Haverford College was delighted to host globally acclaimed dance company Philadanco, officially known as the Philadelphia Dance Company, for a virtual program on Feb. 26 as a part of the College’s schedule of Black History Month programming. The dancers graced the (virtual) studio and stage with an open-level master class and performance, delivering a stimulating slate of education, Black artistry, and talent. The event was sponsored by Student Engagement and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
The lauded West Philly dance company was founded in 1970 by Joan Myers Brown, who is now executive artistic advisor. Brown was motivated to start her own company to provide Black dancers training and the opportunity to perform, while celebrating African American traditions in dance. Since then, faculty at Philadanco have trained over 4,500 dancers, won countless awards, and have toured their works nationally and internationally.
Haverford dancers, such as Dana Nichols ‘14 and Lourdes Taylor ‘21, have danced with the company. And Taylor, a member of Philadanco’s second company since 2019, was part of the group of students who organized Haverford’s Black History Group events, including bringing Philadanco to campus virtually.
“This event was exactly the kind of program I wish had been brought to Haverford when I was a first-year,” said Taylor. “I really enjoyed organizing this event because Philadanco means the world to me. The works the company performed were beautiful, and I’m so glad so many people got to enjoy them.”
The virtual event began with a modern fusion master class taught by Joe Gonzalez, Philadanco lead dancer and company member.
“Joe taught modern-fusion, meaning he taught some traditional movements from codified modern techniques, but in his own style of contemporary dance,” said Taylor. Gonzalez focused predominantly on the Horton technique, named after Lester Horton, some Graham technique, named after Martha Graham, and involved his own contemporary movement styles as well.
“Those who attended the open class were able to practice, or be introduced to, two really important movement vocabularies to the development of modern American dance,” Taylor said. The class was also an inside look at what it’s like to dance for Philadanco. “Attendees got to know Joe as a dancer and Philadanco a little more closely. The class showed what a day (or an hour) in the life of a professional modern/contemporary dancer truly looks like.”
The class was then followed by a live virtual performance of four dances: Billy Wilson’s “Rosa,” Dawn Marie Bazemore’s “Movement for Five,” Gene Hill Sagan’s “Conversation for Seven Souls,” and Anthony Burrell’s “Endangered Species”, which were inspired by the experiences of Rosa Parks, the Exonerated Five, Martin Luther King Jr., and historical and current Black masculinity, respectively.
Each piece is an interpretation through different styles of dance, bringing real historical events and experiences to life in various ways through the bodies and movements of the dancers on the stage.
“Dance is so important because it brings a person’s whole body, and all the experiences that have made that body, to the stage and to the work,” said Taylor. “It’s an incredibly unique art form in that, although a dancer can choose what emotions to depict, there is no leaving parts of oneself in the wings, or off the page, or off the canvas. You bring yourself with your body.”
Though Black History Month is over, hopefully the Philadanco event encourages Fords to seek out Black dance companies and Black art all year long.
“The absolute bare minimum one can do toward dismantling anti-Blackness, specifically in dance, is listening to, valuing, and being in solidarity with Black artists in any and all respects,” said Taylor. “Black dancers don’t exist solely to educate or ‘depict’ their experiences for everyone else. Allowing Black dancers to represent and share the multitude of Black experiences that exist in the world, be they difficult or joyful, is the baseline of respect.”