Welcome to Part 2 of the series, Beauty out of Chaos and the Sacredness of Art. We're exploring the idea of how we mimic God in our creativity (see part 1) and today I'm interviewing Connie Jakab, founder of Mpact Dance Company and author of Culture Rebel. Connie has some powerful things to share about identity and beauty (of one's self?) coming about through community. The dance actually creates and births that identity formation. Question #4 is still stirring in me...
1. Connie, this series is born out of my own exploration of beauty coming out of chaos and how artists imitate God's creative work. I think it's vital to humanity and has more power than we've yet to uncover. Can you speak into this a bit?
I couldn't agree more! The art of storytelling through writing, dance, theatre, visual art, photography has a way of engaging people, bringing them into the story to be experienced with their senses. Creator God works through creation! He loves seeing something come from nothing that tells of His glory! When we can use these mediums to reveal who He is to our world I believe His beauty can shine. Ironically, His beauty in us shines brighter as well. The one who is most impacted by the message is the artist, the choreographer, the author. That is beautiful.
2. I've loved following your work with Mpact! I want to hear everything about it! Can you start by sharing about your own story of movement and how you experienced transformation and beauty through it?
I started dancing at the age of 22 for two reasons: One, I had just finished Bible College and hadn't been in contact with the "outside" world for four years. Two, I was struggling with some serious weight issues and was afraid to go to the gym. Being overweight made me very insecure. Dance class was fun and a place to connect with society. I started teaching movement to the youth I was working with in East Vancouver. Eventually this would lead to me opening my own dance space in East Vancouver that hosted battles and classes for lower-income, at risk youth. You could say that much of my calling to reach the broken has manifested through dance. I've also found a journey to health and wellness through it as well.
3. Tell us about how the youth culture intersects with movement and community building. What are you creating together at Mpact?
Hip Hop Culture is empowering for youth. With Mpact we are creating and redefining community through igniting courage and compassion into the hearts of youth. Youth are longing for identity and belonging. This is what we seek to bring them through what hip hop calls, "The Cypher" which I've explained more in my next answer. Why is identity important?
It is the foundation that drives one forward into destiny. In contrast, a lack of revelation of one's identity will lead to despair. Identity is the understanding of the great value we have and who we belong to. It comes to us not by education, but revelation. It's more caught than it is taught. The heart has to embrace it. It's not something we can just "know" in our minds.
People are told to "believe in themselves" by mass marketing, educators, motivational speakers and even preachers. "You can do it! Just believe you can!" This is something everyone deserves to have; an encounter with the beauty within that comes from the very image of the Creator. However, identity and belief in oneself was never meant to be an individual process. You can wake up in the morning determined to believe in your personal value all you want, but the minute you step out your door, that belief will be tried, tested and come directly against by:
- your own doubts and assumptions about yourself
- mis-reading (or correctly reading) someone's negative body language or look towards you
- sometimes downright cruelty
- discouraging words
- the list could go on
By the time you arrive home in the evening, every ounce of determination you had to "believe in yourself" has been sucked out, leaving you feeling defeated. Clearly, we can't do this on our own, can we?
It's because we were never meant to have identity reinforced by our own selves. We were born for community.
The intention we have at Mpact for community is to reinforce and strengthen identity and value in one another. It was meant to become a shelter, a safe place for those who've had a rough day. When haters come in droves, the community protects, builds up and provides rest for the crushed soul. Courage floods a heart when 20 others speak words of life into your spirit. Who doesn't thrive in an atmosphere of safety and belonging?
However, there are many who are struggling in this fight alone. All you have to do is scroll through a news feed on Facebook to see numerous status updates stating something along the lines of; "When haters hate, it only makes me stronger" type of statements. Somehow, we've taken on the role of self-protection which has driven us all into isolated caves with protective walls so high no one could ever see in.
Ironically, our self-protection keeps the greatness inside caged in us as well.
Greatness is released fully in community. It's released when others call out my destiny. When they hold me accountable not to "shouldn'ts" but to my identity, I thrive. When I can fail and not be shamed, but applauded for trying, I'm more likely to try again. When my community doesn't let me sit on my arse because they are just as committed to my success as I am, I push past my own limitations faster.
I see this reality as I reflect back on where I would be if it weren't for the people who invested into me, spoke words of life into my heart and told me to stop being so lazy and get moving. In myself, I don't have what it takes to move me the way they were able to. God used them in ways I will never forget.
When we build communities that become safe places that speak life, people thrive and become courageous. It produces something that individuals cannot do, and were never meant to be able to produce on their own.
4. I'm super excited about The Cypher: A show about Belonging and wish I could road trip to Canada. Can you explain the concept of the cypher, this show, and maybe share about a particular youth who has participated?
"What makes a youth resilient?" "Why do some in this life overcome incredible odds, while others flounder?" These are questions that stir inside me. I'm hungry for answers. I long for all to see resilience; for none to fall through the cracks. The question is, "how"?
After experiencing bullying as a teen, one of the scariest experiences of my life has been going into what hip hop culture calls, "The Cypher". Being heavier and having past experiences of bullying makes the centre of the cypher the LAST place I ever wanted to find myself. In a world of judgment, hatred, and ridicule, it's a vulnerable place to dance on your own with a circle of eyes staring you down, yet I was surprised to find the centre of the cypher to be a game changer for me in terms of reclaiming my identity and finding out how powerful community really is.
This is where I discovered a powerful truth: "We" have the power to create identity in one another. Inside each of us is the power to either create an atmosphere around us where "we" are for one another, calling out one another's strengths and beauty, or disabling and shaming one another to isolation, depression and hopelessness. That's a lot of power.
We have the ability to create resilience in one another. What if Pink Shirt Day became a historical event, rather than an annual plea to "stop bullying"? We have the capacity to make that kind of change if we understand the power of "we". Belonging creates resilience inside of people. The potential is limitless together. It's absurdly simple.
Connie Jakab is the author of the book, Culture Rebel, released fall 2012. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status quo living and encouraging others to branch out. Connie is an active member of poverty reduction in her city, the founder of WILD (women impacting lives daily) as well as Mpact (www.mpactdance.com), a dance company that produces shows based on social justice issues, Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. Connie is an active speaker and lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta Canada. She can be found on twitter and instagram. @ConnieJakab.
Connie is honoured to be a part of the Redbud Writers Guild