Dasniya had a residency at Ballhaus Ost the last couple of months, thanks to pandemic and pandemic arts funding. I got to see a private showing last weekend, with Tara (yup, Tara!) and Yui. Yeah I’m a long-time fan of her work and Glutamat confirms it.
Late-December last year, I got paid in one hit for a bunch of work on a couple of projects, that contemporary dance thing in Europe of getting cash after the work was done. One of those was the solo which got canned a few days before première (thanks poor response in Germland and EU to global pandemic) which we’d been working on since January.
So, I had mad cash and, for possibly the first time in my life, no pressing obligations. Also not mad enough cash that I could do bougie middle-age things like get a mortgage. Cash enough I’ve been working my way down a list that’s a decade old in places of stuff I need to buy. Like new underwear and socks.
And then there’s the big items. Big for me and pretty much everyone I know. The kind of things which cost up to a couple of thousand and actually cause me cold sweats when I think of doing the spend. ’Cos what if, tomorrow, I’m fully povo again and a couple of hundred is the difference between eating, making rent and all? Except this year I already have work till August and money-wise — ’cos I’m good at living on fuck all — I’m kinda sorta maybe doing ok.
I’d been struggling with training over winter. My back blew out in November, I was feeling well too soft to be doing 90-minute rides in below zero weather, and my base training felt majorly on a plateau. I’d been thinking of buying an indoor trainer for years, very attached to the idea of getting rollers rather than one of those remove the back wheel direct trainers, but somehow over the last few years (thanks bogan mountain bikers on a YouTube channel I watch far too frequently), I went for the latter. Went for multiple times and nah nah nah I’ll come back in the morning, need to sleep on this massive decision, only to find them sold out for more weeks, repeating this until a month ago when there it was in the morning, still available.
It arrived within days and sat there, unboxed for three weeks. Because I needed a 10-speed cassette for it, and decided to get an isolation mat and cadence sensor and new heart rate monitor and … and … absolutely spraying money around. And I knew I’d need a calm few hours to do the setup, get it all working, get a feeling for it. On Monday, I did that.
And joined Zwift.
Total fucking bougie middle-aged cunt on a bike.
Yeah but I’m also a semi- / ex- / occasional- athlete-ish dancer-ish professional who knows very well how much I fall apart if I don’t train and it’s work and an actual work expense and a serious commitment and investment.
For the moment I set up in my kitchen. My balcony has some weird, complex slopes I need to make a trip to the Baumarkt to get some levelling blocks to sort out. I put myself through the intro 5-day training plan, 30 minutes each ride and fuuuuck me I have to face the shame I might have never pushed myself as hard — or maybe as structured and intense within that structure, even though I like suffering. It’s very different having actual numbers on a screen to correlate to feeling, and to have to stay at certain numbers for more seconds or minutes than I’d do when doing laps at Tempelhofer Feld and doing it on feel. Mostly it feels like what I get in 30 minutes on the trainer is about what I’d get from an hour at the airport. And if I did my casual longer warmup and cooldown, 15 minutes either side, it’d maybe be comparable. Still though, I haven’t ridden since November, and very not in endurance and high-intensity shape, and I might be in love with how good a fit an indoor smart trainer is for me. Especially because I can set it up at 9pm and do a session in the dark.
Yeah but the bougie, white, racist, cisgender, heteronormative, ableist, masc-centric, middle-class and all miasma is what cycling soaks in, road cycling especially, and online smart training environments even more so. There’s almost not a day that goes by where there isn’t another story about legislation to ban trans kids or athletes — almost always girls, femmes, and women — from sport, competition, changing rooms, swimming pools, and all. I barely ever see a rider who isn’t white — and yes, this is why riders like Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado and Teniel Campbell and Ayesha McGowan are important but aren’t in themselves or as ‘representation’ enough alone. I’m acutely aware of who I am when I’m in lycra on a bike in that environment. I’m acutely aware also, when I’m in queer and trans spaces, that my decades-long relationship with and love of physicality, training and the discipline that is part of professional dance which I carry into riding, climbing, and everything else, all this has a very uneasy, fraught and painful relationship of its own with and in those spaces. How my trans-ness, femme-ness, queer-ness bangs up against cis AFAB queer spaces has a history of exclusion that has an eerie familiarity with sport.
Shit’s mad over-complicated. I just wanna ride and thrash shit.
That’d be me, Francesca d’Ath, and my toes, yesterday while biking to rehearsals.
Pandemic and very delayed sensible government response allowing, I’m performing at Sophiensaele next week. A double bill of two solos, the other with Claudia Tomasi, and both started with Isabelle Schad way back in January.
