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Jun 22, 2022

Angela Garbes and Kate Wallich Talk Creation, Loneliness, Pelvises and Angela’s New Book: 'Essential Labor'

by Kate Wallich

I first met Angela Garbes in 2016 at Dance Church Seattle.  Angela started coming to class at the recommendation of a friend and his partner, fellow writers and avid class takers.  Angela stood out immediately, mostly due to her guttural expressions and her openness to, quite frankly, let it all out. It was contagious.  It was love at first sight for Dance Church and Angela felt the same.  

A few months later, I received a google alert that Dance Church was mentioned in an article about postpartum.

“When Dance Church leader Kate Wallich instructs you to ‘grind your crotch down into the floor’ during a Drake song and someone near you giggles uncomfortably, throw your head back and laugh, mothers. This is the easiest, most liberating thing your vagina has had to do all year, so get down on it” — Angela Garbes.

For the first time, someone actually GOT IT. Angela: the woman I had been grunting, screaming and laughing with every week during my classes. We talk about this a lot in Dance Church, but it’s funny how you can spend years dancing next to someone whose name you might not even know, but you know their body and you know their dance. This is how Angela and I became friends. We danced next to each other. If you ever met Angela, you know that she is raw and authentic. She is rooted in truths, free in her expression and brilliant with her words. From the day she started taking my classes, she informed the room – just like she does with her readers in her books. This energy and honesty is palpable. Angela speaks from her body, of her body, and for her body. 

Dance Church and Angela just concluded a month-long partnership series of in-person and online classes in promotion of her latest book — Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change. Classes were packed with people and emotions as the Dance Church community celebrated Angela in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle.  Following her book tour, I sat down with Angela to dive deeper into all the things we’ve always wanted to talk about; the body, creation, community care, pelvises and more. 

AG: Do you miss Seattle?

KW:

It's really weird… I lived in Seattle for 14 years, which is a really long time. And I moved during a pandemic. And now when I come back, I'm really just coming back for super dense productions, which is like, you know: 8AM to 6PM in a dark theater, just like Dance Church class after Dance Church class after Dance Church class.  Then I come back to the hotel and just work and go to bed. I'm exhausted at the end of the day. So it's a really different experience now. I have to be intentional. Like, go take this Dance Church class, go to this event, rather than just, like, being in my habit, you know?

AG:

Yeah, totally. And you have to, like, mind your energy in a different way, right? Because you're like, “oh, I gotta get up and do it all again tomorrow.”

KW:

Yeah, exactly.

AG:

Weird, but I feel like that's part of the “everything about Dance Church changed in the pandemic thing.” I just imagine it's got to be a huge mind fuck, even if it's totally positive.

KW:

It is life changing. 

AG:

By the way, it's nice to just talk with you.

KW:

I know. I love you. There's been a lot of learning and a lot of personal growth and discovery. Which, you know, you talk about in your new book Essential Labor. Dance Church has become more of itself in a lot of ways. It has separated from me, you know? It’s almost like my feral child that was, like, growing up in the wilderness with its hair tangled and stuff has now gone into the world and become who it’s meant to be…and that’s what I imagine watching your child grow up would feel like, you know?

AG:

Yeah.

KW:

And there's a lot of emotions in that. And a lot of shift and acceptance and, like, vulnerability and all of those things, you know? So that's been my experience with my child growing up lol.

AG:

Yeah. I mean, I relate to that. My kids are still with me every single day. But, as a creative person, you make something, you put it out in the world, and you have to accept that it has a life beyond you. And maybe in some ways it crosses the threshold. Work ceases to just be yours, right? It becomes and it's going to change. And so I think there's something to that. As a mother, I identify because I feel like part of my life is just realizing that my children were actually never mine. Like, they're not mine. They're who they are. And part of my job is to get them ready to be able to go do their thing and take care of themselves and feel like I've given them the foundation to do that. So there's that.  And then, I also was thinking about this book coming out.

KW:

Ya, let’s talk about that.

AG:

This work in writing is so solitary. It's, like, me alone… feeling like all I do is sit on my ass. It was so private getting this book done. I felt like I had to hide from my family. Emotionally, I had to get away to write the book. And then there was an element to which I was like, emotionally unavailable to my family during the process. But it's this really beautiful creative thing that I totally understand; and now I'm shifting to this place where it’s living in the world and my solo private shit is done. And now I'm very public facing. And it's weird because it’s kind of fucked up, you know?

KW:

Yes.

