Artistic Expression   – ep.131

Awesome Women of Excellence – ep.130
March 14, 2024
Raising Our Voices: Celebrating Women’s HerStory Month – ep.132
March 28, 2024

This week I am joined by the founder and Director Lula Washington and the Associate Director Tamica Washington-Miller of the Lula Washington Dance Theater as they navigate through the history of dance serving as a vehicle of communication and self-expression. They explore the healing powers of expressing oneself freely through artistic movement and how dance can accomplish building meaningful connections with others. 

Lula Washington is Founder and Artistic Director of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT). Lula founded the Company in 1980 with her husband Erwin Washington to provide a creative outlet for minority dance artists in the inner city. Today, Lula and her Company are revered across the United States and around the world. 

Lula has dozens of other accolades including the 2003 “Lady of Wisdom Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Modie Bell Senior Citizen’s Foundation; the 2002 “Master of the Arts Award” presented by Recycling Black Dollars for her tireless commitment to dance; the 2001 “Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Performing Artists in Schools Association for her work to bring dance into classrooms at public schools; the 2001 “Educator of the Year Award” presented at the 7th Annual American Choreography Awards Gala; the 2001 “KCET Celebrating The Women of Our Community” Award; the 2000 “Lifetime Achievement Award” presented at Dance Fest 2000 for her concert dance work in Los Angeles; and the 2000 “Lester Horton Award for Sustained Achievement” presented by the The Dance Resource Center in recognition of her 20 years of continuous excellence in dance in Los Angeles.

Tamica Washington-Miller is the Associate Director and named successor for the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, (LWDT), an International touring company, a training school and community anchor for dance and cultural performing arts. Tamica is a Performing Artist, Choreographer/Director, teacher, wife and mother of two. She is the daughter of LWDT Co-Founders, Erwin and Lula Washington. Her credits span film, television, live theater and dance. She has performed throughout the United States and abroad on a range of projects including with LWDT. Tamica was blessed to study and grow up under notable pioneers and legends in dance and theater. Tamica has a rich performance background. She has performed and choreographed for concert/live performance, film and television. She was the lead dancer for LWDT 1992 to 2004. Donald McKayle set original works on her. Tamica continues to perform.

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

Join me, this week, as we dive into the vibrant world of dance and culture with Lula Washington, founder, and Artistic Director of the renowned Lula Washington Dance Theater, and her daughter, Tamica Washington-Miller, the Associate Director and named successor. From Lula’s inspiring journey, breaking barriers in Dance to Tamica’s dedication to preserving their legacy, this episode promises an insightful exploration of art, resilience, and community impact. Tune in, and discover some of the untold stories behind their groundbreaking work, and the profound influence of their contributions worldwide.

I would be remiss if I did not tell you that Lula founded the company in 1980, with her husband, Irwin Washington, to provide a creative outlet for minority dance artists in the inner city. Today, Lula, and her company are revered across the United States, and around the world. The company has danced in over 150 cities in the United States, as well as abroad, in Germany, Spain, Kosovo, Mexico, Canada, China, and Russia.

She stumbled upon modern dance at Harbor Community College where a dance instructor introduced her to the work of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Mesmerized by the beauty of Ailey’s dancers, Lula decided to pursue dance as a career, and, soon afterward, she applied to the University of California Los Angeles Dance Program, and was rejected. The university said she was too old, at age 22, to begin a dance career. By this time, Lula was, already, married to her husband, and raising a small child who we will talk to, today, to Tamica.

Tamica is amazing in her own right. Her credit’s span, film, television, live theater, and dance, and she’s performed throughout the United States, and abroad, on a range of projects. She, obviously, was blessed to study and grow up under notable pioneers, and legends in dance and theater. Tamica worked with her parents to host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in Los Angeles, four different times, drawing thousands of people to Los Angeles in 1992, 2005, 2011, and 2018. She, currently, sits on the board of Directors for the International Association of Blacks in Dance, the Dance USA Board of Trustees, and the Western Arts Alliance Board of Directors.

Let me just tell you, this family is amazing. Join me, as you hear from Lula Washington, and Tamica Washington-Miller. I will tell you, Lula never stopped working the whole time. I know some of you are listening to this, because it’s a podcast, but if you have the opportunity to check out YouTube… She is busy, busy, busy, all the time, making sure that she is doing whatever she needs to do to make sure her dancers are prepared, and ready for their performance. I am so excited to have them, here, in my city, and I am looking forward to the performance, and I’m just excited. So do not miss this performance. They will be in Tracy on March 23rd, 2024. But, if you miss them, here, make sure you go to their website, find out where they’re going to be. They are absolutely amazing.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  When I think about my parents, it’s just an era, I think, of the time that they came from, that was like, “There’s nothing to lose. Let’s just go for it, and make it happen, and make it work, and make it ours. And there’s no rules. I can create this, whatever it is that I want to do.” But I, also, understand that there were things happening in the world that made them feel the need to be sparked to think, “I need to create a space.” So the dance company is one of many spaces that my parents, together, created, and separately, they created spaces. My dad created… At UCLA, was part of creating No More Players, which was the Black theater group on campus at UCLA. Lula had the Black Dance Alliance, or something of that sort. I can’t remember the exact name. So there was a need to have a space where their voice could be heard, and a space to create, and a space to be with others that believed in the stories, and believed in the work, and the visions, and had a passion to be there, too.

