A Start in Dance
My name is Raven Bright. Born and raised here in Gallup, New Mexico. I have been coming to this dance studio pretty much all of my life. It’s my connection to the world. That’s just me as a person.
Back when I first started, we had another dance studio, and that was farther down the block. It was called “Cool Street Pub.” My mom kind of forced me to start dancing, even though I really didn’t want to. I was real anxious, had social anxiety, and just didn’t want to be around people in general. As time went on, I started getting home schooled, so I realized the importance of social interactions. At that point I wanted to become part of society. I didn’t want to stay home and do nothing. I wanted to get out there and be a part of everything else.
Dancing is just a very small part of our art community [in Gallup]. If you come to our “Arts Crawl” or art events, I feel like they are huge. There is hundreds of people who come down here. There is all kinds of shows throughout the blocks. [There is] photography, regular painting, spray painting; in the middle of the streets. Everyone kind of branches out and does their own thing. Which I think is really cool. But at the same time we have so much room to grow. Not just in art in general, but more of the dance art form. We do dancing here, but I feel like we can still take it to another level. Kind of like Albuquerque’s dance community. It’s big; it huge! And I want what they have. In a way, I feel like that’s going to take years and years to build up to get to that point.
Sometime we will go up to Albuquerque and perform at their events or battle with them. From that point of view we get drawn out more… more people get to see us dancing and all of a sudden they know about us like FOF wasn’t just a small crew from Gallup. I think that’s super cool to think about because we can be this lone circle all by itself within the city. There’s no other break dance crew here in Gallup. I feel like we have to be put on the map. It’s part of the job. We have to do that. Because if we don’t, we are not going to be remembered 20 years down the road. I want this to continue going. I’ll do that the best I can. I’ll just keep dancing everywhere. Always getting our name out. Always going to other places. Always working with other people to try to attain those goals.
Art as Community
I think we have another dance studio… I think it’s more like a cheer studio in my perspective. It’s a place called Starlet Studio. I think they are more focused on structure through dancing. With our crew we are focused on foundations like any other studio would have; but we are also freedom, foundations of freedom. Once you establish your foundation with everything, you branch out to have the freedom with whatever you want to do. I don’t hold my students back whenever I teach them. If they want to do something differently than I’ll say do it. You do your own thing. One day they are going to have their own style.
Whenever there is something [going on] outside of the studio… there is not much. If I ever see a really cool dancer outside of the studio, I always try to bring them in. I always try to teach them a little bit of something. There is nothing to keep you going here [Gallup]… honestly. Artistically, you have to find a group or you have to find it within yourself a lot of the times. When you are here [at the studio], you have a lot of individuals with you, so you have to push yourself in order to stay in the level of your peers. A lot of the times, they have to stay on your level as well. So you are constantly going back and forth.
Patrick Bernhard, he was my first teacher ever and the person that got me into break dancing. “Randy B,” is another Indigenous artist from our crew, he’s still going and makes all kinds of art pieces up in Albuquerque. “B-Boy Remind” from “Style Elements Crew.” I’m actually going to put B-Boy Remind as a stencil here (points at the wall of dance studio). He’s like the James Brown of break dancing. He’s the main influence within my dancing and my painting. Pretty much all art in general. He’s so vibrant. He approaches Hip-Hop as if it was some sort of religion. He talks about it like Gospel. I think that’s really cool.
Hip-Hop could be a religion. It doesn’t follow the path of faith where you have to believe in something, it’s more Indigenous where it’s spiritual. It’s that spiritual connection that you have with everything. Those spiritual processes, with Hip-Hop it’s ciphering… we break dance in a circle… and once you are in that circle and everybody is feeling the music… and everyone is moving in continuum with each other… you no longer have to talk to anybody. Everyone knows what each other is thinking. Everyone is really interconnected with each other.
I think the person that got me into painting was Amy Coats, my dance teacher. It was a long time ago she made me a stencil of something, and she had some spray cans in the basement. We have a huge basement that we spray paint in. [It] probably wasn’t a good idea because there is no ventilation down there. I think I spray painted down there, and I was like “wow that’s so cool.” That’s when I realized spray paint was bad for your lungs. I’d go back home and I’d sneeze and I’d have rainbow colored boogers.
Challenges in Gallup for Youth
I’d say alcohol and drugs, and getting in with the wrong crew [are challenges in Gallup]. There is all kinds of hustlers here. If you don’t have some sort of click, some sort of group to hang out, if you don’t have time to kill, your life will slowly go down hill here. This town traps you. It entraps you. “The Land of Entrapment,” I guess you can say. I see the youth growing up and constantly hustling drugs like in middle school and everyone smoking weed. Everyone is drinking. It’s crazy to just see that here in this point and time. And to see how that will affect way down the road. It’s always good to have some sort of artistic connection with the world that you can always fall back on. Rather than saying there is nothing to do and be bored. I feel like this studio just drew me away from that. In efforts, I am trying to draw other youth away from what this town could do to you.
I constantly try to be here all the time [in the studio]. I have a group chat with all the B-Boys. I always text them when I am coming down to the studio. So they can know that I am here and they can come down here whenever they want to. The dance teachers here are trying to have fees for the students that come here because they come here for free a lot of the times. At the same time a lot of our students are very poor. I am not going to tell them you can’t come here because you didn’t pay your fees. That’s kind of silly. I would rather them be here than be off somewhere else. I feel I always want this place to be a place of nurture and growth. It’s like any kind of classroom. It has to be a positive place. And I feel like this is just my big classroom of sorts.
The Future of Dance in Gallup
I will be performing at the Aquatic Center today. My mom runs belly dancing, so she will be doing that there, in Hawaiian Luau costumes. I’m going to take some B-Boys down there and we are going to cypher. We are going to stand in a circle and one person is going to go out at a time. I feel like that’s the extent of our dancing. A lot of the times we will just kind of dance wherever. I have a boom box and we just go to different locations and we just dance. We just chill at a certain spot. Just turn on the music for a bit. I remember a couple of times we would go to different locations like the mall and Walmart and we would keep dancing until the security guards would kick us out (laughing).
[I would like to see] more activeness in our art community. Our art community is pretty big in terms of an art community, but we have all this people here and they are always saying, “Gallup sucks. I hate my community.” You can’t hate on your community if you are not even a part of it. I hate people that are always like, “I hate Gallup. I wish I was never born here. I can’t wait to move.” You have to be part of this [community] in order to say that. You can’t just be hating all the damn time. You have to bring yourself out and actually put yourself in the process of what this community is. And then from there you can be like… “wow! Our community does suck. Our art community is really fucken lame.”
But at the same time, we are always working towards making it better. Because there is always something you, YOU, can fix as a person. You always have to bring yourself into the picture. Always try harder to make this community what it is. We need more people doing that a lot of the time. Even though a lot of the people just stay home. They don’t go to any of the events.
Gallup is a pretty small town. A lot of the time people know each other. I know all kinds of people that know all kinds of things about other individuals. Everyone knows… like if you do something today… everyone will know about it tomorrow. It’s a close knit community. Things spread really quickly. But at the same time, it takes forever for things to get done. I don’t know how to fix that in-between there.
I’m Raven Bright from the FOF Crew and I am glad to have been a part of these interviews!