AG:

It's two totally different kinds of work. But I also am accepting… I'm suited to do this. I know how to be public facing as much as I can be private.

KW:

I think that is really interesting. Like, understanding what that space looks like where you have to kind of be portaled and a little bit unavailable too. What is that experience like for you? Do you feel like it has to do with boundaries or, like, social norms?

AG:

I've struggled with it, you know. It's a journey. Earlier on when my kids were younger and definitely when I only had one, I felt more like, “oh, I have to be here,” and I had a hard time separating. It's also coming into my own as a creative person. Like, with my first book, I was like, “I don't know what the fuck I am doing.” And I was like, “oh, it's a dream to be a writer.” But I didn't really understand what it was like. I mean…now I feel like I'm a prisoner. I'm like, committing to that life in a certain way. And I definitely feel like there's a societal thing that I'm supposed to always be thinking about my family, right? And with the pandemic, because I was living with them so intensely, it became a habit. I'm always thinking about them. So to write this book, my fucking beautiful husband was like, “we're going to sit down with our Google calendars and every three weeks you're going to go away for three days minimum.” I was like “we don't need to do this.” And he was like “yeah, we fucking need to do this. I know what you need to write. You need to go away. No obligations.” And it was humbling because he needed to tell me that for me to take it. And then I started taking it, and over the process, I got really good at it. And what I realized is I don't have guilt anymore. When I go, I'm gone, and I know he's holding it down. But the other interesting thing about it is…I miss them, of course, but there were times when I was scheduled to be gone for a week, but I would still come back a little earlier. And it wasn't because I felt like I needed to be with them, it was because the longer I stayed away, the more I wanted time away. Like I would never get tired of it. I would never get tired of being alone. Do you know what I mean?

KW:

I mean, I do know what you mean. So, can I ask about the design of that…like with you and your partner. It's like, you kind of just need the structure or the system in order for it to be OK? And then, like, your unit defines and decides what's OK and what's not OK. You can just go into that container and everyone's aligned. Everyone's like feeling good about you writing your books alone because that is what you need. 

AG:

Yes.

KW: 

That's cool. I love that. That's what I need to function. Designing systems and structures are actually really good, you know? It's like you kind of need those to have security and feel safety together. Even with Dance Church, like the class itself. That's how people actually transcend and find that joy and that catharsis that they need, because there's all these conditions that are really intentional and purposeful. Like, it's all part of the design of the experience to be able to make the beautiful creation happen. It’s really inspiring to just hear that you have found that system for yourself as an individual who is a mother and a partner and a community member and many more things. So you can go off into a siloed portal by yourself for, you know, three days, five days or longer, but you hold yourself back from forever. And that's really cool. Commend you guys for that. 

AG:

Thank you. I mean, that's the thing... Societal messaging doesn't matter when you've figured it out for yourself. You're still always fighting against that to a certain extent. But I do want to ask you about that with Dance Church. Did you ever imagine that it would be this? How long did it take for you to realize, like, “oh, this is the structure that was always there even if I didn't know that that's what I was creating at the time.” Or did you have a sense of what the structure was in some way ten years ago? Because, I mean… sometimes I read this new book now, reflections of, and I'm like “oh, that's what I was doing.”

KW:

Oh, God. Maybe it's just where my mind's at today, but I'm feeling very layered with my thinking because, in retrospect: everything that I built has been built with Dance Church and it's continuing to build itself. Like, Dance Church keeps me accountable to it now.

AG:

Yeah.

KW:

For example, like, with the hype part of class. Before I really realized what it was, I was just doing it, and that was being driven by something in my gut. And it became structured, which then became universal in a sense or that became global in the context of class for experiencing release. But really it was for myself and whatever I was going through. But like all these other people found that as an entry point and it was doing something for them as well. Being a dancer, just by nature, is the way that I process, you know? So Dance Church, like, was going along this journey with me as I was sort of processing life and my identity and my experiences and the repetition of doing it every Sunday alongside my art career all informed the Dance Church community and the Dance Church experience. And I deeply listened to the people around me. Like I would notice when the bodies around me were like, getting it. It's like when you're performing and the audience is with you, that feeling of capturing the room, like everybody's there. We're all connected. It's like this communal alignment, like over probably like six, seven years of time. I was noticing that. I would notice when people would fall out of the vortex. Over time, the journey really started to consolidate and define and refine itself, and week after week it just started to gel to the point where I was like, OK, everybody's with me the whole time. I think the core of it really had to do with asking myself “what do I need right now?” Because I feel confused about my sexuality and my identity and my locational energy. Like when I moved to Seattle, I never really felt like I had a place to, like, belong, you know? So that is how it became. Ya know?