But I think there was, at the time… Just thinking about them and their college, they were in college in the 70s, so that was like a time, Black people were doing so many… Black people, always, been doing amazing things, and the 70s are very special, because people were pushing the glass ceiling. People were deciding to create their own things. And I really believe that, that generation of founders, and innovators, they did it with their own two hands, and each other. Vision and a heart. Passion and fiercely independent, and “Nobody’s going to keep me down.” So I am grateful that they followed the spirit, and went for it.

Melyssa Barrett:  And instilled it in you, for sure.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Well, I was there. I’m an only child, and I was, always, with my parents. By a certain age, I started being with them all the time and, off and on, even, from childhood, people were just like, “I remember you crawling in the dance studio.” I’m like, “Oh, I can’t help it. My parents brought me.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  But my earliest memories are in theaters, in rehearsal studios running around UCLA, and their activism was early on, and I experienced that, too. At UCLA, they didn’t have student childcare on campus. They had faculty childcare, and employee… I don’t even know if they had an employee. So my parents, along with, I think, three other families sued UCLA.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, wow.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Took them to court, and pushed for student childcare, so at the age of two, or three… Come on, we’re in the Daily Bruin. Me, a little 2-year-old, little, ashy-kneed Black girl, and her grandfather getting ready to be dropped off at the UCLA childcare center because they were able to… I don’t know. I don’t know all the details, but I do know that they did push. There was some legal actions, and, then, there was childcare.

So I was at UCLA at a very… That campus, it felt like that’s where I was going to go to college. I just, already, knew that, so anybody who doesn’t want to bring their kids to school? Bring your kids to school, because I didn’t want to go to college, but, by the time it was time to go? I was like, “I got to go to UCLA. If I’m going, I got to go there.” But it was because I grew up on the campus. I knew it. I knew where I was going. I understood, by that time, because my folks were at school for a long time. I think, until they graduated when I was around 10, or 11, and we still had relations on campus, up until 12, 13. And, then, I’m in high school, and I’m in high school in Westwood, at University High School, so I’m right down the street.

But I digressed from that. The original thought. But I think we were talking about the need to create something, and the need to have a space, and my parents were able to work with individuals in Los Angeles who were doing the arts. R’Wanda Lewis had the R’Wanda Lewis African American Dance Ensemble in Los Angeles. When she finished in the 80s… I feel like the 90s, she, finally, wrapped up. It was 35 years, and, as she evolved, she gave Lula the lease to her building. Lula worked with her so R’Wanda, and her husband mentored Lula, and Irwin, while Lula was dancing with R’Wanda Lewis, and teaching for R’Wanda Lewis. And many other places in Los Angeles, at schools, universities.

When my mom picked me up at school, we were going over to Cal State Long Beach so she could teach a class. Then, we’re going to go, over there, to Cal State Dominguez for a rehearsal, and, then, we’re going to go, and pick somebody up, and give them a ride. She’s doing a lot, and I was there. So, Lula saw that it was possible to have her own thing, because she had an example. And R’Wanda had an example… Excuse me. R’Wanda had an example, because she came from the Katherine Dunham School, which… I don’t know if you’re familiar with who Katherine Dunham is. She is…

Oh, my. You got to know who Katherine Dunham is. Katherine Dunham. Katherine Dunham is known as the mother of jazz dance. She is an anthropologist. She’s one of the first Black women, or, women, period, to receive a full Bright grant to travel throughout Africa, and the Caribbeans, and the West, and-

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, yes, I know, exactly, who you’re talking about. Yes.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Political activist, and choreographer. First black woman to choreograph, in film. First black woman to produce herself, all over the world, and her company. And she was a serious political activist who was critical, in many cases, in Haiti, in different times of their history. Their early history, there. Not early, but in her lifetime.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, yes.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  We were all her dates. And so R’Wanda had experiences with Katherine Dunham, and moved to Los Angeles, and started her school in her garage, and at the parks, and, then, had her company, and Lula was in her company in the 70s. And there were other black choreographers making it happen, just making it happen. And I digress a little bit, here, because I just need to say that a lot of East Coast people say “There’s no dance in LA. There’s no concert dance in LA.”

The truth is, they just don’t understand how we make it happen, and they don’t see it, so they don’t know that it’s really happening. So dance has been happening in Los Angeles for some time, and we know that, because Lula had examples-

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  … To follow behind, a foundation to stand on. And, now, she is holding the helm as an anchor arts organization in Los Angeles, going on 45 years of consistent business. We’ve never closed. COVID came, and we contracted. We didn’t close.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  We didn’t-

Melyssa Barrett:  Didn’t have much choice, right?

Tamica Washington-Miller:  No, but we did not, completely, shut-shut down. They took a couple days off, and we said, “Okay, only three people at a time.” “Only one person at a time. Wear your mask.” But we kept moving, because we saw the movement was necessary for the people involved at the time of COVID, and George Floyd.

We, for real, lost people to COVID, but we lost people, because their spirit…

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  “I have to go back.”

The building that Lula inherited, the building that we were in during the ’92 earthquake, and right behind it, the Rodney King LA civil unrest.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, wow.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  And oh, can I tell you? The gangsters came, and stood around our building, and we’re like, “Y’all not going to mess with this space.”, during the uprising.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, wow.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  At one point, in our time, there, on Adams, the homeless… The wino came, and we came to the studio, and we saw somebody painting on the building. We said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m drawing an oasis, because this is what this dance studio is. It’s an oasis. In the midst of all this craziness.” You have to imagine the studio was come about… Lula’s studio came about at the height of the crack epidemic, the height of the crack epidemic. So we were powerful energy in the space, at that time, and that was because Lula, and Irwin followed their vision, and moved into the space when R’Wanda made it-

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  The offer to them. Lula’s coming in here.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, she’s coming. It’s, really, truly a pleasure to have both of you, here, so I’m excited.

