Get a Ballet Dancer’s Body – Exhale Magazine

Boston Ballet Company Dancer Brittany Summer.          Jordan Jennings photo

Women everywhere are preoccupied with toning flabby arms, tightening up derrières and attaining washboard abs. With the adult open ballet classes offered by the Boston Ballet, getting a leaner body could be a few pirouettes and relevés away in their Boston and Newton studios.

Read more: Get a Ballet Dancers Body – Exhale Magazine

Ameriville captures soul, humanity post-Katrina

Astrid Lium photo

The foot stomping and harmonizing quartet, Universes, took theatergoers on a wild ride through some of the nation’s most daunting social ills in “Ameriville” last week at the Paramount Theatre.

Presented by ArtsEmerson, Universes, comprised of Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William “Ninja’’ Ruiz, Gamal Abdel Chasten and Steven Sapp, started off the show gaily singing renditions of popular American songs such as “Papa was a Rolling Stone,” “Buffalo Soldier” and “Rolling on a River.”

Suddenly, they thrust the audience into a much darker place.

The play uses FEMA’s slow response to hurricane Katrina as a lens through which to view issues of race, being poor in America, homosexuality and religion. They sing, “right there was a house” and point out where houses stood prior to Katrina and give snapshots of the people who lived there.

One story is about a young man who remembers watching his father getting ready for Mardi Gras. His recalls his daddy dancing in full regalia with feathers flowing and how magical it all was. But after the storm his happy memories are as muddied as what’s left of his old house.

Another poignant tale was about an old man who wakes up every night at 11:11p.m. unable to find rest since the storm tore apart the city. Images of large clocks behind him spin out of control. He tells the crowd that with all the bodies and stagnant water, “it smells worse than regular death.”

Universes begs audiences to look a little closer at the things that separate us. Ruiz-Sapp shined when she sang the song of a poor immigrant mother who works two jobs to provide for her family. She works and works, but doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. “Is this what I came here for,” she laments.

At the end of her beautiful ballad she decides to put on her uniform and smile. As her song winds down a statistic pops up above her head that claims illegal immigrants pay $7.2 million dollars in federal taxes each year.

Sapp and Chasten touch on stereotypes with black jokes, Ruiz recites a poem about the twisting up of religion and the whole quartet performs a moving piece on handguns in the form of a commercial. The nation’s callousness about the death of urban teenagers is explored and the commercial urges people to call 1-800-shoot.

FEMA faux pas and a homeless former entrepreneur are just the tip of the iceberg in “Ameriville.” Urban Renewal is depicted with the “Choke a Nigga Out Investment Group” knocking on inner-city doors and urging city dwellers to sell their houses for much less than it’s worth. Over time, those who weren’t willing to sell are pushed out in the name of gentrification.

“Ameriville” found a way to talk about the most uncomfortable issues in America without being preachy. The performances elicited laughs, and dismayed sighs with a perfectly placed musical modulation or a harrowing statistic underscored by silence.

They revealed the story behind each situation, which made the characters human, not just black, white, gay, old or homeless. It’s their humanity that the performers urged theatergoers to see.

PDF version: Bay State Banner – ‘Ameriville’ captures soul, humanity post-Katrina

*published in The Bay State Banner 3/22/2012

Icing on the cake – Bay State Banner

“The aspect of being ‘first’ isn’t necessarily fun,” said former Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Circuit Judge Judith Nelson Dilday.

But Dilday has had a lot of firsts.

She was the first African American woman to serve on the probate and family court in Massachusetts; the first black woman to work at the district attorney’s office and she co-founded the first African American female-owned law firm in the state — Burnham, Hines and Dilday — before serving on the bench. Though her career has been built on “firsts,” she doesn’t appear to be caught up in the hype usually assigned to trailblazers.

“I did what I was doing at the time,” she explained. “Sometimes you feel like you’re beating your head against the ceiling. But when teachable moments arose, I would try and slip something in. There were a lot of teachable moments.”

She hails from Pittsburgh — now known for its hard won rebirth after the end of the manufacturing boom —  where she grew up surrounded by family with strong beliefs about the importance of education.

“My family believed that education is the savior for our race,” Dilday said.

She received her undergraduate degree in French from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966 and was a public school teacher for four years in her hometown. Growing up her mother told her that she should be a lawyer.

“ ‘Me?’ I used to say. I didn’t see that in myself,” she recalled.

After teaching, Dilday wanted a change of scenery, a new start. She packed up her things and headed to Boston. When she got here, Dilday found herself in uber-educated social circles. She quickly decided to go back to school. She contemplated getting a master’s in French, but later decided against it and headed to law school.

“Law school was very frightening,” she said. “There are no tests until the end of the year so I kept wondering if I was doing enough or doing it right.”

Little by little, she finished up law school and landed a job at the district attorney’s office. By that time, she had met her husband James S. Dilday in law school and they were beginning to start a family.