AG:

Yeah. It's interesting because a lot of it is following your intuition, doing the thing that you need and then realizing that other people need it, too. I relate to that in my work. This book, more so than the last one, like… this book is me. It’s mothering and what I want to do for my kids. But it's also thinking through how so much of my mothering is based on being a daughter and realizing the things that I needed in mothering and accepting what my mother couldn't do for me just because she's a person who can never satisfy all of that. And then figuring out how to mother myself. But I think the thing that's interesting is this idea of, like: it's what you need for me. I was afraid at first because I was like “how many people really want to read about my Filipino-American family? And how many people want to hear about my experience going to dance? Is this interesting to people?” But writing is where I process everything. And dance is a huge part of how I process stuff too. But like, I did it for me. And it's interesting to think about what space I occupy in a community. Because I actually think the more specific I get, the more people relate to it. The more specific you get, the more universal it feels to people. And I still don't totally understand how that works. It's like an emotional access point that people see as specific to you, but it somehow makes them feel like they can go after it too. Do you know what I mean?

KW:

I 100% agree with you. I actually think it's interesting because speaking to Dance Church’s growth and where it has gone and how many more communities it reaches, it's like the more that the teacher can really be themselves, and really find the music that they identify with and lead a class that is them processing their stuff, the better it works. And I do think that there's something to it. The word that is coming up in my mind is authenticity. It's really hard to just live inside of the world in an uninhibited way because, like…

AG:

You're always thinking. I mean, when you make your love and your art your job, then you're like, “oh, well, I need to make money. Like, I need to sell these things. I need to do.” I mean, it's just the reality of the world that we live in, right? And so how do you maintain that intensity? Different teachers have different styles but like, the thing that gets me, like, gets my fucking juice flowing is when I'm like, “oh, this person is free.” And that's what I see in a lot of teachers where I'm like: they are saying the thing that only they can say… in this moment. And maybe I don't totally understand it, but I fucking respect it and I want to get to whatever that looks like for me.

KW:

That's inspiring. Like when you just see people living them, like that is contagious. And, you know, well, that can also be scary. But there still is something there, it’s inspiring to see people just living free.

AG:

So there is something that I want to say. I'm starting to cry, it's so important to me. This relationship that we've built over time and that I have with the dancers and teachers. One of the things that it gave me, aside from all of the self-discovery, was this kind of confidence because I just went in and I didn't know anyone. Like, the space is so much less white than it was and there's so many more kinds of bodies now. But when I first went there, I was like, is this a safe place for me? I'm always counting. Like, who could I look at if things get weird? I enter into a lot of spaces feeling self-conscious or just sort of aware of a sort of role I have as a minority. Or like, someone who's one of the only people who are showing up in a certain way. And one of the things that's been really interesting to me in Dance Church is like, you and I just like immediately sort of responded to each other, you know? I think it was like three classes and we were like, “I love you.” I don't know what it is exactly. And that’s a new thing for me. People come up to me and are like “I love dancing with you, I just really love your energy.” Being seen in this way that I was like “I'm just doing this for me,” you know what I mean?

KW:

Yes.

AG:

It's also weird for me to talk about myself in this way, but like, when you said people respond to people who are living authentically and just being themselves, that's what I feel like. I like to realize that. In this space, in a different sort of way, I was someone that people were looking at like as a leader or something. Or I was giving people something… permission or whatever. And I felt weird about it for a while. And now I just think it's one of the ways I get to be in the world and serve people and show up for people, if that makes sense.

KW:

Yes! Crying. Shouting. Well, then there’s a certain level of accountability that becomes of that as well. We show up for each other. Where it's like “wow, you're energizing me, you're inspiring me.” But I also feel akin to that feeling because I think there's just certain types of loneliness that you can feel in the world. I think it's a bodily loneliness and it's not about intimacy or touch. It's like contained inside of our spirits loneliness, you know? And I think, like, there's this connection that we had and that I think we found with each other, with people inside of Dance Church, that’s like a communal understanding, almost animalistic. It's warm.

AG:

It's a warmth.

KW:

Yes, it's a thing. I don’t know, maybe that’s belonging.