Lula Washington:  I’m excited, too.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Mom, where you?

Tamica Washington-Miller:  I was telling Melyssa about… Because the question was about why you guys are doing the dance company. I was giving her the background, from my perspective, and I’m at the place where we’re talking about where we were on Adams, and how you had the example of R’Wanda Lewis, and Bill Cowser, and all the others who were, there, doing art in LA, at the time. And when you took over the building, it was at the height of the crack epidemic. And, then, even, as we moved to Pica, we rented space, because the earthquake took that first building that we had owned, by then. By then, we had owned it.

And, again, Lula and Erwin, in their activism, had to push back with the city of LA, because they wanted to take that building by eminent domain.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, wow.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  So all of this that I’m sharing with you supports the idea of the impact of the art, and how important it is, but, also, how hard it is to make happen. So we had the support of the wino, and the gangsters, over on Adams, during the civil unrest, but Lula, and Irwin had to push back to the city when they tried to take the space by eminent domain. And I’m, chronologically-

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  … out of order, but the two are connected.

Lula Washington:  It’s, actually, been a beautiful thing that I had a vision that space was important for our organization as a dance studio, because what I realized very quickly on, and Irwin and I realized very quickly on, there, we can’t really do a program, and what we want to do, if we can’t do it when we need to do it. So we needed to have control of our time, and we need to have control of a space that will allow us to be in it when we need to be in it. So that’s all I would, basically, say about that.

But in doing the space, in each space that we, actually, were in, starting, even, on Adams, as Tamica says, has been a healing space, as well as a place for creativity to take place, as well as a place for us to bring in artists, and introduce them to the art of dance, as well as a place for us to allow students to participate in the arts who would not, normally, have an opportunity to participate in the art of dance.

So one healing story, just one… I have many healing stories on Adams, but this one sticks out the most because there was a young lady… There were two. Two stories on Adams. One, there was a little girl that would, always, be at the door when I showed up in the morning, before everybody else. And this little girl did not want to go home, and she would be the last person, I would have to say, “It’s time for you to go home. All your classes been over.” And she would just, always, want to stay, and just watch everything else that we were doing. And I, finally, realized that she needed to be in our space, because, perhaps, home was not the best place for her to be during those hours. And you became a second home for this little girl.

And we would, always… As we’ve, always, done, buy food, and stuff, and make sure they have stuff to eat, and keep a watchful eye on them, because, perhaps, there was nobody at home to keep the watchful eye on them. And then, finally, we would have to say, “It’s time to go.”, because we were going, and, then, she would go, but that’s just one story.

And then the other story was of one of the students who I think she found either her father, or a relative, dead, and it traumatized her, but she still came to the studio, and that day she didn’t really want to do anything, so we did not… We kept talking to her because we tried to talk, and find out, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” And she just started crying. So, myself, and the other students… I just ran over, and hugged her, and, of course, they came over, and they hugged her, as well. And I just started walking around the studio. We all just held hands, and walked in a circle, inside the studio for her, until she started to feel better.

And she did start to feel better, but we did not know that that had happened to her, that she discovered the body until sometime later. But all we knew was that she came to the studio, and she needed comfort, and she needed us to wrap our arms around her, and to walk in a circle, which is a form of movement. It’s a form of the universe, moving in a circle, in a healing position, to set her on the right path back to herself to be able to heal. So that’s a story, there.

Then, when, we were over on Pico, the 9/11 incident happened, and we were on Pico. I was driving to the studio, and my mom was calling, and she said, “Oh, two planes crashed into the Empire State Building.”, whatever that building was. I said, “Oh, mom, you just watching a TV show. That’s a TV… Don’t pay attention to that. No such thing has happened. No, no, no.” I just didn’t believe her. And, then, as I was continuing driving to the studio, I started getting calls from my dancers, and some of them were frantic, and they were panicked, and they all lived in New York. They all lived in New York. And we had a big rehearsal because we were getting ready to do a show with McCoy Tyner.

We were getting ready to create a new work, and I said, “Well, you guys, just come onto the studio, and we’ll work everything out. It won’t be a real hardcore day of rehearsals.” So they all came to the studio, but what I quickly discovered was their mind was not in a place to do anything, and everybody was emotional, because they had family, and relatives, there. So I said, “Okay, I’m going to just put on this music, and you guys just do whatever you need to do to express yourself to this music.” and the music that I happened to put on that day by McCoy Tyner, because we were selected… I’m doing a suite to his work. The first piece was called Flying With the Wind, so I put that music on, and one dancer, he just burst out running, and running. Just running, running around the studio.

So it was a healing moment, for us, to experience that with them, at that moment. And what I decided to do, I said, “Well, this running will be the opening movement in the choreography.” So that became part of the momentum for the dance, because it was healing, and it was spiritual, and everyone else joined in, and started doing different things. And afterwards we kind of talked about it, and I asked them how that made them feel, and they all were… They were broke down. They were crying, but they all said that just the act of hearing that music, and me allowing them to do something that was not mine, but unstructured, but something that they were expressing their raw feeling was very healing to them.

And, then, the other story-

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Same thing happened with the riots, with the-

Lula Washington:  Yeah, I was getting to the riots. Do you want to tell them?

