Peggy Choy and Performing Body Mind & Spirit: Fusing Empathy & Traditions
While Peggy Choy has been physically grounded during the COVID-19 pandemic, her creativity has soared to new heights with Performing Mind Body Spirit: Community Healing in the time of #BLM, Anti-Asian Violence and BIPOC Solidarity
By Jonathan Gramling
While Peggy Choy — a UW-Madison dance instructor and internationally-known dancer with her dance company, the Peggy Choy Dance Ensemble — has been grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her creative work and teaching have continued on unabated.
“While my physical travel has been very limited, I’ve been very busy with time and space travel over the internet,” Choy said. “I’ve been continuing some of the creative work. For example, I’m working with a composer in Brazil. We’ve made some headway in creative collaboration. I’ve been teaching community Qigong classes online for people from Hawaii to New York and continuing my full-time teaching online for UW-Madison.”
Like her dance works, Choy’s dance classes, especially those that are used to fulfill the UW’s Ethnic Studies requirement, fuse social meaning with dance movement.
“The physical practice and I like to call it practice because practice is connected to worlds of knowledge and not just the physical exercise,” Choy said. “The way that I teach the dance class is a practice that encompasses traditional ways of moving coming from Asia or African American based modalities, always intersecting with social, historical, political and environmental issues. It connects dance with life. All of the components are complex and you can’t just simply remove dance movement from anything, from these very important topics. My teaching does parallel my artistic work. Because my teaching is coming from the same place of priorities that I see are important in life, I am continually weaving together in my art work and in my professional dances and in my teaching or research these strands of movement foundation and history, politics, environmental issues, and gender. Right now with my teaching, I see it as teaching the students how to intellectually and artistically weave these threads together themselves through their creating dances.”
One of the positive things that has arisen due to the shift of many activities to internet platforms like Zoom during the pandemic is that it is easier to bring people together whom one could not afford to bring together in a physical way due to cost and people’s availability. Instead of the meeting or presentation taking a day or more out of a person’s schedule — or the distance made the meeting physically prohibitive — it now takes 1-3 hours of someone’s time to participate and more can participate because the per presenter cost has declined without airfare and lodging costs to worry about.
And so Choy took advantage of this to put together a unique panel for one of her classes last fall.
“I had organized for my class specifically Afro-Asian Improv from Hip Hop to Martial Arts Fusion,” Choy said. “And I invited a number of the presenters into my class to not only teach the students, but we also had a panel specifically focusing on the theme of healing and BIPOC perspectives. Out of that, it was quite a meaningful panel, at least for the presenters. I hope my students gained from it too. I felt that it was such an important discussion and everyone really felt that it was great to share opinions and perspectives that I knew that I would repeat it again for a larger audience.”
On MAY 6, 6-8 p.m., Choy will be presenting “Performing Mind Body Spirit: Community Healing in the time of #BLM, Anti-Asian Violence and BIPOC Solidarity”
Artists from different BIPOC communities and artistic traditions will be coming together to use art as a form of healing from the wounds inflicted by the pandemic and racial inequality and violence over the past year. She is bringing a wonderful and eclectic group of artists together from across the United States into a virtual space.
“Kimberly Blaeser is a poet and she was a 2015-2016 poet laureate of Wisconsin,” Choy said. “She is an Ojibwe activists and teaches at UW-Milwaukee. She is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe. I am so pleased and honored to have her on board. Gizhibba Aanakwad also known as John Paul Patrick is an activist in his own right and is a member of the Bad River Tribe of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. He is a drum maker, but he will be drumming and perhaps singing at this event. Dyane Harvey Salaam is a colleague and friend. She is from New York, a professional dancer. She is really a treasure in New York City with the Forces of Nature Dance Company. She innovated her own palates-style of teaching called Ma’at and she teaches at Hofstra and Princeton Universities.
“Ze Motion is b-boy, DJ and professional hip hop dancer. He is in me ensemble, Peggy Choy Dance. Nejma Nefertiti is a hip hop artist and poet. She’s from Brooklyn and just released a new album. Kele Nitoto is a drummer who lives in Oakland, California.
“Kamau Rashid is from Chicago. He is a martial artist well-versed in not only Afro-Cuban Capoeira, but also Wing Chun, which is a Chinese martial art. He is a scholar of African traditions, and history as well as African American popular culture including hip hop.
Lacouir Yancey is in my ensemble. He’s also in his own right a great martial artist and capoeirista as well as knowledgeable about some Asian traditions of martial arts including Filipino. He’s a physical therapist. He is a practitioner of Chinese massage.
“Last on my list Sasanna Yee who is a practitioner of yoga and Qigong. She is a teacher of yoga and a California activist whom I invited because her grandmother was murdered through an incident of anti-Asian violence. Kele Nitoto is her friend and he participated in the memorial for her grandmother last year.”
While there have been some meetings held to outline and coordinate the event, Choy emphasized that this is not a polished artistic performance.
“I believe they are deeply involved in healing practices and perspectives that are very much needed right now in this age of global pandemic and continuing legacies of racism,” Choy said about the invited artists. “I do want to say that these practices have a protective aspect to them because of the exploitation of BIPOC throughout history. The history of generosity of BIPOC communities has often been exploited and dismissed at the same time. I believe that this will hopefully honor the people who are included at this event and they will feel comfortable sharing their knowledge to whatever extent they want to. That’s the way I feel I can support them as well as share with the audience a process of healing because they will be able to actually participate in some of the movements, whether they are dance or dramatic movements. There will be some audience participation in some of the activities. Some of these people have never met before. But everyone is very interested, so I think it is a really good way to start. We are having planning dates to get to know each other. Everyone is really looking forward to it.”
Choy wants to dismantle stereotypes about healing such as BIPOC people cannot heal others of the image of white women as leading yoga classes.
“BIPOC people brought healing practices, which were transformed, but continued and sustained as they adjusted to and continued to live on this continent, whether they were indigenous or immigrant or forced,” Choy emphasized.
Performing Mind Body Spirit will bring all together for a special moment of healing in a very turbulent time.
To register for Performing Mind Body Spirit, visit https://go.wisc.edu/086W35.