Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Dancer, Choreographer, Student


Jasmmine Ramgotra is an environmental studies student and a dancer. She is combining those interests in innovative and dramatic ways. 

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©


When did you move into the Central Area?

I moved into the Central Area about late 2005 or 2006.

What neighborhood did you live in?

We were living in Madrona by Epiphany.

That was when I first met you.

Yes!

Which schools did you attend, then?

I went to Madrona Elementary in 8th grade. Then, I went to Garfield (High).

Madrona K-8. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©


How was your experience at Garfield?

(laughs) It was an interesting experience. That’s because the first two years we were at Lincoln (High) because of construction. Then, the last two years we were at the original school (Garfield) again.

Where did you live before you were in the Central Area?

We lived on the Eastside, in the Redmond area.

Okay. So you’ve had very different experiences then.

Yes. Maybe more so on the east side though. We moved around a lot.

When you first were living in Madrona, how would you describe the neighborhood?

It was very quiet. As far as diversity goes, there were lots of different people living on our street. There was an adorable gay couple living a few doors down, and some families, and some single people.

It was a really nice place to be. Still, it’s like, the further and further you get, the more ‘dangerous’ it gets. And that would be in quotations.

Right. In quotations because…?

I’ve learned that the racial lines here are because of the redlining, historically since the 60s..? I’m not too sure of the exact date.

Madrona Beach. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Up until 1968 and Open Housing.

Before that people of color were forced into this area because they weren’t allowed to buy property in other places.

I’ve done a lot of research on my own about that on segregation and things like that. I took a race relations class, a sociology class at Seattle Central. That totally opened my eyes to so many things I did not notice before. Social problems brought attention to the race issues, but also to gender equityand things like that.

In that class, did they discuss the Central Area?

Not particularly, no. We did have one speaker come to the class and he talked about the Central Area a bit. He was a prominent figure at Seattle Central and he came and talked to us about redlining and what it did to the different neighborhoods.

The Garfield (high school area) is where people of color lived; historically, it’s been a very colorful school. It’s had a very interesting and heartbreaking history. I learned about the segregation not only of African Americans but also of Jewish people, and of people of color, in general. It shocked me that there was this idea, “You’re not allowed to be here (in larger Seattle), so you have to go live somewhere else”.

Garfield High. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

It’s an interesting point of history because it gets into the idea of what is ‘white’? At the beginning of redlining in Seattle, ‘white’ meant Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian. So, Italians, Irish and Germans, Asians and the Jewish were not considered ‘white’ so they were all forced to settle in Central Seattle.

They were all living in this neighborhood together. It’s interesting how that definition shifts. White is this weird abstraction; no one today would say that Jewish people aren’t white, or that Irish or Italians or Germans aren’t white.

It’s about class as much as it is about race. So once people achieve a certain level of socioeconomic power, they somehow magically cease to be of considered non-white.

When you were attending Garfield was there a focus on class, race and gender?

There was definitely segmentation. Well… we, we self-segmented. Each class did. When I say class, I’m talking about the (different) grades.



Sophomore, Junior…

Yes, exactly. It was very rare that there were white people that hung out with the black people, or Asian people that hung out with the black people, or Asian people that hung out with white people. There were very, very, distinct, clear groups. Then, I guess, there were the “other” people, who kind of meshed together.

Even at Garfield, the Asian kids hung out with the Asian kids, and the black kids hung out with the black kids?

Also generally, the white people hung out with the white people. So, people like me, people who are like of mixed race… it becomes so hard to decide where you fall in this. It’s one of the most conflicting things for me as a person. It feels like, ‘Oh, you’re kind of tan. The question I always get is, “What are you?”

People say that to you?

Yes. I get that all the time. That’s the number one question that I get asked when it comes to my ethnicity, my identity as a woman, as a person.

Garfield High. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

How did that strike you the first time it was asked?

I don’t even remember (as it’s happened for so long)! I think it probably was kind of daunting to me. I guess I’m... I’m Indian and I’m white. It became like an automatic response. ‘Oh, I know exactly what you’re asking about. You’re trying to find out what I’m made of - what makes me who I am’.

How does it feel now that you’re older?

It makes me feel very angry at this point in my life. I just get really upset. I’ll tell people, I’m a woman; I’m human. What are you trying to get at here? I’ll try to make them think about it.

Anyway, going back to Garfield, people were very segmented in separate groups. My group of friends were some (laughs) random girls who I just happened to get along with very well.