Tamica Washington-Miller:  No, no, I didn’t want to forget that.

Lula Washington:  Well, yes. No, I was [inaudible 00:22:57], because I was just getting ready to say that. And, then, the other major thing that happened was when Rodney King… Rodney King beatings, we were upstairs in the studio, myself, and some students. I was teaching ballet class, and, of course, I was naive to what was going on outside, and had no clue that they was rioting in the street on Normandy in Western, and that they were beating this truck driver, and that it was a riot. Actually, it was two times, so the first time, and parents started banging on the door, and asked to come in, “Okay, my kids got to go. They got to go.” And, finally, I said…

Well, I was there, with the two little students left. Finally, the last mother, I said, “What is it? What’s going on?” She said, “Didn’t you hear? Don’t you know what’s going on?” I said, “No, I don’t know.” She said, “They’re rioting in the street. They’re tearing up the street. They’re tearing up buildings, and things, and I got to go.” And I said, “Oh, okay.” So we went home. But we created, after the verdict happened, again, dancers were emotionally upset, emotionally disturbed, and needed to express themselves, as well as I needed to express myself, so I created a dance called… What’s that-

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Check This Out.

Lula Washington:  Check This Out, and we started… I think, it was Tamica that started-

Melyssa Barrett:  Because people were so appalled.

Okay, so when it all went down, actually, was the first day of my process with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated because I was in college.

Lula Washington:  How about that? Where were you made?

Melyssa Barrett:  Here, Tracy area alumni.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Oh, wow. Wonderful. Okay, we’ll have to have another conversation. But my knees buckled under, and I, literally, said, “We don’t even matter. We don’t even matter.” And we were all so enraged we needed to do something, but we knew going in the street wasn’t going to do anything, so showing up to rehearsal was the best thing we could do. And I think, at the time… I can’t even remember the rapper’s name, but “Engine, engine number nine. Going up.” we changed the lyrics.

Lula Washington:  Those white cops got out of line.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Out of line. Check it out, check it out, check it out.

Lula Washington:  No, “knowing that an would rally, knowing that an all white jury would never understand a black man’s fury. Check it out, check it out, check it out.” So the dancers, also, chimed into that. One girl started singing, “America, the beautiful.” We just created, on the spot… Created that, and created the movement, and created a ballet called Check It Out, Check It Out.

So that was a healing moment, again, and it gave voice to artists who didn’t want to go out, and throw a rock, or tear down a building, or something, but they wanted their voice to be heard, and being part of this choreography, their voices were, also, heard. And the same thing with the George Floyd thing, in our space, here, on Crenshaw. And, then, I created a platform that said… Oh, what was it? “Tell me, what did you see?”, or something. I gave dancers the opportunity to express their own voices about what was going on in their feelings.

But, then, I created this sweet call, today, and, today, was started off with the music of Kurt Franklin where he was talking about, “Touch somebody, love somebody, greet somebody.”, because we all saw what happened, in living color. And, on top of that, COVID was in place, so it was a double pain, for all of us, but, all through it, we kept dancing. I kept creating dance, and giving a voice, and the dancers have a voice in, also, the work. And I created… Somebody said, “Hold on, wait a minute. Tell me what did you see?”, and created a dance around that, as well. So we created, or I created a suite that’s about 25, 30 minutes that included poetry, singing, and dance, as a way of healing, so it’s still healing. I think we end it with Cruz, with Celia Cruz’s work, I Will Survive, music.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Here’s the… Lula, I’m sorry. Let me just make this connection right here, because Lula has a vast repertoire, and when we’re talking about those moments, the civil unrest, 9/11, COVID, and George Floyd. And, before that, there were other things in the histories, but she created works that, then, toured nationally, and internationally. So those works, now, have an opportunity to speak to people that weren’t here, but experienced it, wherever they were, and, now, there’s opportunity for conversation. That’s what I meant, earlier, about the art is critical. The art is necessary. It’s hard to tell the art, the truth, because, sometimes, people just only want to be entertained, and, sometimes, we don’t want to deal with things, but it’s important that we have the opportunities for it, the spaces for it to happen.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and I think what’s so interesting to me is how much… Because I am not a performer, but I appreciate the performance so much because I feel like, especially, with dance, music, you, actually, have the ability to kind of get in touch with words, when you don’t even know what you’re feeling. And that’s what’s amazing to me, is that you all can take what you’re feeling, and create the art, because I think a lot of people, we sit in it. That’s why our mental health can be unstable, right? Because we don’t know how to process what we’re feeling, and it’s so amazing that you are able to use the art, and create that. It’s such a talent.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  The viewer, the audience member that is sitting with us in the space will find a way to move, and come to a new place, will shift in it, in the space of watching the movement. That the movement will resonate, and create some shift, for them, in the moment. And that’s the beauty of live performance, as well, is you’re in this space, and this time, with these people, at this moment, and the dance was, specifically, that way that night. The music is recorded. It’s going to be the same every night, but the way that interpretation happened was unique. It won’t be the same next week.

Lula Washington:  Well, yeah, that’s why it’s important that you have the opportunity to, maybe, talk to people about it first, if you can. Because people expect to think that, “Oh, I should get this, right away, and, if I don’t, something’s wrong with me.” and nothing’s wrong with them. And I, always, like to tell people, “Open yourself up when you come. Don’t have a preconceived idea of what it is. Accept it and let whatever happens, happens, and your thoughts about it come out.” And I, always, encourage people, after the show or something, talk with somebody else about what you saw. Have a conversation about it, because they do that, when they’re having a book session. They’ll talk about things about the writing, but they don’t really do that a lot for dance, have the conversation. And, like I said, dance is the first thing that people will say, “Oh, I’ll never go back to see it because I didn’t understand it, now. I was scratching my head.”

