Reflections on the 2016 Dancing the African Diaspora Conference (3 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 Sydnie’s reflections from the gathering.
Be sure to check out Candace Thompson’s reflection from the first and second days of the conference.
I didn’t know it while I was preparing over the last several weeks for Dancing the African Diaspora: Embodying the Afrofuture, but attending this weekend’s conference was attending the church revival. The text: our stories, artistic work and scholarly research. The congregation: scholars/artists/educators/students and anyone else invested in the field from the U.S. and beyond. As closing speaker Dr. Nadine George-Graves remarked,
“Diaspora Dance is an institution, and we are building it.”
Her talk, a lecture-demonstration with Dancing While Black fellows Orlando Hunter and Ricarrdo Valentine, coupled with a shorter talk by Dr. Mark Anthony Neal were the sermons. Baba Chuck Davis led us through an offering and encouraged us to pass the peace.
I use the reference of church to describe the conference not for hyperbole, but rather to convey the holistic experience that it was for me — someone who has spent the entirety of her academic and artistic careers invested in the myriad of spaces between black and/or dance and/or woman and/or church and/or community organizing/activism in the diaspora. This was not your average academic conference. There was space for all these investigations and more; space for affirmation, critique, questioning, connecting, theorizing, planning, dancing, laughing, crying… and I needed all of it. As I overheard Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin, one of the lead conference organizers say to some student attendees,
“Soak up whatever you need while you are here this weekend, and take it back home with you.”
This conversation followed as Saturday’s lunch time meet-up, What happens when liberated Black women lead? concluded. In that session, I played a part in and a witness to something that can only be described as #blackgirlmagic. Nia-Austin Edwards who initiated/instigated this space during the conference opened the door for a dialogue amongst many of the black women in attendance. We shared strategies and resources for healing, self-care and self-preservation for the future of our personal and professional lives. Many of us are juggling multiple roles, or bear the weight/tax of being a black woman in a leadership position in our institutions, organizations or even our families. The number of strategies shared was so prolific that at one point when I moved away from my notebook to comfort a friend, I just started to take notes on my arm.
The same day, I attended an afternoon session led by Dr. Halifu Osumare: Writing Black Dance Memoir: Telling Your Personal-Professional Story. In addition to providing some excellent tools to jumpstart our writing in this workshop, she implored us with the importance of telling our own stories which include the microcosm of personal experiences in our careers and the macrocosm of how our work shapes the field at large. Her advice and wisdom on writing felt affirming and encouraging, and was the perfect framework through which to witness the evening’s dance performances. Featuring an excellent curation of artists all working in different ways, including Adesola Akinleye, Andrea Woods, Bonginkosi Biyela, Duane Cyrus, Maria Bauman, Melanie Bratcher and Brother(hood) Dance!, the throughline was clear: we are embodying our stories through the craft of dance making and performance and sometimes the best way for you to understand those narratives is to be a witness to that embodiment.
The night concluded with a reception that was the best dance party that I have been to in ages. We grooved and stepped and whined and twerked and salsa’d and samba’d and and and… until there was so much sweat, and the last shuttle van beckoned, and the last person had called an uber or hitched a ride with the DJ. After two days full of talking and thinking and questioning and writing real hard, it was just as necessary for us to commune through the physicality of this thing we had been theorizing about.
We got our entire lives.
And life is why this conference was so necessary. In Dr. Neal’s closing remarks on Sunday, he shared Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me.” In his analysis, he spoke of how the children featured in the video dance in death because that is the only place we (black folk) are allowed to live.
This conference defied that notion. Three days with an acute focus on the black dancing body defied that notion. The space created for the talking and thinking and questioning and writing and dancing was not only fruitful toward knowledge production in the academy or for the larger world to consider this work, but it was necessary to affirm all of us there in that room.
Black dance/blacks in dance/dancing black – whatever language best describes what you do – is nourishing sustenance, life giving, testimony. The work we do as artists, scholars, educators, organizers, and as everyday people who enjoy the electric slide, a harlem shake or a whine in the waist, is a testament to our futures.
We are living now, and we create our thriving future through movement-making.
This is what I needed. This is what I brought back home with me.
-Sydnie L. Mosley
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.