Celebrating the Spirit in Intimacy Work
A Conversation with Cha Ramos
Ann James: It gives me so much joy to be sitting here with you and talking about your intimacy practice and what excites you about the industry. So, let's begin! I do have questions that are benchmarks and guidelines, but feel free to share whatever riff or rant your mind wants to take you on in this process.
Cha Ramos: That's dangerous permission… I can riff!
Ann: Oh, goody. I consider myself warned! Let's start at a basic level. How were you drawn to intimacy work?
Cha: The “professional” answer to that question is through staged violence. I was already interested in, and a practitioner of, fight choreography when I started to hear the rumblings of intimacy choreography. Through fight work, through directing, through acting, I had already started to be a facilitator for scenes of intimacy, and it was already bringing me joy. Once the words “intimacy choreography” and “intimacy direction” started to be spoken around the stage combat community, it was an immediate gut, heart, soul, body reaction: I have to be doing this.
But the other part of the “gut, heart, soul, body” thing, which I talk about a lot, is the fact that I think a big part of the way I do this work is from Latin social dance. As a first-generation Cuban American woman, I have been dancing–salsa, merengue–since I was a baby. When I tell you I have pictures of me at two years old with my brother who was four years old dancing salsa! That's our culture. That's our lives. So, I had already been in spaces where there is this non-verbal communication around how we're going to physically interact with one another, within family parties, at salsa clubs as I got older.
A big part of my attraction to this work was about how we have the conversations that need to happen around consent and storytelling to do this work, but also the nonverbal interactions that tell the story or that happen when we need to communicate something to a scene partner. All of that has been a part of it, too, maybe even in ways that I have yet to know fully.
Ann: That’s real. We're all evolving in this work, and that question of culture and physical contact is so varied. Creating a de-homogenization of what physicality and contact means for people coming from different expressions of embodiment is so exciting.
Cha: Just naming that different people have different experiences with physical touch, with physical movement, based on the many cultures that exist within them. Not just ethnicities or races, but quite literally the town you were raised in, the TV you grew up on—all of that is culture–
Ann: Your religion!
Cha: Yeah! That lives within our bodies, and sometimes we don't have conscious knowledge of all of that. But acknowledging that everyone who comes into the space comes in with a completely unique embodiment is part of the joy of this work and part of the complexity of it.
Too much of a focus on harm reduction doesn't allow us to imagine the healing joy that is possible through this work.
Ann: Would you share with us something that you have learned about your practice most recently?
Cha: I think it's how important joy is to me and to this work.
I think this work–for some folks–came out of a place of harm reduction, and it is a great tool for harm reduction. But too much of a focus on harm reduction doesn't allow us to imagine the healing joy that is possible through this work. I’ve been realizing that part of my practice lives in reorienting our focus to the joy that is possible in this creative practice. Rather than, Oh, we have to be careful around each other, instead thinking, We have to celebrate each other in the fullness of our being. We have an opportunity to do that.
Ann: Right! The sense of community and the sense of… I'm going to use this Zimbabwean concept of ubuntu. The concept is: “I am because you are. The way I express myself is because I see humanity reflected in you.”
When you talk about leaning into joy, we're on the same team. I believe that intimacy is a mechanism of joy and expression and enthusiasm because it puts us in a braver mindset. Our consent or boundary practice is a tool that we can use in order to bring more joy, enthusiasm, and longevity of career to the workplace. So we are siblings in that way.
Digging into this concept, this idea of intimacy and humanity, intimacy and spirituality… Is there any practice that you use spiritually? Is there any ritualistic (for lack of a better word) “method” that you use to get yourself to the place of doing the work?
Cha: It’s such a great question. And it's a question that does not get asked often enough. This work really is an embodied and spiritual practice, at least for me. And my “method” of it is much like my person: an amalgamation of many different things!
I grew up Catholic… but Catholic with hints of Santería, with hints of Espiritismo that I only really started to realize was not how other people experienced Catholicism (or how white America experienced Catholicism) until years later. I was like, “Oh, wait, we have a different understanding of what Catholic means!”
I've been trying to dig more into those practices through a little bit of research. Also, a big part of my practice as an intimacy director is that I consider myself a multi-disciplinary artist, and one of those disciplines for me is writing. Writing is a very spiritual practice for me. It is my channeling, my communion with my ancestors. It is my space of Being and Listening. Through that practice, I have rediscovered my connections to Espiritismo and Santería through this incredible woman named Jillian Walker. If you don't know her, you should! She is a writer, a priestess, a mentor and a guide. By writing with her, I have rediscovered a version of Spirit that is true and authentic to me, that borrows from many different practices, and that allows me to do this work—and all the artistic work I do—from a more grounded and truer place.
So yes, I light palo santo before rehearsal, and I have my crystals in my bag, and I do tarot readings after a rehearsal as a form of closure... a little bit of everything!
My Spirit is intrinsically a part of my practice. It's always there.
We don't have to make ourselves small to make something.
Ann: And maybe if you can put it into words… Because this is fascinating to me and could be a whole interview that we have no time to talk about right now—
Ann: Hours and hours! But maybe you can give us the emotional “feeling” that you have when you unlock a connection to your ancestors. What you get from that and put into practice?