While I was at Madrona Elementary, I was one of the only people who was not African American in my grade, period. In every class, from kindergarten through 8th grade in each class there were maybe four or five people that weren’t black. So, that was a really interesting experience, too.

I noticed that my reactions to things totally changed. The dynamic was to get into this culture  and try not to be seen. I don’t know. I tried to blend in with wherever I was.

Madrona K-8. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

I think that is like the classic task of being in 8th grade is to try and not stick out.

I don’t want to stick out at all!

Did you keep any of those friends from 8th grade?

Yeah. Mars! I met Mars in 8th grade.

Oh, you did? Was he at Madrona, too?

He was!

You’ve known him a long time!

Yeah. Since I was 12, and he was 13-ish?

That’s amazing. You’ve known him, well, closing in on half your life.

Yeah, that’s weird to think about.

As far as the friends you had in high school, were they drawn around an interest in like dance or music, or was it just people that were attractive to you as personalities?

That’s a good question. Why did I become friends with the people that I’m friends with (laughs) from high school? (pauses) Hmm! I can’t remember how we started to become friends, really.

It probably was organic.  

Yeah! It wasn’t like you had one dance class and then… you were all fast friends. I think I had one close friend who I met because we had the same bus stop. The first day of school she was looking at me funny. Sort of checking me out. Analyzing me. Then, it turned out we had the same first period class.


Garfield High, Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

She was just always looking at me. I didn’t understand why. (laughs) I think I asked her if there was something that was bothering her about me. She said, No, there's nothing wrong. That's just kind of how it started. I thought she was angry at me for something! But it turned out she was just scoping me out. (laughs) We’re still friends! I think I just became friends with her friends.

Returning to Garfield, what did you think that kind of self-segregation does to young people? Obviously, you can only speak from your own experience... The idea of Garfield is that you have this mixed race high school but it sounds like in practice, nothing can be further from the truth.

It’s very true. Yeah. (sighs) I think it just perpetuates stereotypes, honestly. That’s because people in that age group are incredibly judgmental. Teenagers just don’t really think about what they say before they say it! I think that definitely ends up hurting people in the short term and in the long term. I found it to be very... unwelcoming.

It’s hard to put a finger on what it does to you everyday. There were times when I would avoid certain places, like a particular hall where some kids would congregate because you don’t want to be called out, sexually harassed or just like… As a young person, you just put up these walls.

Garfield High. Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Earlier, you described yourself as having tan skin. Did that make it easier for you? Did it help?

It kind of did. It helped me get along with people that might be called ethnic. They’re more accepting. For instance, at Madrona (K-8), people were much more accepting of me than they were of the people who looked white. It was as if people were thinking, Oh well, Jasmmine doesn’t really count as that (white) because she doesn’t really look it. She’s something else.

Do you have a little bit of wiggle room?

Yeah, there's wiggle room there. That was nice. It’s nice to be considered something… a part of that that felt like relief. In that situation, I just felt so glad that I didn’t have to be singled out as “Oh, you’re white”... There’s just so much, anger that goes back and forth between groups. So, I was… I was outside of that which was… nice. 

There’s probably a class aspect to that, often the kids from white families can a times afford things that other kids can’t. Privileged kids aren’t necessarily sensitive to that, which makes other kids angry, or jealous, and…  There’s that whole cultural belief that if we get to the child young enough, you can eliminate these racist and classist ideas but it seems like that was not at all your experience.

No. Not at all. What I do remember about learning about race and racism when I was young left me with the impression that it didn’t… it wasn’t really around anymore. We learned about it in elementary school and these were historically white elementary schools. They would show us a cartoon about what it was like when racism was just so intense. But, then, it’s taught that it’s not like that anymore!… It’s (presented) as if, “Oh, this happened in the past, but it has nothing to do with what’s going on now.” As a super young child, you just kinda take whatever people tell you and you’re like, Okay that’s the way it is -- until proved otherwise.

So you get to Garfield and discover, “Oh!”

Yes! It was more that Madrona (School) was the big one.


Madrona Beach, Mt. Rainier view. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

The big one?

Actually, Hamilton (School) was the big one because that was the first time that I came back to Seattle from being on the eastside for so long. On the east side, it’s like, 98% white. So I was the minority. Again.

Then we came to Hamilton and there were just so many types of people. I was like, “Woooooah! This is crazy! I’ve never been around this much energy before.” Then Madrona (School) was different from that. It felt better to me. Madrona felt safer than Hamilton did.

