uMaMi was an interactive, multi-discipline show at UMA in July 2021. The show brought together 6 dancers and 4 musicians to a studio transformed by ornaments, lights and color to put on a show that celebrated sensuality and sexuality in various forms. The featured dancers were: Dylan Smythe, Amalia Gabriel Colon-Nava, Major Curl, Fagl Roq, Queen of Hearts, and Rylee Prodigy.
You can check out a TBT article about the event below!
“Is it here?”
“I think we have to keep going?”
“I think we passed it.”
“No, wait, here it is!”
I had never actually gone into the Urban Movement Arts (UMA) studio. All of the work I had done as a marketing intern up until this point was done out of the comfort of my apartment. But here I was walking up and down Chestnut street to try and find where we were going.
I asked my friend Lami, a Philly street artist, if he’d come with me to uMaMi, an event at UMA celebrating sensuality and sexuality. On our way there, he went over his talking points with me, “this is what I do,” “isn’t this a lovely space,” and “where’d you get those shoes?”
I broke the news to him, this wasn’t that type of event. Most of the talking was going to be done by the performers, what they were going to talk about, that’s what we were about to find out.
Once we finally found the place, I excitedly grabbed his hand and pulled him up the long flight of stairs, signing us in and taking us into the second door on our right.
I opened the grey door and was immediately welcomed by the sound of smooth jazz. All I saw was red: red walls, red ribbon swinging from the ceiling, and to the left of the door was a long grey sheet covered in red painted bodies. The room felt eerie but I was excited.
We looked around for a bit and every so often I’d gently tap Lami’s shoulder to tell him about the artists that were performing as I had interviewed them as part of my internship. Did he know that the art director for the show calls herself a trash artist? Did he know that the band had never once practiced before, this was all improv?
I didn’t really know what to expect of this night. I knew the event was going to be about sensuality and sexuality, but I wasn’t sure what it would all mean for me, what would I feel like and how would I leave that night?
Soon the music died down and a spotlight appeared, I wondered what might be next. Then, someone who I immediately recognized as Dylan Smythe, came to the mic stand and gave us a taste of what was yet to come.
“Umami is a compound word in the Japanese language with no direct translation, but meaning something like ‘essence of deliciousness,” he started. “I think of Umami as the most embodiment flavor profile - a plated personification of the human body in all of its variations of depth, complexity, emotions and textures.” Chills.
Once he was done, the band started playing eerie techno music straight out of a sci-fi movie and I saw hands come to the side of a cardboard cutout of a cherry. That must be Major Curl!
One by one the performers started coming out, every time they did I would nudge Lami to let him know who they were. It was weird, I had seen their pictures while assisting with promotion. for the show and I had talked to them on the phone, but seeing them in person, seeing them in their element made each conversation more meaningful.
The band’s music made the event more erotic, the bass’s smooth, swift sound guided the rest of the instruments as the songs kept changing for each performance.
Two performers really stood out to me, just in the way that they made me feel. FAGL ROQ’s solo performance invoked how sex, while it can make you feel close to someone, can also make you feel even more alone. Knowing this beforehand made the performance even more emotional for me, I couldn’t hold in how I felt as a gentle tear rolled down my cheek.
But this was no time for crying. Seconds later, the drums kicked up and afro-inspired beats turned a sad moment into nostalgia. Growing up in a Colombian household, this was my usual Saturday morning alarm.
I felt my body unintentionally move to the rhythm along with the dancers, specifically Amalia. She moved her body in such a mesmerizing way that was familiar, she was carefree and so was everyone around her. They listened to the music and their body did the rest.
Then there was the Queen of Hearts who was the star of my show. During our interview, I was mesmerized by how she talked about herself and her body. She had the confidence I wish I had, and to see that in real life, I couldn’t miss it.
She moved so effortlessly and sexy, everything from the way she took her clothes off to how she moved her body was so unique to her. Not only was I jealous of her twerking skills, but I saw how sure of herself she was on stage, nothing fazed her, and the only thing that mattered was her own opinion of herself.
After the show had ended I felt free. This had been an experience I had never felt before, I left knowing that I could be just as confident as any one of them. That how I view myself and my body is more important than what anyone could ever say to me.
I felt like a different person after I left. Not that I had noticeably changed, but after that day, in many aspects of my life, I have become a more confident person. When you’re in a space where everyone is free to be who they are, it makes you want to do the same.
If I could give one piece of advice from what I learned at uMaMi, it’s that the only person you ever need to please in this world is yourself, everyone else can simply marvel at your beauty.
By Bibiana Correa
Laurel Card offers private partner lessons at Urban Movement Arts and is our go-to wedding dance prep instructor. Couples come to her with their wildest wedding dance dreams and she helps them make those dreams reality. Matt and Kierstin approached Laurel to choreograph a bachata dance to their chosen song and worked with her leading up to their wedding. They share their very heartwarming experience taking private lessons with Laurel below. Check it out!
Where do we even start?! I guess I’ll start at the very beginning. We were referred to Laurel by a mutual friend of mine. My wife, Kierstin and I were planning our wedding and about 7 weeks out we were stressing with all the details and money. So, something I always wanted to do was have a choreographed dance for our first dance. We have been to so many weddings where guests lose interest in the couple while the first dance plays because they are just rocking back and forth. So, to break up our stress levels and add a little fun to the planning process I reached out to a friend from high school who is a very talented dancer and asked her if she knew anyone in Philly who could teach couples how to dance. Kierstin and I like to dance at any wedding we go to, but we are FAR from talented dancers!
So in comes Laurel and Urban Movement Arts. From the very start Laurel was so receptive, helpful, and invigorated by the idea of helping two people who had no prior dance experience, but wanted to do something special for their wedding. The first thing we did was send her our wedding song, which had a reggae feel to it, and she correlated that beat into a choreographed bachata dance. From the start Laurel broke down the simplest of steps to help us feel comfortable, and even by the first night of dance lessons we had a pretty good feel on the box step. As the weeks went on she would break our dance into sections to make sure we wouldn’t be overwhelmed (which at some points we felt like we were) But she was always so encouraging and would rehearse each section with us down to the very step. Kierstin and I would then take what we learned that week and practice in our home. Sometimes we would tape our progress and send it to Laurel to see what she thought. She would respond with words of encouragement and advice even when we weren’t in the studio learning. Each week, with Laurel and Jaime’s help we began to transform from two people just marching counting out steps to a couple that moved with some passion and skill.
Learning how to dance from Laurel was a ton of fun for Kierstin and I and we looked forward to it each week. Even after long days of working we always made time to practice our dance each night because we wanted to come prepared for the next class. On the 7th week of dance class we said our final goodbyes to Laurel and Jaime and felt fully prepared to blow our guests away with our new moves. But honestly the best thing about working with Laurel was she was always so encouraging and knew that we would do a great dance when it came to our big day. On the morning of our wedding she reached out to us to let us know how proud she was, and how well we would do. It was that relationship we made with Laurel during our time in the studio with her and that type of positive energy that helped us surprise our guests with a beautiful bachata dance the night of our wedding.
But our story with Laurel doesn’t stop there, we had so much fun with her learning how to dance that we fully plan on joining her Latin dance classes this fall. Learning to dance was not only fun for Kierstin and I but it also brought us closer together. Its something we really enjoyed learning to do together, and something (with Laurel’s help) plan on continuing to do for many years to come.
Matt and Kierstin Kramer
Thanks to Matt and Kierstin for sharing their story!