January 22, 2016
Abundance; plentiful, overflowing fullness, wealth.
Keomi Tarver knows a thing or two about living life in abundance. At 23, this San Diego native packed her dreams and savings into a suitcase, made a beeline for the city that never sleeps and landed in do or die Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Keomi (key-oh-me) is a Japanese word meaning pure beauty. Her middle name is René, the name of her Mother’s best friend and I quickly discern that Keomi has always been surrounded by strong feminine synergy. This is the kind of energy Keomi exudes and the vitality behind her craft.
Keomi is a woman in motion. Her love for dance began in church where she credits praise dance (a form of dance centered on worship) with structuring and developing her movement. It served as the foundation for what Keomi would become. Already a fixture in the spoken word community in San Diego, Keomi learned the art of combining poetry with dance and solidified her love for performance art. Through sheer determination and seeking a challenge, she left the comfort and secureness of her parents home and embarked on a journey of self. She craved the hustle and bustle of New York City and when one of her artist friends set up shop in Brooklyn, Keomi saw opportunity.
It took a year of pursuit to finally find grounding in her profession. While working at the YMCA, a woman, aware that Keomi was a dancer, asked her to teach her very own class. With no formal teaching experience, Keomi wasted no time in seizing the moment. It’s in taking these kinds of risks that have proven to be the most beneficial on her quest for self-realization.
“It was the first time I had to really believe in myself. I had to tell people I could before people would believe that I could. I needed to trust myself enough to believe in what I was bringing to the table. It was about putting myself out there.”
It was during a workshop that focused on abundance and scarcity that changed Keomi’s strategy. Already a Writer, Dancer, and Choreographer, she decided to use her experience gained on the performance circuit and add Director to her resume. In 2014, Keomi wrote, choreographed and directed Love & War. She found freedom in the vulnerability and interconnectedness that allow love and war to exist in the same space. That same year Keomi opened AbunDance with Keo at the Iati Theater in the East Village. When I ask Keomi how she is able to finance her projects, she admits very nonchalantly, that she works 7 jobs as a teaching artist. She works 6 days a week and sometimes 7 if a production is in the works.
“I always remind myself that I can choose where I want to pull from. I am always supporting others. It’s what I do. But this was about supporting myself. Every day I live this dream and trust that abundance will come.”
It’s this faith in herself that keeps Keomi going. Living this dream means paying for studio space out of your own pocket. Living this dream means acknowledging that people may not show up for you but you show up for yourself. Day after day, full of conviction you show up. It’s in this hunger for fulfillment that led to a sold out viewing of Love & War this past October. Keomi envisions taking the production on the road and having local artists bring her work to life.
Considering her background in praise dance, it’s enlightening to learn that Keomi has mastered the art of Twerk. The abunDANCE classes are often choreographed around the West African-inspired dance that Keomi calls a celebration of the body in all of its facets. “It’s about not seeking permission and making no apologies. It’s liberation. Twerking means to lift up. You can twerk your ass, your heart or your attitude” Keomi says.
“I was church girl so twerking is a kind of rebellion. Like, why can’t I praise dance and twerk? Why can’t I celebrate the God in me? It took me a long time to unlearn the shame I felt in showing my body. Now I choose to love all of me.”
These are the messages Keomi adheres to in her day to day. Her body positive declarations inspire the many students who take her class to leave it all on the floor. Sweat, nerves, shame, struggle.
“It’s important for people to trust themselves. Figure out what works for you and do that. It’s great to admire other people but what makes your body move? Don’t compare yourself. Know that you got the goods. Find out what makes your body jump out of itself.”
At 23, Keomi Tarver went from the woman with a dream to the woman living her dream. She continues to teach dance at institutes throughout New York City such as BAM, New Wave Dance Company, nonprofit leadership programs and public schools in the metro area. In March of 2016, Keomi will feature her work at the 5th Annual Poetic License Festival at the Wild Project in NYC. You can learn more about Keo here.