Self-care As A Revolutionary Act
by Camille A. Brown
We are in uncertain times. And, most of us are left with more time than we’ve ever had before—at least, that has been true for me. This pandemic hit all of us abruptly–and it was jarring. I’ve heard it said many times over: “It is okay to not be okay.” I have also heard, “keep working,” “rest,” “don’t stop,” and “learn a trade.” It was confusing to figure out what to do exactly, but when live theater and dance officially shut down, the very first thing my body did naturally was exhale.
As a dancer, I’m trained to release the tension in my body. I use inhaling and exhaling as a way to allow the body to dig deeper and further investigate movement and space. As I exhaled in that moment, I realized I was also carrying an emotional tension. I thought maybe this lockdown was offering me a friendly reminder to pause and dig deeper into self-care. I’ve always had difficulty incorporating pauses into my daily routine, and I realized that the task at hand now was to honor this pause. So, I am using this break as an opportunity for growth; a chance to balance work with rest and put self-care into action by setting boundaries and holding firm to them.
Now is the time to consider self-care as not just a necessity, but as a revolutionary act. Self-care is more than a requirement. It is survival. It may seem like caring for ourselves is not radical, but considering the exhaustive amount of labor, perseverance, and resilience it takes to navigate being a Black artist working in theater today, centering our self-care is revolutionary.
"Having to “move in” to a virtual apartment of sorts meant taking all of the vibrancy, energy, and fuel needed to build a community and rediscovering how to find all of those elements in the virtual world. "
So, I’ve been thinking about my goals and preparing mentally for the next phases of the pandemic. As the director of my own company, I’ve also been focused on my dancers and staff–making sure they are doing okay. As a leader, I want to honor and support all of them too.
Because I’m in the world of dance, the cancellation of our live tours and activities has meant that everything has had to transfer to the virtual space. Choreographers have definitely made a way, but in the beginning, it was daunting. Dance is visceral. It is an experience for all of our senses. The energy we get from live audiences is real, as is the energy we get from being on stage with other people. There’s nothing like it. To see dance on a computer screen is never really the same as seeing it live. Dance is in the moment. Anything can happen at any time and mistakes are sometimes the best discoveries. The inevitable always hangs on the balance of spontaneity. Having to “move in” to a virtual apartment of sorts meant taking all of the vibrancy, energy, and fuel needed to build a community and rediscovering how to find all of those elements in the virtual world.
At first, this felt extremely limiting. But, I had to think about the flipside too. Dance can now reach people all over the globe with just one livestream or keystroke, making it more accessible than ever before. The new challenge has been to create a different level of energy; a different mindset. Every day, I am thinking about how we can push through all of these new barriers and layers to tell our stories in ways that are just as meaningful and powerful as live performance? Instead of lamenting over the current state of dance, the act of purposeful self-care has shifted my perspective, causing me to look into the future with optimism and positivity.
"Self-care is survival. Protect your spirit at all costs. "
Throughout my career, I have always wanted to have a school that centered on educating people about the dance and music of the African diaspora. I saw myself fully investing in this school further down the road in my career. It would be the institution I always wanted to go to—a space that celebrates the contributions of Black artists to the fullest. It would give a voice to those that had not been included in the books I was required to read as a student. At my school, the dances of the African diaspora would be centered, celebrated, and valued. In this moment of pause, I’m realizing I do not have to wait. The opportunity for a manifestation of this school exists now.
Who I am and what I do are not mutually exclusive. As I use this time to create and expand my virtual school and take care of my team, it still remains a challenge to take care of Camille. But including self-care as part of my daily regimen is making me a better leader and citizen. I am treating self-care as if it were my child. I am advocating for, demanding, and enforcing self-care and I hope you are able to do the same for yourself. Standing up for your work does not necessarily mean you are standing up for the human being – i.e. YOU. Self-care is survival. Protect your spirit at all costs.
We need our best selves now; for this moment of pause and for all the moments after. For the work. For the community. For the Revolution.