Channeling Ancestors


Call Him up! Call Him up! Tell Him what you want!” The throaty sound of the old black ring-shout rocks up from the pit of our bellies, aiming to get Jesus—or whom ever—on the mainline. We are a newly forged community. Direct Energy instructor Reggie Wilson—a noted dancer-choreographer—and 10 men and women sit in a circle on a polished wood floor at Movement Salon. We look profoundly like New York—diverse races, diverse body types, diverse experiences with movement. The few dancerly types are anything but intimidating, though. Under Wilson’s often amused gaze, self-consciousness is out; being real is in. Wilson offers a full menu of gentle movement and stretches, helpful guided imagery, breathwork, and powerful meditations. I feel comforted and supported in having fun. When I leave the salon and head out into the snow, I’m a few blocks down the street before I finally stop grinning.

Wilson opens his 90-minute classes with a cappella songs from the American South, the Caribbean, and southern Africa—cultural material he’s personally re searched for many years and that in forms his dance works. By singing, we focus our attention and intentions whether we choose to call on Jesus or some other spiritual icon, we’re all calling up the history and ancestral energy tucked away in our cells.

We flush away stress, releasing the day’s toxic accumulation of pressures and insults, the New York grind. “Scrunch up your shoulders tight, tight, tight, tight,” Wilson directs. “Think about all those people being evil to you! And now let it go! HAH!” Another exercise involves articulating each spinal vertebra in a series of smooth, snaky micromovements. One day, someone leaves the windows open. Though I close them, the studio remains cold, and so do I. But as my spine slowly arches and straightens, I feel a release of energy from each vertebra, a delightful little puff. In credibly, my body starts to warm.

Wilson reminds us, now and again, to “stay in the room.” No zooming off into the astral, though the driving power of repetitive movement and deep chant threatens to take us there. At the end of my first class, we sit with our backs against the studio’s brick walls as Wilson guides us through a mystical Tree of Life meditation. We visualize sinking our treelike roots down through the building’s floors, foundation, and soil to the core of the earth. Then, we connect to the cosmos above us. Staying grounded in the ordinary, we acknowledge and tap our extraordinary sources.

My second class with Wilson be gins with a South African sangoma (healer) song, lyrics translating roughly, “Something’s bothering me…something’s wrong….” Wilson ex plains that these words traditionally initiate the ritual healing process. I’ve had a hell of a week and feel like that camel looking at that last straw and desperately trying to back away. I go to the salon hoping to be soothed, but Wilson has another idea. Class turns into this wild thing, pumping the energy, the sounds, the breath—galloping exertion. I begin to regret that I’d troubled to perform my daily half-hour aerobics routine in the morning.

Later that night, I suffer hellacious dreams, including one in which I seem to channel a woman being physically abused. Next morning, I note some soreness but also a definitely stronger, clearer spirit. I remember how, after college, I slipped into a depression for a few months; there was nothing I had any energy to do. Going back to dance class saved me. In Wilson’s Direct Energy classes, I’m reconnected to that turning point. Movement will always be my healing touchstone.

Wilson will teach Direct Energy at Black Pride NYC ’99 Workshop Day, August 7, 10:30 a.m., Audre Lord Project, Brooklyn. Call 613-0097 for more information.

Deborah Jowitt is on vacation.

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