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I was a middle-aged zombie!

22791948_10156245630972784_979345719934812671_oSeveral years ago, I decided to participate in “Thrill the World.” This event used to be held in Oakland; it’s an annual event in which people around the world attempt to break the Guinness World Record for people simultaneously dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was an opportunity to celebrate MJ, the song, and Halloween. Though it initially appealed to me as a dancer through learning iconic choreography, my debut as a zombie meant more.

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One aspect I find intriguing in portraying zombies as characters is the rage. I struggle to express anger and rage.  Rage in and of itself is not positive. In my line of work, expressing rage is unacceptable and unproductive. Though my personality tends to be mild, I have had traumatic life experiences that have inspired rage. I have channeled that emotion into playing zombies. You might argue zombies don’t feel anything, they are simply hungry. In trying to understand what drives these characters, I think of situations that would or could make me react with brute force.  I’m not an overly aggressive zombie. I rarely take swipes at my audiences. I roar, growl, and gnash my teeth. Rage is at a low simmer, even when I’m a zombie. Still it has been fun.

To create my zombie characters, I have taken personas I have previously played, almost all from Dance Party, and killed them. Inca Girl was a chola I played on TV twice. 12184153_10153853658602784_2699615049298786497_o

I have gone back to the 80s as an undead  prom queen, b-girl, and preppie.

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I have been a runner.

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Any look can work; after all, it’s the makeup that makes the zombie.  Being around dancers with extensive makeup experience, I have gotten better in creating my zombie looks. I know have to step up the gore but I have improved.

Becoming a zombie has become an annual tradition along with celebrating Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos.   I’m all for traditions that involve self-expression and creativity.

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Thriller Night 2017 at Boy Division, Cat Club 

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Beyond bling: the politics of Carnavalesco costuming

For those of you who think feathers, beads, and bright colors when Carnaval costumes are mentioned, you are only getting about 15% of the experience. In my contingent, Oakland’s SambaFunk, our yearly theme has current political undertones and overtones. The theme is visually presented through graphic art, discussed in class to explain the choreographies to guide our movements, and pondered for those of us who want to take a more method acting approach to our characters.  Heady stuff if you were expecting that we simply focus on shaking our tail feathers.  And shake we do but always with a message.  This year, however, the villains in the epic battle between good and evil would be portrayed by the dancers.  Given all the time I have spent analyzing and strategizing about the real villains I have known in my personal life(When you have to go bad )as well as the real-life bad guys aiming for increased power, I was immediately drawn to playing a Janker.
A Janker is a cross between Batman’s Joker and a banker.
Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the inspiration for our characters
Jankers are the international(and domestic) bankers who have exploited communities for their own personal gain. They are currently above the law but the whole point of our presentation this year was that Jankers could be brought to justice.  In my mind, I began to think about Jankers in popular culture.
Damn Jankers
I also thought about an individual I know who I feel has demonstrated the manipulative and self-aggrandizing tendencies of a Janker. My character was created.
With character in process, it was time to focus on costuming.  Costuming is hands-on work. While seamstresses may sew some pieces of the costume, dancers must individualize and “bling” their costume.  As a “freshman” in my samba school, I was clueless about this process. I didn’t help with costume construction and only attended one “blinging” party. When I arrived on Carnaval morning, I realized how generic my costume looked beside others.  As with Carnaval makeup, the Carnaval costume can express character and theme. Four seasons later, I knew to be purposeful in finishing my Carnaval look.
The Janker colors were green, royal purple, and iridescent or clear. I was responsible for decorating my cane, top hat, vest, and pants.  After a tedious process in which M and I sorted several bags of acrylic gems by color, shape, and size, I chose specific gem styles to use in varying patterns.  I chose green circles to represent global domination.
Clear and irisdescent gems would represent wealth as in diamonds. Purple and green gems would literally represent jewels like emeralds and amethysts. The teardrop became my symbol of choice.
Top of my top hat
Back of my top hat reveals the purpose of a Janker
Purple rain of tears
What does that mirror reveal?
Striping on pants
As a result of Janker thievery and trickery, many have shed tears of anger, grief, and hopelessness.  So teardrops are the shape you see all over my costume.  I even placed teardrops near my eyes as part of this year’s makeup.

So while Jankers  as characters and symbols are bad, we sure did look good.

2016 Jankers: Making bad look good
Janker Dance at Oakland Carnival 2016

As I have stated before, Carnaval is a creative process that has allowed me opportunities to grapple with experiences and thoughts that are challenging in a way that is ultimately empowering.  Viva Carnaval!

Costume jewels

“’The We People. They never say I. They say, “We’re going to Hawaii after Christmas” or “We’re taking the dog to get his shots.” They wallow in the first person plural, because they remember how shitty it was to be a first person singular.” Michael Tolliver in Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
I became one of the We People seven years ago during the Halloween season.  Perhaps that is why Halloween, for all its commercial and sugary elements, has become a big holiday in our house. True, there isn’t a decoration on our porch or in our front yard. But I start planning my costume in July, based on M’s choice for the year. I’m proud of our mother-daughter bond and I enjoy celebrating in this way.
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I often tell people that it’s hard for me to remember life before M. I have memories, some vivid, others fuzzy.
Halloween 2007, two nights before I met Rambo
There were moments of adventure and fun but also of loneliness and confusion. My little girl really did change my life, our lives, for the better. First person singular was formative; family is foundation.  Who I have become, as the result of being a parent, makes me proud.
2014
 To all of you who did couple or family costumes, I wish you more happy memories.