Reflections on the 2016 Dancing the African Diaspora Conference (1 of 3)
The Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) is an egalitarian community of scholars and artists committed to exploring, promoting, and engaging African diaspora dance as a resource and method of aesthetic identity. CADD’s second Dancing the African Diaspora Conference conference aims to re-ignite the discourse on defining Black Dance on a global scale by bringing together scholars, practitioners, educators, and other stakeholders for three days of intellectual and artistic inspiration.
We invited Dancing While Black Fellows Candace Thompson and Sydnie L. Mosley to share reflections from this conference experience. Here are Candace’s reflections from the opening day of the gathering.
Click HERE to read Candace’s reflection from the second day of the conference and HERE to read Sydnie L. Mosley reflection.
I arrived excited, realizing that it had been two years since the first conference. It literally seemed like yesterday even though so much has changed for me since then. And as I reflect, I realize that the first conference awoke in me the desire to investigate more of my own cultural history; to take up the mantle to advocate for, and invest in, art making in the Diaspora in my community. The last conference was almost magical.
Today, the first day of the second bi-annual conference has been a thought-provoking one. I performed/presented in the first panel slot with Sydnie L. Mosley Dances on ‘Discovering Our Future Body: Movement Making for the Liberation of Black Women.’
We started our workshop with a mere two people in attendance, but ten minutes in we got a substantial group of people, most of whom felt like family. We went through the workshop seamlessly and our performance was so so fitting for this environment. We were able to dance with and for the people for whom the piece was created.
I was reminded how lucky I was to be a part of a legacy that tells the stories of black women so beautifully and unapologetically.
I proceeded to attend three other workshops/presentations — some of which really hit home in their message, others that didn’t. Some sparked a deluge of thoughts and conversations, and others less so. It is apparent that although a container like CADD is based in academic research and engagement, the individual entry point into this work is varied. Still, we have a space where we can explore ourselves and be given the opportunity to crawl before we can walk; to perhaps fail in our attempt to understand ourselves and be given the tools to dig deeper, to revisit, to rewind and come again.
In this vein, I would say that the last bit of yesterday evening fell short. This moment of failure stung almost every Black female body in our row, and our conversations among fellow witnesses afterward suggested we were not alone. This year’s conference features Kyle Abraham’s When the Wolves Came In. The dancers work well, are virtuosic and honest in their delivery, but the content of the work belies this honesty.
The program hit me in my belly with its disregard for the deep trauma connected to subjugation of black bodies. The piece repeatedly and irresponsibly plays on the idea of oppression and abjection.
The work also introduces black social dance layered on top of very classically modern movement intertwined with contemporary nuance in torso and arm patterns. As the work progressed, I felt myself uncomfortable with these choices. Why should this piece benefit from adhering to the hierarchy of classical modern dance as the epitome of dance presentations and then also use our blackness, our gestures, as an accessory?
As an audience member that is a performer and a maker and an organizer who has investigated these hard issues in several works, and is a part of a movement of young leaders that constantly fights for the us to be seen and perceived in our glory and liberation, I find this work hurtful. The last section, ‘The Gettin’, uses imagery of black struggles in the U.S. and South Africa. The dance progresses with these images and videos running incessantly in the background. Why? Do we really need to see these again? Especially without the content leading us to any new realisations about moving forward? About healing? About addressing the injustice itself?
But then I put my presenter hat on and I think, well:
The choreographer has certain acclaim and a following associated with his name. For the benefit of the conference, that recognition is needed to make sure that tickets sell and the house is full.
Abraham’s major supporters are not necessarily people of color. Is it then necessary to be concerned with how ‘we’ feel? Maybe not. His audience seems happy.
Which then leads to me to the conclusion, why was this presentation aligned to a conference that is supposed to be about Embodying the AfroFuture?
I think I will pause on this point. I am looking forward to Day 2 of the festival to share and commune with the cohort present and celebrate our being together.
About The Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD)
The Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) is an egalitarian community of scholars and artists committed to exploring, promoting, and engaging African diaspora dance as a resource and method of aesthetic identity. Through conferences, roundtables, publications and public events, we aim to facilitate interdisciplinary inquiry that captures the variety of topics, approaches, and methods that might constitute Black Dance Studies. A diverse gathering of dance scholars and community members, The Collegium for African Diaspora Dance was conceptualized by its founding members and first convened in April 2012 as the African Diaspora Dance Research Group at Duke University. Learn more at cadd-online.org.