Where’s Hamilton?

It’s in Wallingford. I think it's just the crowds, the crowds of kids that were there when I was there. They got me into a lot of trouble. (laughs) I got myself into a lot of trouble while I was there because there was a huge culture shock. I didn’t know what to do to fit in so what I did to fit in was the wrong choice.

Well, that’s what being in your teens is for.

Yeah! (laughs) Yeah.


Garfield High. Architectural detail.  Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

There’s so much adapting.

So much moving and adapting. Yeah, I was like a chameleon, just moving and adapting constantly.

That will serve you well. Still, I’m sure it was hard.

Oh yeah, it was rough not having a constant group of friends in that period; it was really hard. It’s funny, because my sister really makes friends easily, so I just felt very alone. Very alone.

I was just so shy at that point in my life! I couldn’t really get the courage up to talk to people, and if I did, it was just awkward and sad? (laughs) It got better as the time went on. High school was much better, but Middle School was just… awful.

Do you think that when you look back when you’re 30 years old, do you think that having been in the Central Area will have formed anything about you? Or is it just incidental, just where you happened to live? What do you think will be the case?

I think it definitely formed things about me. I think it’s so important to be exposed to different, different… situations - for extended periods of time, especially cultural situations. Situations that make you feel uncomfortable. That’s so important.

If you aren’t exposed to that (variety), then you’re just going to make your own assumptions that’ll govern what you do, and how you feel, and what you think when you’re around different types of people. That can be very detrimental to your relationships with new people you meet. You can’t go into it having all these built up ideas in your mind.

It’s really important to spend time and get comfortable with the fact that everybody is different and we’re all the same. We’re different but we’re also the same.


Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

To be comfortable (in any situation as long as you’re safe) obviously, is really important. I feel so much safer around all types of people because I spent so much time around all different kinds of people! I would never have (that depth) if we kept living on the Eastside. It’s so great that we got to spend so many years here. And, I’m still here. I love it. It’s wonderful here.

Do you think as an artist, that either Garfield or being exposed to different people has influenced the kind of work you make now?

(pauses) I think… (pauses) I can see and feel the energy that I get off people. I’m perceptive. I have a really keen intuition about how people are feeling and maybe what might be going on for them. Being able to channel that energy and find inspiration, even in things that are so painful.

I think that’s important for my artistic process because there can be so much beauty… in your pain, getting through a painful process. It’s really important to recover from it, and come to terms with it, and move on.

To transform pain to beauty is a gift to other people because everyone will suffer.

That is so true! Everyone suffers.

When you make artwork from pain, it can give someone a moment of communion - they’re not alone in their pain. Someone else felt this way and got through it.


Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

Yeah. I think it’s so important, being able to really reach people. In my own work, if I can pull a feeling out of somebody, whether it’s a good feeling or a bad feeling - that’s success, even if people hate it. That’s a strong emotion!

Yeah, I got a reaction! So much better than just, ‘Whatever. I don’t really think much of it.’

I know a couple of years ago you were really focusing on choreography and thinking that was the direction you might pursue. Is that still the case?

Yes. That’s still the case. Right now, I’m very focused on choreographing on my own self. I’m getting to know myself. As a person, as an artist, this is a really exciting period for that.

How old are you now? Twenty…?

I’m 22.

That’s a good time to do that. Your body can do things now: you have the strength; the control; and the training to do things you haven’t been able to explore before. When you figure out how to take something internal and express it physically, as you’re teaching your body to do, that you’ll be able to then teach it to other people.

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo: Carlos Sanchez ©

That was the most challenging part of choreography. Trying to verbalize it to people who probably don’t know what you’re trying to say is so hard. But… you learn a lot through verbalizing and showing. When I get really old, I’m probably not going to be able to move, so (laughs) I’m going to need to be able to talk about it.

I’m sure you’ll always be able to move, barring some horrible accident. Still, there are things you can do now in terms of flexibility and stamina and… you don’t have kids, you don’t have a full-time job, you have physical energy now. In lots and lots of ways, that’s exciting!

Yes.

If you were going to offer any words of wisdom to somebody who is in 8th grade about living in this area, what would you contribute?

I was 12 years old when I was in 8th grade; I was really young for an 8th grader. I think the most important thing is to be true to yourself. What feels good to you probably is a good thing.

