M. Soledad Sklate sat down with Jamie Philbert and two of her students after one of her Afro-Modern classes for adults. Jamie teaches Afro-Modern for adults on Saturdays from 11:00am-12:30pm and several classes for children: Uhuru (Creative Movement for toddlers 18 months – 2 years) on Wednesdays from 9:45-10:30am, Uhuru (Free and Creative Movement for Toddlers, 18 months – 3 years) on Wednesdays from 11:00-11:45am, Ubuntu (Creative Movement for early walkers 12-18 months) on Fridays from 9:45-10:30am, and Sawubona (Creative Movement for ages 6-9) on Fridays from 4:00-5:30pm. See descriptions of her children’s classes here.
Article by M. Soledad Sklate.
Last weekend, right after her “Afro-Modern class,” I had the chance to talk with the beautiful, talented, and peaceful Jamie Philbert. It is remarkable how her serene and composed way of speaking transmits both a sense of deep spiritual calmness and an intense and explosive passion for dance and life at once. Two of her students, Norisa (a first-timer in her class) and Natalie (a regular) confirmed that Jamie’s class is full of emotion and passion – plus, of course, a lot of dancing!
Q: What is the focus of your “Afro-Modern” class?
A: The class is designed to activate our spirit to move our body. Its focus is to celebrate and learn about our own bodies. No matter what shape or size a person is, the body can do whatever we want it to do. The discovery of the potential of our bodies is central to the class.
Q: Does this class fit into what is considered “contemporary dance?”
A: My ‘Afro-Modern’ class does not exactly fit into the contemporary style. Although the base is African-inspired movement combined with fundamentals of Horton technique to strengthen, align, and tone the body, it’s much more than that. The goal is to create movement that comes from within. Breath and breathing play a central role in connecting our spirit with our body, so that’s also very important in the class.
Q: What is the format of the class?
A: We start on the floor, concentrating on breathing, strengthening, and stretching. Once we’re warmed up, we go across the floor to rhythms of the Congo and Malawi drums, and Afro-beat. Then we do a combination. These combinations are all my own choreography. At the end of the class, we take the time to express our gratitude to our body, to thank our body for the movement it allowed us to create.
Q: How did you develop this style?
A: I spent many years learning different styles of dances and training with fabulous teachers, but I realized that something was missing: an approach to movement that would allow us to praise our body. That’s why I developed this particular “Afro-Modern” style to celebrate our spirit, mind, and body through movement.
Q: Is your teaching approach similar in your classes for children?
A: As in my classes for adults, my classes for children go beyond dance. My goal is to guide them to be better human beings. Each of the children’s classes delivers an important message for their lives through the creation of movement. In the class called Uhuru, a Swahili word that means “freedom,” toddlers and kids learn about freedom but also about discipline.In Ubuntu, which represents the idea of, “I am because you are,” the movements speak to the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. In Sawubona, a South-African way to say “hello,” which would translate to “I see you,” the goal is for the children to celebrate and respect themselves and people around them. They sing, dance, draw, and finally they improvise a dance to their drawings. They create movement to embody the message of their drawings.
And then I also had the pleasure of talking to Norisa and Natalie, two of Jamie’s students…
Q: Can you share your experiences and thoughts about this class?
Norisa: It was my first class today. Jamie was warm and welcoming. The class was taught enough but not overwhelming. I felt I was dancing and connected to my body. I didn’t expect the class to be so spiritual. It really got deep inside of me. By the end of the class, I had tears running down my cheeks when thanking my body for being so good to me. In other class I’ve been to, I have sensed competitiveness between the dancers. This was not the case at all in Jamie’s class: I was free to dance and move with no fear of judgments or criticisms. I will definitely come back!
Natalie: I’m a good friend of Jamie’s, and for years I always avoided coming to her class in spite of her continuously inviting me to try it out. I have zero dance background so I was quite intimidated. Until I made it for the first time. Now I would make excuses not to do other things so I can make it to the class! I realized I was hindering myself from my potential. Taking Jamie’s class showed me that my body can do anything I want it to do, and that I can do better every time I try. The class also has a therapeutic side. Jamie’s focus on the breathing really helps you to connect with yourself, it’s very spiritual. The class helps me to release, to channel my spirit, and celebrate my whole being.
About the writer: M. Soledad Sklate is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University, doing academic research on the intersection of literature and embodied cultural practices and manifestations rooted in African diasporic influences. She is an avid practitioner of Latin and African dances, and is working at Cumbe as a Media and Communications intern.