In Favor Sabbatical

I’m almost done with my first month of a sabbatical period and I’m absolutely loving it. I went to undergrad in Philadelphia and worked there for 5 years afterwards – so it was my home for a total of 9 years. I knew I wanted to relocate to meet some new career goals a year ago.

Downtown Minneapolis.

I’m grateful that I had a full year to prepare for and process this transition, as it was not easy to leave a place where I had so much community, deep friendship, and soul family. But I was ready to go.

To prepare, I saved money, applied for scholarships to training programs, and reached out to friends for hospitality. I worked hard and diligently to organize my summer enrichment, and now that I’m in it I can honestly say that I’m super proud of the season I’ve built for myself. I get to participate in a total of 7 weeks of professional development, go on a road trip across the country, make new friends, and move to a new city!

I earned $1,100 in scholarships to train for a total of 7 weeks with Ananya Dance Theatre, Urban Bush Women, and Contra-Tiempo, all directed by some of the most relevant, nationally recognized artist-activists and womxn of color choreographers. I see what I want to grow into in their respective work and approaches. I’m thrilled for the timing and opportunity to be based in Los Angeles later this summer where I will be surrounded by a community of Afro Latin movement artists.

For me, taking the time for a sabbatical has been worth it for two critical reasons:

1. I am finding artistic mentorship that I wasn’t finding in Philly.

The Philadelphia arts community has a strong peer and collaborative network. There are venues to self produce. Independent artists are creative, resourceful, and inspiring humans. But it wasn’t the place for me to have the opportunity to join an established touring company that aligned with my values. There are dozens of established independent artists that deserve to be generously resourced by local and national foundation money.

What I see in the leaders I am training with, that I don’t see from leaders with touring companies in Philly, is that they are cultivating a younger generation of empowered leaders, taking risks, and engaging their audiences around social justice and transformation.

2. I need to rest.

After years of working as as a teaching artist, adjunct professor, curator & arts based organizer, I didn’t have the breadth of time I desired to cultivate myself as a performing artist. I gave and gave and gave and gave and gave of myself to youth, young adults, and creative organizing projects as I emerged into my post graduate years. The majority of my time commitments were output, not personal cultivation.

What I did gain during that time was wonderful and formative experiences, especially through foundation and grant programs for professional development. Shout out to my friends from the Bartol Foundation! They are groovy people doing incredible work supporting community arts education all over Philly. Another huge shout out to the Painted Bride for all their support during the BrideNext residency in 2017! It was a formative project that significantly shaped the trajectory of my dance theater work.

Taking sabbatical for me means claiming space for a more authentic expression of my life’s mission- right now that looks like cultivating with people who are at the intersection of arts-activism. And right now I’m rooting this in Afro Latin diaspora movement. Seeking mentorship and taking a necessary break from leadership is bringing me to transformative enrichment, all progressing to a more realized and robust expression of my gifts and passions.

To folks following this blog, it means a lot to stay in touch and to have your moral support from a distance – it’s never been easy for me to move. Don’t hesitate to write and call!

For more updates and day-to-day content, follow me on Instagram: @alvarezmovement

For my peers who are considering sabbatical, here’s a checklist for ways to get started:

  • Identify what you would like to research and grow into
  • Seek mentorship
  • Travel to be in proximity with teachers and/or community you want to learn with and from
  • Rest your body, mind, heart*

*This is huge. Autumn Brown talks about sabbatical in her podcast, How To Survive The End of the World, about a some key things during sabbatical. Things like taking care of your nervous system. Drinking water. Sleeping and reading. Ample time and space to unravel.

