Reflecting on Identity Through Dance and Poetry with Natachi, Columbia University


Natachi, a Computer Science major at Columbia University, spent Spring 2018 studying at DIS Copenhagen. Her class schedule? The Game Development: Programming and Practice Core Course, Danish Language and CulturePodcast Production: The Impact of Sound, and Sociology of Migration.

Outside of her courses, Natachi was busy. While living in a Homestay, she pushed her local circles further by exploring her passions of dance and poetry. Read how she extended her network to meet Danes and international students — and how she recommends you to do the same.

DIS: How did you get the idea to join a community of dancers?

Natachi M.:
 In the summer of 2017, I did a seven-week computer science program in the Seattle region. I didn’t know many people in the area and went on a Google/Facebook blitz to try to find events that related to Hip Hop culture. Music, movement, and lyricism are things I relate heavily to, and because Hip Hop is so tied to black culture, such things that relate to Hip Hop culture appeal to me. In Seattle, I came across a block party, and I attended. A dance floor was rolled out. There were breakers and house dancers, cyphering, hopping into the circle. Old school Hip Hop blared from the speakers. It felt like I was being taken back in time, and still, it was beautiful, different than what I usually danced to, but it still had Hip Hop as its core element, and very much celebrated the foundations of Hip Hop. I took in the new scene, questioned if my movement would be suitable for the cypher. I’m not much of a popper, locker or breaker, but I can move in dance circles, and I often forget myself.

So when January 2018 hit, my dreams of becoming a dancer resurfaced. Since I was a child, I’ve always loved dancing. My mom laughingly scolded me for dancing too much and too rough, too free when at family parties. But it didn’t stop me. When at poetry competitions, high school social events, college cultural shows, anywhere where the music is playing or a dance circle forms, I am there, and I am ready. Despite this, upon coming to Denmark, I didn’t identify as a dancer. I strongly identify as a poet, but when it comes to dancing, I had identified as someone who loves to dance and even when exhausted always has the energy to bounce to a beat.


With my resurfaced dancer dreams, and with my experience of connecting to a dance community while in Seattle, I began to google ‘Hip Hop,’ ‘dance,’ ‘street dancing,’ and other keywords in order to learn about places where I could dance, and preferably for free. I came across GAME, a street sports facility in Copenhagen that offers monthly Game Jams, events that include basketball tournaments, music, parkour, and often dance workshops and dance battles. I marked my calendar for February 2nd and attended the dance workshop.

And from there, I met Mansoor, a break dancer, second-generation immigrant, and incredibly kind and welcoming person. He added me to a Facebook group message the same night with some of his other dancer friends, and said “meet my new best friend Natachi.”

We met up the next day after the first dance workshop. We learned more about each other, we danced, and we practiced and ended up connecting with someone who does Capoeira. So, we all had rotating sessions in which we hopped in the “cypher,” circle, and showed our stuff.

Through Mansoor and other dancers from the dance workshop, I began to get plugged into other happenings in the dance community. Specifically, I ended up freestyle dancing with Caroline, Keiran, and Matthias after the initial dance workshop. After connecting with them on Facebook and Instagram, I started to learn more about other dance events, specifically, a dance battle at Kool Hip Hop Lounge, which just closed in April.

I went to the dance battle with the intention to watch and just dance during intermissions, but as they were closing the first round, and asked if anyone else wanted to dance, my hand shot up. Because my identity as a dancer was much more an identity of loving dance versus being a trained dancer, I was extremely surprised when I advanced for two rounds. It almost made me insecure to move forward, but it was really amazing to learn that people really appreciate my energy. From there, I met an incredible house dancer by the name of Lofti, who told me about the house dancing workshops and open dance sessions he hosts every Sunday, and said to me, “please come.”

I later went to another Game Jam in March: the Jam for Women’s Day/ Fight Day. I ended up competing in the Women’s dance battle, taking second place, and meeting one of my best friends that I have here in Denmark.

I was able to meet a lot of people who would become pillars of my study abroad experience.”

DIS: Tell us about that very first dance workshop.

The first house dancing workshop was when I returned to the Bolsjefabrikken area. The graffiti was bright and beautiful and grimy and everywhere. I was right on time, but it appeared I was early. I was the only one other than Lofti. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wrote in my journal. I looked at my phone. I sat and did some casual stretching. Soon the workshop portion of the event began. We went through basic House Dancing moves and learned the core vocabulary of House Dancing – various bounces, steps, and grooves. At times, I got more instruction, on how to flow, how to slow down. Lofti is attentive and so talented, and it’s amazing to see how he works with other dancers. We do some of the steps in a circle. The music is loud. The lighting low – a slight red tint. Before we begin, Lofti and Casper – aka DJ Friendly Ghost – and some others are setting up streamers and Danish flags because it’s another dancer’s birthday.

