Home > Uncategorized > February 23 – Black Dance (?)

February 23 – Black Dance (?)

Last December, to celebrate Yujin’s birthday, Netty and I and a group of close friends surprised her with a trip to the (very cool) Wyly Theater to watch the Dallas Black Dance Theater perform their Winter Series: Strength. According to their website, the DBDT is “the oldest, continuously operating professional dance company in Dallas,” whose mission is “to create and produce contemporary modern dance at its highest level of artistic excellence through performances and educational programs that bridge cultures and reach diverse communities.”

The performance that night exceeded expectation with its combination of power, grace, emotion and energy. It was also incredibly varied. In fact, that night, we saw examples of modern Interpretive dance, traditional African dance, Jazz dance, and other beautiful styles for which I don’t know the name… Which led me to wonder: What exactly IS Black Dance?

As it turns out, there is no easy answer to this question. Instead, it is a subject of much debate and countless opinions. Some would say that Black Dance is any dance that originates from the African Diaspora; or that it is any dance choreographed by Black choreographers; or that it is any dance performed by Black dancers; or that it is any dance with a Black theme; etc etc.

But each of these definitions seems incomplete. What about dances that originate from a uniquely American (or European, or Asian) experience? What about dances that were choreographed by White choreographers and performed by Black dancers, or vice versa? What about dances that deal with universal and/or abstract themes? Are any/none/all of these considered Black Dance?

White, female dancer (L) performing for the Columbia City Jazz Company. Sotho dancers (C) entertaining a crowd at a political event in Maseru, Leso. Tai Jimenez (R) was the only Dance Theater of Harlem alumna to find a job in a major classical company, Boston Ballet.

For many, the label ‘Black Dance’ is not only problematic, it is also symptomatic of a deeper racism. After all, why must the distinction be made? Why must a collection of dance styles be lumped together in a generic category called ‘Black Dance,’ especially when there is no ‘White Dance’ corollary? In my mind, the use of such a label does two things.

First, it unnecessarily and unintentionally (or intentionally?) exoticizes all dances within this category, and I would guess that this is both unwelcome and condescending for the artists involved. Second, the label over-simplifies and marginalizes individual works and performers by squeezing them within the confines of a racial construct, rather than letting them stand alone, free from any subconscious notions of what it might mean to be Black.

For Blacks in the dance world, these are real issues of genuine concern. Talented Black dancers are pigeon-holed in their careers, as employers believe them only capable of a certain ‘Black’ style or only appropriate for stereotypical ‘Black’ roles. Meanwhile choreographers, studios, schools and dance companies in search of sponsorships or government funding struggle to balance their artistic vision and individuality with their financiers’ requirements to qualify as ‘Black Dance.’

As I said earlier, there is no easy answer to What IS ‘Black Dance?‘ or even to Should There BE a ‘Black Dance?‘ But even in the absence of delineated path, it’s a question worth pondering and discussing, both as it relates to Dance specifically, and more broadly, as it serves as a metaphor for all forms of segregating nomenclature.

Having said all that, Dallas Black Dance Theater has a company full of truly gifted dancers performing works by very talented choreographers, and I would highly recommend checking them out if you are in or around the Dallas area. As it turns out, ‘Intensity’ from their Cultural Awareness Series is running from today through Sunday. For more information on their event line-up, and to buy tickets, please visit their website at http://www.dbdt.com/

thanks for reading,

francis

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