Black Beauty Dance is a virtual workshop series for Black college dancers created and led by Shakia Johnson, who is the Five College Joint Lecturer in African Diasporic Dance. Against the backdrop of the murders of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, Shakia reached out to the piece’s Black student cast members to ask how she could support them, and in April started a healing circle that addressed their desire to see and be with one another in this difficult time. ArtSake asked Shakia to share more about the project.
Until March, I was preparing my MFA thesis performance with 17 students from the Five Colleges, where I am Joint Lecturer of African Diasporic Dance. COVID ended the project, which focused on inequality, social and racial injustice, and Black women pioneers. As Black people died at the hands of police, I asked the Black student cast members how I could support them, and in April started a healing circle for them.
The students then asked to move “with” one another, so I invited dance artists to teach online five days a week. I initially invited Black women and recently began inviting artists of different genders. The classes cover diverse forms not offered at most colleges, such as vernacular jazz, vogue, and Afrobeat, and the post-class discussions allow the dancers to safely talk about their hopes and fears.
While Mount Holyoke College dance department provided funding in spring, I’ve been fundraising to continue the workshops through summer. I’ve also opened them up to Black college dance students at other schools. The dance artists I bring in not only share their histories with us, but to give us wisdom for the future, educate us, and bring us into community.
Image credits: All images courtesy of Shakia Johnson.