Nia and Ness, a dancer/poet duo based in Brooklyn, tell the story of their daily experiences as a black lesbian couple on stage. Their performances are just as powerful as they are vulnerable, and allow other members of their community—black lesbian women, people of color, LGBTQ+, to see themselves reflected in their story.
They also provide a platform for those stories to be seen and heard by people who have not had to deal with these kinds of experiences themselves. According to Nia, some people might “not believe this is actually happening in 2018, but it is, to so many different people.” What they present on stage is far away from acting. “It’s not a play, it’s real life”, Ness states.
The two women radiate a great sense of courage and positive energy. It might seem risky to work together because their personal and professional lives are so interconnected. But fortunately, working together and creating these unique performances have created an even stronger bond between them.
“The fact that [our art] is so entwined with our actual lives is what makes it come to life on stage, and the reason why we have so much emotion and passion in it,” Ness said.
Whenever we experience something traumatic, we figure out a way to put that into our art. It is like therapy,” Nia added.
Both for them and for others.
The work they create is for so many different audiences – black, queer, and LGBTQ+ people can find themselves and their life reality represented on stage. White, straight, and cisgendered people can learn about what is happening. This is important in creating a better world for everyone, because—as Nia states—“if you’ve never heard about something, how can you make a change?”
And many changes can be made to the world as it is today. When envisioning the world she wants to live in, Ness is disheartened. Her vision of a post-racial, gender-non-binary world seems to have become more difficult to attain.
Nia gets the impression that many people have two specific ways to approach the differences between people: either they completely reject anything and anybody that is different, which might result in hate and discrimination or they completely ignore the fact that there are different cultures, skin colors, and identities.
[It] takes away from peoples’ differences and their cultures that make them special.”
She wishes “we could all just be ourselves and accept each other for who we are” with a certain curiosity and interest in listening to other peoples’ stories.
The duo is always happy when their audiences meet them with acceptance and an open ear, rather than rejection and an unwillingness to listen. With all the hate in the world, they are contributing their part to change.
[Everyone is] doing their part in what they think the world should be, but not necessarily in making the world a better place for everyone,” Nia aptly describes it.
Lots of people are trying to make the world better for themselves and their families, but the world is bigger than just you,” Ness adds.
For Nia, this was one of the main reasons she started dancing. She used to want to be a doctor, but was taken aback by the years and years of education before being able to really work. However, her always wanting to help people made her realise that her way to help is through dancing. In that way, she is a doctor. Her movement is healing for her, “And in turn for others too,” Ness beautifully puts it.
Excitingly, the two get to go on tour this year to share their story: The OUTsider Fest in Austin (Texas), the Black Arts Festival at Harvard College, the BlaQout Conference in California, and the National Women’s Music Festival in Wisconsin are just a few of their tour stops. Their next goal is to go international, and since having lived in Germany and France for a little bit already, chances are high it will happen soon.
Nia and Ness remind us that being in a state of mindful acceptance which allows us to flow with our life experiences can be the greatest catalyst for happiness. “Whatever you’re going through, just use it,” says Ness. Anything we experience can be used to create something that serves. “It’s just about finding or creating a way” to do so.
In their instance, Nia’s experience of auditioning for dance as a black woman in New York City has, in fact, helped them to create their company in the first place. In auditions, Nia felt that she never really fit in, always being the person with the darkest skin color in the room. She felt that none of the material really fit her body and that nobody was telling her story. This frustration made her and Ness aware that if nobody else is telling their story, it is their call to do so. Their collaboration helped Nia to “stop trying to fit in a box that was not meant for [her] to fit in,” she explains. On the contrary, she feels that her dancing even has improved since then, because now she is “doing what’s right for [her] body.”
Everything that needs to happen will happen, but it might not be everything you want to happen,” Nia said.
All the rejections they have received have led them to the place they are in now. And this is exactly where they need to be. A place where they are “Strong. Powerful. Wise,” as the tagline of their work Piece: blind spot resonates in the audience’s ears long after their performance is over.