And I have to say, you have to give dance the same chance, and opportunity that you give everything else. You can go see a movie four times, 500 times. You can only see that dance that one time, so you have to think about it. And as Tamica always says, you got to think about it, and process what you saw, and, then, ask the questions about it and question whoever was with you and get their feedback about it. Because it’s the conversations that follow that will help you to know, “Oh, it’s okay.” It’s okay. You don’t have to get it. You may feel something. What did you feel? How did it make you feel? What did it make you want to do?

So we have little places, in some of the choreography, where we engage the audience, like, “What are you going to do about it?” We ask that question, and they all say, “Nobody’s going to say nothing.” And I say, “Well, if they don’t say nothing, they don’t say nothing.”

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Times they do say something, and it’s like… It’s the shock.

Melyssa Barrett:  Like, “We’re part of the show.”, right?

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Well, yeah. Yeah.

Lula Washington:  Part of the show, so we try to find ways, in some of the work, to have people engage in it. We, also, just have to know that modern dance is something that’s not accepted, unless you come from Europe, or something where they lift you up, and up, and up, and up. Or, unless you one of the big New York companies where they lift you up, and up, and up, and up. But you have to understand, we have to push all the arts that come out of our communities to go all over the world because there’s value in what we bring out of our community. So we met an artist in Australia, and he was telling me his story, and I was like, “People go through this, right here, in the United States of America. And he said, “Yes, but they don’t know that I went through it in Australia. They don’t know the riots, and the things people go through in Australia, and we don’t know what y’all have gone through, here.”

And I said, “Well, there’s the reason for us to get together so we can share this thing.”, because if you’re not sharing it, people don’t know about it. We got a short memory. So, in the choreography, we have something… One of the pieces in the today’s suite, we have what we call hashtags. Maybe a hashtag to say, “He lied.” Another hashtag said, “He’s still lying.” And now we are going to, “45th is a lie.” “My body, my choice.”, this, that, and the other. “I’m going to vote.” “Keep the vote.” Different little hashtags, and say, “Hashtag, this is…” Whatever the current things are, because it’s, ,always funny how people tell big lies.

Everybody believe them, all the time. Still believe in them. But when you tell the truth, it is so hard for people to hear it. It’s like, maybe, their ears are bugged, or something. I don’t know. We bring it back, and we, always, say, “They murdered George Floyd.” We have to keep this alive because it’s the truth, and when they’re trying to erase our history, if we’re not keeping our history alive, who is? So that’s my point of view.

Melyssa Barrett:  Y’all are fabulous.

Lula Washington:  Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  One of the things I do want to know, though, is, can you… And Lula, I know we were going to ask you a little bit about your journey, but how did both of you know that this is what you wanted to do? I know Tamica grew up with it, but a lot of times, when your parents are doing something, you don’t, always, want to follow. But it is who you are, like how did you know this is what your purpose was?

Lula Washington:  Tamica is never forced to do anything. It’s, always, her choice. And she’s been in it, like you said. She recalls, I think I heard her say, we would to take her to see dance when she was a baby, and the Royce called because we were students, there. Tamica’s, always, been a person that, even, when she was little, she was part of a movement, the movement at UCLA to provide childcare for students, and we were one of the places that was suing UCLA to get that to happen. Because we wanted to get Tamica in that childcare center because it was one of the best ones, and it was close, and we could come to school, on the way, there, drop her off, and she’d be there. Then, when we leave school, go back, but it was only for the professors. So we, always, been a part of some type of movement, and Tamica was, always, part of a movement, even, when she was a little part of that movement.

But it’s, always, been her choice to find her own voice, and she’s a very creative artist herself. She has some wonderful choreography, and we’re going to be sharing one of her works, her new works, on the show that I’m very excited about, that she’s working on. So we’re going to be sharing that. So she’s going to develop it. I think I’ll let her finish talking about her piece, but it has, always, been a personal choice. And you’re, absolutely, right. Many times founders, or people that start something don’t have anybody in their family that wants to do it, so they have to rely on others.

But this was her choice, so we want to make the best of our time, here, with her so she can have the tools, and the resources to do it her way when she needs it, when we are not here to be at her side. So it’s a wonderful opportunity for myself, and for her dad, as well, to have that experience, with her growing, and she’s tough. She’s a very tough person. She’s writing grants, and proposals, and negotiating things, and everything, and learning, and meeting people. And her personality is very different from mine. I’m not the outgoing type. She’s very outgoing.

Melyssa Barrett:  I have a hard time believing that.

Lula Washington:  I’m a Pisces and I’m the fish, but, sometimes, I’m the fish that’s going in the opposite direction. But I’m still a fish. But she’s a cancer, she’s a natural mediator, so she kind of comes in, and she finds those common places, so it’s a good… And we’re all water signs. Her dad’s a Scorpio, she’s a Cancer, so we got all that fire, and water, and all that, up in there, together. So it can be very heated. Very heated. Very opinionated people, so it’s a learning experience for all, but, maybe, Tamica can talk a little bit about her piece?