Here’s a list of practical ways to support your time away from a current role or relocating:

  • Save money
  • Ask your network for gifts to go towards a specific project – outline the costs and what the community’s gifts are going towards
  • Apply for scholarships to training programs
  • Contact friends for hospitality to save on room and board
  • Use flight tracker apps to find affordable plane tickets (I like Hopper – I saved close to $200, compared to current prices, on my round trip flight to NYC by tracking)

Books to support personal deconstructing, deep reflection, and reshaping of core values:

  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – This is a 12 week workbook facilitating a deeper spiritual connection with creativity and caring for the child artist within. I found morning pages to be a very effective exercise and there are beneficial tasks in each chapter!
  • Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown – This book is based on the question – How can we make justice the most pleasurable experience? It’s a great read for listening for a “yes” from a deep place within, and using that to guide life pursuits and organizing. The curation of essays and practices shared gave me a vivid image of interconnectedness between pleasure and justice.
  • Emergent Strategy Adrienne Maree Brown – This book is great for thinking about how we show up in the world and how to shape working together in collectives and organizations. Also a great way to think about how all interactions, starting with awe of fractals in nature, lead towards the vision of a more liberated world.

PHL > Chicago > Twin Cities

I’m totally America Ferrera.

My life feels like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants right now. Lots of adventure, lots of sentimental and poignant moments. I said goodbye to the city I lived in for 9 years since I was 18. And I got my first tattoo to commemorate it!

I was a little ambitious and decided to have a house concert on my 27th birthday, the night before I left, with some of my favorite Philly artists: Joy Ike, Compas 48, and DJ sonnymandrake. It was a pretty groovy celebration, and at least 100 people or so were up on their feet dancing in West Philly on a Tuesday night! That’s pretty magical and I am grateful. My friend and collaborator said that throwing the party I did was pretty on brand for a Gemini.

My first stop was Chicago, where I attended the second Mystic Soul Conference and experienced beautiful POC centered community around mysticism, activism, and healing. I’m excited to keep in touch with that project! While in Chicago, I was able to catch up with Evan and his fiancé/partner Anna. Evan and I have performed in each other’s work back in Philly and we are kindred spirits. He is full of life and passionate about dance education, gardens at a community plot across the street, and DJs regularly. We had great conversation about love, politics, and being present with people. 

My life was at a whirlwind the week after I left Philly. I drove from Chicago to Minneapolis Sunday night when the conference ended and started training with Ananya Dance Theatre the following morning. 

The Shawngram (meaning resistance) intensive is a 3 week program, and I knew that having some routine for a few weeks would help ground me in the middle of all the changes I was processing.

At the end of the first week, I feel empowered and I feel at home. The technique Ananya has developed is called Yorchha, which draws from Odissi (classical Indian dance), yoga, and Chhau (martial art form). The training feels amazing on my body. It is rigorous but the technique demands that you access your inner strength and to dance from a place of lived story. I love the way Ananya trains her ensemble – they are precise and strong and they are completely grounded in who they are. 

Ananya is fierce. She cultivates that same ferocity in her ensemble and her students.  

Ananya is a robust artist and scholar (professor at University of Minnesota) who is also cultivating a roster of artists in her space. Part of her dream for the Shawngram Institute was to serve as an incubator for artists of color, and this weekend Orlando Hunter of Brotherhood Dance and Gabrielle Civil presented their interdisciplinary performance art. 

I have really enjoyed being in the Twin Cities. There are a lot of artist-activists in this area, celebrated indigenous community and leadership, an active salsa community, and many local and grassroots arts and culture offerings. I’m already convinced I could live here! 

My time in the Twin Cities has been about rigor, rest, and research. 

When I’m not in training Monday thru Friday, I’m taking naps and cooking. Feeding the chickens and cat at my host’s house. Catching up with old friends and making new ones.

And I’m reading authors like Octavia Butler, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Maree Brown, and more in preparation for my time at Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute next month.

Yes, I am homesick for Philadelphia. But I know I have the opportunity of a lifetime: training with the country’s leading women of color artist-activist choreographers, road tripping across the United States, and setting myself up to thrive in a community of Los Angeles based Afro Latin artists. I have tenderness around leaving what was comfortable, familiar, and what I loved. But I couldn’t be more grateful to be growing into the dancer and performer I always knew I could be. More reflections on decolonizing dance and healing through womxn of color centered spaces another time.

Like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, I feel deep love for the support system that has held me this year and I know that sharing each other’s adventures from afar will only build our love and kinship. 

Upcoming Travel Dates:

July 12-21: New York City

July 24: Los Angeles