An African American’s Past, Present, and Future

By London Clarke

I wandered into the Newman Center of Performing Arts at the University of Denver on a somewhat chilly Oct. 4 night. Upon arriving, I immediately saw my dance teacher, and she suggested that I could go find my seat.

I was very eager to be a part of the events that were taking place this evening: a dance performance by Camille A. Brown and Dancers, choreographed by Brown, herself. There was an announcer who programmed more anticipation into the crowd; from there the stunning deep blue velvet curtains retracted, and the pianist, Aaron Diehl, set the mood.

There was an animated opening on a projector screen on the stage; the pianist continued, but no dancing had started, and no dancers had emerged quite yet. The opening was giving credit to the performers, stage directors, lighting managers, and everyone who helped make this happen, with humorously animated, popular-in-media African Americans in the backgrounds of the scenes. A few moments later, African American television shows and influenced dance acts started to play, and then arrived a dancer, alone. He started by moving from high to low vertically with an extension in his arms, illuminating where we African Americans were, where we are now, and where we want to be.

The movements began to flow universally onto the stage, large and low, high and slow, everywhere. He was then joined by the other dancers, and they continued to move with the drive the original had already built. It was an impressive way to show the audience that this would be a performance of the outlandish and the bizarre, of real deep feeling, and of real deep meaning. I was far from prepared.

There were two pieces that genuinely resonated with me, more than I was personally equipped for. The first piece I was struck by was “(New) Second Line.” At this time, the pianist was playing, but there were also more audio sounds participating as well. The dancers gently meandered onto the stage, dressed in black. They all went to the casket, saying their goodbyes to their beloved.

After prayers and tears were exchanged, there was upbeat dancing that involved a lot of leg work and high to low movement. I adored this piece very much, because it symbolized New Orleans, which has always had such a massive influence on dance and music in African American culture, and it was just enthralling to see such a celebration of the people of the city.

The second piece that vibrated within me was “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,executed by dancers Catherine Foster and Brown. About a week or so before this day arrived, my teacher presented to the class a TED Talk given by Brown, educating the audience on African dance influences and how, as slaves, they were able to keep their culture with them and in them by clapping their hands and stomping their feet to imitate the sounds of drums.

This was precisely what these two divine women were doing. I am half African American, and I’ve hardly been the one to like learning about my ancestors and what they went through in history because it is all so very hurtful and dismaying. So, when these two ladies conveyed this dance in my forefront, I wept because I felt so devoted to them and to who I recognized they were dancing for; for our ancestors, for our brothers and sisters today, for our brothers and sisters tomorrow, and most significantly, for ourselves.  

This performance was beyond belief. Some things might have been slightly challenging to smooth the meanings out of, but occasionally, rationalizations aren’t destined to hold words but rather just feeling alone. I know what Camille A. Brown and Dancers were trying to tell us through the actions of their bodies, to “see black people as superheroes because we keep rising,” (Question Bridge: Black Males in America). This was a performance of esteem and vigor and love, and I am extremely pleased to have had a place within it.

 

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