Meditation 101: Dancing in Dark Skin Figuratively

It has been a while and I am not going to try and post or do something that I don’t organically feel. On March 13,2020 I lost my job dancing in a show in upstate New York. I moved back to my hometown shortly after and took up many hobbies, I even attempted to do self tape auditions. It was a mess. If you were to tell me in 2013 when I entered college undecided that the theatre industry was going to go virtual I don’t think I would have made the same choice. It feels like two completely different jobs for me. I love waking up early, stretching picking out audition clothes, traveling to rehearsal studios, seeing familiar faces meeting new people, sharing experiences in this industry. I love handing in my headshot, getting a number, going in the studio, learning a combo with a group of people, the excited energy I would get waiting for my group to be called, and just giving it everything I got in front of casting directors and choreographers, watching them watch me, sharing in the joy of doing what we have chosen to do despite all odds. 

Needless to say, things have changed, the industry has changed, it has led me to face a question that I heard a lot in the studio. “If you are a dancer, you should dance all the time, eat, breath, and sleep dance, dance wherever you can, however you can so that you can be the best dancer you can be.” I may have called myself a dancer but really the part I loved was performing through dance. I am a performer. Now performance as I once knew it is closed. Now what?

And that leads me to the art of the pivot. My mom would often throw around the phrase, “jack of all trades master of none.” Yeah that quote never stuck for me because I could never choose. Opportunities presented themselves for a path in the theatre and I seized those opportunities. Now I feel like I am being called in another direction that feels just as organic as following those opportunities in the theatre. Politics and Writing.

“But Ciara, this is Dancing in Dark Skin” and I feel like that title, that name, this brand still defines me. I love watching my friends take class and create dance videos, while practicing social distancing, but I am not there yet. Where I am, is trying to learn as much as I can and encourage people to do the work so we can all get back to doing what we love to do, how we love to do it. 

So now I am dancing in dark skin to the polls and encouraging and educating all that may come across any media platform of mine to do the same. 

I have been reading, writing, questioning, talking to family members and peers, making youtube videos about politics today and how it effects me as a dancer in dark skin. I am unlocking truths and uncovering the lies of the world with every book I open and article I read. I am seeing that humanity is not perfect or easy to digest when watching the news. 

I take pride in being multifaceted and multidimensional. So if your on this page wanting to see some dance you are going to have to do some scrolling. But I hope that you come on this new journey with me and do some reading as well, and ask your self some hard questions. Follow this blog via email to stay up-to-date with new political think pieces that I write. 

Listen to my Podcast Enlightened and Petty.

And subscribe to my Youtube Channel Ciara Dianne. 

Please make a plan to vote and get as much information as you can tolerate about what is going on in the world. Fact check. No one knows it all and no one knows nothing. No more excuses. 

Thanks for reading.

Ciara

1930’s

  • Black dancers began to engage in “modern dance” performances.
  • The first professional black dance company was established by Helmsley Winfield in 1931 in New York.
    • The company was first called Bronze Ballet Plastique, and was later changed to Negro Art Theatre.
    • Dancers included Edna Guy, Frances Dimitry, Ollie Burgoyne, and Randolph Sawyer.
    • Debut concert called, “First Negro Dance Recital in America.”
  • African dance on stage was considered a novelty by critics because they did not regard it as serious dancing.
  • In 1933 Winfield and his company were involved in the first black dance featured at the Metropolitan Opera House.
  • Dance programs were being created at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
    • One of the first being the Hampton Institute Creative Dance Group.
  • Asadata Dafora made a tremendous impact in the public perception of African dance and of black concert dance.
  • In 1935 the Works Progress Administration agency established under Franklin D. Roosevelt put The Federal Theatre Project into work at the Height of The Great Depression.
    • This program paid artist to create for all people.
    • Lasted for 4 years.
  • The first black concert dance company called the First American Negro Ballet made it’s New York Debut in 1937.
    • Started by a white German named Eugene von Grona.
    • The company struggled unable to get bookings.
    • Not accepted by white critics.
  • The new dance craze of the late 1930’s was the Jitterbug.

Dancing at Dusk – Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring (Excerpt) – But make it African!

My, oh my, how the perspective and voice changes when the skin and setting change. I was captivated by this piece when I first saw it in the documentary about Pina Bausch, but this one hit different. On a beach in Senegal with 38 African dancers! Get into it! The full piece is on Vimeo for one month only.

1920’s Harlem Renaissance

  • Harlem Renaissance 1921-1933
  • Black musicians, singers, and dancers became really popular with white audiences.
  • Black dancers had steady work.
  • Between 1921-1939 there were about 40 black musicals.
  • There were performers at exclusive clubs in Harlem like The Cotton Club, Barron Wilkins’ Exclusive Club, and Connie’s Inn.
    • These clubs catered to rich whites and the entertainment rivaled any Broadway show.
  • Colorism played a larger role for performers. Only light skin performers would get hired.
  • The most famous dance to come out of the 20’s was the Charleston.
    • The first dance craze to take the world by storm
  • The Charleston has African roots, tied to the Ashanti people. It was also seen in Haiti. The name came from Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Elida Web was the first to put the Charleston on the stage in the show “Runnin Wild” in 1923.
  • During this time period domestic workers were paid more than performers.
  • The Cotton Club and other clubs of the era had performers of the likes of The Nicolas Brothers, Bojangles and Clarence “Buddy” Bradley.

The Nicholas Brothers

  • Fayard Nicholas born in 1914
  • Harold Nicholas born in 1921
  • Made their debut in 1931 at age 7 and 13, dancing on “The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour.”
  • Later that following year they made their debut at The Cotton Club.
  • The Nicholas Brothers made their Broadway debut in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.
  • Starred in the films
    • “Down Argentine Way” with Betty Grable
    • “Stormy Weather” with Lena Horne
  • When tap lost its appeal in the USA in the late 1940s, the brothers went to Europe.
  • In the 1980s when tap started to make a comeback, the brothers returned to star in television and movies.
  • The Nicholas Brothers also starred in shows on the Las Vegas strip.
  • Harlod Nicholas passed away in 2000
  • Fayard Nicholas passed away in 2006

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson

  • Born May 25, 1878.
  • Got the nickname “Bojangles” from childhood friends.
  • Coined the term “copacetic” which meant, everything was better than fine and dandy.
  • First role was as Pick, in the 1892 minstrel show “The South Before the War”.
  • 12 year partnership with George Cooper, where Bojangles went from playing the clown to getting equal billing with Cooper.
  • Around 1915 Robinson developed a solo act and traveled all over the U.S.
  • Made his Broadway debut in 1928 in Lew Leslie’s “Blackbirds”.
  • During the depression Robinson went to Hollywood where he co-stared with Shirley Temple in several of her films.
  • In 1936 after 50 years in the business, Robinson headlined his first show at The Cotton Club.
  • Bill “Bojangles’ Robinson passed away November 25, 1949.