meet jasmine

jasmine hearn, performer, curator, director, choreographer, organizer, and teaching artist, speaks on bodies.

in our notes on interview, jasmine hearn shares with us where she came from, how that informs her practice, and more about her DanceSpace performance "You Think You Fancy." she is currently a company member with the Urban Bush Women and a 2019 Jerome Foundation Jerome Hill Fellow. 

s.w

How and where did you learn the most about your body as a young girl?

jasmine

My mom is a registered nurse and my father is a doctor (my parents divorced when I was eight). I also have an older sister who is about four or five years older than me. We went to a primarily white attending school and we were one of maybe five black people in our class. Our other activities centered around being in spaces that were predominantly black spaces. I was raised Catholic and was involved with the Junior Daughters and Junior Knights of St. Peter. It was a very specific program that taught us leadership skills and ways of being in community with one another. It also trained us to be very specific in our gender roles or ways of performing genders. We would go to conferences and conventions where we would dress up in all white to certain events. [The intent] was to be seen as feminine and virtuous and modest. So I would say that my experience growing up was a cross between experiencing my body as a body that was hyper-feminized and then growing up in a household of health professionals. Until the time that I was eight, all the language was very clinical. My sister received a lot of first hand knowledge from my mother and had access to "Our Bodies Ourselves," I received it [guidance] through my sister rather than directly from my mother.

When I started getting more into dance, after the age of eight when my parents split up, our house became a house that was like ‘women's district,’ where my sister, my mom and I would walk around naked or get dressed in front of one another. There were no men living in the house so it was a different way of being in our bodies in a home space that was really beautiful. I am really grateful for that now.

s.w

In terms of growing up Catholic and going to the Junior Knights programs, do you feel like there was tension between those experiences and what you were learning at home?

jasmine

The ways my mom and my sister and I were so free with our bodies in the home space definitely countered the way that we existed in public spaces, which confused me, especially as a young queer person knowing that I wasn't attracted to men, or boys in a way that was expected of me.

Throughout my life, I’ve experienced different situations where my body was objectified and harassed—from men catcalling on the street, to different ways of being hit on, or sexually wanted. While I was looking up towards elders and mentors and my mother and my aunties, I was also hearing "oh, you just laugh it away" or "make sure it's not your fault." There were different ways of shifting the responsibility onto me or to make sure that I wasn't in a situation that was dangerous, rather than building me up and having me understand that there was nothing wrong with who I was and that there was a problem with society. This is all definitely apparent in a lot of my dance work, especially my early dance work. 

s.w

What have you continued to learn and unlearn about your body? How did you get into dance?

jasmine

I got into dance because my sister was in ballet. And she also always loved dance, [and] loved to be social. My sister was at the Houston Ballet Academy and my mother put me in similar classes because my dad always said that I didn't have rhythm and I always beat to my own drum.  In the end, I realized that was great. 

From the time I was 12, I developed a practice of dancing, in my room, putting on my favorite music, being by myself, and moving. Following my heart, following my pleasure, and just moving and sweating and making lots of noise. It's something I still do—ways of just being in a space, no matter where it is and just moving to move. I continued my training in dance through hip hop and modern and then I returned back to ballet and jazz. I got my bachelor's degree in dance at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At a certain point, my community started to recognize my joy. As complicated as it was to be raised in a Catholic environment, the folks at that church took care of me as if I was their family because, in a way, I was. A village definitely raised me. They began asking me to perform at my mother's social club luncheons and gatherings. At times, it was tense, especially within the Catholic Church. There was this one time that I was in confession with one of the priests. I was probably 15, and I had said all my sins that I could think of. Then he said something like "What about that dance performance you did for the luncheon the other day. Some of those movements were suggestive and that was sinful." That hit me deep and I was so confused a) because as a priest he wasn’t supposed to bring up anything of my past. And  b) it was a movement to Tracy Chapman, a song called "Hallelujah", and it was choreography that was not even mine. I was just sharing it. But because I was wearing a leotard with tights and because it was movement that had my legs open and then quickly closed, he felt uncomfortable. He felt uncomfortable and transferred his shame onto me. It was something that I carried with me for a very long time: the ways that other folks might feel uncomfortable with how I wanted to express my body or connect to my pleasure, and how I was told to be shameful for that. In a lot of ways it was through connecting with literature by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Adrienne Rich, and some other amazing activists and people with language, other dancers that I learned I wanted other kinds of ways of being with my body. As I got older I realized that [the shame] wasn't mine to take, that shame wasn't mine to own.

