Transforming into Ugly

Let all the violence and anger from your past run wild

Today, I took an African dance class on whim taught by Nora Chipaumire. She taught us a dance she had made back in 2008 regarding the revolution for independence in her homeland, Zimbabwe. It was interesting because as we learned her dance, we got to learn more about her character and history. Unlike ballet, where the dance is mainly graceful and elegant, this dance was the culmination of all of a nation’s mustered up violence. Chimurenga, the name of the dance, (which in Shona, stands for both revolution and cry) had nuanced emotions of just pure rage. Nora explained how it might be difficult for some to fully relate to the dance, as the dance culled heavily from her past having survived a revolution.

What stuck out most to me was how important it was to feel the emotions while I danced. I needed to let violence, contempt, disgust pulse through my veins. In the choreography, there were instances where we had to lift up and stick out the bottom of our foot (equivalent to flipping somebody off), throw rocks, wipe off blood and froth from our mouths. To be completely honest, it was startling and even scary to see Nora transform into a completely different person when she danced. But I wouldn’t say that this dance was beautiful. In fact, It was ugly, and I could feel the hatred leaking from as she danced. She told us about her experience with apartheid, her childhood growing up in time of political tension, and it struck me when she offhandedly exclaimed “You promised us independence.”  At the same time though, I was amazed at how well she was swayed me. Using dance as a medium, she told her story and passed a part of it onto us. “Everybody has violence inside of them, no matter how hard you try to suppress it. It is part of our human nature.” I could emulate how she felt in her past, and in a sense, I was performing vicariously through her life.  I wouldn’t call myself a violent person at all, but she convinced me to open myself up to play with the idea of it. What if I was violent? Let’s see, something along the lines of: HEY! YOU KILLED MY FRIENDS. FUCK YOU. 

This type of dancing was a type of zen, but rather manifested hatred instead of peace. She told us to truly perform her dance, we had to transform into a different character. Nobody should be able to tell that I was the same person dancing. But it’s not just about transforming yourself, it’s also about how you can transform your audience. Today, it was through African dance, and I want to explore story telling in other types of dance, music, poetry, spoken word, etc.

Parenting: Malleable Mindets

For my cognitive science class, I was reading about classing personality traits like happiness, resiliency, and helplessness into two mindsets derived by how people thought of themselves. There’s the fixed mindset, when somebody believes that their qualities are carved in stone. It can create an urgency for that person to prove themselves over and over. The second mindset (which in this context is the advantageous one) is the malleable mindset. People with malleable mindsets believe that cherished qualities can be developed through effort and dedication.

Also, there was an experiment done gauging the effects subtle linguistic cues in praises could have on children’s motivations. Imagine that you had kids A and B, who are instructed to draw a picture. Kid A is given a generic praise, “you are a good drawer.” Kid B is given a more specific, non-generic praise, “you did a good job drawing.” The study showed that children like kid B who were given non-generic praises had less extreme emotional reactions to criticism and were motivated to correct themselves. While when children like kid A were criticized, they started to cry and gave up drawing. I feel that what contributed most to those outcomes is that giving generic praise, or even too much praise, implies to children that they have a stable ability that underlies their drawing performance. They become emotionally attached to that identity that they are stably good drawers. Mistakes then reflect on that stable ability, and can demoralize their perception of their ability. However, what makes the non-generic praise not so generic (haha) is that it comments on a specific instance of drawing, not the child’s skill of drawing itself. ex. “You did a good job drawing that yesterday” vs “you are such a talented drawer!” so the child doesn’t attach as strongly to this identity as a “good” drawer. They can then continue along with their lives drawing, still motivated to correct their mistakes and become better.

I thought it’d be interesting to bring these findings together and think about how I would raise my own kids to develop malleable mindsets. So that in the long run, they won’t be overwhelmed by emotional distress and will be able to jump into any field (whether it be academic or not) with the confidence that they can master it. When a child receives a lot of affection from, let’s say, a mother, the child will naturally grow close to her and come to her in times of loneliness and stress, kind of like a secure base.  There was a study discussing the behavior of these securely attached infants. In an experiment, a group of infants A were conditioned to not see their mothers as secure bases, and the scientists recorded how their behaviors when their mothers left the room they were in (how long they would at her after she left). The group A of infants made no discrimination to their mothers when they left the room; they even showed signs of surprise when their mothers came back. These infants had different expectations about caretakers than babies who were trained traditionally to go to their mothers in times of stress. I think this relates to the idea of attaching to an identity in the second experiment. However, rather than attaching to an internal identity, the child can become attached to an external entity (in this case, a parent). And if a child is pampered heavily, he or she will become dependent on somebody else, which I feel will perpetuate a fixed mindset. So how should we go about parenting? Do we have to sacrifice some of our attention for the long-run goals of independence and malleable mindsets?