Stillness & Equality / or how slavery in Louisiana and in The Netherlands, the ‘deep story’ and learning to listen relate to my dances

Since i was a teenager i have been drawn to the work of African American writers and poets. Among them are Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks and Martin Luther King, and more recently john a. powell. In my forties i learned about this book that i consider one of the most important books i’ve read, one i felt i always had wished to find: Begging To Be Black, by South-African writer, poet Antjie Krog. 

I just returned from a short music tour in the south of the USA, mostly spending time in beautiful New Orleans, Louisiana. Last year there were demonstrations around the left overs, the pedestals of (removed) statues of confederate leaders, with confederate flags and Trump supporters flags side by side. This time i had more time to be in New Orleans and i learned more about the city as a port for slaves to come into the USA in the 18th century, and the still so strong resonances of the history in New Orleans today. A friend and local New Orleanean, took me to visit a plantation, the Whitney Plantation, along the Mississippi River. At this particular plantation the emphasis is on the lives and suffering of the former slaves, other than on the wealth and the big house of the plantation owner, which most of the other plantations seem to focus on. I was surprised to hear this last fact. Maybe i shouldn’t be. But it’s 2018.

In the 1930s the Federal Writer’s Project was set up, gathering the oral testimony of formal slaves. Most of the interviews were done by white men, possibly limiting the kind of information that was shared. The people interviewed were very old by then but many remembered in detail. Incredible also that many lived to be a hundred as the average age of slaves was about 35 before the (official) end of slavery in 1865, if i remember well from what the guide told us.

Two examples of books with interviews with former slaves: We Lived in a Little Cabin in the Yard, ed. by Belinda Hurmence and this one focusing on experiences of female slaves: Far More Terrible For Women, Personal Accounts of Women in Slavery, Ed. by Patrick Minges.


At the Whitney Plantation, Louisiana / near the Mississippi River

I am back home in Amsterdam and one of the first news items i read was about human rights activist Jerry Afriyie not having been given an equal seat at the table of a talk show, because the white guest who he has been in a courtcase with decided last minute she didn’t want to sit at the same table with him. The program host was ambivalent about what to do, eventhough it seemed like he thought he was making a statement. Both guests are engaged in the actions in the Netherlands about either keeping or abolishing black pete. I watched the videoclip of what had happened. A disgusting and shameful situation, one in which the inability to really see and listen what is happening is alarmingly clear to me. The difficulty of being human. I don’t need to go to the Deep South to learn about slavery and its long resonances. I already knew that. My mother was born in the Dutch East Indies, one of the many colonies. But traveling does help me to see a bigger picture while it’s happening close at home.

Yesterday i came across two articles, so timely together. I include these articles, because the writers say so clearly what i have difficulty to find words for. 

In Dutch: No Seat At The Table, by Jerry Afriyie:

And about our ‘deep stories’ (a term introduced by sociologist of emotion, Arlie Hochschild), and how we can learn by learning to listen and how we can learn from another heart, from someone with a completely different point of view.

Interview from ‘On Being’: The Deep Stories of Our Time, with Arlie Hochschild:

“ … and you go to a different region and get to know people — first of all, get to know how to treat people respectfully and listen actively and be immediate. Everybody should learn those skills. And then go across to see if we can rebuild that connective tissue.”  – Arlie Hochschild



Ghana, where slaves were sold and shipped by the Dutch


some people

when they hear

your story.



upon hearing 

your story.



this is how



– nayyirah waheed. from salt. 2013


I find it hard to write about all this. It moves me so deeply and i always feel incompetent and of course terribly incomplete. So much comes up when i start reading, thinking or writing about inequality. Inequality in racism, gender, economics, how to learn to live together, how to learn to listen, how to learn to be in close touch with ourselves, other than removed from our own being. But now i attempt this small writing about a subject and history and resonance so huge.

I write now because it is also part of my work, if not on the surface, it is in the deep ground of my work, both my dance and my songwriting: this longing for equality and the sense of inequality embedded in so many living aspects of our lives. It is more prominently a part of my work now in my dance in SILENT DANCES. Through this work in silence i too need to speak up and say what my work is dealing with. This work wants to be made and i have to show up for it.

Longing for equality brings in me a longing for stillness. Not a silence where there is no talking or no storytelling, no truthtelling, but at least a moment of that deeper stillness where we can meet. Where we can possibly sense some of the stories and yet be still within it all together. In the depth of this stillness i know equality. In the depth of this stillness i know possibility. This is what i work on to share in my dance, in SILENT DANCES, in the bigger project that this comes from: Field of Disappearance. Can we truly meet? What does this mean? can i create a space that invites you in, a space in which we can experience a sense of equality? Through dance? Through stillness?

Be welcome. It would be an honour to share this space with any and all of you.

SILENT DANCES: 16 November, Uilenburgersjoel, Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 91, Amsterdam, 20:00 / TICKETS TRAILER


In SILENT DANCES i work to go beyond stories, not by denying them but by allowing them to come through in the form of the dance in the moment of performing, from deep within the stillness. I listen to the dance that can come from stillness. I know equality in stillness, there i just know. There is nothing between us, any wall seems to just come down. I wish to meet there, in this one whole still and intimate space. Allowing each other our differences. Accepting that it is so and respecting each other on our own path. And knowing that with all that we are equal. I am finding out what this means for the dance and for the exchange between performer and audience.


i love listening. it is one of the only 

spaces where you can be still and

moved at the same time.

– nayyirah waheed. 2018


SILENT DANCES: 16 November, Uilenburgersjoel, Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 91, Amsterdam, 20:00 / TICKETS TRAILER


SILENT DANCES (c) photos by: Sara Anke Morris

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