The open dance session was used to celebrate the dancer’s birthday. After the instructional period, it’s just time to move. More people come and they dance. They turn, they spin, they interact with each other. I don’t really know anyone here so it makes me a bit nervous. But I move regardless. At some point, I meet Siri and we talk. She teaches me another core House Dancing groove, step quickquick, step quickquick. She tells me how she fell in love with House. With the flow, the relaxed energy, the history. Interacting with Siri that day, I felt very seen – not alone – and that I was gaining something that will last beyond my time in Denmark.


I also met Helle at that first workshop. Helle is an artist and director looking to combine dance, Muay Thai, and rap. After the instructional, she told us about it, and some of us, including Siri, were interested in learning more. We eventually learned and performed in a showcase called Punch Line.

The rest of the dance session I felt a bit like I was trying to find my ground. But I also was in awe of the high energy and talent that surrounded me. I remember partner dancing and mirroring others; hyping each other up; watching Nanna dance 29 rounds against others to celebrate her birthday; and meeting a fellow artist from France, and then upon saying bye, doing the cheek kisses (faire la bise) – it took me by surprise, but I really loved it.

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DIS: Who are the people you dance alongside?

NM: From the first Game Dance Workshop to the weekly Sunday House Dancing sessions, I am mostly surrounded by Danish residents who completed or are completing dance educations, have dance careers, are deeply ingrained in Copenhagen’s dance community, or people who just love to move.

DIS: Have there been opportunities for interesting cross-cultural conversations and connections?

NM: Upon coming to Copenhagen/Europe, I think something in me transitioned into becoming very interested in migration/“the refugee crisis” like never before. I am a daughter of immigrants. The U.S. has its problems and violence with immigration. But I think I must have internalized the headlines more than I thought because coming to Europe I engaged with it like never before. Being in the Sociology of Migration elective course probably also helped.

So, it was maybe the third weekend of being in Copenhagen, when I went to an event called “Freedom of Movements” at Bolsjefabrikken, aka The Candy Factory, which is a community center and art venue, known for progressivism and being the only place in Copenhagen where it’s legal to do graffiti.

I went alone. My friend came later. There was poetry, panel discussions with different activists, Flamenco music and dancing. And then, there was a DJ set. I awkwardly sat then moved, questioned how to maneuver myself being alone in this new, cool, but unfamiliar space. I made my way to the dance floor and began having conversations with the music. And then soon, I was having conversations through dance with four other black women, and other people who soon joined the movement. When my friend Bridgette finally came, the DJ set transitioned into a very awkward Space Trap music performance. The women we were dancing with asked if we wanted to leave and they invited us to another place for dancing, called Kimia. We went. The music was amazing. Old school R&B and Hip Hop. Good energy. People who moved. At the end of the night, I was in awe of how we had been accepted into this group of women.

We almost left that night without exchanging contacts. But we connected on Facebook. Bridgette and I were then added to a Women of Color Facebook group, and soon, we were invited to go to a Salon TamTam, an intersectional discussion featuring activists and others who gathered to talk about the work they do, the changes they want to see, and the support they want to receive. That night I was encouraged to share my art, and I ended up performing my first poem since being in Denmark. From there, someone informed me about another performance opportunity: Women of Color in Motion for International Women’s Day.

DIS: What was it like performing for International Women’s Day and Women of Color in Motion?

NM: A new friend, Kiara, told me about the International Women’s Day performance event, and she recommended I perform. I signed up. And through that, I met one of my best friends, Naiha. She had just come back from a student exchange in Toronto, and there, she got introduced to slam poetry. We were attending the performers informational meeting at hostel cafe MellemRummet. After the meeting, we continued to spend time together and then began exchanging poetry with one another.

The event was called Women of Color in Motion. It was packed. It was beautiful. I have never seen so many people of color in Copenhagen. When I performed, I felt comfortable, empowered. I did pieces to introduce who I was, I did call and response, and sing-a-long with the audience. The adrenaline and the love were so tangible. And, I was able to meet a lot of people who would later become pillars of my study abroad experience.


DIS: Tell us about the poetry slam you participated in this spring. 