I don’t know if we’ll even get to perform next week, carrying on like we will, and it feels dead weird to be art-ing while shit goes exponential in Neukölln, Berlin, Germany, Europe … In case we don’t or if we do, here’s me looking well tasty.
And for everyone who saw that poster around Berlin-Mitte, yes, that is me, yes that person is trans femme and serving deep trans femme energy, and yes, even a glance at a poster of me will turn your children trans.
Me back performing again.
I pretty much had made peace with moving on from dance and all in the last couple of years, enjoying training for myself and finding myself at a distance to those worlds. Then, late-last year, Isabelle said, “You’re doing a solo!”
We’ve been rehearsing irregular weeks since late-January, slowly building a work that finally got a formal-ish public outing on the weekend in Isabelle’s studio at Wiesenburg (masks and physical distancing and pandemic attentiveness obviously). First time performing in more than two years, and, after a decade living in Berlin, first time I’ve performed here — in a formal, dance scene context at least, not counting small, more private art-ing.
It’s been huge, a lot of work physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and a lot of responsibility in being seen. Being seen by both the audience, some of whom recognised parts of themselves in me, and understand what that means, and being seen by those who came before, aunties, mothers, old ones who visited, who I called on ’cos I needed their strength and support and approval, and I needed them to see me, us like this. And my babaanne, wandering around after just out of sight. I am grateful for them all, and for those who came up to me after, who were the ones I needed to fully see me, and who I needed to see also.
Another pause now, then — as always, pandemic allowing — at Sophiensaele in early-November.
I rewatched both seasons of Pose the other day. Fuck the Emmys and fuck cis people.
It’s not about the awards. It’s about the awards. Even being nominated opens up possibilities for better pay, working conditions, opportunities, longevity, recognition, not only for the person or show nominated but for everyone involved. Not just for them but for those in the audience who need to see themselves or people close enough to themselves to feel seen in return for once.
It’s about representation for us. For queer and straight cis people it’s seeing trans people – especially Black, Indigenous, Brown trans femmes – as something other than sex workers, drug addicts, corpses, and things to be laughed at, seeing us as people with full lives and communities and love. For the majority of cis people – queer and straight – they don’t have any trans people in their lives, let alone Black, Indigenous, or brown ones. What they do have, if they even think of us, is cis people talking about and representing us and portraying us, standing in our places like we’re not good enough, like we don’t exist.
Billy Porter being nominated twice while none of the trans women and femmes in front or behind the camera have ever got a look in, that’s a lesson right there in who’s valid, who’s seen as real and legitimate. Similarly, Zendaya being nominated while Hunter Schafer wasn’t. And straight up, I love watching both her and Billy and yes, they deserve it. But if they deserve it, if Euphoria deserves it, so does Pose, so do Indya Moore, Mj Rodrigiez, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross, so do Janet Mock, Our Lady J, and saying their names so do Trace Lysette, Bianca Castro, Cecilia Gentili, Leiomy Maldonado, Brielle ‘Tati’ Rheames, and so do the hundreds of other trans women and femmes in front and behind the cameras.
Almost every day I see another Black trans woman or femme murdered in the US and another white cis man pushing to legislate us out of existence. That’s one country, and don’t think it’s not the same or worse in your other countries. Season 2, episode 4, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”, where Candy is murdered and the aftermath of that, fighting to claim her body, scraping money together for a dignified funeral, her parents misgendering her, the grief and loss and anger, all that is way too real. And let’s not forget, Pose is a fantasy, it’s a story where the reality of trans women and femme’s lives is not shown like a documentary, we don’t need to see that brutality when we know and live it. If it was doing realism, it would have scared you straights and cis queers right off, and there wouldn’t have been a Season 2 ’cos most of the cast would have died between 1987 and ’90.
You all want RuPaul’s Drag Race, you want Yaaas Queen Slay! and you want Shaaade! but you don’t want to learn anything. You want LGB but only when it’s palatable and the T ain’t that. You want the glamour but not the politics. You want the glamour but only on cis men’s bodies. You want women but not when they serve like Pose does. Seeing Black and Afro-Latinx trans women and femmes living for themselves, centring themselves, defining femininity on their terms, defining queer and LGB for themselves, you can’t accept this. You can’t reward this. You need to deal with your discomfort, and yeah, your racism and femmephobia and transphobia and transmisogyny and misogynoir. You don’t even know how amazing these women and femmes are off-camera. We celebrate them for all they they are because of all this.
