ast month, we had the opportunity to attend the 2019 International Association of Blacks In Dance Conference in Dayton, Ohio (a first for us!). The organization, which was established in 1988, is dedicated to preserving the African ancestry and origin that lives within dance while also actively working to increase opportunities for the diverse artists of today. The Annual IABD Conference is an incredible culmination of those efforts.
“I have never before in my life been surrounded by so many artists of all different shades, shapes, and walks of life,” Rockette Sam recalls. “It felt in some way like a homecoming; And that word, in fact, turned out to be the exact definition of IABD.”
We are forever grateful for being able to attend the IABD conference, and it’s an experience we will never forget! From teaching master classes to learning about the diverse dancers who paved the way before us, these are some of our top moments from our week in Dayton.
1. Teaching Master Classes
Danelle: “We had the pleasure of teaching three master classes at IABD, in tap and our precision style. We taught sections from various performances over the past few years, showcasing the many styles our choreographers ask us to do. We really wanted the dancers, especially those who are not familiar with our style, to learn our movement vocabulary, challenge themselves, see the versatility in what we do and, most importantly, have fun!”
Sam: “Our classes were not only available to the students, but the educators could participate or observe as well. Our precision style was new for most, but the students attending were bright-eyed and open-minded!”
Jackie: “The response we received after each master class was so humbling, too. Girls who never thought it was possible to be taught by Rockettes, let alone become one, were challenged by our work and discovered a newfound respect for what we do and the artistry behind it.”
2. Our Panel Discussion
Danelle: “We had the honor of hosting our own panel discussion during the conference called Commercial Dance: The Radio City Rockettes and the Talent Pipeline. During our panel, we each shared our personal journeys to becoming Radio City Rockettes, the battles and challenges that we’ve faced as women of color, and the amazing pride that we carry not only as Rockettes, but as Rockettes of color. It was here, in this panel, that I really understood how happy guests were to have us be part of the conference.”
Sam: “It didn’t come as any surprise that the attendees who listened to our panel had some of the same thoughts and hesitations that we ourselves once had. As stories and feelings were exchanged, one conclusion kept ringing true in my head: The connections and relationships we are making here will leave lasting impressions and create feelings of hope.”
Jackie: “There were also so many other great panels with a variety of topics and issues discussed, from dance education to diversity in dance companies to cultural differences in society as a whole. It was all very motivating!”
3. Stunning Performances
Danelle: “One of my absolute favorite things about the IABD Conference were the performances! In four days, we saw over 50 (yes, 50!) performances ranging from youth performers to legendary professional dance companies. We had the opportunity to meet and interact with some amazing dance legends, from the Dance Theatre of Harlem to The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Philadanco.”
Jackie: “My favorite performance would have to be a piece showcased by Philadanco (choreographed by Anthony Burrell). It was emotionally touching and related back to what is happening today. And seeing the support and camaraderie of everybody in the audience really bought back memories of dancing in my childhood. It’s the same feeling I get with the Rockettes when we get a chance to watch each other perform.
4. The “Rockette Reach”
Sam: “Last summer, Danelle and I attended Essence Festival in New Orleans, and we discovered that the reach of the Rockettes extends far beyond New York. Being that this was our first trip to IABD, we weren’t quite sure how the company would be perceived overall; the Rockettes are a very inclusive company, however, the line doesn’t necessarily represent the diversity that is New York. At the conclusion of each master class we taught, the dance students were not only thrilled that we were even there, but many hoped to potentially audition in the future. That was not only important for us to hear as instructors, but for them to realize for themselves as young, aspiring artists.”
Danelle: “One of my favorite moments was when a dancer commented that she had a newfound respect for what we do as Rockettes. She mentioned how easy it looks, but how difficult it is to execute, and how she didn’t know we were challenged to dance in many different styles. After taking our master class, she and several other dancers were eager to learn about auditioning for our upcoming Rockettes Summer Intensive. By showing what we do firsthand, we were able to make new Rockette fans and hopefuls!”
5. Paving the Way
Sam: “Dance wouldn’t exist in my world without the brave and fearless artists of color that came before me. During our last day in Dayton, we attended a farewell brunch that included awards and a Town Hall-type of gathering. The intimate ballroom it was held in housed some of the most legendary educators, creators and artists from around the world, including Cleo Parker Robinson, Lula Washington and even Joan Myers Brown to name a few. There were hundreds of years of dance history in the room. It was almost as if I was sitting in a living museum of movement, and the Rockettes were such an important part of it!”
Danelle: “I am honored to say that we were able to award six scholarships to the Rockettes Summer Intensive during the Youth and Artists Summer Scholarship Audition that was held at the conference! Being able to present six dancers with an opportunity to learn and grow in a style that they may not have had the chance to train in previously is so cool! The Rockettes may not have been on their radar before this, but after a week at the IABD Festival and Conference, they gained a new interest—and potentially, a new career path!”
Jackie: “Seeing the hopes and dreams of so many beautiful, young dancers and seeing them strive hard to achieve them and making a difference for blacks in dance, it gave me hope for the next generation of dancers. And I think seeing the four of us Rockettes, all from different backgrounds and of different ethnicities, really sparked a new dream in a lot of these young women.”