“Being taken seriously means missing out on the chance to be frivolous, promiscuous, and irrelevant. The desire to be taken seriously is precisely what compels people to follow the tried and true paths of knowledge production around which I would like to map a few detours.”
— J. Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure
“Don’t know about the Internet / Don’t know about the radio / Don’t know about the television / All I know is about my flow... / Twain tiki lang tang tang tiki tiki / Southern girl / Twain tiki lang tang tang tiki tiki”
― Erykah Badu & Rahzel, “Southern Girl”
Listening to and reading body language, facial expressions, and internal callings all indicate forms of knowing that necessitate extra listening. Extra awareness. Perhaps even extra intelligence.
When I was 14 years old, my friends Gladys, Maggie, and I wanted to be b-girls. So, essentially, we were wannabe b-girls. It started when Gladys’s older brother, PJ, started dressing like a b-boy – probably because he was a b-boy. And then we found out that he could do the footwork. He stepped and dropped like a b-boy could, and he was able to do some floor moves, and maybe even some freezes, but all I saw was something that looked so cool. All I saw was something that I thought I could never, ever do.
And I was right.
Gladys and I must have been inspired by Save The Last Dance or something – even though that movie doesn’t even tell the story of a b-girl – or we thought it would be another way to meet boys, or to represent for other pinays, or both. Either way, we tried.
We recruited our very athletic girl Maggie, who was down to join. Gladys and I had a total of two practices as i.S.s. I seriously have no idea what i.S.s. stood for. I want to say that it was insane Stepsisters, but I could be very wrong. I only know for sure that we were really into playing with alternating between lower and uppercase letters back in those days. During our first practice, we went straight into practicing freezes. More like, Gladys went straight into practicing freezes, and I watched. I was too nervous to do anything, despite the fact that we were alone in her backyard or garage or living room, so I just copied what Gladys did. I actually learned a lot that way. And when I state that Gladys went straight into practicing freezes, what I really mean is that she went into practicing yoga. Homegirl did some version of crow pose, and she was good at holding it for, like, five seconds. By our second and last practice, she got to seven seconds. And so could I, because, like, that was the only thing I could correctly copy.
A dreadful moment that I can still feel embarrassed by in my bones was when Gladys looked at me and said, “Okay, it’s your turn. Let me see your footwork.” And I’m pretty sure that I looked something like a failed running man. I remember trying to find some internal rhythm within me, but because I kept going back and forth between not looking like a dork and really trying, so I ended up with some sorry ass vertical two-step.
Another dreadful moment that I can still feel embarrassed by in my bones was when Gladys looked at me after my so-called footwork, and said, “No, dude. No.”
Because I clearly couldn’t dance, because an all-girl b-girl crew couldn’t work with one beginner teaching other beginners, and because Maggie never made it to our practices, i.S.s. was unsurprisingly, instantly short lived. I thought for so long that I couldn’t be a b-girl because we didn’t practice with music. I thought for so long that I couldn’t be a b-girl, because of so many things I did practice instead when I was younger: negative self-talk, listening to boys put down girls, listening to girls put down other girls, and just not trying when I know I could have. These gendered terrors and microaggressions were stories in my body. I am still working on unlearning them.
I learned from failure that I didn’t need to get to the stage of practicing with music to know that I wasn’t going to be a good b-girl. I didn’t have the music inside – the confidence, the rhythm, the swagger – to be a breakdancer. And that’s okay with me. What I wanted mismatched what I had.
Sound is not the only way to experience music. Music is in the body. If you touch your hand over your heartbeat, then you’ll find that’s the rhythm, the voice. The certainty of your breath, heartbeat, and gait all indicate a natural pattern you could follow, halt, pause, replay, and trust. That’s music. Yes, that’s music, too. Meaning, yes, you are capable of not just dancing to music, but fully embodying it. For sound to be the only way to experience music would be ableist and improvident. We are capable of so much more. We can perform to our own tunes and words. We deserve the space to explore our bodies and talents.
Janice Lobo Sapigao is a poet, writer, and educator from San José, CA. Her first book of poetry about her mom, microchips for millions, critiques the Silicon Valley and its exploitation of immigrant women workers, and will be published this summer by Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA), Inc. She is the Associate Editor of TAYO Literary Magazine. She teaches English at San José City College and Skyline College. She loves hip hop, runs races occasionally, and craves Philz Coffee. If you want, you can learn more at janicewrites.com