A little late I know, but I just read a piece by Lori Lakin Hutcherson “What I Told My White Friend When He Asked For My Black Opinion On White Privilege” and had to write about my version of her #4 point…

So I got into Sarah Lawrence College for undergrad. I was excited and thrilled, especially because my high school guidance councilor told me taking time off between high school and college was bad. She said I would get stuck in a dead-end job and never go to college. Well that didn’t happen.

I graduated from high school in ’92 and applied to SLC in fall of ’93 and then started fall of ’94. When I got into SLC my white boyfriend at the time told me point-blank I only got into college to fulfill a quota. (Around that same time he dismissed rap music and Prince and we got into a huge fight cause hello – hip hop and Prince, but I digress) Not only had I been a member of my high school’s National Honor Society, I was editor of my school’s literary magazine senior year. Oh yeah and speaking of senior year, I did my senior year while doing my junior year, yeah that’s right I doubled up and did two years in one because I needed to get the hell out of Galway. 

By the time I applied for SLC I also had written, starred in and self-produced my first interdisciplinary performance piece at the black box theater in my local (and legendary) folk coffee house – Caffe Lena’s. It was called Voyage and was mixture of my poetry set to live music. I’d enlisted a saxophonist, a bassist and a dunbek player; as well as a my friend Melanie who was a beautiful dancer.

All of those things I accomplished because I was driven as fuck and SLC clearly saw that.  Yet somehow my white boyfriend who I was so in love with at the time thought it was okay to actually bring up quotas to me… he who although he had talent in drawing and music, didn’t seem to have any academic drive, his  grades from high school were mediocre at best. Get the fuck out of here.

And I am still saddnned by the affect this and other experiences had on me. For my first two years at SLC I was secretely convinced that somehow it was a mistake that I got in and at any point someone in the admissions office would come knock on my door and ask me to leave.

Until reading  What I Told My White Friend When He Asked For My Black Opinion On White Privilege I hadn’t really thought about how deep the ex’s words went into my physche and how they were a factor in the imposter syndrome I battled at SLC.

Many years later I ended the friendship we had maintained throughout the years after a frustrating phone conversation where he expressed racist and Islamophobic views. At first I was shocked and hurt by his out of left field racism. But then it all started coming back. And although he was an important part of my young adult life, I no longer needed a friend who was clueless about his own white privlege and sounded more and more like the small town I had long ago escaped.



The Time is When YOU are Ready

I created my latest solo show in 2012. I was living in Manchester, England. The arts are supported and respected on a whole different level there. It is a beautiful thing. I was planning to start booking it around the UK and then life happened. My father-in-law passed away so my partner and I decided to move back to NYC to help support his mother. Three months after returning to NYC, I performed my solo show Xenophobadelica at the Line Breaks Festival, an amazing performance and theater festival at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Then life took over again. Our daughter was a toddler and we as a family were still raw and grieving from the death of my father-in-law steve ben israel. In the fall of 2013, I was able to get Xenophobadelica up once in NYC, for one night only, on my birthday at La Mama as a part of a solo theater festival. And then nothing.

As the years passed, and I started working on other projects, teaching, focusing on my burlesque career, yet I was still carrying this sadness and frustration that I was simply sitting on this great show. Creating Xenophobadelica was the first time I actually had a fully paid creative team to work with and for an independent performing artist from the States that was a magical experience. Back in NYC on dark days it felt as if all that work we put into it was for nothing. I started to have other ideas for a new show, but felt blocked because Xenophobadelica was still so much in my system.

Finally I got the opportunity to perform it again. In two weeks I’m heading out to the Goddard College West Coast M.F.A.I.A. residency at Port Townsend, Washington. Over the past few weeks I’ve been getting the script back in my body while doing things like washing dishes and walking home from dropping off my daughter at PreK. This morning I pulled out the costumes from storage and performed the show in my living room to some of my daughter’s stuffed animals. And it felt fucking fabulous!!!! The fear and insecurities about missing “my time” with this show, evaporated with the shaking of my hips and the feel of purple velvet against my skin during the first burlesque moment in the show.

I am amazed at how my body remembers, and even more so that Xenophobadelica feels deeper to me this time around. I created this show as a new mom, and now my daughter is about to be four and a half years old. The life experiences and changes I have gone through in the past four years are above and beyond anything else I’d ever imagined.

Now is the time for Xenophobadelica. Now is my time.

peace and movement,

DawN a.k.a. Miss AuroraBoobRealis


Quickie Reflection from BurlyCon 2015 number 1

Last night at BurlyCon as I sat in the Emerald B Ballroom, I was blown away by the collective power in the room. Over thirty burlesque performers came to the People of Color Caucus and it was beautiful. Seeing all of our faces and bodies together. Listening to how each of us got into burlesque.