I have learned that recently, that… it’s important to feed an appetite you have, whether it’s for schoolwork, academia, or painting, or dancing, or whatever it is. Whatever it is that you find that you’re really, truly interested in, it’s really important to truly follow that and be open to talking to people.

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

I did not talk to people enough at that age, and if I could go back, I would totally be myself and not try to conform to what I thought other people wanted me to be. That’s because it really didn’t get me anywhere, and if anything, it probably made it worse. There were a lot of assumptions I had about what I thought people wanted me to be.

I did the same thing at the same age. I think almost everybody does. You’re trying to figure out who you are, so it’s hard to be yourself when you don’t know who you are yet.

Yeah. There’s definitely no getting over that.

No, you just have to grow into it.

Yeah, but it is important to stop and, I don’t know… let it (laughs) let it come to you. Like, what do you really want right now? What do you really need right now?

And maybe, maybe, if you practice, it’ll become easier. I’m still doing that but it’d be good to practice from a really young age, just listening to yourself, your inner self. What is it you need and want right now?

Yes, because little children are born knowing that.

Yes!

It just gets set aside by middle school.

When you need it the most! (laughs)

Now, one of the things that I hear from people who don’t live here is that this is a dangerous neighborhood. Did you grow up with that perception of this neighborhood as dangerous?

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

I mean, I grew up with the perception but I wasn’t really fazed by it. I definitely walked around this neighborhood at night, late at night, many a time, and I felt safe.

Me too.

Yeah, There are only very specific places where you can see that maybe something fishy is going on. And, you shouldn’t probably go over there but... I don’t think you’re going to die or anything. People have such a fear that has been exacerbated through the media about the Central Area. Did you see that article about how the Central Area is changing?

In the past it wasn’t a neighborhood that everyone wanted to come to because it has been incredibly segregated as a neighborhood. Now, that real estate prices are just going up and there’s so much new building going on around here, people are suddenly, “Oh, yay! Central Area!” Today, it’s mostly white people who can afford it. All of the minorities are being pushed out because they can’t afford it anymore, and it just very unfair. It’s very upsetting to me, especially.

Yeah. Me too.

Yeah.

Cause I loved it. I hate to see it change, but… it is changing.

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

Yeah.

I don't know whether you want to talk about this or not, but it is along this same line, this perception of violence and actual violence. There was some violence when you were in high school.

Yeah, there was. When I was in high school there were those two… there were those two major shootings that happened.

Yeah, Quincy Coleman

Quincy.

And what was the other?

I went to 8th, that guy was in my 8th grade class with me. I can’t remember his name right now… I know exactly what he looks like right now, in my mind. He was really sweet to me -- when we were in 8th grade together. I mean, he was a teenaged boy. He was nice. I’m not sure what it is that happened…

Garfield High, Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Only the people that were there know for sure what happened. What was the impact, do you think, that that had on the people in your class?

We all definitely felt a… shock, just a complete shock. Just resonating in every class. I could tell, the day we came back from… I think it was a weekend, it happened on weekend --

Not too far from where you live now.

Not far at all, not far from school either -

We all came back (to school) I think there an assembly and everyone was just horrified, and afraid, and… and it wasn’t exclusive -- to any group. We were all feeling the same thing. How and why did this happen?

I rode the bus with Quincy. There were so many people who (felt) for Quincy specifically. He had a lot of friends, for a year they all made t-shirts, and they all got tattoos, commemorating Quincy as a person. He was clearly very loved by a lot of people.

(nervous laughter) He wasn’t very nice to me, so, I didn’t really know him that well. I just kinda knew him on the on the side. I can definitely say that he was not the most polite of young people. I knew that… I knew that he definitely was involved in selling drugs. I think it was mostly just weed. Like, nothing too exciting. That’s all that I heard, really.


Garfield High, Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

There were a few days where he just had a stack of dollar bills that he would show it off on the bus. It was like, Whoa, where’d you get that? Mmm! Interesting. I don’t think anyone really knows the whole story

Right. No, we never will.

Yeah, we never will.

In the media, whenever a young man has been killed and it’s said there was gang activity, it’s seems like a way of dismissing… the humanity of the people involved.

Yeah.

It’s very reductive. It’s like “Oh well, live by the sword, die by the sword. Next!”
Do you know what I mean?

Yeah!




Garfield High, Architectural detail. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

It feels that way.

Definitely.

Yeah, you can’t just put that, put that heading on top of it and then decide to ignore it. I think that does put an image in people’s minds about, ‘Oh, this is where the gang violence happens and do stay away from that place. It’s dangerous.’