I’m doing this deep dive into ancestral work and the Afrocentric intimacy experience. I posit that if we can tap into the ancestral knowledge in our DNA as actors, we can utilize that energy force to help keep trauma to a limit. We can transfer that traumatic response to a place in our DNA that can protect it, hold it, and embrace it. This skill might be a valuable tool in order to continue to tell stories of the American tapestry that often fall on the Black and Brown people in the room to tell.
So can you tell us a little bit about that feeling?
Cha: First of all, I just want to honor and uplift that you are doing that work. In the rediscovery of my spirituality, one great sadness for me is that I ever lost it in the first place. That we ever lost it in the first place. That we have been divorced from our Spirit in this society, largely, and divorced from our ancestors. We live in a culture of now, of next, of future.
The feeling allows me to be now rather than think about what's next. It allows me to be wholly myself in a space, which then allows me to wholly have room for everyone else in that space to be their whole selves. It's a weird paradox: a rejection of the ego–“what this means for my career” moves away–but a real honoring of self that allows me to honor others. Because ancestral practice recognizes that there are many selves within myself, and there are many lives that have been lived–
Ann: Through you!
Cha:—which means that is also true of every single person I’m in space with and creating art with.
Maybe, and this thought is happening now, that is part of a joy-and-healing vision of what trauma-informed practice can look like. If we can all welcome everything that we are and everyone that we are into the room, then maybe a lot of the trauma that comes from pretending or having to hide or having to adjust… maybe we don't have to do that. We don't have to make ourselves small to make something.
I am very excited for a day when I can walk into a room that is already a consent-forward space.
Ann: Because we aren't small. We're very, very big spirits put in a little teeny bodies. That's what gravity is; what is holding us down is this body. Really, we are beings of light, and if my light can connect to your light… I think that's what we're here to do.
Cha: Also, I’m trying to—and adrienne maree brown’s work is a big part of my journey in this!—just recognize that the body, as small as it feels compared to the largeness of who we are, can also be such a vehicle for that healing and that joy. The body can be a space of pleasure, excitement, and connection; it can be a way of listening to the many selves within us. Our bodies can tell us things about what we need that maybe our brain can't.
Ann: That’s a word! Our bodies can tell us about ourselves and our journey more than the mind. The mind has been filled with all these concepts of unworthiness and being othered and not being special, when the fact that we can even snap our fingers is a very special thing.
Okay, okay, we could go on but I'm going to push forward and ask the next question. You talk about the past and our ancestral connections, and we’ve talked about the present and being in the here and now, and I just want to take a tiny moment to talk about what excites you about the future of the intimacy world. Is there anything you're excited or curious about?
Cha: There are two things about the future of intimacy that consistently bring me joy. The first is this idea that there are more voices every day in the intimacy world. I fundamentally believe that the more voices we have the better we will be, and the more we can learn and allow space for different kinds of expertise and for uplifting each other's work. That is happening, and it will continue to happen. I just want more, abundance, more, more…
Cha: And then the other thing: my hope is that as more people understand some of the foundations of this work—namely, the consent-forward central piece of this work, the understanding that inviting true consent is the starting point of fruitful and healthy collaboration—I am very excited for a day when I can walk into a room that is already a consent-forward space. That I, as a movement professional, don't need to be the consent educator in that space. That I can come into an already consent-forward space, a space that already honors the autonomy and creativity of every individual in that room and the collective that is possible, and I can come in and collaborate on movement.
Ann: That's great. I want that for you. I want that for me. I want that for us. I want that for the industry. I want that for the theatrical and film and television machine. I want that for the planet.
Through consent and through meeting people where they are and embracing our differences, we'll create better art.
I hate that this is the last question. Is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you would like to share or talk about? Is there something in your practice, or something that we haven't discussed, that you would like to share with us?
Cha: I just want to double down on this idea of the multitudes within each of us. Specifically in the fact that I do consider myself a multi-disciplinary artist and that I consider that essential to my practice. The difficulty, the logistical difficulty, of being an actor, a dramaturg, a playwright, a fight director, and an intimacy director is nuts. It's wild. My schedule is… ah, no words. But it is essential. If I weren't regularly working as an actor, my intimacy practice would suffer. If I didn't have an understanding of how violence works on the stage, my intimacy practice would suffer. When I work as a dramaturg, the difference that I can make in the intimate stories that we're telling on the page is so huge that that feels like part of my intimacy practice, even when I am not the intimacy director on a project. So, my own personal agenda of telling better, more diverse, more nuanced stories of intimacy is constantly uplifted by having the opportunity to be in the room in all these different ways. Because all of those things speak to each other. I don't think that means that every intimacy director needs to also be eight hundred other things, but it is a part of my practice. When I come into the room as an intimacy director, I don't take off my dramaturgy hat. It stays firmly planted on my head. I think that's really good.
Ann: I think it’s great! The many skills and talents and gifts that are within you, Cha, are such a benefit to this industry. And from me to you: I really, really wish the very best for you and all that is you. I truly do. And, I would just like to take a moment to thank your ancestors for the survival and the endurance to get you here. I truly, truly am grateful to all of them.
Cha: I want to reflect that gratitude back to you and to your ancestors that you bring with you every day, for creating spaces like this one, like your podcast, like the spaces you create in rehearsal rooms. I'm very grateful for the space that you are creating in this industry that is so unique and so important.
Ann: Thank you.