My Black Dance: Work-in-Progress on the Legacy


Babacar Mbaye's dance class at Chelsea Studios 2012.

Babacar Mbaye’s dance class at Chelsea Studios 2012.








Dance & music are inseparable have been one of passions of mine from the first beats of my heart. Yes. I believe that these universal languages are recognized by our soul and spirit long before intellect is developed.

When I heard music as a child, I moved. Couldn’t help it. Sometimes it got me in trouble such as the time I danced in the front yard. There was not a lot of foot traffic in our semi-rural neighborhood in Knoxville. But, I had attracted an audience of one: a grown man in the neighborhood who—unbeknownst to me at the time—was known pedophiliac tendencies. I was around 9-years-old.

A body dancing is compelling and powerful. But, in a negative atmosphere, in the company of people who do not respect the vulnerability as well as power of the dancer, is dangerous. Consider the scene in the stunning film !2 Years a Slave, adapted from the memoir of Solomon Northrup, where the master of the plantation wakes his slaves from their sleep in the middle of the night to dance for his drunken pleasure. Dance becomes a violation of the dancer.

Another passion of mine is storytelling. Dance is of course one storytelling medium, but I love them all: writing and the making of visual and performing arts. So, I studied, practiced and worked in literature and publishing, as well—the field of the arts and letters became the professional ground where I rooted myself. I’m grateful that I continue to make a living working this ground.

Black American Dance Narratives: A Survey of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division (see the link below) is a paper I was commissioned to write for a Fellows program conceived by a Dance Committee formed to support the New York Public Library of Performing Arts, Lincoln Center named for dance legend Jerome Robbins.  I was invited to be among the inaugural class of Fellows by Jan Schmidt, the curator of the dance collection (who recently retired after many years).  Five other Fellows were selected including Gus Solomon, Jr. a cultural hero of mine.

He was trained as an architect at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but got hooked on dance as an undergraduate student. Born in Cambridge, Gus Solomon Sr. his father, was a judge. After earning his bachelor of Architecture degree, he moved to New York City, the dance mecca, and ultimately worked with greats including Martha Graham, Donald McKayle, Pearl Lang and Merce Cunningham. He founded and directed two companies: Solomons Company/Dance (1969-94) and PARADIGM (1996 – 2011). He continues to work, performing all over the world. But, his greatest joy these days is mentoring younger dancers.

While my participation in the Fellows project was an honor over all, my biggest thrill was meeting and talking with him as we and another Fellow Joseph         spoke on a public panel about the program this week, May 12, at the Library. He is as warm and gracious as he is brilliant. His paper, like all six of the papers commissioned, appears on the NYPL website.

Here’s a bit of what he has to say in the paper, which is about his own work as a choreographer:

What inspired me to locate dancing in the midst of the public in the first place was a desire to make it unavoidable, since it was largely incomprehensible to them anyway. All my site-specific dances except Chryptych have been free and open to the public, because in the early ’70s, the general public was largely unaware even of the existence of concert dance, let alone what it comprised. For most civilians in those days, social dancing, folk dance, and Broadway shows-West Side Story and the Rockettes-was all they knew of the art form. – Gus Solomon

The link to Black American Dance Narratives by Malaika Adero

  [See Home Slice Magazine Facebook page for link to full piece by Gus Solomon]

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