Yeah, and we’re talking about children.

Yeah, it’s dangerous for your children! It seems so ridiculous to me, actually. It’s very unfair to portray these kids - cause they are kids - as being so dangerous. Because it’s really trying to separate them from you. It really is that us vs. them paradigm. And I don’t like that.

No. I think it’s an ugly way of saying, “This death doesn’t matter.”

Yeah. It is really unfair.

There is no nuance to it. (pause). 

Now is there anything that you wanted to talk about, about having lived in the Central Area that we haven’t touched on?

I can’t really think of anything in particular right now, but... I do enjoy it! That’s for sure. And. I love to people watch, so this is a great place for that.

I just feel at home. Feeling at home in a place is important. As a person of color, I feel very at home and I feel accepted now.

Now are you still working with Spectrum (Dance Theater)?

Not really. I’ve kinda shifted gears from Spectrum.

Yeah, well, that’s natural.

I was there for a really long time; there was a lot of diversity there, too, which was awesome. They offered so many scholarships. That’s the whole point of Spectrum, though, to allow people who don’t typically have the opportunity to dance that opportunity. You don’t see that at a lot of dance studios. So many dance studios are just, if you can afford it, great. Sign up.

How do you think having studied there for such a long time influenced you as a dancer and a choreographer?

Spectrum Dance Theater. Madrona Beach. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©


It influenced me a lot. I was exposed to Donald Byrd, the Artistic Director there. He is such an amazingly intelligent person. I don't think I’ve ever met such a genuinely intelligent person, in that particular way.

He’s kind of like a Shakespeare, or a DaVinci type person as they just are so articulate with the way that they express themselves. His choreography is always heavily researched, and it is always about… well, it’s not always about pain, but I find it to be very raw. It just strips those emotions all the way down. So being able to study under him and in a school that was all about that honesty and truth in your work is so important to me. It’s of the utmost importance to me when I make my own art, being truthful.

It probably resonated with who you are anyway, but it is how you go through the world.

Yeah.

Donald probably had a hand in that to some degree --

Oh, yeah.

You studied with him for how many years?

I studied with him for one year. I was in and out (of Spectrum) for at least three. Still, I studied directly under him only for about a year. It was an intense year and I learned so much. It was really hard, but in a good way.


Spectrum Dance Theater. Madrona Beach. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

When you’re entering University you almost have to kind of separate for a while.

Definitely. I never had enough energy to do both when I was that age. You’re supposed to have a lot of energy at that time in your life, and I was just exhausted every single day. I’d dance for hours and hours. Then, I’d get home and I had homework to do. And I’m going to bed. It just didn’t really happen.

I don’t think the teachers did care, to a certain extent they did, but not enough. They weren’t noticing that I was falling behind and maybe they should do something. It was really on me to... get back into it, and make sure that I graduated and all that so…

It all worked out.

Do you think there is a Spectrum aesthetic?

Yes!

Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

Has that informed the way that you make work?

It’s definitely informed the way that I move, period.

Yeah. It’s very strong. The movements are very strong. I think it’s strong to a point where you put too much effort into the little things.

There’s the attack; you attack movement. Donald attacks everything as far as movements, and it’s breathtaking. Still, that’s not necessarily what you need in every single dance form that you do.

Right now, that’s what I’m working on, finding the nuances within the attack. It can be more free flowing. It can be easy feeling.

Did you see a lot of his work?

I got to see quite a bit of his work, yes. It definitely is the most impactful dance I’ve ever seen in my life.

It must be strange to go from a situation like Spectrum into a university dance program.

Yeah, it is weird. It’s just so different. I… can’t really compare them.


Jasmmine Ramgotra. Photo (detail): Carlos Sanchez ©

Do you think you’ll ever go back?

I think I might. I think as I get further with my career I might go and talk to Donald of my own accord.

We’re really lucky that someone of his caliber is making work in a former bathhouse in our neighborhood. It’s almost unbelievable.

It is unbelievable!

Because he could be in New York, or anywhere and he’s choosing to be in Madrona.

I wish we could ask him why he stays. I mean, he travels a lot, but it feels like Spectrum is his home.

His ideas are interesting - he’s such a gift to this area.

He is such a gift!

I think, I think we’ve covered it. Do you?

Yeah, I think so.



Transcribed by the wonderful Andrea Lai, to whom we are very grateful! 

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2015   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 



This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program 







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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The CentralAreaComm.blogspot.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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