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Well, yeah, thank you, mommy, for all those amazing compliments. Thank you. I have watched the two geniuses. I’ve watched them do this. I’ve watched, and I’ve participated. I’ve followed directions. I’ve listened. I tried to speak up, and, then, I just listened. But it is a blessing, and it is very challenging to work, as an only child, with your folks, but the blessing is that I’m able to take what they’ve started, and, hopefully, continue it, and move it to another place, so that, even, now, I’m thinking about who, and what, and how will be beyond me. Beyond me, as the bloodline.

And yes, my parents, when I look back, and I look at my friends, and I look at my experience, I was, always, busy, but it was, always, my choice. And my parents were like, “Yeah, you can do it. Can you fit it into your schedule?” “Yeah, you can do it, but the homework is still due.” So I learned, early on, that it’s possible to do, almost, all the things that you want to do if you’re planning, and if you do the work, and if you’re prepared, and you know what’s going to require of you. You understand that. And, then, I, also, learned, some things, you just can’t do. You’re just not going to be able to make it, so my parents gave me the opportunity to do everything.

Literally, I ran track. I became co-captain of the track team. I was in the acting program at school. I produced the dance company on campus. I brought the dance company to the school. I did everything. I was an actor. I did everything, but, at the end of the day, I was in film, television… Hollywood, I, always, was like, “Go, you should do it.” Everybody, “You should do it. You’re perfect. They’re great. The camera loves you. Go and do it.” And I, always, had issues when they said, “Oh, come. Look your natural self.” But, then, they’d be like, “Oh, but you need to straighten your hair.” But that’s not my natural self.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Those themes, I learned them, early, and I saw my mom go through stuff at her auditions. So I was, always, kind of, “I don’t want to block any work that might come my way.”, but, also, understanding that there was a different expectation, and sacrifice for Hollywood than the more authentic work I feel like I had access to as a dancer, and in live theater, performing arts. And as I grew up, understood my purpose, and value is, to me, more impactful with my boots on the ground, because I saw, as a teenager, what the studio meant for my community, and my peers. And to this day, some of my friends… Today, just like, “Girl, that time when we had the class at your mom’s studio was so fun. I cherish that moment still to my life.” And we’re in our 50s, now, and she’s like, “Was the best time of my life.” And I’m like, “Well, I have those days, every day, because I have a studio.”

But I learned that as a young person, so as I grew up, like I said, I went to school, I realized, “No, this is… I’m going to. I have a legacy opportunity that my friends don’t, necessarily, have. They may have it with their family businesses, but I have the opportunity for this legacy. I’m naturally inclined, in this direction. It has been favorable to me.” So it made sense, for me, to continue on that path of continuing this legacy. And to be proud of it, to be proud of my parents, and their work, and to be proud of what they’ve been able to build, here, on the West Coast, in Los Angeles.

Yeah, I recognized that, in my early 20s, when I went to New York. They gave me plenty of chances, and I went out, and I experienced other dance companies. I thought I was going to do other things, but naturally inclined to do the business, because I was with my dad, all the time, with his meetings. I listened to him talk. I helped him type. I folded the flyers. Remember you could get a flyer, threefold and put in the… To the point where, by the time I was 16, I wasn’t the kid on the phone. I was like, “The phone is for business. I can’t just be on the phone, all the time.”, because I was an old lady on the phone, talking business, by that point. But yeah, they gave me plenty of opportunities to go out, and do, and be. Find my own voice.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s fantastic.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  It was just… I’m just blessed. Just been a blessing.

Melyssa Barrett:  I’m so blessed, because you all are coming to my city, in a couple of weeks… Well, not even.

Lula Washington:  Next week. Next week. By Monday night, we’ll be there.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, so I am excited. Can you talk a little bit about what you guys are doing when you’re here, and how you interface with community?

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Yes. So everywhere that we go, the opportunity to connect with the community is a little different. This time, I believe that we have two different kind of engagement opportunities with the people. I believe at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, the 19th, there is a community open level dance class for people who are dancers, who move. I believe, there’s a community of folk who take classes, and whatnot, so that’ll be an open level movement class that Lula, and myself, and, maybe, a dancer, a couple of dancers will be there. This is at the theater. And, then, after that, it’s what we’re calling Community Move, where anybody who wants to move, whether you have dance experience, or not, come. It’s social movement. It’s a movement experience. It’s a good time, and it’s to help people just remember that. Some people do go out, and dance, and they already know how uplifting, and amazing it is for your body, but some people don’t.

And, also, it’s an opportunity for us to let them see we’re human beings, and tell them a little bit about what they’ll see. We may use some music from the performance, and we, always, try to have time to talk with the participants, and answer any questions that they might have. So I’m excited about that, because they’ll be in the theater, I believe. I’m not sure if they’re on the stage, but they’ll be in the theater, which is… Yeah, I’m trying to think of one more thing. There was something on the tip of my tongue about the community classes.

Oh, I was going to tell you about the work, so I believe you’re going to see… So my piece that Lula was talking about is, still, a work in progress. It will premiere in 2025, at the Ford Theater, so we’re just getting into the work. You’ll see about 12 minutes of it, give or take. And it is based on… It has been inspired by the 1619 project. Both Lula, and I have works, right now, that were created out of COVID, and George Floyd, and have been inspired by the 1619 project. And my piece, because, during George Floyd, and COVID, when we were in the house, I find myself shouting, shouting, praising, shouting, all by myself. And I looked on Instagram, and Facebook, and everybody was dancing, or moving, in some kind of way, and then I just started thinking about the spiritual connection to it.

