A still from Jakevis Thomason's "This Is America" (courtesy Thomason)

Eight Powerful Dance Works to Come Out of the Black Lives Matter Movement

Art can be a critical part of social justice activism. And the recent Black Lives Matter protests have given rise to all kinds of dance art, with Black dancers and choreographers using their bodies to speak important truths. Below are eight must-watch dance works by Black artists that address this moment of uprising.

"This Is America," by Jakevis Thomason

Thomason choreographed this piece as a way of contributing to the movement and showing his community's reality. He's long been drawn to Childish Gambino's "This is America," and felt the song perfectly fit his vision for the video. "It's simple, it's literal, and it's effective," Thomason says. "I didn't want to sugarcoat anything. I just don't think there's any room for that. It might make some people uncomfortable, but that's the point."

"Say It," by Sheopatra Jones

Jones created "Say It" before this current moment of protest, but re-shared the work recently. The song, "Hell You Talmbout" by Janelle Moane and Wondaland, lists the names of Black men and women who have been victims of police brutality and other racist crimes. Jones and her dancers compel you to watch—and to acknowledge the injustice of these deaths.

"I Can't Breathe," by Marcelino Sambé

Sambé, a Royal Ballet principal, created this simple and moving piece, set to a composition by Thom Yorke, as a memorial to George Floyd's last words.

"Listen Feel Dance," by Alain "Hurrikane" Lauture

Lauture prefers to communicate his feelings through movement, saying it's more honest and less frightening than speaking with his voice. When he filmed this four-minute freestyle, he was intentional about the song and clothing choices, wanting them to reflect today's reality, as well as who he is as a person. "My whole being is a statement of being proud of who I am, my Blackness," he says. "People like to say that we are all one, but we are different. And being different is absolutely beautiful."

"Changes," by Norah, Yarah, and Rosa

Dutch sisters Norah, Yarah, and Rosa Mukanga have been sharing self-choreographed videos on Instagram since 2018. This work, set to 2Pac's "Changes," is a reminder that the younger generation is an integral part of this movement, and that its members' voices should be heard.

"A Black Man's Heart," by Michael Frye

Performed in the middle of a New York City protest, and set to Cynthia Erivo's "Stand Up", Frye's solo expresses defeat and despair, but also strength and energy—the energy he needs to stand up for his community.

"Say It Loud," by Stephen "tWitch" Boss and Affion Crockett

Boss and Crockett responded to the movement with a joyful work. Choreographed to James Brown's "Say It Loud—I'm Black and I'm Proud," it uses Locking to honor their culture and their identity.

"Reflect the Times," by Mike Tyus

Tyus, a founding member of Jacob Jonas The Company, choreographed to the words of Nina Simone: "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times." It's clear Tyus feels called to do just that through his work.

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Trans dancer, choreographer, and activist Sean Dorsey in his work Boys in Trouble (Keegan Marling, courtesy Sean Dorsey Dance)

8 Phenomenal Trans and GNC Dancers to Follow

Whether through color-specific costumes, classes separated by sex, or the "traditional" view of the roles boys and girls should play in ballet, most dance students are taught that their gender determines their role in the studio beginning in elementary school. And, especially for those struggling with their own gender identity, that can cause harm and confusion. "From a very young age, I did not see myself reflected anywhere in the modern dance field," says trans dancer, choreographer, and activist Sean Dorsey. "There was a really intense message I received, which was that my body and identity don't have a place here."

Despite significant societal progress in regards to gender representation, the dance world has trailed behind, and many transgender and gender nonconforming teenagers still feel lost within the world of dance. Prominent trans and GNC professional dancers are few and far between. "Being a Black trans woman means I have to work extra, extra, extra hard, because I have to set the tone for the people who come after me," says Brielle "Tatianna" Rheames, a distinguished voguer.

But the rise of social platforms has given Rheames, Dorsey, and other trans and GNC dancers a path to visibility—and that visibility helps create community and change lives. "Social media plays an extremely big part," Rheames says. "You can't just hide us anymore." Here are eight incredible trans and GNC dancers to add to your own Instagram feed.

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Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

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