Tannery resident, dancer, dance educator, Fulbright Scholar, and dance historian Yasmina Porter will be facilitating the next Tannery Talk “Creativity, Spirituality and Social Justice” on January 17. We asked Yasmina about living at the Tannery, transformative art experiences, and what she hopes participants will experience during her Tannery Talk.

What’s the best part of living at the Tannery?

My neighbors! I’ve lived here since the very beginning, when folks waited in line overnight to choose apartments. It feels like a village here, like when I lived in a small village in West Africa as a child. We have a bond built from shared experiences, through both celebration and struggles. We come together for holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mothers’ Day. When we experienced the horrible tragedy with Maddy a few years ago, churches and other organizations contributed time and resources to building up the Tannery, offering food and prayer, and bringing the community closer together. We began a potluck, “Taco Tuesdays,” which has turned into a once a month gathering. Neighbors bring dishes from different countries around the world and the kids play together outdoors. The community supports each other on problems both large and small. I can get a pep talk from my neighbors when I am struggling raising my two teenagers, or borrow a sweater when I’m cold. I feel very safe and loved by my neighbors. It’s really special.

This is also a beautiful interfaith community, with a range of religions, political opinions, and backgrounds. We are always able to engage with love, in addition to tolerance and civility. I think at a time when our country is so divided, to live in a place where each individual is seen and heard is very special. A lot of people are dying for that kind of community in the world.

You’ve taught dance and storytelling to children and adults all over the world. Tell us about a time when you witnessed the transformative power of these art forms.

There are many that blend together; it’s difficult to choose one moment. But it’s the little ones that really light up when they witness this form of storytelling. I used to teach a lesson for Kindergarten through second grades at Live Oak schools that tells an entire history lesson on  African culture and diaspora through dance. I tell a folktale about the First Mother, who was the same mother for all of us. The littles light up with delight, and their eyes get big. I speak Spanish fluently, so when I am teaching students all can understand the story, and they are able to see their connection to something they didn’t see before. Their lives are changed. They exclaim, “we’re cousins!” and embrace each other! It’s so cute, and it’s so important. The littles get that Black history is for all of us, and they can feel really good about it; human history is part of their history, too.

Your Tannery Talk is about finding the connection between art, spirit and cultural activism. Can you give us a sneak preview of what you hope listeners will learn about this connection?

It’s going to be an African-centered program style. The line between participant and presenter will be blurred, and it will be experiential and participatory. It’s a continuation of the Tannery Lecture Series started by Margaret Niven that was re-launched as the Tannery Talks last year. I also have a private practice as mindfulness-based relationship coach which will inform my approach. There will be real engagement. Everyone will be unabashedly loving what they love, and openly passionate about their art forms. Everyone will play, dance, and connect. If you’re scared of art or spirituality, you can come; just be willing to engage. People feel unseen and unheard, and this event will help us all connect.

The Tannery Talks series is an exploration with community leaders and Tannery artists of the role of the arts in social activism, identity, and self-expression. The events are free, open to the public, and welcoming to the Santa Cruz community.

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