Then, I remembered, “Oh, yeah, the ring shout.” And, then, I said, “Oh, my goodness. The ring shout started, right after slavery, in the 30s.” By the time they started saying, “You need to go, and have this little praise house.”, or “You can go, and praise on the one day a week, at this hour.”

So the idea of the 1619 project is not, really, recapping what happened, but what is now, because we had slavery, because of it, what are these outcomes? What are the things that we’re dealing with, now? And I thought about the movement that came out of the praise house, the ring shout, and how that spiritual healing has kept us to now, and how it will keep us in the future. I’m looking at remembering those movement, those gestures, those little things that grandma taught us how to do, prayer, the healing technologies that we forgot, or that we don’t remember, we don’t do anymore, in the movement of it. So that piece is, also, inspired by the stories that we could fly. That we could fly. That we could fly, and we can fly. We can fly.

So that’s the working title, And We Can Fly. And that’s my piece that I’m showcasing. Lula, you want to talk about Master Plan?

Lula Washington:  Yeah. Master plan is a concept of universal peace, and happiness for everyone, through the concept of messengers that are sent out, throughout the world, to bring that message of peace, and happiness to everyone, because our situation in the United States, and around the world, right now, is in such turmoil. So, because it’s in such turmoil, it requires people who are seers, and people who can feel the energy of the universe to start putting in motion contradictions to all the hate, and contradictions to all of the negativity that’s swirling around us, that’s suppressing us and suppressing different communities, and people’s mindsets.

So Farrell Sanders music, the master or creator… The creator? That’s the music. The name of the music is The Creator Has a Master Plan, but the dance, itself, is called The Master Plan. So it’s based on that, and the concept of using the rainbow, and the connections to our yoga, spiritual souls, and energy chakras, through colors,, to help bring forth this kind of peace and happiness, and love, and a way to bring healing, and quietness to ourselves, in the constant, trying to find that balance. And, once we find that balance, we are in harmony, and, hopefully, everybody will be in harmony. That’s the idea. It’s quite a long piece, but it’s a journey.

And it is one that, once again, people come open to see what they get out of it and to see… Because all of the colors, I think, are colors that everybody can relate to, and, hopefully, they love these colors. But it is the colors that help us embrace, and find ourselves, and we wrap ourselves in the color, at the end, for the warmth, and the kindness that we’ve gotten from our all-higher being, where our higher being is. So that’s the concept of The Master Plan. It’s a lovely piece, so we are very excited about sharing that, up there, along with some other work that we have in our repertoire.

That’s what Tamica calls, “From our vault…”, because we’ll be sharing a piece called God Bless Africa. Because, as slaves, we were taken all over the world, and a song called God Bless Africa, to me, is a statement. Africa is a huge, huge continent, so that’s all the people in Africa, not just people that look like us, but all the people need to be blessed. That’s how I see it, but, also, reflecting on the slaves that were removed from the continent. But the various different means that they were… Some were sold, some were just stolen, and removed, so however you want to look at it, they were gone. They were taken, and they knew that, once they got on that boat, that they would never be back. They would never see their loved ones. And those that, actually, ended up in slavery, when they were separated, they never… It’s the same thing. You never see.

And I was, always, saying, “What rituals do we have as Black people? What rituals do we have?” Because, when we went to China, our guy, he, always, had these rituals that he wanted to do. He had this ritual. I was like, “Dad, what rituals do we have?” And, then, I realized that just hugging each other is our ritual. I never realized that before. And I said, “Every time we go somewhere, our grandparents, they all come, and hug us, and our great-grandparents, they’ll come, and hug us.” And I said, “That’s because they didn’t know when they would see us, again, or their relatives. They never knew.” I said, “That’s going to be our ritual. That’s our ritual.” But nobody told me that that was a ritual. I just said, “Well, maybe, it is.”, and I claimed it as a ritual.

So, that’s that dance, and, then, we have another piece that we’re sharing called The… I hope I say it right, Tamica… Igbo Landing. It’s a part of this piece about the slaves that were released off the boat. I think, it was in Virginia. They were told to get off the boat, and walk up to the land, and they got off the boat but, then, when they got to the land, they started walking back. They said, “We are not going to step on this land.” To me, that’s what they were saying, “We’re not going to step on this land.” And they kept walking back, until they drowned. They’d rather die than put one foot onto that land. So that’s a beautiful solo, reflective of that anguish.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  So I wanted to just put one little thing in there, because I love when we do the South African National Anthem. First of all, most people don’t know that there is such a song, and it, also, to me, connects to the idea that yes, they took everybody, they took lots of us from that continent, and they keep taking everything else out the continent. The diamonds, the uranium, the oil, you name it, you know? So that piece, we do that. We do both of those solos in our educational performances, as well as the Black national anthem. And we do that because kids don’t even know.