NM: I had searched for an English poetry slam before arriving in Copenhagen, and so looking back on the experience, it brings me joy that I made that dream come true. The week leading up to the poetry slam, I continuously sensed a warm anxious energy in my gut. I was rehearsing poems often, which brought me a lot of joy, and sort of gave me this sense of, “maybe I can do this for a living,” type of reassurance.

A lot of my friends came to the poetry slam. El and Bridgette sat in the front row – both DIS students. My roommate and great friend, Abby, from Freshman year of college was there. Naiha was slamming with me. They had snacks and drinks for the performers. I knew my poems, I knew them well.

The first poem I do, I often refer to as My Language. It discusses the complexities and identity struggles of me being a first generation Igbo-Nigerian black American girl who does not speak Igbo, who has questioned each of these identities, but truly culminates as a celebration of my lineage, of me being alive, and of my being a part of an African diaspora, and loving it.

I got first place, and Naiha received second. As first place, I was given the opportunity to do a third poem, and although the poem that I call “My Mother’s Thick Skin” was what I thought I was going to perform, I ended up doing a piece that uses audience sing-along and interaction throughout. It felt more necessary to build that community, and for me to hear and connect with all the voices in the room.

DIS: One of your elective courses this semester is Danish Language and Culture. Has this course helped you navigate life in Copenhagen?

It has in many ways. By introducing me to some Danish words, it has made it fun to be able to recognize words in streets and in stores. To have Danish greetings down, but more so, to learn about the culture of trust, and also, a culture of a certain sameness that exists in Denmark, and then more so, to learn of the history that birthed such cultures. While living in Denmark itself sort of provides that, it was special for me to learn about the background, of how a collectivist culture was birthed, about Denmark’s empire, its crumbling, and re-enforcement from within.

But it is also great to learn about the welfare state, open prisons, prisons designed for rehabilitation, alongside Denmark’s history, because then it places into question, in what ways can my country and the world learn from this? I don’t ask this in a way that I count Denmark as superior, but to consider the differences and the circumstances that build such culture. Denmark’s relatively small population, its history as a colonizer, its current violence in Danish migration policy, are also things to be considered. But, there is a lot of strength and social support within the system. It makes me wonder, what futures, support, society or changes to my own society would I like to see? What’s the balance? How can the US, a nation founded on genocide, that is very much divided, that has unhealed violence in the soil, learn how to love and provide and give space for growth?

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DIS: Tell us about your Homestay, and how they have fit into your experience of Danish culture and language.

NM: My Homestay experience has been grounding in a lot of ways: Having a home base, getting used to my commute, and writing in transit; having people who are concerned about me, who check in, and who have offered this time and space and home to me. There haven’t been many conflicts, but still, that question of, is it okay for me to be here, that stems from self, more than anything still rested in my body. Also, that question of how should I try to connect, how do I maintain interest and exchange without getting complacent. This includes sometimes falling into silence, and feeling at home in it, or sometimes feeling like I should reach out, and continue to challenge myself to make these connections while I can. That balance of wanting to put energy in, but not wanting to force anything.

The food has been really great. It’s been special witnessing the work-life balance and family-oriented culture in my Homestay. As well as, the regular family dinners, which, while my family back home often ate, to all be around one table, together, at the same time, was rare.

Some of my favorite moments last semester were watching television with my host mom, with a cup of tea, dark chocolate, and nuzzled up in a blanket on the couch. Hygge is real. There is power in making yourself cozy, in taking time to get comfortable, which sometimes, is something I neglect doing. But all the candles in Denmark are showing me the light. My host mom, host dad, and host brother all showed me some of that light.

DIS: Do you have tips and advice for future DIS students?

NM: Reflect on what you love. Ask yourself:

What do I need to survive and thrive?

Do I have them?

Can I find them?

Can I create them?

Copenhagen has a lot of gems. Can you find them, find places where you feel at ease, and curious, and passionate? What are things elsewhere that make you feel that way?

Have I ever traveled alone? Do I fear budgeting?

Research it and plan! You may be able to plot something such as adventures that seem inaccessible at first glance but are more possible than you realize.

My friend Bridgette had a fear tracker at the beginning of the semester, and I think things like that, like writing down reflections and goals have a way of forming a compass for the way you want to live and navigate your life. Writing has been so helpful and grounding for me. Maybe find a new routine, something to feel stable in, and check in often, so you can adjust often.


Learn more about…

Do you recognize Natachi? That’s because she was a DIS Student Blogger! Find her blog here.

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