We are here. We have always been here and we are growing!!!

peace and movement,
Miss AuroraBoobRealis

Embracing and Learning From Failure: No I Didn’t Get the Grant Application in

About twenty minutes ago I took stock of the where I was at in the grant application and I made a calculated decision to stop and let it go for this year. There were tears, and fear that I was stopping out of fear instead of practicality. But now as I watch the clock turn to 5pm and my breathing has calmed down I know I made the right decision. And I have 85% of the application done for next year.

I set myself up for this, I realize, because I wasn’t fully honest with myself about what I am capable and good at. In an ideal world where I have no other things on my plate yes I am capable of writing a grant application. But really, is that my bruised ego talking? What if I’m really not capable? I’m working on recognizing that that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing that is.

It is now the next morning and waking up I feel calm and a bit exhausted but surprisingly not shattered, and this is a good thing. It’s a sign of maturity, of breaking the cycle. Showing me that I made a decision through the fear, with what came next instead of being frozen and ruled by it. And now it is blog time, this post doesn’t have to be epic, just real and done. So that I can move on. This experience has taught me unequivocally that I need to hire a grant writer, now. There is a grant that I am planning to apply for, due the end of the month and the idea for the project I have is brilliant. And I need to find someone who can translate that brilliance into concise words on a page  that fill up little boxes without causing the amount of stress, anxiety, and havoc on their day to day life that this process does to me. Everyone is not good at everything, and I’ve known that for years and years but I think yesterday at 4:27pm I finally accepted what that really means for me. So now it’s time for me to focus on my strengths.

peace and movement,


Climbing Up to the Next Level

Wow. My brain is full and my body is exhausted and there is that familiar fear and anxiety based on insecurities of not enough. I’m not enough, I’m not doing enough. I don’t have enough. But today those feelings are being pushed to the background because I am gaining the skills and deeper confidence to climb up to the next level in my career.

For the past two days I’ve been a participant in the Artist Summer Institute presented by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Creative Capital. Along with fifty-four other NYC artists, yesterday I learned about strategic planning and business planning for my career. Today was focused on marketing. I am making so many great connections and am beyond inspired by all the other artists.

There were so many moments from today that have left impressions on me, but one that I would like to share is the moment when in a breakout group I was getting feedback about my website, which exists but I haven’t publicly launched it because it’s not ready yet. As the group give critical feedback I felt my ego readying to respond defensively and I started to, but then I was able to rein it in and really take in everyone’s feedback, remembering that the whole point is to strengthen my skills. So I took a breath and took notes. And now I am sorting through people’s feedback, putting it into three different categories. There is the spot on feedback like that I need to have the opening image be a great headshot of me. Then there is the feedback that I don’t agree with, and finally the feedback that I had a gut defensive reaction to but when I acknowledged to myself that was mainly coming from a place of ego, I was able to open up and receive it.

Tomorrow the focus is on finances. I am equal bits excited and nervous, but ultimately grateful because this is probably one of the areas where I need the most growth. Tonight I go to sleep with the belief that this moment is a turning point for me and in the morning I will walk into the room ready to expand and thrive.

peace and movement,


P.S. Here’s a fun selfie from the ferry to Governors Island this morning where the Artist Summer Institute is taking place. It’s a wonderful way to start the day!



Reflections on Caffe Lena and growing up in the world of folk

Last week I hosted an amazing event, a book launch for Caffe Lena – Inside America’s Legendary Folk Music Coffeehouse; this is the incredible book that a friend of mine, Jocelyn Arem has been tirelessly working on for more than a decade. In preparing for the event all these memories and stories came back to me and I realized a bunch of things. Below is an expanded version of what I shared as the host on that Thursday night.

I am a child of folk music. I have grown up at folk festivals because my mom is a visual artist and craftsperson who always had a booth to sell her creations. The sound of fiddles jamming late into the night, my childhood lullaby. But at fourteen I wanted to rebel and find my own scene. I was writing deep (angsty) poetry and found my way to those double doors on a Thursday, Caffe Lena’s open mic night. It was 1989. Lena’s open mic quickly became my realm, outlet and training ground. I remember the night I first performed my poem that made me decide that yes, I was a poet. I was seated back on the landing, waiting for my turn, reading it over and over under my breath, and then I got up and shared it. Funny, all these years later and I still remember the last bit of it:

raining down on me
a sea of debris
swallowing me in one big gulp
my will to live
my fear to die

Dark yes, brilliant, not so much, but at the open mic night, I could share it and not be concerned about teachers sending me to the guidance counselor. At open mic night I could be myself and hear so many others being themselves too. Skidmore students, older folkies, high school students and so many more.

That October Lena passed. I remember it being sudden and sad and the community rallying around the place to keep it going, but I was fourteen and death wasn’t a really real thing to me yet.

