of show what you’re doing.
And so that kind of made us think—because he knows my connection to the ballroom world. And I was like, you know what? We decided we’re we were going to take our competition piece in Hustle and do it in a ballroom competition. So we started this campaign. This was in 2019 over the summer. And we’re like, we want to advocate for gender equality and inclusivity. So we’re going to compete in a ballroom competition even though we know that the rules say we can’t.
In September, 2019, the NDCA, National Dance Council of America, which is the governing body of ballroom competition in America, they changed their rules.
Yeah. That was a huge deal!
They changed it. The definition of a couple was no longer male as leader, female as follower, it was like, same gender can compete, gender neutral couples can compete in all events. We were so happy, because we were like, we don’t want to be those people that get ousted or blacklisted. We’re like, that’s not our message. Our message is, we want to welcome and feel good. This is about love! And so we were so happy when it happened. So we were actually allowed, and we did. It really sparked even more in us. This means so much more than just dancing. This is a powerful message that we think people can relate to.
And so anyways, the pandemic came and that just changed everything. We had planned to compete at all these ballroom competitions. We were invited to compete in Cuba in 2020. That all got canceled. So we went back to focusing on the social dance aspects of Hustle, because with the pandemic, it really made me think more about the invaluable essential need for human touch, not being able to do that in the pandemic. We could see each other through the screen, we could hear, we could have conversations, but to be in person with each other and have that sensibility of touch, that tactile energetic layer of the body that comes through partner touch practice like Hustle, it’s so important. And I was like, I want to really get back into that essence, because that’s where this dance comes from. It started first as a social practice and then went into performance and competition.
And so now this project “Do the Hustle” is really getting into that essence. It’s like, what is Hustle? What is its essence? And how can we all collectively tap into that human need for human touch? Yeah. So that’s the igniting force of this project. And then of course also core to it is the both the historical preservation of Hustle and its creative evolution. So we are working with oral history right now, because the breadth and the depth of Hustle as a comprehensive study hasn’t been done really. It’s such an important part of the American cultural legacy. So I’m working at the New York Public Library with a PDH student here at the university, Sarah, and we’ve begun conducting oral history interviews with the living pioneers of the dance. And that’s sort of the underbelly of what is our research and what is going to inform the work. So rather than coming from the mainstream mass commercialized perspective, which—that’s really all that there is of Hustle if you look it up, a lot of the stuff that’s published is like late 70s and mostly from people out of the commercialized perspective. But the people that were there creating it, a lot of them are still alive, and they’re still dancing it. So we’ve been reaching out to them. We’ve been interviewing them, and they are informing what this process is through documentation, through oral history. We will eventually be collecting artifacts. A lot of them have memorabilia, programs, old trophies, and it’s just like, woo!
So we’re trying to piece together, what was that history from the perspective of the originators, the Black, the brown, the queer people who are sort of invisibilized through the mass commercialization of Hustle? We want to bring light to their history since it hasn’t been really.
Yeah. Don’t let that history be erased. That’s so precious.
If we talk about an interview as a partnering interaction, in theory, I’m the leader, you’re the follower—but I felt like we were trading off the entire time, you were leading me to places that I should have been going, or I didn’t know I should have been going! That was so lovely. [laughter]
I have one last question for you before we stop. You’ve talked before about how dance can be a practice of healing and transformation. And I’m wondering if you can talk about first of all, how you’ve experienced that personally, and you’ve already started to talk about that, but to delve further into that. And then, in what ways must the dance world continue to evolve to allow everyone access to that kind of experience?
Yeah, for me personally, I can’t live without dance. I can’t. I have to move my body. And I’m learning more and more, as I get back to social dance practice, I have to move my body with other bodies. So it’s not just about me dancing on my own. It’s about me dancing in community. That is, for me, the healing aspect.
