In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about each artist and their work. In this post, we are featuring Ifasina Clear (they/them). Ifasina is a performing artist and dancer, introducing us to the rich history of African dance, among other things.
In their words:
“My given name is TaMeicka Lashelle Clear. I have come to love this name as it says a lot about the time frame that I grew up in (early 80s) and displays my southern, Black roots in a way that really shows the color and creativity of Black people during that time. I believe that Black American English is real, valid, and a whole language. TaMeicka Lashelle is a proud badge of Black American English that I love to wear!
I received the name Ifasina during ritual initiation into the African Traditional Practice of Ifa, in 2014. Ifasina translates loosely to ‘Ifa brings forth blessings with power and great force.’ It is a powerful name and a vibration I strive to walk in. Most people in my life know me as Ifasina at this point. My roots and history both from the name I was given at birth and given at rebirth are a large part of who I am.”
Ifasina did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about their art:
What first drew your interest to dance?
When I was in 2nd grade, I joined a modern dance class taught by the most beautiful dark-skinned woman I had ever seen. She reminded me a little of Janet Hubert (original Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). She had us perform a piece at the Dallas Museum of Art and complimented me on my “natural turn out,” also known as being slew-footed. I thought she was so elegant, and more than that, I felt so alive while moving together with that troupe. Being in sync with the others and expressing my inner spirit in that way, felt like home. I took to dancing in any way I could from then on.
What kind of dance do you do?
I am formally trained in modern and jazz dance. I am self-taught and informally trained in hip-hop, west African, afro-beat, and liturgical-style dance. I also use improv and interpretive dance styles in each area of dance that I engage in.
How do you prepare for shows?
For dance shows, I tend to listen to a song on repeat for weeks all day in the car while doing chores, any chance I get. I have to embody the song, know when the beat changes, anticipate certain notes and runs to be able to play with it so that when I want to improvise or put emphasis on the song, I can be ready while also using the moment with the audience and/or how the song makes me feel to really be present and IN the performance. I operate more like a minister than a choreographer as a dancer. Giving as much energy as I get and, at times, soliciting the audience for response to my calls.
What’s your favorite part about dance? What empowers you?
I feel so empowered when I sit. When I do something to slow down and take care of my body while still keeping it in motion. When I make direct eye contact with someone while moving my body suggestively. When I make a loud sound with my hands or feet at just the right moment in a song. I feel like a note in the song, and it allows me almost to transcend my human form while also being more human than ever when I dance. The duality is delicious and one I wish for us all.
What kind of performance do you do?
I am a performance artist, and for me, that means I will recite a poem theatrically, tell a story with passion and bravado, learn lines for a character, and embody them/perform them, usually for the purpose of being with complex ideas, and experiences of the human condition. I love to perform a piece and then do audience discussion after–to engage around social issues. To act out things the way they are, the way we wish they were, to dream the impossible, and to imagine a world that we all wanna live in. One that affirms fat people, and makes space for the humanity and sexuality of disabled people. A world that normalizes queer and trans folks, and deals with death, loss, and change head-on and wholeheartedly. I don’t know what to call this kind of performance, but it’s the kind I do. Sometimes it’s funny, and other times it’s painful and gripping.
Are there performances or characters you remember fondly or are especially proud of?
Two come to mind. I played a character called “Dewey The Announcer,” and he was the announcer on a racist talk show called “Ask a Black Girl.” I’ve always heard people talk about how fun it is to be the villain. It really is!
In that same show, I played a character in a different vignette called Donique. This was a genderless/genderqueer kid in a story about the return of The Ancient peoples that left Black people on earth in hopes that we would survive. I channeled one of my favorite actresses Regina King, who is doing the voice of the two kids that star in the animated series The Boondocks. Donique was literally the best protagonist I’ve ever been able to play. I still think of what it felt like to get into that character and how much I wished to be like Donique more in my life – bold, honest, direct, committed to their people, and brave.
What’s your favorite part about performance?
Performing with a cast. I get to use what I have experienced, coupled with what is around me. You must be present. You can’t just recite words when you are performing with others. It’s an adventure of its own kind to become the character and to really live in the story you are creating with the other cast members.
What led you towards improv and comedy? What do you find most challenging and most rewarding?
These tools can really teach. People walk away with reflections, questions, and even changed perspectives. They get help with imagining something different, and laughter helps grant the levity required to really change hearts and minds. It is one of my greatest social justice tools.
Anything inspiring or exciting that you’re working on right now?
Mostly, I am trying to write small books on different things that I care about. Things that seem complex, like managing grief and protecting young Black kids from molestation. I wanna write “manuals” for life that speak in plain and relatable language. That give people ideas and options for some of the hardest things to imagine having to navigate. I hope to act again soon, but I’m not rushing it. I’m writing right now, and as an artist I’m okay with any medium that speaks to me.
What a lovely interview – savory words and “crunchy phrasing” (“duality is delicious”), as an old music teacher of mine used to say. With such a flow of words and body, Ifasina is a natural performer.
You can see, hear, and learn more from Ifasina on their website or at their upcoming show on 3.26.2023 – Virtual Ancestral Upliftment Showcase EventBrite and Link coming soon. Head to their Instagram @get.embodied to get details and tickets.