Today I went to the Northwest Folklife Festival webpage. I have been a fan of the Northwest Folklife Festival from the day I discovered it in 1993. In those days I was just falling in love with a music that was on the outermost fringe of my musical experiencing: Celtic Music. Somehow I had heard that there would be a stage at Folklife dedicated to Celtic Music.
I decided to go. Though it was 6 years before my transition would begin, I decided to go as Carla and not as Nice Guy. I had a wonderful time. I saw musicians that I had only heard on a college radio station that played Celtic Music. Suddenly, there they were, right before my eyes, making amazing music. I said to myself, “Carla, I’ve a feeling that we aren’t in Motown anymore.”
I was swept away by a feeling of wanting to dance, And even though I didn’t know the steps, I wanted to try. This was a far cry from how I have felt about the music and dance of my own tribe. That music also makes me want to dance but I never tried because I knew I would be ridiculed because I was such a poor dancer.
However in this new setting, with music and steps I didn’t know, I was welcomed into the circle. I was welcomed into the squares. I was taught as I danced. The women showed me and the men lead me. The community called to me, “Come, dance with us and celebrate the music with us.” And so i did. This was an invitation I never felt from my own folk. Please, don’t read this as an indictment. My folk value dance to point where it must be done expertly. It is one of the highest forms of expression. Anyone who does not do it expertly doesn’t do justice to the form. That is frowned upon (not the person). So we have a culture of dance experts from African dance to African-American dance.
Yet that first experience of Folklife was an invitation to the dance regardless of how inexpert I was. To this day, if you want to get me to dance, don’t play R&B (as much as I love to sing it), play a reel and you will entice me out onto the dance floor. However, no part of the black communities will play reels and so I will never dance with my own folk. That’s sad but it is true.
So May has come again and thus Folklife is on the horizon. I plan to go this year. I’ve not been able to go for the last several years. My schedule or the weather or other obligations have stopped me. However this year, unless the weather intervenes, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend will find me at Folklife–ready to sing and ready to dance. Never seen a woman whose soul is from Africa dance to music that is from far to the north of her? Come to Folklife and see…better yet come to Folklife and dance with her.
But…slow down a reel just a bit and pick up a hip-hop beat just a little. What could happen when 1 and 3 meet 2 and 4? It could groove, People could meld from one to the other at will. It might be chaos and yet it could be magic. Let each hear what they hear and let each one dance.