The next year one of my friends told me that he was volunteering there, waiting tables and making tips and so at fifteen I started working at Lena’s. Quickly I became one of the main folks that worked there, waiting tables almost every weekend. But this place I had “discovered” on my own, was actually linked to my childhood and my mother’s community. I realized this as customer after customer would say “Are you Carol Crandell’s daughter? Last time I saw you, you were a little girl.” “You know, your mom used to bring you here when you were just a baby.” There was a path I followed even though I thought this was my own thing.

This path started with Fox Hollow, that legendary folk festival for all in the community who lived in the northeast of the U.S. My mom had a booth and sold her infamous hippie dolls. ’80 was the last year of this particular festival, and also one of my first memories. Me and a couple of other kids were playing near my mom’s booth. It was a woody area, and I think it was a bit wet, having rained earlier. And we were treasure hunting, digging in the dirt with our hands, that must have been a joy to clean off, and we actually found something, a foreign coin, we brought it back to my mom, super proud of our discovery. I was almost six and one of the beautiful things about folk festivals at that time was that we kids could be a bit independent, we weren’t kept under the lock and key of our parents every instant, because the larger community was watching us too. As Fox Hollow ended, Old Songs began. I was a festival kid, running around with the other kids, playing in the sand pile at the children’s area, where they would bury little treasures for us kids to dig up on Saturday morning; and when we were older, walking around in packs on Saturday night pretending like we were bored and folk music wasn’t for us. One of the other friends in that pack was Nathaniel Ward, younger son of George and Vaughan Ward, who were mainstays in the folk scene. And it was Nathaniel that first got me to volunteer at Lena’s. Yes, there was definitely a path.

And so at fifteen, although I complained to my friends how bored I was around this scene, every weekend I would wait tables at Lena’s and enjoy some of this country’s best folk, blues and more.

The Story, Guy Davis, Odetta, Ani DiFranco, Christine Lavin, John Gorga, Aztec Two-Step, Livingston Taylor, Jamie Notterthomas, Dave Van Ronk, Rossanne Raneri, The Figgs, G-Love (before he was G-Love) Bill Morrissey, Bill Staines, Greg Brown, Patty Larkin, and hundreds of other incredible performers.

I was sixteen when Ani DiFranco first played Lena’s. She was twenty, touring the country in her car selling her self published debut album, on cassette tape. Hardly anyone had ever heard of her, Barb Harris, the then manager of Lena’s; much like Lena had done for countless other artists over the years, took a chance on booking her because Barb sensed there was something special about Ani. I made nine dollars in tips that night, there were only twenty people in the audience and I used that money to buy Ani’s tape. A year later she came back and played to a packed house. I was seventeen and she was twenty-one. I read her a poem of mine about a messed up sexual experience I had with an asshole that she knew, that went to New School where she was taking classes. She encouraged me to keep writing and agreed that he was indeed an asshole.

I also performed my first interdisciplinary performance piece in the black box theater there. I was eighteen. The piece was called Voyage. It was a combination of my poetry, movement and music. This was way before I learned to use the term interdisciplinary to describe my artistic work.  I enlisted the help of three musicians that I had met through open mic night and a dancer friend of mine from Albany. To this day I’m not quite sure how I got these performers to be in my piece. All of them besides my dancer friend Melanie were older than me and in varying stages of being professional musicians. Lena’s seemed to foster such a warm intergenerational vibe. Community.
And speaking of open mic night, I remember the first time Rosanne Raneri stepped on stage. Barb and I were in the office and suddenly we heard this incredible voice, we rushed out and wow. We were blown away.
I am searching for an integrated and holistic life, and hosting the book launch reminded me what a unique upbringing I had, being always around music and joy and a community of people who cared. And how so much of who I am at my core is because of these experiences, that I really need to integrate the folk world into my every day life, or at least life on the regular.
How many lives do we live in a lifetime? I’ve done so many things, and I have so many visions and dreams of things I still want to accomplish.
A place, I have wanted to have a place, an arts space probably since the time I started working at Lena’s. My studying of the Black Arts Movement in college and the concept of institution building just strengthened that longing. And yet I also want to continue to grow my career as an interdisciplinary performing artist and allow it to bring me all over the world and move people. Are these two dreams at odds with each other?
Lena originally opened the Caffe with her then husband because they wanted a way to make some money to travel to Europe and live and create there for five years. They opened Caffe Lena in 1960.
Lena never did move to Europe, instead she created a beautiful place for generations of performers and audiences alike to love and grow and experience the best things in life. She has left such a beautiful and important legacy. I am so honored to have been a small part of it and inspired to keep reaching for my dreams while allowing my life to organically grow in the unforeseeable ways of the future.
peace and movement,
DawN Crandell