It’s been about 2 years since I last got my arse into a studio and did a ballet class. Good reasons for finding other physicalities to entertain myself since then, going deep in cyclocross and riding, enjoying cold and wet and windy work outside. But I missed ballet. I missed the good things of being in a studio doing the work, I missed being there with good teachers and brilliant pianists.
And this week, I’m back working with Isabelle Schad (remotely, of course), and needed something to get me going, something quick and snappy with a variety of intensities and velocities, something to put me in where I needed to be for the work. And I found Het National Ballet are live-streaming a ballet barre. And first day of doing it was wow have I come far from all that, like a memory of being a dancer but watching myself in the mirror (of course I did, it’s ballet training) I was laughing at how I have all these muscles that are very not from dance, and how much and how my body has changed in the last two years. On the third day though, I started to see it all again, physicality waking up and unburying, and yeah, enjoying it so much.
Ernst Meisner is such a cheerful teacher and Rex Lobo is a joy of a pianist. And doing it live, knowing they’re both in the studio as I’m here in my apartment, and there’s hundreds or thousands of other dancers whereever and we’re all doing it together, it’s truly beautiful and reminds me of how dance saved me over and over (and how dance is also a hard bitch, but, yeah, let’s just enjoy the good stuff for one day, eh), and how special dance is, how fundamental moving together is for life.
Das Helmi on tour, all the way out east to Lichtenberg, in the shallow parabola of northern Rummelsberg right by S-Nöldnerplatz, where the rails form a curved triangle around the old railway workshops backing onto the roundhouse and railway turntable to the east, now typically Berlin ateliers and halfway to forest of the B.L.O. Ateliers.
Festival time. Wagner festival time. Berlin is not Bayreuth. Vol. 1. Six hours of Tannhäuser spread across at least four stages, meandering through the dishevelled brick and concrete buildings and fastigiate black poplars charging thirty metres into the dark, cloudless evening sky. Peter Frost wrecking it singing dodgy Schlagermusik, Cora Frost doing the same as a Pope to ruin The Young Pope. glanz&krawell (I think) working their way through the long shouty bits with proper opera singing. Das Helmi with their always always glorious, monstrous, chaotic stagings, scaring off people who though it was going to be, y’know, opera, culture and shit, instead of what the fuck is happening here, how did I find myself on stage slapping a stranger’s arse with twelve other people doing the same I should’a left when the Pope started kissing people’s feet kinda thing.
Mad thanks to Dasniya Sommer for getting me in, reminding me of a Berlin I utterly love, deeply pagan and animist, rough as guts and no intention of ever changing.
“Blood does not family make. Those are relatives. Family are those with whom you share your good, bad, and ugly, and still love one another in the end. Those are the ones you select.”
More than Deleuze (with or without Guattari), more than Foucault, somewhat more than Derrida, so different to Butler, but like her someone I returned to again and again, for the quiet care and poetry, for the love of movement, one of that first group of philosophers I got introduced to by the same person at a moment in my life where they resonated, and — like only Butler from those names — continue to, 25 years on. I knew it was coming, likely sooner, but still, I lost my breath for an instant, I stopped.
The more I dance, the more I am naked, absent, a calculation and a number. Dance is to the body proper what exercise of thought is to the subject known as I. The more I dance, the less I am me. If I dance something, I am that something or I signify it. When I dance, I am only the blank body of the sign.
To dance is only to step aside and make room, to think is only to step aside and make room, give up one’s place.
To leave at last the page blank.
Laughter is that little noise, uttered in blank ecstasy.
I started writing this May 11th, a few days into Ramadan, wrote a bit more on the 13th, left it all until June 2nd, a couple of days before Eid, or Zuckerfest as it gets called around here, when I thrashed at it in the 30° summer Sunday.
I wanted to leave writing this until the end of the month, in case I write something contingent on a month of fasting and then blow it by eating for three of those weeks. And I wanted to write from the perspective of having had a month of training while fasting. But both are, well, I’ve been through both before, and the last two years I’ve trained for the whole month while enjoying the warmth of summer and the days passing through solstice. And I obviously have to make it plain my Suhur isn’t before 2:45am or any other time except after dawn. I do what I can, as early as I can, if for no other reason than to remember my family, my dad, my babanna Aişe. I think it’s Ramadan, and if others want to say it’s not, or say it’s bid’ah, then it’s not, and it’s bid’ah. I know what 14 and more hours of fasting feels like, after 30 days in Berlin summer, when the sun sets at 9:30 and the sky never really gets dark.
So, training. In Ramadan.