AG:

I love exploring it. It is a belonging. It's a feeling of reflection, right? Of seeing. I wrote this in the book where you see yourself reflected, it's like in someone else's actions, right? It's a feeling of being held. It's a feeling of warmth. I want to go back to this idea that you said about loneliness. I think it's not negative. It's a condition of being a person. No one knows what it's like to be in my body, my specific body, right? I don't know what it's like to be in your specific body. So the experience of having your body is lonely in the sense that it’s just yours. It's unknowable to other people. There's something that happens when you're in Dance Church and you give over to a bigger thing. I feel porous. I have, like, a permeable thing. I'm taking something from you and I'm giving something at the same time. Things are just passing that can't happen in any other way. And that is belonging. It's important that it's temporary and it's important that it's held, it's important that it's in this sort of container, I think it would be too overwhelming if it was everywhere.

KW:

Totally. One of the things that I love about you and I think that I've learned since we met, and then I found out that you are like this amazing writer, is that you are so good at taking something that's ephemeral, something that is so hard to describe, and putting that to words. Like even now, when someone says “what is Dance Church?”, wires go off in my mind because I don’t know how to say it.

AG:

You’re like, “how do I explain my soul to you?”

KW:

Exactly. It's so hard. The first piece of press that Dance Church ever got, you wrote. Do you know that?

AG:

No, I didn't know that.

KW:

You wrote about Dance Church in The Stranger, and it was an article for new mothers.

AG:

Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

KW:

“Giving birth doesn't mark the debut of just one being in the world, but to Baby and Mother and the physically and emotionally exhausting postpartum days, it's easy for women to feel both awed and slightly horrified by their bodies. Ladies, when you're feeling strong enough, get yourself to Dance Church for an hour and a half of guided improvisation movement set to pop music and Velocity Dance Center this Sunday morning. Service should be a required activity for all new postpartum bodies that need to be celebrated as the divine vessels they are. When Dance Church leader Kate Wallich constructs you to ‘grind your crotch down into the floor’ during a Drake song and someone near you giggles uncomfortably, throw your head back and laugh. This is the easiest, most liberating thing your vagina has has had to do all year, so get down on it.”

AG:

Like, I remember now.

KW:

I was like, “this bitch fucking gets it.” 

AG:

First of all, I can't believe that you queued that up to read to me. Thank you for that. It’s not very often that you hear someone read your words back to yourself. How long ago was that?

KW:

A long time ago.

AG:

Got to be at least like seven years. 

KW:

To read someone’s writing about something that is so felt but so hard to explain is rare! There's something about the way you write; and this is why I love your books. And I feel like this is why the world loves your books. Because you can tell me what I can't say in words. It makes me so excited about your new book because you have a way with talking about things that happen and exist in the world that are unknown or need recontextualizing or need to be sort of seen. It’s so easy for the body or mothering to just be pigeonholed and for people to think “that's not for me, or that's unapproachable.” But when you read it written in this way, you're like “that sounds like how someone would describe a brand new album release or some crazy ass fashion experience.” It's rare to read writing that really engages you. Like, I'm a dance mom, but I'm not an actual mom. Like, I have not had something living in my body before, but, like, there's something about your writing that makes it feel like it doesn't matter if you're a mom or not. Like, everybody needs to read this book, you know? 

AG:

So, I will try to tell you my secret because it's still a secret to me. I don't know exactly how I do what I do. If I did, writing books wouldn't be so painful and I'd probably be living a more comfortable life, but what means so much to me is, I don't want to privilege. I think our society would be better if our care energy wasn't trapped at home. And so the idea of you, like, I don't want you to qualify it. Like, yes, it's a different experience to be pregnant and to give birth. But what you are doing is caring and nurturing a community, which is what all care work is… what mothering is foundationally, right? I know that you understand that. And it's also a thing that happens for you in a very physical, bodily way. That's your expression of it. I think one of the strengths of my writing is that I started off as a food writer, and a compliment that someone would give me that always meant a lot was: “when I read your stuff, I feel some sort of physical sensation, like whether it's a taste or a smell.” And so for me, I know that I'm always trying to write into silence. Where I grew up, we didn't talk about anything, and talking about something was like fucking violence. But I've always wanted to be like “I don't want quiet. I want to talk about everything. I want to understand everything.” I've actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make writing physically pleasurable to me. I don't want the mind to be separate from the body. I want both those things. I want to write things that land physically in the body, that don't just turn on someone's brain. I love reading shit that makes my brain catch fire, but I like something more that makes me feel. Like, I can name that place. Like, everything shows up in our bodies. My seven year old the other day was having anxiety, and she goes, “it's making my whole body feel tight… it's making my whole body feel tight.” And I was like “you are on your way.” I was like, “I am so proud of you. You can tell me how you're feeling, how this feels in your body.” I want us to all be processing in that way, you know?I don't want words to just be this thing that we read and like, it's separate. It all comes back to the body. It's all true.

