Step Afrika!

Joe Murchison, Courtesy Step Afrika!

8 Dance-Centric Juneteenth Celebrations to Check Out This Weekend

Dance organizations across the country have been planning ways to celebrate Juneteenth since well before it was declared a federal holiday by Congress this week. June 19 marks the date on which news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, TX, more than two years after the Civil War was declared over and enslaved people in the U.S. freed. Here are eight class and performance offerings, some in-person and some online, celebrating Black joy and resilience that you can check out this weekend.


Ailey Celebrates Juneteenth, plus a free class from Ailey Extension

Six dancers dressed in shades of blue, purple and black are caught mid-air, knees pulling up towards chests, arms loosely raised to the sides, gazes cast downward.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' Lazarus

Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's online portal, Ailey All Access, launched a week of Juneteenth-inspired programming on Wednesday, June 16. It features an excerpt from Rennie Harris' tribute to the company's eponymous founder, Lazarus; a 1972 archival film of the legendary Judith Jamison performing the finale of Ailey's Cry, famously dedicated to "all Black women everywhere—especially our mothers;" and the rousing "Rocka My Soul" dance that closes Ailey's seminal Revelations. The program additionally features a "BattleTalk," putting artistic director Robert Battle in conversation with Opal Lee (the "Grandmother of Juneteenth"), Juneteenth Legacy Project co-chair Sam Collins and Legacy Project commissioned artist Reginald Adams. The program is free to watch on YouTube and will be available until June 22 at 7 pm ET.

In addition, Ailey Extension will offer a virtual Juneteenth Celebration: West African Class, diving into West African culture and technique fundamentals, with Maguette Camara on June 19 at 12 pm ET. The class is free but will be capped at 300 participants. Register at alvinailey.org.

(RE)VISION presented by 651 Arts

Daylight filters into a hazy room, where a quartet of Black bodies are caught in repose and motion. One in silhouette arches back as they look in a handheld mirror. Another gazes at their upraised palm, creating a sculptural pattern with their arms.

Still from Ronan Mckenzie and Joy Yamusangie's WATA

Courtesy 651 Arts

New York City–based presenting organization 651 Arts launches its inaugural Juneteenth Celebration with (RE)VISION, a weekend of outdoor and online dance film screenings. Ronan Mckenzie and Joy Yamusangie's short film WATA draws on stories of the African and Caribbean water deity Mami Wata. Charles O. Anderson's (Re)current Unrest, making its long-awaited regional premiere, explores the history of Black art and protest. Marjani Forté-Saunders' Memoirs of a...Unicorn: BLUEPRINT shows the importance of the Black family structure to individual identity as it's been tested through history. And the premiere of Cyborg Heaven places the Black urban experience at its center through the lens of house ballroom culture, hip hop and queer radical poet traditions. The film series will be shown following a set from Qool DJ Marv at outdoor screenings in Downtown Brooklyn June 18–19 at 8 pm; tickets are free but advance registration is required. Virtual screenings will take place on June 20. 651arts.org.

Central Avenue Dance Ensemble's A Night at Club Alabam

In an otherwise empty studio, a Black woman in a red dress sways closer to her lighter-skinned male partner. His arm is secure around her waist, their joined hands held at hip height. Their heads tip toward each other as they sway.

Still from A Night at Club Alabam

Courtesy Central Avenue Dance Ensemble

A Night at Club Alabam takes its name from the dance venue that was known as the "Cotton Club of the West Coast." Presented by Los Angeles' Central Avenue Dance Ensemble, a dance group dedicated to teaching the history of Black vernacular jazz dance through performance reenactments, the online production is a tribute to a bygone era, a vintage nightclub show drawn from the dances of the 1930s and '40s—from tap to vernacular jazz, ballroom to flamenco, mambo to tango. The show premieres June 19 at 1 pm PT; the recording will be available on-demand for two weeks following the livestream. Tickets start at $15. centralavedance.com.

Instagram offerings from Movement of the People Dance Company

Joya Powell's Movement of the People Dance Company offers a full day of offerings and celebrations via Instagram Live. The day kicks off on June 19 at 10 am ET with a grounding exercise, followed by bass jam sessions, self guided massage, a conversation about allyship, a guided improv session, a pause for poetry and reflection, and, to wrap it all up, an invitation to "Dance it Out" with Powell herself. Info and offerings available on Instagram @mopdance.

Coming Together at Lincoln Center

Casel in a warehouse-looking setting, with large windows and wooden floors. She is up on the toe of one of her tap shoes, and kicks her other leg forward.