“Socially, being the first black woman in the DA’s office was not always comfortable,” she said. “It got worse when I got pregnant. It was even hard to find maternity clothes. Women, especially pregnant women didn’t work in those days. People would see me in court and call me first. They wanted to get me out!”

Dilday spent 16 years on the bench before retiring in 2009. Since then, she’s been spending time doing whatever she wants to do. Dilday is an avid traveler whose attitude is to leave no stone unturned.

“My most recent trip was to Nevada, Utah and Arizona with my sister. It’s not to be missed. People traveled from all over the world to see it. It was worth it, she shared. “I want to step foot on every continent. I haven’t been to South America yet.”

There’s no doubt that Dilday will do everything she sets out to do.

Though she hasn’t been to South America yet, Dilday has been to China several times. Her first visit was in 2001.

“Chinese judges came here and visited our courts and studied our judicial system. The last few times I went to China, we did mock trials at the law school and explained how it all worked,” Dilday said.

On her second visit to China, Dilday was able to say a few things in the native tongue and impressed those she encountered.

Recently she took a six-month teaching gig in Qiqihar, China. The teaching job usually requires a year commitment, but Dilday was able to negotiate a shorter stay.

“I have a house, kids and a husband. I felt like a year was too long to be away from home,” Dilday said.

She intended to teach law, but ended up teaching English while living in Qiqihar, which is in the northeast above Siberia. It was winter going into summer while Dilday lived abroad and adjusted to life in another culture.

“It was colder than Boston. Everyone wears ski underwear there, so I got some,” she shared.

She took up Mandarin, dined religiously on her favorite dish of beef noodle soup made with broth, beef, yak bones and veggies and started mentoring her students formally and informally.

“The students were very nice and I enjoyed interacting with them,” Dilday shared.

Even though she’s returned to the states, Dilday, 68, continues to communicate with some of her former students.

China’s radically different government spawned spirited questions from the students that still reach out to Dilday.

“Some of them still e-mail me questions that I answered when I was there. When answering I have to think about where the questions are coming from so I can reasonably answer. The questions aren’t usually what they sound like,” she said.

Now that she’s back home, Dilday has started to focus on yet another goal.

“I’m taking writing classes. I like it. I like being forced to do it. I must produce,” she said.

Dilday has been exploring her family’s past. She is learning more about her grandparents who were part of the great migration. They were from Alabama and took the journey up north in search of a better life. They were servants who were listed as working for the wealthy and very influential Mellon family.

In addition to her writing and traveling, Dilday also sings in a gospel choir and answered the open call to join the steel band at church.

“I’ve always wanted to join the band. My sister is a professional singer and owns a company called  Women of the Calabash. When I told her about the band, she said she was not surprised!” Dilday said.

Though Dilday’s schedule is hectic, what she loves most is spending  quality time with her grandkids.

“When you’re a mother, you’re overwhelmed with the logistics of everything. When you’re a grandparent it’s like getting the icing on the cake.”

*published in the Bay State Banner, 11/03/2011

Van Hunt – Philadelphia Tribune

Shalon Goss photo

Creative chameleon Van Hunt will be at World Cafe Live this Sunday, April 1 at 8 p.m.; to promote his new album, What Were You Hoping For? Hunt — who grew up with a part-time pimp/painter/factory worker father — hails from Ohio. He’s had two major label releases including his self-titled debut album in 2004 and On the Jungle Floor in 2006.

After his second album he switched from Capital Records to Blue Note where his third project Popular was shelved. Despite that setback, diehard Hunt fans nabbed tracks from Popular (arguably one of his best efforts yet) and Use in Case of Emergency (released in 2009) online.  The Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and producer, has written tracks for singer Cree Summer best known as Freddie from A Different World, co-wrote for Rashaan Patterson and wrote and co-produced “Hopeless” for Dionne Farris, former member of Arrested Development. “Hopeless” appeared on the
soundtrack for the movie Love Jones. Now, he’s back again with a new sound. There’s punk, rock and blues all mixed up in crazy guitar licks and vocal riffs. The first track “North Hollywood” is a guitar heavy track where Jimi Hendrix meets funk at church;“Watching You Go Crazy” gives a lesson in rock and “Moving Targets” is a slightly ethereal ballad.

On a warm Sunday afternoon in between tour stops, the Philadelphia Tribune had a chance to talk with the singer about his musical journey.

Read the interview here: Van Hunt brings unique sound to World Cafe.

JetBlue blogger pitch

As families pack bags for road trips and rides in the sky, JetBlue is encouraging kids to pack books for their cross-country adventures or even for their trips to the backyard. This week JetBlue is launching “Soar with Reading” a reading program with partner PBS KIDS. The program aims to keep children reading wherever they go this summer – with a combination of in-flight and online literacy resources, community reading events and a partnership with First Book, a nonprofit organization that provides new books to children in need. 

Read more: JetBlue blogger pitch