My experience dancing with black people at the NAOBI conference

Transcript: One more thing I must share about NAOBI— something that moved me and touched my heart. Now, I know it sounds funny to talk about “black people” and point out the differences between their culture and mine— black people’s and white people’s. It seems “politically correct” to be hush-hush about the differences between black people and white people, but I want to tell you some positive things about what’s different about black culture! And this is so neat. It seems — now, I interpreted for a full week last year at the NBDA (National Black Deaf Advocates, a deaf association) conference, and at the end of the week, we danced!— It seems to me that black people cannot get together and not dance. It seems that every conference I’ve been to — and that’s only two, but still — in my experience, when black people gather for a conference, they’ve got to dance together. And it’s so much fun! They had a DJ playing music loud, and everyone danced together— deaf people, interpreters, everyone. And they line up facing each other while people dance down the aisle, you know, like Soul Train. That’s where everyone lines up in two lines facing each other, forming an aisle, and as people move up to the front of the line, they dance down the aisle and do their own thing, show their personality, express what they’re feeling. Everyone on the sidelines cheers them on, goads them on, and roots for them. You strut down that aisle, you dance, you swing, you move your body, and you do your thing, you express yourself. Oh, it’s fun! And people are fiercely supportive.

Wanda dancing
Wanda dancing by Daniel Greene, on Flickr

One thing I noticed at both NBDA and NAOBI is that they do a lot of line dances and “slides”— you know, like The Electric Slide. Maybe you know that dance, maybe not, but anyway, I noticed a lot of that at both conferences. And not just once, but several times each night. It’s like a form of communal bonding. Loads of fun. And I used to do a lot of country-western line dancing, and I was a pro at it, but that was a long time ago, so I’m rusty. But the black people there helped me, guided me along, and showed me what to do. This one woman dancing next to me in the line saw that I was missing steps and didn’t know which direction to go it, so she put her hands around my waist and gently pushed and pulled me forward and back, took me by the arm and gently pushed and pulled me from side to side. And all the while she was so full of friendship and hospitality. It was like she wanted to include me in her family.

Gah! I get so verklempt every time I think about it. I get all choked up and tears come to my eyes. Because during one of the other songs, everyone stood around in a big circle and danced to “We Are Family”— you know the song, “We are family / I got all my sisters with me”? I’ve been to other conventions where that song was played, but I’ve never felt it so deeply, so truly, as when I was at NAOBI. Deaf and hearing people alike were signing the song together in that circle, and as I gazed around that circle of people — and I know it sounds cliché — I felt the love, I felt the sense of family, I felt the interconnectedness. And even though I’m white, I felt like I was included in that family, that I was helped, led, guided, and beckoned to join that family. That — whew! (tears) — that was a great experience. I felt honored that those people welcomed me into their world.

Now, I know that we’re both human. I know that we’re all part of the human race. I am aware of that. But the truth is also that black people have their ways and white people have their ways. They have different cultures, different skin colors, and different historical backgrounds. And that’s important to recognize. We can discuss race; we can discuss our differences. But likewise we can acknowledge our similarities and what we have in common. And the way they welcomed me, I felt like one of them. I felt like an “honorary black person” that night at the dance.

In fact, it’s funny. I grew up with black people at school, thanks to SCPA, the School of Creative & Performing Arts. That experience — because it was an integrated school (voluntary integration) — that school taught me a lot about singing, acting, and dancing, but it also taught me about respecting the diversity of cultures, races, ethnicities, instilled in me a sense of cooperation and collaboration. When we put on a show at that school, the directors who auditioned the players cast them regardless of skin color. And when two people were cast as a married couple, one could be black and the other white, and their kids could be Chinese or Mexican. They could be any color or ethnicity— white, hispanic (and I know there are white hispanics). But that schooling was really, well, a lot of fun. And it taught me a lot, not just about the acting profession, but about dance, and fun, and jazz.

And, to be honest with you, as a gay person, I’ve been around black gay men and black women, and I’ve seen and studied their ways, their mannerisms, their slang, their dance moves and so on. And what was really funny was there was this one white girl who was doing this — it’s funny, I’ll show you at the risk of embarrassing myself — this “back it on up” dance move. So, okay, I can play with that! So I showed her a move I learned from a black gay man, like this— uh, uh, uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh “shake your booty like a bee.” So, these black girls on the dance floor caught me doing that and cracked up and said, “You just got a new nickname: ‘White Chocolate’!” So, I am White Chocolate! LOL. It’s funny. I felt like I was welcome in their world, like I was an “honorary black person.”

I know I’m white. I’m not trying to be black. But it’s still fun to be included. Anyway, I’d better wrap up this vlog and bring it to a close. Thank you for your attention. And if any of you in NAOBI are watching this vlog, thank you. I felt great to be included in your conference. So long!

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

2 thoughts on “My experience dancing with black people at the NAOBI conference”

Comments are closed.