by Petula Caesar
Baltimore Girls took place Saturday at The Living Well on Charles Street. I went to the 6 p.m. presentation of the event.
Let me start off by saying technically I am NOT a Baltimore Girl. I was born in New Jersey and moved to Baltimore with my parents the summer I turned 13, into a house my grandfather left my mom on Biddle Street. So while my childhood was spent in New Jersey, I became a woman in Baltimore. I learned about grown woman thangs in Baltimore — about men and love and pain and loss, about drugs and music and dancing and childbirth, about clothes and hair and shoes, about my sexy and my unsexy and my pretty and my unpretty — all those lessons were taught to me in the classroom that is East Baltimore. So I do feel like I’m a “grandmothered” in Baltimore Girl. But enough about me…about the show…
If you missed it…*shaking my head*…you missed what I can best described as a spiritual experience embodied in song, dance, fashion, hair, and pictures. I guess that sounds kind of crazy, so let me try to explain.
When I entered The Living Well, images of the Baltimore Girls, provided by Dominic “Nellaware” Nell, Reuben “Dubscience” Greene and Tyrone Eaton graced the walls. Each photographer mixed the visuals of gritty urban life with the beauty of the Baltimore girls they photographed differently. But each photographer still managed to tell the story of each ‘Baltimore Girl’, especially when she was demonstrating supreme comfort in her own skin, whether it was with a melancholy shadow falling across her face, with a flash of bold fire leaping out of her eyes, or with a hip pushed out in bold defiance. Their eclectic fashion and hair styling reflected Safi’s wild and fierce approach to these things, but each woman made it her own. And of course part of the fun was trying to identify the Baltimore locations in the pictures. The photographs were gripping, and I was still thinking about them when the show started.
Highlights from the show for me first and foremost have to include the opening segment. Each Baltimore Girl strutted out, hairstyles works of art within themselves, faces beat as beautifully as I’ve ever seen faces beat, dressed fabulously in everything from black cat suits and thigh high black boots to flowing multi-colored maxi dresses to micro mini skirts and fringe-adorned booty shorts. (Shoutouts to Toni James, Heather Thompson, Sandria Boyd and Kijuana Chinete for the wardrobe and styling for the event, and to Shanise Turner, Takia Ross, Afiness Cochrane and Kayla Bell for the makeup.) Each one took a place on a long red carpet running down the center of the floor, shouting out their various Baltimore neighborhoods of origin. The energy was high and full of fun, and after the shout outs each woman stood motionless as dancer Tracy Jiggetts (who was also narrator/hostess of the show) came out to perform an interpretive dance to Marvin Sapp’s “The Best In Me”.
As she danced, she carried an ornate looking glass mirror. She danced up to each girl and placed the mirror before her. When each “Baltimore Girl” saw her reflection, she moved towards the mirror, looking in it, smiling at her own reflection, and then leaving the floor. The words of the song became particularly meaningful as each woman looked in the glass and was able to move once she saw herself — “…he saw the best in me” took on a deeper, more poignant meaning. Baltimore Girls often struggle with others seeing the best in them because of who they are, where they are from, how they dress, how they express themselves, and so on. That kind of rejection can freeze you in your tracks, so the symbolism behind finding the will to strut your stuff after seeing and loving your own reflection was deeply moving. I think I almost cried to be honest with you.
The Baltimore Girls then told their tales through spoken word, music, song, and monologues, both positive and negative. (Shout out to Robert Lee Hardy as the one male in the show — as usual he threw everything he had into his excellent performance of a piece called “Why Can’t We Live?”) The Baltimore Girls told tales of losing loved ones to street violence, of drug addiction, of finding love, being hurt, losing love, and losing yourself in the process, and of young motherhood (Michelle Shellers’ gut wrenching, heartfelt and soulful rendition of Regina Belle’s ode to motherhood “If I Could” during this segment was another tearjerker moment for me.)
There were also tales of celebrating life through dance, from tribal days in the Motherland to Sundays during praise and worship to dancing pain away in the club. And the crazy thing is, while lots of booty bouncing, twerking, and hip shaking was going on, it never seemed dirty, hyper sexual or raunchy. It really was just women celebrating with their entire bodies, moving them through space in whatever way the music inspired them to. This was especially true during the African dance segment, when two young ladies in brightly colored African dress did a dance routine that had them shaking everything they had for all it was worth. But it never ever seemed like some sordid display of flesh. You could see the joy in their movements, the passion, the happiness, and that transformed their dancing into what it was always meant to be — the body throwing a party for itself to celebrate its ability to make such magic happen.
Nothing that is Baltimore would be worth the name without lots of Baltimore Club Music and house music. Both were present, and the audience happily joined in, clapping, singing along, dancing, and truly getting into the spirit of it all — one highlight of this segment was a fierce catwalk presented by a tall leggy chocolate Baltimore Girl styling a maxi skirt made out of yellow “Caution” crime scene police tape while “Watch Out For The Big Girl” played.
Miss Kittie wrapped up the show with the Baltimore Girls theme song — “…You can take us away, but you can’t take it away, we’re Baltimore Girls, born and raised. For the rest of our lives, ’til the end of our days, we’re Baltimore Girls, Baltimore girls…” The Baltimore Girls strutted out the front door of The Living Well as the song played, leading the elated audience out onto Charles Street.
“BALTIMORE GIRLS : Illuminating Souls Multi-Media Art Exhibit” was intended to be a soft launch, which implies that the project is not fully formed out yet and will undergo some tweaking. But the presentation Saturday knocked it out of the park on every level — it was entertaining, it was fun, it made you think and reflect and laugh and cry and even dance. It even made me realize that Baltimore Girls deserve to be viewed in the glorious healing light of compassion and self love. It made me realize what Baltimore has done to make me who I am — it made me strong in ways that I don’t think would have happened quite the same way anywhere else in the world. The show was a perfect length — it left you full but still wanting more, and it had a nice mix of performance elements, from the dancing to the singing to the spoken pieces. Baltimore Girls really was a healing experience for me — it somehow mended a little hurt inside me that I didn’t even realize was there. I cannot say enough about how great this show was, and I truly commend Stephanie Safiyatou Edwards for conceiving, carrying, laboring over and giving birth to this gorgeous baby. Baltimore Girls is a great production that is overflowing with talent and joy — in fact it is more than a production, it is an experience full of much potential and promise. The next time it comes around, see it, or see it again. It is definitely worth the price of admission.