The 2015-16 Dancing While Black Fellowship brought together eight emerging Black choreographers. They spent six months engaged in a collective developmental process which included workshops with seasoned artists Onye Ozuzu, Jawole Zollar and Ishmael Houston-Jones. We invited the Fellows to reflect on these workshop experiences. Check out what they had to say:
“Onye’s workshop re-validated embodied knowledge for me – that we know more than we ‘know’. She also reminded me of the importance of being present, letting go of control, and allowing the energy generated in the room/circle/space to move us forward.
Jawole’s honesty about the role of director stuck with me, particularly the clarity it provided in terms of how manic I feel in terms of the different roles I play. And how much skill development is needed to do these tasks well – dramaturg, coach, rehearsal director, director etc.
And from all of these people I’m left with an idea of a what a long career looks like – the perspective of being able to see things through by investing in skills and knowledge that you hone over time and become masterful at.”
“This fellowship has given young BLACK artists a space to breathe and have our experiences validated. It inspires us to talk about the understandings of our identities and whether we do or do not filter our work through those lenses while observing our temporal dance landscape. The ability to dialog and sweat with intergenerational artists helps to illustrate the vast complexity of the work we do and our ever-evolving practices.”
“Dream big and take your time to develop your voice and ideas, even if it takes five years to a lifetime.
You can close eyes and just express yourselves. Even if it ‘dangerous’ or ‘risky,’ an external protective force/being will always be there at the right time.”
“I feel validation to dance while black for real for real. These workshops focused on things that I’ve never heard named and given value. These things that have felt really delicious but also kind of secretive or hidden for me.
Also, I appreciate seeing folks in charge of their radical vision. I was really impressed by how all three artists have been able to express themselves and create very de-colonized art in such whole and unapologetic ways – especially within systems that are really isolating, oppressive, exploitative, and/or violent.
After Ishmael’s workshop, in particular, I felt my external and internal blocks. A lot of them come from this notion of dancing while black. I’m curious to share the areas we feel blocked in our practice and strategize on the un-blocking of those areas.”
“It was extremely important for me to be a part of Onye’s workshop because she helped me to solidify and accept that every physical activity I’ve been a part of throughout my life, contributes to dance and is completely valid. I believe that this is key and vital to discovering and investigating one’s voice as an artist. I found that taking ownership and inquiring of one’s whole physical history within the body allows for specificity in both vocabulary and movement aesthetic.
Also, as a black artist, I felt much of the labor might be in vain. For so long this mindset of being incapable at times paralyzed me, and then I would find myself at a stand still. Jawole’s workshop help me see that I’m a jack of many trades. I realized that I am very much capable of many things – directing, choreographing etc. Being able to pinpoint the different roles I play in art making and life has enabled me to see myself as valid. Knowing what roles I am playing in different situations helps to clarify and direct my intention and energy more efficiently. This enlightenment frees me to think and cherish my biggest dreams.
“There is a tradition of black generativeness in the technology of the circle, chameleon director, and improvisational act that accepts potential failure by overloading the potentialities at play. This pressurizing is a thread of interest and entryway I’ve noted in my own process – how does this call upon the dual consciousness, code-switching practices of transcendence which are strikingly indigenous to the DNA of a black cultural ideology that references a kind of global black historicity. How are these practices culled and co-opted in modern/postmodern aesthetics, with a removal of certain relationships (such as to the spiritual and collective)? How does duration and perpetual motion in the kinesthetic or directorial act initiate this familiar old thing? How do I continue to ask for nuance in my making that contends with this familiar sequence of development as well as oppositional patterns, transgressions, stillness? And how is the goal to reformat the pattern over and over still inherently an improvisational act, which is engaged in the generativeness of blackness even when it’s practices may pull from disparate traditions of dominance, including those in proximity to whiteness? How is the essential act of mystery essentially engaged in blackness?”
“This fellowship feels like what grad school should have been. I am learning and being pushed and challenged and connected and shown options and opportunities to deepen my practice, WHILE BEING AFFIRMED! I don’t feel underestimated, invisible, looked over, picked over, or like I’m filling a quota.
Dancing While Black is healing space. My learning doesn’t have to be at the expense of who I am. To that end, it is a blessing to be connected to so many similar-place-in-dance-life-partners. I’m grateful to learn with you all. To learn from you all. To support you all and see what you are making and dancing. To problem solve and brainstorm with you. Thank you for just bringing your whole selves.
For years now, I have been craving mentorship – folks who can be real about their experiences, share advice, advocate/co-sign on your behalf. Thank you Paloma for being that, and also connecting us to folks in your network who each have something unique and valuable to offer.”