s.w

That's a really nice segue into the next question—how do you feel the dialogue around bodies and women's health changing and improving?

jasmine

Yeah, I mean, when I got my undergrad at Point Park, I came out to my family very openly and to a lot of my friends, community, that I was a lesbian, that I was queer.  I just felt more at home in my body after all the years disassociating from my body. Being in Pittsburgh and learning to honor myself, I was able to offer myself to this really amazing organization called New Voices, which is an organization that supports the reproductive health and justice of black girls and women. I began spending a lot of time with them in protest and gathering to talk about political agendas. At the same time, I was beginning to understand what sex was for me, beyond the clinical or medical definition of sex. Sex is not just penetration—there is a vast diversity of how people want to express their pleasure and themselves. 

I began honoring and prioritizing the reproductive justice of black women and girls, especially given the history of this country, rooted in objectifying and violating black femme, and just black bodies or black people. It is from being a student of PISAB’S Undoing Racism training program that I learned, There were laws that made it legal to sexually assault and rape black women to enhance the number of slaves on plantations. It’s been important to me to know that history and begin to understand how it has influenced our culture. 

I also think it's so important to respect the choices of not only women's bodies, but folks who grew up as girls and women, but don't identify as girls and women now. What are the ways that we can respect the reproductive justice of all folks, especially folks who do have wombs or who once had wombs?

s.w

This all seems to inform your current work. I first learned about your work after seeing "You Think You Fancy" at a Dancespace performance at St. Marks Church. I was blown away by the way it encompassed culture and race and class issues in such an honest and unapologetic way. I wonder if you can talk a bit about the development and manifestation of that particular work?

jasmine

Before that work, I was collaborating on this piece called, "shook," with about five of the performers who were in "You Think You Fancy." It was such a good time. So when I was creating "You Think You Fancy," I invited those same folks back. I also wanted  to open up the space and invite other people. I expanded the invite, hosting a free workshop. I articulated that the space was open for folks who identify as femme, black and brown and allowed for that interpretation to be respected by those who showed up. I would say maybe twenty people came out. From there about 12 people were chosen. The thing about dance, especially dance in New York, is that it's so contingent on other people's schedules, how much money you have to pay people, and the space available. In a lot of  people's creative processes, folks just don't get paid; dancers don't get paid. In a piece that is calling on black femme folks to enter this space, I felt strongly that folks needed to get paid. So we got together and I facilitated a space where we wrote a lot. We dreamt a lot. We spent a lot of time in our imaginations and different conjured memories, characters, colors. We explored work that allowed us to or invited us to follow our pleasure—work like Audre Lorde's "Uses of the Erotic," ways of listening to our intuitive power, ways of following a deep intellectual and emotional power and being with that kind of grief and with that kind of joy. 

The show itself was put together, as if we were making some sort of dish or even a collage; whatever it was that we had we brought in that day. We were exploring ways that we could connect as a community or as a beautiful and brilliant spirited pack, and then also ways that we could go off and express our own individual experiences. Because my work is rooted in improvisation, that gives space for folks to be themselves and bring what they have that day, acknowledging that it's going to be different the next day. I like to see what happens when it's not just about being like one another. It's not about being in unison, it's not about being tight and getting to the count, but it's really about how we can meet each other at this boundary. In the end, we're all different— we live in the detail of our own individual experience.

s.w

I found the performance so moving. To me, it was this very raw display of joy and anger. I love the idea of thinking about it like a meal. When my friend and I left the theatre, we were both in kind of a daze—the kind of daze after seeing something really really powerful—and said to each other "this feels really important." it felt like something people needed to see. And, that leads me nicely to the next question—your work deals with pretty complex issues that are very relevant right now. How do you approach thinking about your audience? Do you have an audience in mind for your performances? And how do you want them to be affected?

jasmine

I think that, first and foremost, I want to consider who is in the work, the collaborators, the dancers, the artists, the administrative folks, all of the people—from the sound collaborators to the technicians, but mostly I’m thinking about the folks who are going to be in connection with audience. I want to think about their comfort, especially in that last piece "You Think You Fancy" and the piece before "shook." Being black and femme, and understanding more and more history and herstory about a collective experience as well as individual experiences, I come from a place of wanting to honor us first. In my past, I have felt consumed by audiences, feeling empty and tired and angry or sad after a performance and at other times I’ve felt so supported.

