I am a student, dance educator, dance artist, and the co-founder and creative director of Art for Ourselves. My goal, with everything I do, is to create spaces (whether physical or emotional) for people to show up and express themselves fully, just as they are. As a dance educator I focus mostly on early childhood (ages 0-6), but even with children this young I make sure that we’re addressing ideas like consent, power, and agency. Since 80% of the brain develops between ages 0-3 it’s vital to introduce these ideas as young as possible. I want each child to know they have ultimate power over their body. Each child decides their own boundaries and begins to learn what it feels like when their boundaries are crossed and how to speak up when that happens. It’s also about making space for children to practice how to listen and respect their peer’s boundaries too - not to push. To stop when someone says no, ouch, stop, or uses nonverbal communication to indicate that their boundaries have been crossed.
AFO: How do you identify/what are your intersecting identities?
Aiano Nakagawa: I identify as a queer, mixed, woman of color. I am an artist, a dancer, a partner, a friend, a lover, an educator, a student, a nurturer and so much more.
AFO: What are current projects you’re working on?
AN: I’m currently working on healing my lower back. It’s something I’ve been needing to address for YEARS, but a big part of it is psychosomatic. It taking time, compassion, creativity, patience, deep listening, and tender treatment towards myself.
I’m also in the beginning inquiry phase of a “mixed kids” project. I have no idea what form the final product will take. I’m still generating questions and beginning to reach out to the Mixed Kid community. I’m taking this one slow because there’s a lot to consider - a lot to unpack.
And of course, Art for Ourselves, which is constantly evolving and growing.
AFO: What do you believe our role as artists/writers/QTPOC/people is in supporting communities that aren't our own?
AN: I believe our role as artists/writers/QTPOC/people in supporting communities that aren’t our own is to pass the mic. It’s to offer up the spaces we comfortably occupy. It’s to listen deeply and critically reflect on our own privilege. It’s to question whether the work we create/promote is actually liberating or further contributing towards the marginalization of already marginalized folx. It’s not imposing what we (as outsiders) think will best benefit communities that aren’t our own. It’s listening, reflecting, and acting as an accomplice when asked. It's honoring the stories and experienced of communities besides our own.
AFO: How do you define activism? Do you consider yourself an activist? How do you stay active in your day to day life?
AN: I think the word “activist” generates a very specific image in many people’s minds which is overt political action; marching, protesting, civil disobedience. While those tactics are valid and extremely important to a movement, they are not the only tactics. I think the danger of having this one narrative of an activist prevents many people from engaging in activist work. I don’t think activism is exclusively being on the front lines. I think there are many ways we can be active in our day-to-day lives and make great strides through more subtle activism.
Through language, art, and actions we can “alter the intellectual or social context in which decisions are made.”
To me, activism is any action (verbal, physical, emotional) that contributes towards dismantling the current hegemonic, capitalist, white supremacist, cishet, patriarchy.
To me, a big part of being an activist is becoming conscious of the language you use, to speak up when something feels off, and to call people in to these dense, uncomfortable, and complex conversations instead of further isolating them.
I don’t think there is one definition for activism and so I do consider myself an activist, because I am dedicated - in my language, interactions, teaching engagements - to challenge and dismantle the current oppressive status quo and help shift the context in which decisions are made.
AFO: Tell us about one of your friends!
AN: I am so grateful for my support web of fiercely intelligent, passionate, and creative friends, but for this, I have to give some extra love to my dear friend, Ali. Ali is one of the most intuitive, creative, and generous people I’ve ever connected with. So thoughtful. So loving. So present. She always shows up in the most incredible and valuable ways. She is one of the few people who truly holds my intensity - she’s seen all of me, pierced the core, and is still is like YES OMG, I LOVE YOU! She inspires me to take up space, be unapologetic, and delve deep into the parts of myself that are scary and unfamiliar. She’s like a gatekeeper to your really magical, dark, and sensual self. She’s a brilliant and dedicated artist, scientist, mover, and advocate for reproductive justice and people’s right to pleasure. She’s such a source of wisdom, love, and recharging energy in mine and so many other's lives.
AFO: What’s your favorite accessory?
AN: My big amber ring from my great aunt, Sharon. My sparkly black agate ring from my mama. Both of which I wear everyday, no matter what. And then recently, Ali gifted me this super magical Goddess necklace, which I wear almost everyday. These three accessories are like my armor. I feel strong, fierce, and protected when I wear them.
AFO: What is something you love about yourself?
AN: I have worked really hard to create a healthy, loving, and compassionate relationship with myself. I now treat myself in the same manner I treat people I truly and deeply love. I am compassionate and gentle towards myself and am able to nurture and heal the parts of myself that need that.
AFO: Do you have any irrational fears?
AN: I’m terrified, I mean terrified of sharks. Like not just in the ocean, but in any water where I can’t touch the bottom - yes, this includes lakes, rivers, ponds, and pools. It used to be even worse when I was younger. When I was like 6 or 7 I was so scared, I wouldn’t even put my head back in the bathtub, because I was afraid the tub would open up in the ocean… Yeah, it’s irrational. I can’t look at photos of sharks and if I’m swimming in water, whoever I’m with knows that the “S word” is completely off limits or I’m out of there.
AFO: What are you doing to challenge your privilege?
AN: I mean, it’s a constant effort, but first, by recognizing what privilege I do have. Oppression/privilege are not mutually exclusive. No one person is all oppressed or all privileged. We all hold a complex mixture of both. While I am a fat, queer, mixed womxn of color, I am also an able-bodied, cisgendered, college educated, U.S. passport holding, English speaking, young adult with relative class privilege and light skin. I am constantly looking out for blind spots caused by my privilege. I am always open to challenging my understandings and questioning the lens I view the world through. Also, due to the privilege I do hold, I am granted access into certain (privileged) spaces where I make sure to push the boundaries in conversations with people who aren’t usually challenged on their own beliefs or assumptions.