Back when I was a student, I was living with a climber and wanted in on that. He gave me a book to read, prefacing it by saying, “This isn’t about technique or strength, it’s more about the psychology, but I think that’s more useful for you.” I was a little disappointed, I wanted the mainline route from reading to climbing mad hard. But he was right. There was a line in that book which stuck with me, it’s one of the more important things I learned about climbing or any other physical activity, or being an artist, or dedicating one’s self to the discipline of doing a thing – or, as we currently say, living our Truth: “Ask yourself what you’re prepared to give up. Because if you want to do this well, you’re going to have to give something up.” This was written — at the latest — in the early-’90s, when climbing was still a weird and grotty life choice, so far from the heteronormative bouldering hall lifestyle in every suburb we’re at now. Climbing was not a sensible career move.
I find something liberating in accepting I have to give something up to be able to do particular things, that after so many years, are not merely things I do, but who I am, have shaped me from bones to synapses, are selfhood. And I like resisting the seductive fantasy of, “You can have it all,” — it’s important to. “Have it all” is only a possibility for those who already have it all; for the rest of us, to varying amounts and degrees, to ‘have’ a thing is this question of what we’re prepared to give up — on top of what we already don’t have.
The author continued, “… you’re going to have to give something up. Whether it’s job or financial security, a social life, or time with your family.” Obviously he was writing for an imagined white, cisgender and heterosexual male, for whom ‘giving up’ these things is both something he can do (having them in the first place), and an acceptable compromise, in that someone(s) else will pick up the slack. Nonetheless, the question of what I’m prepared to give up, and what I have given up, in order to dance and live in a physical, momentum-driven selfhood, in order to be truthful to my selfhood, is a primary question of my life.
Back to training in Ramadan, then.
My regular training, for pushing twenty years now, has been a mix of ballet, contemporary dance, yoga, climbing, and cycling. Currently it’s four times a week on my bike for 90 minutes, and about the same amount of time in yoga, stretching, bits of pilates, strength, and stability training, piles of junk I’ve accumulated and continue to accumulate over decades, which seem to work for me. Like brushing my teeth twice a day. Around 10–12 hours a week then; sometimes more, sometimes less, and not including pre- and post-training time, rest and recovery, all the minutes that add up.
Ramadan for me becomes a reduced routine. Getting up, eating and drinking is separated by the long daylight hours until dusk. Then more eating and drinking, eating late, drinking late — and I diverge here to say how utterly divine that first water tastes, and how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy it, it’s sensual as fuck — playing catch-up on the hydration, and not enough sleep before it begins again. Early evening naps become a thing. Sunset until dawn becomes compressed, full of self’s obligations of eating, drinking, sleeping. Time slows, sometimes it’s enduring the waiting, sometimes it’s getting lost in the sky dimming, sunset on the trees outside, the endless conversations of birds. It isn’t a time to do nothing though. The days continue, and so must training.
And what happens to training? It’s slower, less intense, more careful. If I decided to go full-out, yes, I could, but the rest of the day (or more) would be shot, so I balance intensity with knowing there’s the day still remaining. It also trashes most of my cycling routine, which is heavily biased towards intervals and other hard sessions. I like suffering. I like suffering, and going hard and pushing and shoving until the very end. I like emptying myself even though the self I meet there I often have a difficult relationship with. It’s a habit, and habits Ramadan illuminates like nothing else. 30 days to be with one’s self and one’s habits.
I spent a lot of this month training just breathing. Breathing under stress as my heart rate increases and practicing how to keep the air going in and out through my nose, when I want nothing more than to open my maw and suck in some big gulps of air. Breathing when I’m at the end of an hour dropped into an aero position. Breathing and realising I probably breathe a little too fast and shallow when I’m training. A habit from where? New habits from a month of attention to self. Swapping out the habits of going hard for the habits of breathing and position.
I don’t think I have anything momentous to say about training during this month. It’s a lot like the month itself. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable and a bit of an effort to not even drink water through the day, but it’s not especially gruelling or outside the capacity to tolerate or endure, and if it ever got fucking horrific, I’d bail. It becomes pretty matter of fact after a while, even while that first glass of water in the evening never fails to be fucking glorious and rejuvenating. It requires patience and calmness, and attention to the aesthetics of living — or, for training, moving, which for me is living. The point of training in the month isn’t to stunt like I’m some aggressively competitive badass bitch doing it all (I am aggressively competitive, just I pick my time for it). As much as the month is about contemplative attention to and reflection on self, it’s not about retreat from the world, and just like everyone on Sonnenallee maintaining their obligations to life and work, so do I, as best I can. They keep the supermarkets and restaurants running, I keep … what? A physical life of art? Something? Whatever it is, there’s twenty years of it.