Camellia Dao-Ling McDermott Lee
Intergenerational healing for ancestors in training
I am an Ivy League-educated, able-bodied US citizen descended from European and East Asian settler colonists. I was born on Kumeyaay land and educated on Occaneechi-Saponi, Tuscarora, Tongva, Wampanoag, Narragansett and other Native people's homelands. Before my family settled unceded indigenous territories, we were blacksmiths, physicians and medicine men. The tribal lands of my most recent Egun are An Cabhán, An Longfort and 福建省. Our names were 李, 林, Mac Gabhann, Mac Diarmada, and Llwyd. I came through my mother's womb on my due date, a new moon meteor shower exactly nine months after World Water Day. Born in a the year of the golden horse, I came with a calling to face unhealed intergenerational traumas and my lineage's complicity with racialized capitalism. I am a rainbow spirit who loves regardless of gender assignment and is not quite a woman. My pronouns are she or they. I embody femme in homage to Chinese warrior women like 花木蘭 Hua Mulan and 林默娘 Lin Moniang.
As a non-Black, biracial person of color raised in the US South, I sought out critical race theory in my early teens to make sense of the de facto segregation I saw around me. I organized with the Coalition to End Environmental Racism and with the local and state NAACP as well as in my high school’s student government, earning the Pauli Murray Human Relations Youth Award for the county. I earned admission to an Ivy League college after high school, but couldn’t reconcile that golden ticket with the systemic racism I had seen in the public school system from which I graduated. I didn’t know how to take responsibility for my complicity in structural oppression without hurting myself in the process, so I dropped out of college and tried to avoid all earning whatsoever, subsequently ending up eating from food pantries and effecting little change. Realizing that my self-imposed scarcity was a privileged choice that wasn’t addressing the issues I care about, I went back to school and earned a Bachelor’s in Africana Studies. I’ve spent the past fifteen years trying imperfectly but consistently to practice solidarity with Black and indigenous folks while navigating depression, anxiety and trauma. In true Saggittarius fashion, my quest has spanned continents, from mountain top temples in Asia to rainforests in South America and beyond. It has been a spiritual path of ego-humbling, lineage-healing, and cellular transformation.
I pay homage to three generations of 李 doctors by studying traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, while staying true to my soul's mission of directly addressing settler colonialism and anti-Blackness. I will practice my ancestors' medicine in active solidarity with Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
As a scholar-practitioner of Yoruba diaspora religion, I focus on ontology and theology. Since 2016, I have worked to connect initiated elders to those interested in Yoruba religion by coordinating free lectures, curating resources, providing social media support for elder artisans to market their work, and publishing books for the general public.
Since graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Africana Studies from Brown University, I have transcribed and translated two manuscripts with renowned Candomblé priestess and revered elder Dona Cici, Nancy de Sousa. This special woman has devoted decades to studying the history and culture of her Afro-Brazilian ancestors, and devotes her time to passing on this knowledge to under-resourced children in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.
I'm delighted to share that the version in Portuguese is now live and available for free on Amazon Kindle and on my website. Due to the public health crisis, I decided to give Dona Cici the funds for publication in Portuguese and offer the book at no cost. This is in alignment with my ultimate goal of facilitating intergenerational transmission of Afro-Brazilian wisdom without gatekeeping. The English translation is available in e-book and print form, with all royalties going to the elder.
I was born with hip dysplasia, so I spent my first weeks on Earth in a metal brace. Thanks to my doctors, my body realigned itself. I climbed trees, scaled rock climbing walls and leaped through my childhood.
Before I was five years old, I attended a ballet class where I was the brownest child present. I remember feeling different and not wanting to return. I soon started Irish stepdancing lessons in honor of my Celtic ancestors. Although my grandfather was a first-generation Irish-American, I still felt as if I did not belong among my white classmates. My Taiwanese-American biracial hair did not curl into ringlets, and a relative at our Irish family reunion once pulled her eyes sideways when referencing Chinese people. I quit Irish dance in high school.
I started attending hip hop classes at the studio where I had studied Irish dance, and I now understand that I loved hip hop because Afro-diasporic dance is a healing modality. During my first year of college, I took a West African dance class that transformed my life. I found home. My heart opened up, energy flowed through my veins, and for the first time I wasn't hiding or trying to be anyone but me - I was doing what I came here to do, all I want to do for the rest of my life - giving body, mind and spirit wholly to the drum.
I have been studying and performing Afro-diasporic dance for the past decade. My core practice is Mande dance of the Bamana people from present-day Mali, but I have also spent years practicing Yorùbá and Afro-Brazilian dance in Los Angeles, CA. I have studied Guinean, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Puerto Rican and Afro-Haitian dance in New York, NY; Durham, NC; Cambridge, MA; and Los Angeles, CA. My teachers have included Omowale and Francis Awe, Tania Melendez, Silfredo La O, Kimberly Miguel Mullen, Seydou Coulibaly, Michelle Bach-Coulibaly, Danys "La Mora" Perez, Rachel Hernandez, Linda Yudin, Luiz Badaró, Samantha Blake Goodman, Vera Passos, Gisella Ferreira, Vida Vierra, Amen Santo, Ana Laidley and Jean Appolon. I have taught and choreographed for Beneficent Congregational Church, Barrington Congregational Church, Providence Public Schools, Global Dance Arts, the Providence Parks and Recreation Department, Brown University Recreation, and the Brown University Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies. I have performed with the New Works/World Traditions Dance Company, The Axé Collective, Swing Brazil Tribe, The Nigerian Talking Drum Ensemble, and Ballet Folclorico Do Brasil. Whether I'm working with pre-schoolers or college students, I provide sensitive instruction that contextualizes Afro-diasporic dance as a powerful healing modality and a serious art form.
I am a non-Black person of color who studies and teaches Afro-diasporic dance. Therefore, I receive material benefits from colonialism and anti-Black racism. In acknowledgement of the power dynamics which unjustly privilege me at the expense of others, I donate at least 10% of all funds I earn for teaching Afro-diasporic dance to organizations run by and for Black communities' self-determination.