Throughout the month of February, many Americans celebrate Black History Month, a period of the year dedicated to honoring the contributions of Black figures to American culture and society.
The lesser-known Black Futures Month, which is also celebrated in February—and often in conjunction with BHM—looks to art and artists to envision an equitable future for Black Americans. At Dance Spirit, we're celebrating #BlackFuturesMonth by spotlighting four young Black dancers whose dance journeys are proving that the future of Black dance is bright.
Photo by Lee Gumbs, courtesy Jada Walker
You may recognize Jada Walker as RADIX Dance Convention 2020–21 Senior Female Core Performer winner, but the 20-year-old USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance sophomore is a versatile talent who says she's determined to make her mark—on more than just the competition-dance world. In fact, the Houston, TX, resident, who takes her college courses remotely, has already started branching out: She was recently featured in R&B superstar Brandy's official music video for the single "Baby Mama," directed by Derek Blanks and creative directed by Frank Gatson Jr., and choreographed by Jakevis Thomason.
But Walker's journey to this point in her career hasn't been without its challenges. "I have faced much discrimination," she says, "simply because of my body type, which to others reads: 'She must be about to bust a hip-hop move or a jazz routine onstage' or 'She doesn't look like she has the technique, feet or facility to execute a contemporary dance.' "
Such judgments have only fueled Walker to train harder—and to look towards her promising future. Walker says she eventually sees herself touring with major recording artists, owning a dance convention or studio, and choreographing—and starring in—movies and music videos. But she also has dreams outside the dance realm, which she sees as an extension of her creativity. "I have so many aspirations that start with my dance career that I can see taking me in many different directions, such as fashion and makeup," Walker says. "I'd love to have my own production company that represents makeup artists, stylists and more."
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge? #UpChallenge
Favorite song to dance to right now? "All Good," by Jhené Aiko
Favorite dancer/choreographer at the moment? "There are so many, but some of the dancers include Briana Morrison, Selena Hamilton, and Tyrik Patterson. Choreographers include Diana Matos, JaQuel Knight and William Forsythe."
Favorite style of dance? "I don't have a favorite. I work equally hard in every style, so I can be as versatile as possible."
Favorite convention/intensive/summer program? "Any Break the Floor production."
Photo by Meghan Purdy, courtesy Keenan Mentzos
When 11-year-old Keenan Mentzos isn't training at his home studio, PULSE Dance Centre, the Vancouver native is busy scoring big at some of the most prestigious competitions. In fact, it was just last year the dance prodigy was awarded the national title of Mini Male Best Dancer at The Dance Awards. Equally exciting, he says? Competing at a regional Youth America Grand Prix event for the first time in 2020 and being awarded 1st and 3rd places for his solos—a feat for any dancer, but especially for a first-timer.
Keenan loves being able to express his feelings through movement. But the pandemic has limited his access to dance classes and performance opportunities. "I think my biggest obstacle so far, like most dancers, has been COVID-19 restrictions and not being able to go to the studio for classes—and having most dance competitions canceled," he says. "I had also qualified for the YAGP finals in New York, but, unfortunately, that event was postponed. It would have been amazing to travel to NYC."
Luckily, Keenan isn't letting any of that keep him down. He has high hopes for the future, including one day dancing with the world-renowned Royal Ballet in London.
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge? "I have done some challenges with friends, but I don't have TikTok, so I can't remember!"
Favorite song to dance to right now? "Hold Me While You Wait," by Lewis Capaldi
Favorite dancer/choreographer at the moment? Dancer: Brady Farrar; choreographer: "It's hard to choose one because I love all of my teachers at PULSE Dance Centre. They create beautiful pieces of art for us to perform!"
Favorite style of dance? "My two favorite styles of dance are ballet and contemporary. I love ballet music, and I love that in contemporary we get to tell stories through our dances."
Favorite convention/intensive/summer program? "I love doing Break the Floor conventions. I also hope to attend the Royal Ballet summer intensive when we can travel again."
VAM Productions, courtesy Rebecca Stewart
In July 2019, while attending New York City Dance Alliance's national finals, Rebecca Stewart auditioned for the role of Clara in the world-famous Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes. After a long audition process, she was selected as one of three dancers to perform the role. And that October, Rebecca says, "My mom and I began our three-month stay in NYC, while I rehearsed and then performed almost daily in the show." The experience, which included dancing alongside the legendary Rockettes, was unforgettable for Rebecca.
While the Maryland-based dancer, who trains at CityDance School & Conservatory in North Bethesda, has a number of successes under her belt, she says there are still times she's confronted with the reality of being Black in the dance community. "Due to underrepresentation that occurs in various pockets of the dance world," she says, "I have to remind myself that I truly belong in the spaces in which I have danced. Being confident in my ability in any environment and in any circumstance has been crucial to my dance journey as a Black artist."
When asked about her favorite part about dancing, Rebecca cites a dancer's ability to stir emotion and create change through their work. "And I think it's so important to cherish that," she says, "because it's not something that everyone can do."
She adds: "Dancing is a real power, and I'm so blessed to have it in my life."
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge? #CorvetteDance
Favorite song to dance to right now? "I really love 'Self,' by Khalid!"
Favorite dancer/choreographer at the moment? "My favorite choreographer right now is Wayne McGregor. His work is so mesmerizing!"
Favorite style of dance? "Ballet is my favorite style of dance, but I love contemporary and lyrical, as well."
Favorite convention/intensive/summer program? "NYCDA is my favorite dance convention, and I have been going there ever since I was 9. I also had the opportunity to participate in the American Ballet Theatre and Royal Ballet School virtual summer intensives this past year, both of which I enjoyed immensely!"
Photo by Rhiannon Lee, courtesy Braylon Browner
Braylon Browner is a choreographer's dream: He's proficient in a range of dance techniques, has gorgeous extensions (just check out his Instagram!) and soars, holding space for what seems like forever, when he leaps through the air. And all that talent has helped him snag some of the highest honors for a young dancer, from being a top competitor at dance conventions to working with TV personality and dance teacher Abby Lee Miller.
But as the 10th-grade student, who trains at Dance Works +Plus in Texas, has continued to explore his artistry, he's found a new love: creating his own work. "I'm proud of my transition to choreography—finding and growing in my own unique style," Braylon says.
With hopes of someday choreographing for a major recording artist—and winning an Emmy, too!—Braylon says he loves all the incredible people he gets to connect with on his dance journey. "I also love the fact that you can never be 'perfect' as a dancer, so you constantly learn and grow," he says. "It's just what I love to do!"
Favorite TikTok dance/challenge? "I love 'comedy TikTok'—anything that makes me laugh."
Favorite song to dance to right now? "Cherry Hill," by Russ
Favorite dancer/choreographer at the moment? Taylor Tsvyetkov and Travis Wall
Favorite style of dance? Contemporary
Favorite convention/intensive/summer program? Break the Floor and NYCDA