Rachel Chew

“There are so many places that take from us. In this space, you come to get what you need.” It is on this note that Aimee Meredith Cox ends Funk Movement Medicine, a weekly space for dance and movement, Monday nights at the Broadway Rehearsal Lofts just adjacent to Maison Mathis. Studio 303 looks out over Elm and Broadway, the doors to the building’s entrance obscured by the construction paraphernalia around it. But this studio with the old grand piano in the corner, the pale grey floors, the lights from Urban Outfitter’s storefront a quiet reminder that life goes on outside, has come to be a space of ease for my mind amidst the bustle of Yale.

Aimee Meredith Cox is an Associate Professor jointly appointed in the departments of African American Studies and Anthropology here at Yale. If being an Associate Professor across two departments isn’t enough, she is also a former professional dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Ailey II. At our first Funk Movement Medicine lesson, with us all in a circle, she tells us about how she used to struggle with trying to compartmentalize these various aspects of herself — when she was a dancer, she was a dancer; when she was an academic, she was an academic. But, she tells us, it doesn’t have to be this way. There is space for all of these various parts of ourselves to exist in tandem, and each facet may inform our work in another. Her teaching Funk Movement Medicine is, in part, an expression of how these various facets of herself can find common ground within the space of Yale — “I felt like I needed to teach dance here too.” In Studio 303, we are asked to simply bring ourselves, to simply be, as we begin class.

The ninety minutes spent in Funk Movement Medicine pass quickly. We start each session sharing our names, because students are free to come for sessions as and when is convenient for them, before moving into warm up exercises. Here is the settling down into our bodies, feeling the weight of our bodies on the dance floor; letting our heads, our jaws, hang loose; taking up space in the studio. Then there are the warm-up exercises across the floor – starting from simply walking to the beat, then incorporating small movements, perhaps a double-step, perhaps a raise of the knee, a turn on the off-beat. By then, each one of us is breathing a little more heavily than when we first walked in, but also smiling a little more widely. I grin as I look over at a friend after crossing the floor, stick my tongue out in jest when I miss a beat.

We are here, together, just being in our bodies and that is what matters. And that is something that is reinforced again and again in this class — we are not here to learn a particular choreography, to dance or move in a particular manner. We are here simply to be present in our bodies. The choreography is here to help us, because being asked to improvise can feel paralyzing. But there is never a doubt that, if it feels like the choreography is holding you back instead of enabling you to move, you are free to let it go. The style of the choreography mirrors this conviction. Movements are weighty, from the core; they don’t require long, controlled extensions. It is easy to catch up if you miss a step, and it is hard to notice if someone has missed one.

Michael Jackson’s “Working Day and Night” plays on as we learn the choreography for the week, and amidst Jackson’s iconic “You got me workin’ workin’ day and night”, Cox’s voice calls out over the classroom, describing a step, “It’s like ‘Ugh! Get off my back!’ It’s a Monday night, you just got to shrug it off.” We laugh at her dramatization of each action. I am in slight awe at how well she weaves it all into her movement. Here, in this studio, there is space for movement, there is a space for laughter, and there is space for all of this to exist alongside the frustrations of the everyday while also being a vessel for us to step outside of it and laugh it all off.

Earlier on in the day, Robert Storr tells our class in Basic Drawing that he is not very good at mindfulness, at least not if one regards mindfulness through the lens of conventional meditation. But, he says, drawing is its own kind of mindfulness, of being aware of your tool and the paper, of focusing singularly on that, on finding something interesting in something simple. And in Funk Movement Medicine, I find yet another kind of mindfulness. One that is about allowing your body to move and be alive in all the ways it wants to. To laugh and know that the stress and frustration, the tension of your daily life, will still be there. But to know that, if for a while, it is okay to simply acknowledge that, let it be, and perhaps even find a way to laugh about it.

Rachel Chew rachel.chew@yale.edu