I lost my father in 2020. So I had really started to revisit a lot about my family upbringing and what brought me to dance was social dance as a kid, because my mom is from Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, and I was born there. And so dance and music was always in our living room, and my mom would be cooking, dancing and singing in the kitchen. She’d be cleaning, dancing, you know what I mean? And we would all be there with her doing it. And then we used to push aside the coffee tables. And then we would go to social gatherings, parties and, graduation parties, weddings or whatever social function we went to, there was always dancing in music there. That’s what brought me to dance. The performance and all that came later. So I’m learning like what brought me to dance was needing to express myself in community with other people. And so I think that for me is the core of what dance can do as a social practice.
I think that’s so important now. When I think of social media and I think of the pandemic, and I think of things that kind of remove this in-person tactile touch energetic thing, I think more and more like these things are going to be needed more and more to tap into that presence. How do we communicate with each other? How do we express our feelings—the full spectrum, not just the good and the joyful, but you know, the terrors and the traumas? We need each other. And social dance is a way of navigating life with each other.
I hope that answers your question. But so that’s what I would say for me. And you mentioned something else?
How the broader dance world has to continue to evolve so that everybody can have access to that sort of catharsis.
Yeah. It’s such a good question. And I think this is what we should always be thinking about.
I think for me, I think I start with myself. So I would say for us to evolve, we need to really go into understanding who we are first. I think that is so crucial. Especially when we’re young, in education. So I’m going to say… Okay, I don’t want to get too off, but I want to say education. And I think it’s super important in education at a young age—and we’re entering these dance schools as kids and as teenagers, young adults, and we’re entering these spaces, educating people that they can come as they are, and that they are seen as they are, they have a place, they have autonomy. And I think approaching education that way is so important. That’s why I came to the University of Washington, because when I was offered this opportunity to teach Hustle, I was like, this is a moment of education. I kept thinking, not, okay, I’m just going to teach Hustle like I’ve been taught how to teach. I was like, that’s not enough for me anymore. I think part of evolving is not just the what we’re doing, but it’s how we are doing it. And so I’ve been thinking about how is Hustle being educated in such a way that honors its roots and its roots that we just talked about, its heritage of liberation, freedom of expression, communal celebration. Because if I go into the studio and teach it in the way it’s been taught, like in competition, those values are not centered. It’s more about individual performance, isolation. So it’s like, again the how. And so I think that’s really key. I think we evolve by tapping into how we are connecting with the core values that mean most to us.
And I think a lot—honestly, in a lot of our institutions, they don’t align. I think we have core values that we say, which are great, but how we’re practicing and how we’re operating sometimes doesn’t always align with the what. So I think that I would say that: be more conscious of how we’re showing up for ourselves first, how we’re showing up for what we believe in and what resonates with us genuinely, and really being conscious of that energy as we come to whatever space we come to, honoring that place of truth and honesty.
Listeners, in the show notes, we’ve got a link to Abdiel’s website and social accounts, so you can keep up with all of their various projects, including those upcoming Works and Process events. And Abdiel, thank you so much. I’ve learned a ton in over these past 45 minutes. I really appreciate the depth of your knowledge, but also your willingness to share it in a way that is accessible to all of us, even people like me who are relatively ignorant when it comes to forms like Hustle.
Well you’re welcome anytime to come dance Hustle. You’re welcome. Oh, I should mention actually, I started last year a free dance party with DJ Natasha Diggs, and it’s in Central Park at the Bethesda Fountain. So come by. We do it from 4:00 PM until sundown in the park. It’s a fun time. So come, come, come, come, come. We’ll all dance together.
I might take you up on that.
Thanks again to Abdiel. And a quick note: That series of dance parties in Central Park, it’s called Dance Is Life, and it will be happening actually every second and fourth Monday, starting this Monday, June 13th and going through September 12th, at the Bethesda Fountain, from about 5 pm to sundown each time. So if you’re in or around the New York area, maybe I’ll see you there!
And thanks to all of you for subscribing to The Dance Edit Extra. We’ll be back in two weeks with another new episode. Have a great weekend, everyone.