Paying Homage with Presence: A Conversation with Tika Morgan | By Maya Kitayama

Tika Morgan Photo by Tanya Constentine

Tika Morgan
Photo by Tanya Constentine

Maya Kitayama: Could you briefly explain your training and performance background?

Tika Morgan: I’ve been working at ODC for 5 years. I discovered ODC in its first formation. I was there when that happened at the old location on Mission between 7th and 8th. Many of the teachers that I studied with at a place called Third Wave, which is now Dance Mission, migrated over to Rhythm and Motion and are now our Global Dance Program here at ODC, of which I am super proud to be a part of. I’ve danced in many different workshops and companies -modern, Brazilian, Latin and Cuban- and travelled since I was young. I started dancing at 4, but I committed to studying the African Diaspora in my late teens, early twenties and it got progressively more intense into my late twenties. I study every year in Brazil because I believe as a teacher, it is imperative that I continue my studies. I’m really passionate about my work. I base all of my work out of a Brazilian modern technique called the Silvestre dance technique and I’m very proud that ODC has chosen to teach that technique, which is a newer form, in its house in the last 3 years. I’m really passionate about dance, I think dance can be something joyful, of course healthy, but more than anything, if you choose to go forward with it, even as a “non-professional” you can really transform your physicality, your body and mind through movement. And of course the more you give to your dance experience, the more you receive from it. In other words, the more regular people are with it, the more it will reward them. And so that’s really why I teach because I get so much from studying and I try to be a person who synthesizes the work that I’ve studied all my life into my own vocabulary that hopefully helps people to find their way.

MK: Can you talk about the classes you teach at ODC?

TM: I teach the Silvestre dance technique twice a week, and then I created a class called Reggaeton Fusion, which is like a Latin hip hop class, but it draws from its cultural roots. It brings in a lot of African-Cuban movements, even some Samba movements, some hip hop movements, and it’s fun, sassy, it’s got a lot of attitude, but it also helps people to get a sense of what informs popular dance today. It’s not just making shapes, you’re actually connecting with culture and rhythm and I try to show people how those rhythms are related and where your body needs to be held in order to express those rhythms, so that’s a really fun class and I do that here once a week.

MK: What do you try and communicate to your students in your classes?

TM: I think that I would classify myself as a demanding teacher. I feel really passionate about trying to get people to stay in the room. I think sometimes people associate dance with catharsis or escape. In my experience with dance, it’s the opposite of that. It’s really a way to be more present in the moment or present in the body. I also try to tie that in with the fact that when you’re dealing with movements that are cultural or diasporic, you owe it to that lineage to be as present as possible. And so I really try to get my students to be in the room. I want them to just forget everything else in life, focus on being in the room, hearing the rhythms, and working on themselves. And there’s something so rewarding and sacred about that, everything falls away, nothing else exists, you’re just your body, the music, and maybe the symbols of the gestures that are inherent to that particular thing you’re working on.

MK: In the reverse respect, what have you personally taken away from teaching?

TM: I feel that every day that I teach I learn something. I was mentored to teach at the age of 21 and I’m in my forties now and I’m still learning to teach. I think that as a teacher, I’m always learning how to push people past their own expectation, show them that they can do more than they think they can, but also hold space for themselves, so that they feel like they’re actually being contained in an environment that shows them where their boundaries are, where their reach is. And of course, I’m always learning about how to be socially engaged. It’s a much more sensitive and difficult job than I think people realize, especially if you’re endeavoring being a teacher that is not just showing people moves and then they’re just doing them, but if you’re really trying to show them how to find the movement in their bodies and actually progress. It’s a deep experience. I’m learning how to do that with love and care all the time. Some days are easier than others.

MK: Do you have a particular moment or memory from teaching that was inspiring or significant?

TM: I think that I’m someone that tends to live a little bit more in the moment. I’m continually astounded by the things that go on. I have to say the most touching thing for me is when someone discovers their own ability and it moves them somehow. I often experience people finding an emotional state or release and feeling relieved or touched or moved in some way. Sometimes in a gentle way, sometimes in a fiery way. But I’m always touched and amazed when people are discovering just the beauty and power that they have in their own body. So that’s something that feeds me as a teacher. You can’t control that outcome, but you can try to aspire to it. I really try to aspire to that. I think that’s what touches me the most, I mean it’s just continuous, it’s just an amazing feeling.

MK: What sets ODC apart from other dance centers and communities?

TM: I do my performance workshops here twice a year; I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to do different things twice a year. I always tell my students that out of every place that I know of in northern California, this is where they’re going to be held the most, they’re going to have the most professional experience of what it actually is to work on something and present it. I feel like ODC really creates a gorgeous, professional and reverent environment for dance of all kinds. Everything from the Rhythm and Motion program all the way up to the advanced ballet work that goes on here and then of course having so much African Diasporic dance, which is so important, especially having people like Tania Santiago and Jose Barroso and Ramon Alayo and all these incredibly talented people. It’s a place that’s known in the Bay Area for giving people what they need. Bollywood, hip hop, you’re going to find it here, and it’s going to be quality, so that’s what I love about it, I’m so proud to be a part of it, I really am. It’s extraordinary.

MK: Any other comments?

TM: I think I am just always inviting people to be open-minded about their capacity to build and evolve their dancing at any level and at any age. I believe – it may be kind of crazy- that the body has the capacity to heal and reorganize, so really the discipline of dance is mental. I just think that everyone should try.

Tika teaches two Silvestre Technique classes during the week: Thursday at 10am and Saturday at 3pm. Her personally developed Reggaeton Fusion class takes places Sundays at 1pm. 

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