Tuesday, December 16, 2008

how do i get white dancers to "dance black"?

well, i don't.

that's the short answer.

the long answer has something to do with bringing out the best of the dancers' own movement qualities and getting their light to shine - gettin' them to just let their soul glo' (in their own way)!

Right now, I am in the early stages of creating and choreographing my MFA thesis project. This will be my great dance work up until now (pray for me so that it is great) and I felt that I really needed to do something personal, something that I won't run out of energy on or inspiration for. So, loosely based on the themes of Their Eyes Were Watching God and great women like its author Zora Neale Hurston (Barnard College, class of 1928), I am making a dance for six women about (black) women's agency to narrate their own stories of the joys and pains of life.

I'm thinking about the oral tradition and a structure based on call and response. I'm stuck on two Nina Simone songs, "Seems I'm Never Tired of Lovin' You" and "I Think It's Going To Rain Today." I found the most soulful band of (white) girls singing and (white) guys on piano and drums to perform the music. I've enlisted a (black) MFA candidate in the theater department to help me direct. And I'm praying that all these things in combination will produce a black dance, by a black choreographer, in the middle of Iowa.

But what is "black dance" anyway? Dance historian Zita Allen asks:
Has anyone noticed that since the term "black dance" snuck into our vocabulary several decades ago, it has remained undefined? Yet, in spite of the fact that this label has no clear definition, it has acquired a power almost as great as its meaning is obscure.

read full text

Zita (because I'd love to be on a first name basis with her), no truer words have been spoken! I've actually been thinking a lot about this question for quite some time, but since coming to Iowa I have come face to face with the issue since I am the only advanced black dancer in the department. Unless I am making a solo on myself, there are no dark skinned people performing. And if they are performing, is the work they are doing a black dance?

How do I make a dance that requires some soul, a certain groundedness, an innate sense of rhythm, when the bodies I have at my disposal don't quite move with those characteristics? (...though they are great movers in their own right.) Don't get me wrong, I've known some white folk that can dance blacker than me (my friend Natalie, she's fabulous!). But these kind of people are not in the dance department in Iowa. And somehow part of me feels that if I at least had some no-soul black dancers, that conveying the blackness, the umph, the swag, the attitude somehow would be a bit easier. Or maybe not.

Thoughts? Opinions? Suggestions?

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