Humans were made to move. There’s no denying it. Yet hectic modern lifestyles too often make consistent, healthy movement all too rare for all too many people. Dance companies are evidently focused on movement, as dance artistry. But can they also be a force for helping all types of people to move more? East Brooklyn-based Purelements shows that focusing on public health and wellness, in addition to making dance art, is indeed doable.
The dance company has hosted Bike East since 2014. The 2019 event, including a 20-mile bike ride through Brownsville and East New York and a movement-focused wellness fair in Brooklyn’s Linden Park, will take place on August 17. Dance Informa speaks with Kevin Joseph, Purelements co-director, to learn more about the event and how it serves the company’s local communities.
Can you tell us a little about the history of Purelements and Bike East?
“Purelements provides high-quality programming in East Brooklyn, not just to build stronger artists but also to aim our attention to the community. We do this by building self-esteem, creating pathways to unexpected careers in dance and the arts, also changing the trajectory of a student (adult or young person) by merely supporting them with the sense ‘you can do it.’
The arts allow us to engage in conversations about culture, humanity and life, along with the technical aspects of their training. This is where Bike East comes in. We are all artists, but we believe in investing in community first. The conversation doesn’t change. Bike East allows us to bring an aspect of self-care to the community in a way that hasn’t existed before.”
Your company asserts that this event fulfills Purelements’ mission to inspire each individual to realize his/her full potential, and to make a positive impact on the community through physical movement. Can you expand on that?
“Biking being physical, like dance, it requires the body and mind to work differently — unleashing all possibilities. Taking care of ourselves on multiple levels allows us to face adversity with new perspectives and with new solutions. That’s what we all need, right?
Bike East allows community members to focus on themselves and their own emotional needs. They can explore and celebrate our own community on a freeing vehicle like a bicycle. A distance of 20 miles allows us to travel to neighboring communities through pathways that may not have been so overt in the past.
By freeing one’s mind, a person unlocks the doorway to exponential opportunities in their life, and we can begin to free ourselves from the emotional trauma we have experienced as a generation. A physical challenge does more for our life than we give it credit for. To some riders, 20 miles is not a big deal, but for an occasional rider or maybe someone who has not ridden in years, it can be fearful.
Bike East is an opportunity to say, ‘Let’s ride together, let’s accomplish together, let’s win together and feel the reward of comradery, and let that transition into all aspects of our lives.'”
Purelements has also discussed the low resources and generational trauma that the Brownsville and East New York communities face. How can movement, in your company’s view and approach, address the effects of those issues?
“A lack of resources and generational trauma in our communities has existed for decades. Without the proper resources, it’s extremely hard to invest in proper nutrition, health care, high quality programming for youth and adults. It’s also hard to make infrastructural changes that affect the future and growth of the community and as a people. Racism and systemic tactics to maintain power have caused generational trauma.
We have to live in a new light. We have to control our own destiny — maybe by riding a ride. So many people say, ‘I used to ride as a kid.’ We need to live in a space of emotional freedom, to recognize that we need sourcing (such as bike riding) like everyone else. Sourcing ourselves allow us to see the world differently and sometimes realize that we have been living in emotional confinement. To get past that, let’s ride!”
Purelements has held Bike East annually since 2014. What are some favorite memories, some particularly memorable effects?
“In qualitative evidence, I’ve heard community members say, ‘I never knew that path existed behind the Belt Parkway. It’s so refreshing to ride by the Jamaica Bay.’ I’ve heard, ‘I was so scared. I didn’t think I was going to make 20 miles, but everyone was so nice and encouraging. I did it and I feel so good about myself.’ I’ve heard, ‘I want to keep riding.’, ‘I want to get more in shape to ride longer; where do I get better riding attire?’
When you see over 100 riders going through the neighborhood, the community normally responds with cheer, whistles, car horns, sticking heads out of windows to cheer everyone on. It’s so rewarding and refreshing for everyone, even if you’re not riding, to see your community doing something for all of us is not what they are used to seeing.”
What’s your favorite part of the event? What are you most looking forward to?
“I love all of it. From the speeches and warm-up in the morning, to the launch out with the DJ spinning feel-good music, to the active lifestyle fair where fitness classes are happening while we are riding. But I will say my most favorite part is watching everyone getting excited to roll back through to the finish line after the 20 miles. The joy on their faces, Like, ‘I made it!’ We need that. We need to feel accomplished, we need to feel the love and joy from everyone around us. That is what Bike East is all about.”
How would you like to see Purelements and Bike East grow?
“We would like to spark other groups to think of what matters in the line of self-care. Trend set the creation of new and vibrant projects that adds another sense of vibrancy to the community. Events, and lifestyle changes that are needed for self-sustainability, and health-conscious projects becoming the norm and changing what we thought we knew about East New York and Brownsville.”
How might you encourage or advise other dance companies thinking about doing this sort of public health-directed work?
“Think about your community that you are in. Maybe the programming doesn’t have to be solely about technique enhancement but instead to be inclusive of developing a person in multiple ways.”
What else should we know about your company and Bike East?
“As professional dancers and choreographers, our performance is about more than living in the studio and maintaining your body at its performance peak. It was about how we eat, what we think, how we approach our life and exploring this planet. That is freedom. That is Bike East!”