Communities Coming Together: A Dance for Social Change Review

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Dance for Social Change festival. The mission for Dance for Social Change was to bring artists, activists and community members together to inspire dialogue and action about the key issues confronting the city of New Orleans. The inaugural festival took place on September 21, 2014 on the 1300-1700 block of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and centered on the theme Overcoming Violence. Dance for Social Change made history by being the first out doors, dance festival in New Orleans. It was a huge success!

Photo By: B. Adina

However, when it came time for me to write about Dance for Social Change I struggled. I remember starting posts just to erase them. A week passed. Two weeks. Enough time passed that I doubted anyone wanted to hear about it anymore.

Seeing that I’m a fairly opinionated person it surprised me that I had a lack of words. There was so much to write about. For example, it was a collaborative production by Dancing Grounds Junebug Productions, Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center, and the Youth Empowerment Project. The fact that Dance for Social Change took place on historical Oretha Castle Haley (which was once the Mecca of African-American culture in New Orleans).

Let’s not even mention the great work the choreographers presented. Kesha McKey’s “Taken,” took a look at the absence of black men in the community. Jarrell Hamilton’s “This Nation’s Anthem” discussed the ugly truths of domestic abuse. Lastly, but not least, Marion Spencer’s, “The Most Important Thing,” explored the dehumanization and fragility of a human life. The choreographers did a great job adapting to the environment. Translating stage work to a site-specific piece is not easy but I felt the choreographers executed the transition.

My personal favorite was Marion Spencer’s, “the Most Important Thing.” It resonated within me. When dancer, Kehinde Ishangi was desperately screaming why she is important but “society” still pushed her away as trash….. It pulled at my heartstrings. SIGH!! I can talk about this one piece for hours but I won’t.

Photo By: B. Adina

Let’s get back to my point. I didn’t know what to say. To be honest the reason why it was so hard writing this post is because talking about the logistics of Dance for Social Change seemed trivial. The choreography was outstanding. The dancing was great. The tour guides were enthusiastic. They gave out awesome free t-shirts. Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah…. No! It was more than that. Not only did Dance for Social Change demonstrate that New Orleans is ready for experimental, site-specific concert dance but the community is ready for dance artistry.

I truly believe that dance can change the world. Partially because seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov do eleven pirouettes in “White Nights,” as a young child completely changed mine, but I digress. The truth is most people don’t see dance the way I do, as art. To me the best art is the kind that speaks to you. The turns, the tricks, and the ridiculously high legs have been mainstreamed into pure entertainment. Which is fine. I’m not knocking the mainstream transition just acknowledging. As an artist in an art form as culturally misunderstood, as dance, it can be frustrating. Especially, in a city like New Orleans who seems to cater to every art form but your own.

My absolute favorite part of the entire festival was seeing the random people who were walking down the street (I know they were random because they were asking questions) joining the festival, being engaged in the choreography, and sharing their thoughts. The community talk back at the end of the day was a truly beautiful sight. If you were there could see it wasn’t just a “dance community” event but a New Orleans event. That’s what made it so great!

Can dance change the world? Probably not but it can make a statement. Hearing members of the community have a progressive dialogue about the social issues of New Orleans because they saw a dance about it, was priceless. History was made that Sunday afternoon not only for he dance community but for the city of New Orleans. It wasn’t just about “DANCE” but expression and raising awareness through art.

– B. Adina AKA The Bayou Ballerina

If you missed the Dance for Social Change Festival make sure you check out the highlight reel.

Follow the Dance for Social Change Twitter Account: @Dance4SocialChg