It was interesting. We did the solo the other day, and Lula asked about the second solo, the Igbo Landing solo. When it was over, she asked the student to come up, and share her thoughts about what she saw, what did she get, what was her own interpretation from it. It was very interesting, the youth, how the youth took it. It was like, “I guess, she was very upset that she had to make this decision.”, but it was the how she said it, you know what I mean? I don’t know. A kid growing up in the 70s, myself, would’ve been like, “She was mad. She had to make a [inaudible 00:54:51]”

Not like, “She was really upset.” Just the way she got it, but it was the tone and energy in it, it’s different. The resignation of it was interesting to me, some kind of low-key, like “She was just upset, I guess, and she had to make this choice.”, but she understood, and she got to her expression of what she got from it. But it was just the tone of the generation. I was like, “Wow.” They’ve seen so much, I guess, by this age, and experienced a lot in the world. Especially, as a high school student, you went through George Floyd, and what other conversations you might’ve had, in that process, and all the movies they’ve seen.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, it’s growing up in a different place, for sure.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  So I don’t want to keep you all, but I do want to ask both of you, because it’s Women’s History month, one of the things I’ve been talking about is just trying to recognize women lifting women, because I know, a lot of times, we don’t. So I love the fact that I’m hearing you talk about Lula, really, kind of taking over from another couple who was running a dance theater-

Tamica Washington-Miller:  That’s more about R’Wanda. I told her about R’Wanda Lewis.

Melyssa Barrett:  And, now, you all are, really, doing a lot of the same thing to create the legacy that you are. So I have a quick question for you all, just in terms of what advice would you give your younger selves? Knowing who you are today, and where you are, is there anything you would tell yourself?

Lula Washington:  That’s a hard question. Honestly.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay. Well, and I don’t want to take it too far.

Lula Washington:  I guess, if I was young, again? I’m starting over? Is that what you mean?

Melyssa Barrett:  Sure, however you take it. What would you… Because you, now, have seen all the obstacles, and the pain, the trauma, the healing that you provide through dance. I don’t know.

Lula Washington:  Well, I would just say, “Don’t let nobody tell you what you can do and what you cannot do. Don’t let nobody step all over your rights. And search for truth, and honesty, in everything that you do.” And I would say, “Take some karate classes.” I would say, “Study yoga.” I would say, “Learn how to stay humble, and learn how to develop your third eye, because your third eye is the eye that’s going to help you see truth, and reality, and help you learn how to read people, and develop those skills.” And that the only person that can keep you back is yourself. And, yeah, always learn how to say please, and thank you. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  You owned it.

Lula Washington:  That was good.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Absolutely. Listen, when you asked the question, I, immediately, went to multiverse, and was like, “I would not pass myself. I wouldn’t say anything to myself.” I just wouldn’t [inaudible 00:58:22]. The rules of sci-fi… I’m a space sci-fi nerd. But, also, everything that I went through got me here, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t want to… I don’t know.

Everything Lula said is great, and yeah, those are things that would be good to say. And if I’m, literally, thinking about, somehow I went back in time, and I had a chance to tell myself something, I feel like I wouldn’t, because the choices that I made got me here, right now.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Based on everything I had, in that time, in that moment, and based on what I have to keep saying, “I listened to my parents.” Begrudgingly, at times, but I did listen.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  I did. I did, and I made choices based on knowing that I had a legacy to… So I don’t know. I feel like Multiverse?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  I’m not going to see my young self, again.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Not telling her…

Lula Washington:  One last thing, will we have an audience when we get there? Like other people of color there? Oh, it just be people we don’t know, but it’s okay. We just want to know who we’re going to see, when we be sitting up in that theater, by ourself.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, no.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  We started on that. We started there, huh? Talking about-

Lula Washington:  I don’t know. I didn’t hear that, but I got to go.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Oh.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. You’re going to have an audience, let me tell you. So we are trying to pack the house, but we are going to bring some people, we are black people. We want them to show up.

Lula Washington:  I know. That’s why I’m asking you that question, right now. No opportunity. We know.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  That’s why we be going out through Melyssa, because we know, sometimes, our community needs to know who it is, and understand what are they coming to do, “Why should I come, and see it?” And that’s why we try to do as much engagement on our own when someone brings us, tell us whatever, what they can do. I just wasn’t able to do much on my own, this time. So I’m grateful.

Melyssa Barrett:  No, this is fantastic. I treasure the fact that you all have made time to just share a lot of the story, because I think it’s so true. I think a lot of people look at dance, and they go, “Yeah, maybe, I don’t understand.”, or, “I don’t know what I’m looking at.” But to be able to understand what is being created, so that you can, really, tap in, and connect with it, it’s amazing how healing that, really, can be. So I’m so looking forward to it. I’m so excited, and I cannot wait to see you all. I’m so glad that the Grand Theater brought you, here, to my little town, in Tracy, and I am so glad that I, now, know that you’re my soror.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Soror, I know. I got stuff all over. Let’s see, can you see it, all my little memorabilia?

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, yeah. There, you go.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  I just have some of the-

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s exciting. We are so excited to have you, and host you, and we’re looking forward to you coming to the NAACP General Meeting, as well. So I am just really excited at the work you all are doing, so thank you for that.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Awesome. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for all of it. Thank you for everything, and yeah, we have a long history with NAACP. I can’t wait to share, and be in the space with you guys, Saturday at 10:30.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Is that right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Okay. Now, I know what happened. I got all the days, and times mixed up, and, then, I decided to not drive. So my head was like, “You don’t have to drive. You can stay home. 10:30, and everything. It’s the time” Anyway…

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s all good. It’s all good. It worked out, and I’m just glad that we could have the space together, so thank you all so much. Tell your mom… I don’t know if she’s coming back, but, please, give her my blessings, and thank yous.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Okay, I will. I will.

Melyssa Barrett:  I look forward to seeing you guys in person, next week.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  Absolutely. Okay, take care.

Melyssa Barrett:  All right. You, too.

Tamica Washington-Miller:  I’ll talk to you soon.

Melyssa Barrett:  All right. Bye-Bye.

Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe, so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.