KW:

That marriage is so powerful. I only feel things in my body. I've learned a lot of frameworks and tools to be able to use words, but it's so interesting how people process. But you can in fact learn.

Okay, I want to talk about pelvises. Because whenever I think about you, Angela, I just have these like, really clear facial expressions, guttural feelings, deep positions, and images that come to me. 

AG:

I spent years with you every week, sometimes two or three times a week. You'd be like “grind your pelvis into the floor.” Yeah. And do we do that anymore? I feel like hype is that. I mean, I feel like I can do that. And like, that comes out. And seeing the different ways teachers process hype, especially Tariq and Carlin, is like, “oh, I can do whatever I want.” Yeah. We don't see that anymore. So I feel like that was a conscious decision; and I also remember you once telling me that you all were changing the music a little bit because sometimes people felt it had too much hip hop and rap. 

KW:

Well, so, here's the thing. This is what I am realizing, and this has been my journey as a person. It's like, the bigger something gets, even if you are growing something in service of a mission, with a vision and values, the more people you bring into it the more subjective experiences people have. Like what we were just talking about… I cannot experience what your body has lived. You just cannot. And now there's thousands of bodies. When Dance Church Go launched there was this unveiling of Dance Church and all of a sudden there were literally 145,000 people dancing with us on the Internet. 

AG:

Who have feedback and thoughts?

KW:

Yeah, a lot.

AG:

Of course.

KW:

I think there becomes this tension between me, my body, my processing and my experience, which is where it grew from. And now all of these other people... teachers, takers, employees, partners who have a totally different lived experience than me are doing that as well now. In service of a mission that is collective, that speaks to others’ experiences and not just an individualized experience.  In service of a mission that is collective, that speaks to others’ experiences and not just an individualized experience.

AG:
Yes. So you have to recede a little bit and see like, “how much am I insisting on this? Because it serves me exactly.”

KW:

Which grinding my pelvis on the floor and saying that does for me. And the cool thing about the experience is that I can still say and do that in my class, you know, like… we do still tell people to grunt, grind, laugh, scream, and whatever else may come out at the beginning of every class. We say that Dance Church is PG-13 because the social or cultural connotation of, like, moving you body in a certain way can be considered sexual or sensual, you know? And so we do have to think about those things from a perception standpoint… also from the terms and conditions standpoint. 

AG:

Can I ask then, was there a conscious decision to stop saying “grind your pelvis.”

KW:

No, absolutely not. I’m just not teaching seven classes a week anymore so you probably don’t hear it as often lol. My classes are still crotchy. But, you know, we do say to teachers that you get one ‘ass’ and a ‘fuck’ here and there, but like if there's too many, is this appropriate anymore? But you know, the rebel side of me is like, who cares.

AG:

I hadn't thought about it because I was thinking about it selfishly, but I think there's a community care aspect to it. When it's smaller and everyone's agreeing with it being crotchy, right? But when it grows, you have to account that crotchy can be triggering for some people. It is not always positive. For some people, crotchy is really complicated. And I get that. And the other thing about it is that I still feel like you're telling me with your pelvis, like, to grow my pelvis into the war. It doesn't exclude that experience from happening, it just is maybe a little bit harder to access. And what I'll say about that, finally, is that I personally am just really glad that I, like, came up in Dance Church when we were still talking about crotches a lot. I feel really lucky to have had that be my first experience. 

KW: 

Period. Angela, I am just going to say that we're, like, really just so excited to celebrate you. Everybody at Dance Church is obsessed with you.

AG:

Oh, well, I'm obsessed with everybody. I love you guys so much. I feel like this partnership just makes so much sense. Figuring each other out and, like, the vibe was never something I had to worry about, which is interesting in a creative partnership. I just feel so grateful. I feel like we're both lucky and it's good for everyone and it's just amazing. I never imagined I would have a community like this in my life, so that's also what makes it so meaningful. It's like a great surprise and I deserve it and I love it also.

KW: 

You deserve everything. Thank you. And thanks for spending way more than half an hour with me on this.

AG:

Please. Any time. I've wanted to just sit and chat with you for years. So we get to do it and I love you. 

KW:

Love you too. Bye.

Pick up a copy of Angela’s new book Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change

Check out her latest NPR interview 

Catch Angela live on The Daily Show June 22 at 11pm PT or on streaming platforms!

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