I am often enthralled watching children exist in their bodies. Children without the guidance of elders have no concern whatsoever for polite movement. If something itches they scratch. If their back should need relief there is no hesitation to lean into a backbend over the edge of the couch, and anyone who has watched a child sleep knows the numerous origami-like positions a sleeping child can bend themselves into to find ultimate rest and relaxation. It is as if a string from heaven lifts each arm guiding curiously, contorting it about until it arrives to a point of satisfaction.
Children are encouraged in the pursuit of movement, and most of us can remember outside play as a central unifying and community building factor. Social games like hopscotch, four square and dance competitions, shape my girlhood memories of my body, and my relationship to it. As someone for whom joy usually lives within the body (I have been called “Happy Feet” by close friends and am known for spontaneous bits of song and dance. I can not trace back to when the freedom of movement in the body once encouraged in childhood was no longer acceptable in public, namely the work or social spheres. All I know is that it was a slow bit of choreography I learned overtime. A kind of sad ballet or colored girl ragtime I had never really questioned.
Like most adults under capitalism I learned to straighten my back for polite company. Similarly, I kept my knees together with a gentle squeeze of the core and inner thighs, a bit of quiet pilates expected of “ladies”. Like most women with ample breasts I placed a gentle roundness in my back in the presence of men unless it was time to “pop” something and most of the movements were unconscious but in lock step time with everyone else around me, except when I couldn’t keep up. By 2018 I was a burnt out 23 year old musician with years of front line activism and academia stored quietly in my left hip. By day I moved from work to rehearsal and by night my ancestors danced, contrasting my daytime slow drag with rhythmic drumming, jumping and life. These same ancestors would call me out of the center of things for a while to start my spiritual journey, when a quick tour stop in Los Angeles became a move due to sudden illness. I relearned to walk in that time (literally and figuratively) and it seemed that each step I took out of my sick bed was clumsy and unsteady. There was me and Spirit, without the buzz of busyness, without a family to care for, without a stage to perform on. What was my rhythm? What made my heart dance? What is that soreness?
By late winter 2020 my work as a Conjure had grown largely because the world was wrestling with the same questions. Most of my clients arrived at my divination mat in a similar state of disarray. COVID brought forward many of our greatest fears around restriction and restricted movement. The personal was once again proven to be political as families juggled caretaking, cooking, cleaning and raising children with a new work from home lifestyle, and others mitigated the risk of having loved ones work essential jobs, and on the front lines. It should be stated that members of our community who had been forced to navigate capitalism with the body at the center were most equipped for this moment. My early pandemic protocol was informed by a partner of my mother’s who lived with Lupus. Suddenly we were all forced to
be conscious of “wellness as performance” versus the habits we needed for our personal well being. Those of us who considered ourselves “well” prior to the pandemic found a kink in our idea of wellness as a status symbol of “being fit and able bodied.” Illness wasn’t just something that happened to the poor or those with poor habits. Being industrious or busy no longer signified “wellness” as the entire world slowed down to find something different. We found there wasn’t enough performance under capitalism to keep us afloat. My ancestors slow danced in my dreams, close between sips of whiskey.
In my personal practice I was going deeper into my feelings about movement. For the first time in a long time I was alone with my body and it’s needs and the ideas I had inherited about it. Like most of us I was wary to do this work. Thinking about the body meant slowing down, and slowing down could mean extinction in a game like this. The idea of movement was inherently tied to labor. But spiritual work was a different kind of work, an hour of this work could do what 5 hours of rehearsal could do and I had to mind my energy levels. My schedule was filled with divination clients, and ritual services and scrolling on social media only left my muscles more tightly wound. I needed to move. One day after a busy day of virtual clients I rolled out my yoga mat in front of the altar, sat down and wept. The dead people said we “were getting somewhere.”
My requests for more movement were met immediately, and oftentimes embarrasingly, namely because the crying didn’t stop. A woman I was seeing at the time asked me to go hiking and at the top of the stairs I wept uncontrollably. I went for runs and broke down in tears. I sobbed after outdoor walks. But something else happened as well.
I noticed that during a particularly difficult call with a business coach around finances I slid softly into a hip opener on my left side. Halfway through my workday with no one to pull the marionette strings that told me “rush rush now!” I opted for dance breaks while doing the dishes. I spent more time unclothed, accounting for scars, moles and stretch marks I had never quite had the time to see. I laid long across my
yoga mat in ample shavasana and succumbed to deep stillness. I let my mind do the jitterbug. With no one around to posture or perform for, I leaned playfully over the side of my bed to listen to my favorite records as I had done in my teenage years. Being upside down always gave me a new perspective on things.
Movement had given my life dynamics again and color. Movement stirred up the things that I had been afraid to look at and put the texture and pulp back into my experiences. My yoga practice grew deeper, and slowly I became the girl inviting loved ones and clients to breathe here, dance a bit more. To take a recess. In my inversions I felt my waist beads slide up across my chest reminding me how blessed I was
to be moving, in the ways that I could. I cleaned my house and lit incense and those slow Saturday rituals became my own again. Suddenly my advice on the divination mat looked very similar.
Between spiritual baths and candle ceremonies clients were advised to “find hobbies that brought them joy.” The spirit told me that “laughter was the best medicine of the moment, along with ample naps when it is warm”. It was a “good idea to keep your lamp running but to turn all electricity off when a storm comes.” “Dance to James Brown! He’ll clean you right off!” “Remember that you’re above ground baby!” glasses of dark liquor, card pulls about sweetness, ace of hearts. They encouraged clients to work up a sweat in the living room. To dance freely without worrying about the steps or the pacing, to release
whatever needed to come up at the moment, light the altar and dance. My clients giggled at the suggestions at first and then perhaps moved by my unmoved silence, understood and wrote it down. We were to become children again.
Black girlhood has often been defined by an early “growing up.” Most of us are then undoing this growing up, as a path to wellness and to reclaim the innocence and joy natural to children. Movement is central to this. Black girls are often the prima ballerinas of their families. Star Soul Train dancers and video vixens for our elders and lovers, but rarely do we find the mobility to stretch our limbs into the world of our own pleasure.
Sensual (not necessarily sexual) movement are central in play and exploration that capitalism tells us we all don’t have enough time for. To be sensual is to be present and that presence is the beginning of intuition. Children move intuitively through the world, and in their bodies. If our ritual practice of Conjure is about liberating ourselves from our real time issues, and increasing our intuitive gifts, movement is an imperative and indigenous medicine for assisting and facilitating that process. Black women being, breathing, dancing and doing will lead us into the future, and the future resembles the past. When I close my eyes the future is one of hair braiding, group dancing, and breathing. Our movement practices will inform the steps we teach our daughters, and sons and the way they choreograph their worlds and the juju they come into this world with. The joy cultivated from a two step in the grocery store is unmatched, if they can hear an ancestral drummer. It is a quiet rebellion that says “my body is mine.”
"SaTar'Ra is a Conjure Woman, Musician, and Yogi focused on the intersection of music, spirituality, wellness and sensuality, currently teaching, healing, and performing in Los Angeles CA.”