Ayodele Casel

Patrick Randak, Courtesy Casel

Directed by Torya Beard, Coming Together is a multidisciplinary Juneteenth celebration centering family and celebration. Dancer-choreographer Brian Harlan Brooks, street dance specialist Tomoe Carr and tap luminary Ayodele Casel are joined by DJ Justin Johnston and poet Fanta Ballo for this presentation by Lincoln Center's Concerts for Kids. The event will take place June 19 at 12 pm ET at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts' transformed outdoor campus. Tickets are free but must be secured via the TodayTix Lottery. lincolncenter.org.

Juneteenth: The Celebration with M.A.D.D. Rhythms​

Chicago's iconic tap crew M.A.D.D. Rhythms headlines a free outdoor performance at the Harold Washington Cultural Center alongside Blu Rhythm Crew, Broadway in Bronzeville and The Happiness Club. Live performances kick off at 1 pm CT, but early arrivals can catch a grocery giveaway at 11 am. maddrhythms.com.

M.A.D.D. Rhythms will also be making an appearance later in the day at the 2021 Chi Village Fest.

REFRAME / REMNANT / RITUAL at NCCAkron

Cara Hagan closes her eyes as she kneels, hunching forward slightly as her arms, bent at the elbows and pulled toward her ribcage, begin to expose the underside of her wrists. Her brow is furrowed; her hair is pulled back; she wears a grey tank top and olive green trousers. A black tattoo of a flower is visible on one arm.

Cara Hagan

Victor Blanco, Courtesy NCCAkron

The culmination of Cara Hagan's Community Commissioning Residency at the National Center for Choreography at the University of Akron, this collection of short dance films explores ancestry and embodied relationships to space, as well as the reframing of history from the perspectives of women of color. Dancer-choreographers Ananya Chatterjea, Paloma McGregor and Tamara Williams collaborated with Hagan on the quartet of films; poet Jacinta V. White and dramaturg Sharon Bridgforth also worked with the cohort. The films premiere June 19 at 3 pm ET on NCCAkron's YouTube channel. The event is free, but you can RSVP at nccakron.org.

Step Afrika!'s Juneteenth Virtual Celebration

A female dancer in a pink and purple draping dress and a male dancer in plaid and a vest over his button down smile as they slide halfway into splits, arms extended in a casual first arabesque. Behind them, a suited musician plays saxophone.

Step Afrika! in The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence

Jati Lindsay, Courtesy Step Afrika!

Step Afrika! offers a virtual triple bill of three newly-filmed works. Trane, excerpted from The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence and reimagined for film, takes inspiration from the Black women who made the Great Migration in the first half of the 20th century. Little Rock Nine combines stepping with contemporary takes on 1950s social dances to honor the nine Black students who enrolled in a segregated high school in 1957. The Movement showcases a cast of nearly 50 stepping at national monuments in Washington, DC, in tribute to the newfound momentum of Black Lives Matter. The program will debut June 19 at 8 pm ET on Step Afrika!'s YouTube channel and Facebook page. Pre-register for the free event at stepafrika.org.

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Ashton Edwards Is Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Ballet

When Ashton Edwards was 3 years old, the Edwards family went to see a holiday production of The Nutcracker in their hometown, Flint, MI.

For the young child, it was love at first sight.

"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

Ashton has dedicated 14 years of ballet training in pursuit of that childhood dream. But all the technical prowess in the world can't help Ashton surmount the biggest hurdle—this aspiring dancer was assigned male at birth, and for the vast majority of boys and men, performing in pointe shoes hasn't been a career option. But Ashton Edwards, who uses the pronouns "he" and "they," says it's high time to break down ballet's gender barrier, and their teachers and mentors believe this passionate dancer is just the person to lead the charge.

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In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of about two dozen dancers got the rare opportunity to work on an upcoming Apple TV+ series—one devoted entirely to celebrating, and spoofing, classic 1940s and '50s musicals from the Great White Way and Hollywood. "Schmigadoon!", which premiered on AppleTV+ July 16, stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, who get stuck inside a musical and must find true love in order to leave. The show features a star-studded Broadway cast, including Aaron Tveit, Ariana DeBose, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Jane Krakowski and Dove Cameron, and is chock-full of dancing courtesy of series choreographer, Christopher Gattelli.

"The adrenaline was pretty exciting, being able to create during the pandemic," says Gattelli. "I felt like we were representing all performers at that point. There were so many who wanted to be working during the pandemic, so I really tried to embrace this opportunity for all of them."

Gattelli says it was a dream come true to pay tribute to the dance geniuses that preceded him, like Michael Kidd, Agnes de Mille, Onna White and Jerome Robbins, in his choreography. Each number shows off a "little dusting" of their work.

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Shouldering the Load: What kind of dance bag should dancers use?

Walk into any dance convention, audition or class, and you'll see a vast variety of dance bags lining the walls. But can the style of bag you use (and how you wear it) have an impact on your dancing?

Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.

Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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