I just arrived recently to San Cristobal in Mexico where I will be keeping active with dance. I haven’t written about my dance journey throughout the 10 years in this much detail before, so here it goes.
I’m 37 now but my movement journey actually began at the goth discotheque at 18 (The Castle in Ybor City, Tampa (FL) and I-Bar in Orlando that no longer exists). I remember copying everyones movements but also letting myself go with the hard driving beat. Fast forward 8 years later and I was yet again at another goth venue (in Portland, OR), and a dance teacher assertively approached me to tell me that I had to go to dance college because she saw talent in me. I took her advice.
That Fall, I began a dance program in Tampa, Florida (USA) composed of Ballet and Modern Dance. I was 26 and curiously there was one or two others my age range there. Everybody else had just come from high school.
I remember that first year at an Intro To Dance class, the teacher assigning me to do a presentation on Noh theatre. So, when I began the research on YouTube, something quite bizarre caught my eye on the side panel. It was Yumiko Yoshioka’s TESTLABOR Z.0005 video which blew my world. I was so fond of whatever this was that I chose to do a presentation on this instead.
All throughout the 2 years of dance college and the 1 year of dance university, the thought of one day training in butoh was in me like a virus. I remember even a class assignment composed of choreographing something based off of Kafka’s metamorphosis. I had stylized my movements in what I felt at the time was butoh-esque. Even the teacher identified it.
One day while napping, I found myself in some large stadium with lots of people. I was in a costume resembling something Pinhead from Hellraiser would wear. It was some grim lottery event where I was Death itself and one person that day would die. I woke up with a feeling that now this butoh thing was literally taking over my dreams. So, I went over to google and typed in “butoh school.” The Subbody butoh school in the Himalayan mountains of India appeared, and a few months later I was there.
Subbody is run by Rhizome Lee who was himself guided by Motofuji Akiko (Hijikata’s wife) and Katsura Kan. I studied very intensively for 3 months that Fall of 2013 then again in spring of 2014. Left and continued my dance and movement studies back in USA. 2015 was the time when I began with that “Learn Butoh” YouTube series which I don’t do anymore. After doing a USA tour and also exposing myself more to butoh teachers, I got my first taste of guiding by being invited to do intensives in Ukraine, Greece, and Serbia.
Then I made it back to Subbody In India by 2017, this time not only as a student but as a guide. That period is when I first began what is now today the virtual Shadowbody Butoh Manual (free at http://butohmanual.com). It began with writing down notes for what to guide in class, but the number of notes got to such an extent that I had to categorize them all or else I would get overwhelmed in chaos. A manual had naturally formed itself.
I continued on at Subbody guiding and facilitating till summer of 2019 where I left for another European tour, this time with Julie Becton Gillum, North Carolina (USA)-based butoh and Noguchi taiso teacher and personal mentor. Part of the tour was a 2 week butoh retreat I organized in the middle of nowhere Serbia. It brought 8 teachers and it was an amazing time. 67 of us butoh fans from around the world joined.
That Fall, I returned to India (this time also with Julie) to start guiding again at Subbody, but then things took a very dark turn. We were caught in the middle of a storm of sexual scandal related to Rhizome Lee after he confessed personally to me and another guide his past history of child molestation. 2 days after, he confessed to the whole class.
Not only was I psychologically devastated, but so was everybody else. We gave out all the refunds and moved the class to a studio 30 minutes away higher up in the mountains. The incident brought some division within the Subbody dancers because of disagreements in how the situation should have been dealt with. Some people were neutral, some were against associating themselves with anybody who enable Lee to continue the school, and a very small number were even literally supporting Lee himself during all this.
From this experience grew our project known as Butoh Lantern, which was Julie, me, and the other teacher who heard the confession before. It carried a philosophy regarding being aware of systems of abuse and being the most honest one can be with oneself and with others. Together we gave some long intensives in Ukraine and Turkey, I’m talking month(s)-long, 5 days per week, 6 hour per days intensives.
More or less, that brings me to where I am currently, and it comes back to you all. Part of my mission in the butoh world is to encourage togetherness. I am tired of so many divisions. I am aware that boundaries are incredibly important, but it may also be easy to be over-vigilant like an autoimmune disease. Some of us here may agree that this is what has happened in the world this year and last. Fear has created an overprotective nanny state. Some call it medical fascism, whether you agree with that or not. It’s also perfectly okay to disagree.
Regardless, I feel we should be more creative in being together, and trying to see each other as collaborators, learning from each other, and especially not being viewed as competitors. Trying to be compassionate toward one another goes a long way, and not to judge so harshly the choices we make since we were never in the person’s circumstances or psychological state to begin with.
In my specific case, forgiveness has always been extraordinarily rewarding. Back in April 2020, I forgave anybody associated with Subbody who was being neutral or even supporting Lee. But this eventually led to the repercussion of one of the Butoh Lantern members quitting, which definitely hurt since we were together throughout the storm and shared so many beautiful butoh moments.
So I will continue being more oriented toward collaboration and knowing about what is out there. Currently I am in San Cristobal where I will soon be working with Rita Soma on the Sombras Lucidas butoh project (http://sombraslucidas.com). But there appears to be a lot of activity here, contact and contemporary dance among other things. Maybe I will see some of you here.