When it comes to people in the audience, whomever is there, that's who I try to connect with that night, and, in that sense, I try to create a practice of sharing and being with others. That's something that I really appreciate—whomever is in the room of a performance, a piece, we're all making it together. It will never be that way ever again because we will never be together like that ever again. 

I really appreciate it when there are black folks in the crowd. I appreciate it when there are queer people, when there are gay folks, where there are lesbian folks, when there are trans people, the two spirited. I also understand that it's very important to share work with people that are unlike us and unlike me, because in the end we share the same emotions—we know how it feels to be upset, we know how it feels to be sad or grieving, or in such exultation. There’s so much power in connecting with those kinds of shared experiences or shared emotionalities, and then observing how we can have a conversation, how our entities can grow, and how we can all actually be in a room together and it's going to be okay. So I do try to consider who's in the room, but I always love being surprised by who ends up being there.

s.w

More outrageous pair of underwear you’ve worn?

jasmine

Some might say none and others briefs made from pantyhose

s.w

Favorite underwear scene in a movie?

jasmine

I can’t really think of one but I bet there’s a slip.

s.w

Underwear trend you never want to see again?

jasmine

whatever makes a person uncomfortable


Follow ODDOBODY on instagram to see more of Jasmine.

07    Maria

"so cute on the rack"

A friend and I were wandering around the streets of paris and we stumbled upon this lingerie store and I picked up this pair of the most uncomfortable purple mesh underwear I have ever seen in my entire life -- and a matching bra too. The underwear were so cute on the rack, and I obviously couldn’t try them on, so I just bought the size that would fit and took them home. The first time I wore them on a date they were so uncomfortable, because they were just chafey and gross, that I actually ended up taking them off in the bathroom in the middle of the date and putting them in my purse. I literally never worse them again. My experience with sexy underwear began and ended then. I now just wear underwear that’s comfortable because sexy underwear is not comfortable -- most sexy underwear is not comfortable.

06    Mariana

"the thong song"

I credit the late...no...90s early 2000s for introducing me to the thong.  So first Brittany Spears, Christinia Agulaira, and Sisco. When Siscos started singing the Thong Song it was like empowering, i’m gonna buy myself a thong, and it was a black one at that. And the reason it was black was because in the late 90s,10 Things I Hate About You came out and there was this scene in the movie where Cat’s sister, Bianca, and her friend Cameron start rummaging through her underwear and Bianca picks up her underwear and she says “look black panties” and he’s like “what does it matter” and she was like “it means she wants to have sex one day.” So now I always associate black thongs with sex and women’s empowerment.

04    Latasha

“the enemy”

**sings**Memories I have with panties. So I think dealing with a really strict Latin mom forced me to buy a thong underwear by myself because...you know what she wasn’t having it...but i bought it anyway and in high school wore my first thong underwear senior class spanish and you know i think it was like green and this guy in the back was like “yo green...yo green” and I was like “why does he keep calling me green?” Then I realized low-rise jeans are the enemy...but also...not the enemy you know? ;)

03    Lara

“naughty little extra”

My first memory of underwear is being about 6 or 7 years old in school in England. And it occuring to me to be a really sassy idea to dare all the kids (all of my friends to come in with no underwear on, I guess we’d call it commando now. The head mistress found out and called me to her office and asked why I would do such a thing and if I actually understood what underwear was for...what the purpose was. To which I remember being completely flummoxed, I had zero idea. She explained to me that underwear was designed to keep a person warm in these areas, it was a protective garment. This was news to me--I thought it was a naughty little extra.

02    Abigail

“WHITE. White. white”

Ok so my most vivid memory of a piece of underwear was...I was at belk with my mom back home in Virginia and my sister and I had just both gone through the birth of our first child and I go...but it's impossible to find cotton underwear which is what you want after you’ve gone through that body trauma. So we went into belk and I come upon the Jockey section and there are these huge, high-waist cotton underwear and I’m sooooo pumped that I call my sister immediately

“Jenny, how many pairs do you want?”

And I come home with a bag full of high-waisted jockeys.

What color were they?

White. White. white.

01    Shira

“whale tale”

I guess the first time I remember caring about my underwear, I was probably 13 or 14 and I was at the mall with my mom in a store called Mandees. There were this really sexy, leopard print thong...synthetic pair that caught my eye from across the room. Somehow, I convinced my mom that it was okay to buy even though she only let me buy 100% cotton underwear. I really wanted to wear them sitting in front of this really hot, kind of morose but smart wrestler in calculus class and lean over so that they would be peeking out that back...which I believe is called a whale tail.