Monday, July 2, 2012

Daughters of Urban Bush Women

"Girl, we have to go see this show. We know every single person in it."

I laughed, but then looked at the cast names. She was right. There was no choice but to go support our girls. It was by no means a chore. Looking at the photos, seeing their video promos, reading the blurbs... the dance concert would perform a kindred artistic sensibility to that of my own. I was excited.

Walking into DNA Saturday night for the performance presented by Tamara Ladonna Moving Spirits, Inc. was like walking into a family reunion. I happily called out, "Hey girl!" on more than one occasion. I sat there feeling the warmth of community, smiling to myself that colored folk had taken over DNA for the night. For at least one night only, the face of modern dance was brown women. And as I watched, I couldn't help but think: Look at the daughters of Urban Bush Women. I mean that both literally and figuratively.

When recounting the history of modern dance in America, we like to draw family trees. Urban Bush Women is the mother of this particular tree. It's sisters or cousins? Perhaps Blondell Cummings and Bebe Miller. It's grandmother? I'd say Dianne McIntyre. It's great grandmothers? Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham.

Many of the women who performed have been associated with Urban Bush Women in some way -- company or 2nd company members, apprentices, administrators etc. Most of us in that theater in fact were no more than one or two persons removed from the incredible legacy founded by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, making us the sisters, daughters, nieces, and cousins of what she started.

This ever expanding legacy-dance community though, is way more than a family tree. From where I sit, it is an incredibly supportive network of women. Amongst whom there is a strong entrepreneurial spirit, indicative of the current economic realities of dance. We are collaborating, and pooling our resources to support all of our artistic endeavors. I do believe there is also a healthy competition. One that pushes me to continue to re-evaluate and refine my work. But the greatest aspect of this community? The general sense of "You go girl!" and an understanding that when we push each other forward, we all move forward.

The work represented on this weekend's program with choreography by Tamara Williams, Laurie M. Taylor, Francine Ott, Maxine Montilus and Denae Hannah revealed a myriad of commonalities amongst this network of women artists. They demonstrated:

An acceptance of our bodies as they are. It was so satisfying and affirming to see women of all shapes and sizes on stage, move strongly and confidently, defying still widely held notions of what a dancer's body should like.
Feminism - but not just any brand of feminism. This is a feminism grounded in lived experience recognizing the multitude of experiences of women. A feminism that understands our greatest gift in this moment in time is choice.
Grassroots activism. There is a genuine love for our family, friends, and people - whoever our people may be - at large. There is a want and need to be aware, to make change, to lift up... and an understanding that dance is a powerful vehicle for this mission.
Respect for classical Western techniques - centuries old ballet and canonized moderns.
Respect for the experimental. From the post-moderns to the post-post-moderns.
Respect for an Africanist aesthetic.  From the traditional dances of Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas, to the contemporary social dances of our grandmothers, mothers and our own time.
A connection to music in which the dance cannot live without it, and at the same time recognizing the power of silence.
Story telling of the human condition. In dancing our myriad of individual stories we are dancing ourselves into history, dispelling the neutral universal of white man as normal, and asking audiences to see themselves through our eyes.


With that said, I just want to say that I love you all for the work that you do and the work that you will continue to do, affirming, broadening and challenging the parameters of contemporary dance. Further, THANK YOU to those of you who have given me the opportunity to dance, to teach, to present, to learn and grow. I would not be where I am without you, and I feel incredibly blessed to be counted amongst you.

Shout Outs (in no particular order):**
Tamara Ladonna Moving Spirits, Inc.
Laurie M. Taylor/Soul Movement
Denae Hannah
Maxine Montilus
Francine Ott
INSPIRIT, a dance company
Christal Brown
Paloma McGregor/Angela's Pulse
A. Nia Austin Edwards
Toni Renee Johnson/Maverick Dance Experience
Sidra Bell Dance New York
Camille A. Brown
Maria Bauman/MBDance
Simone Sobers Dance
Marjani Forte & Nia Love/LoveForte
Samantha Spies
Marguerite Hemmings
Makeda Thomas
Nora Chipaumire
Amara Tabor-Smith
Shani Collins 
Lia McPherson/The Pearl

**I know this list is incomplete. PLEASE ADD NAMES and a link in the comments section so we can continue to honor one another. 

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