Dancer and choreographer Chuck Davis, who founded the largest African dance festival, DanceAfrica, and performance company African American Dance Ensemble, died Sunday at his home in Durham, North Carolina. He was 80. Known for his benevolent spirit and powerful presence, he was committed to keeping the roots of African dance alive, as well as fusing together the older traditions with contemporary choreography. In 2004 he was honored with a Dance Magazine Award, and he won a Bessie Award in 2014 for outstanding service to the field of dance.
Davis, who stood a towering 6'5", studied at Howard University and later in New York with modern dance legends Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, José Limón and Arthur Mitchell. In the late 1960s, he formed the Chuck Davis Dance Company. In 2001 The Washington Post noted that Davis' "vast knowledge of dance and music from the African continent has helped make African dance a part of the American cultural landscape."
Sandra Burton, a member of Chuck Davis Dance Company in the 1980s and now director of dance at Williams College, speaks of the influence Davis had on her and his undying legacy:
"I'm continuing to do the work that I learned how to do as a member of Chuck's company. I am someone he continued to mentor until he closed his eyes on Sunday [May 14]. Nurturing other human beings no matter who they are and allowing them the space and time to connect to themselves and other people in a deeper, joyous way. That is part of what I got from him. Once you have that, you can ask questions, you can have doubt, and dig deeper into not only yourself but into other people, but have love. He was very fierce about things that he believed in. Those of us who are teaching, as well as dancing and drumming and acting and doing whatever we do, those of us who were mentored by him—and there are a lot of us—that legacy lives strongly on in the work we strive to do. I wouldn't be here at Williams if it weren't for Chuck."
Watch below a clip of Woman's Dance—choreographed by Chuck Davis in 1969 and inspired by ritual celebration of female empowerment—performed by members of Williams College's Kusika company, founded by Burton.
Sometimes life just drops gems into your lap, on an otherwise typical Friday—like the 1980s public access television show "Stairway to Stardom" and the font of video footage that is the stairwaytostardom YouTube channel. Founded by Brooklynite Frank Masi—an amateur singer and apparent proponent of local talent—"Stairway to Stardom" featured child and teen performers who sang, danced and even performed comedy acts. It's an earnest show, and we don't mean to disparage the performers, but it's definitely fun to take a trip back to the '80s and reminisce over costume choices (SO MANY SEQUINS), jazz layouts and 3-D bangs—all performed on the smallest of (carpeted) sound stages. Though many of these performers went on to pursue other life choices, occasionally you stumble upon someone you recognize, like Anthony (AC) Ciulla. He's an Emmy award-winning and Tony Award-nominated choreographer who definitely made it big, but that's not gonna stop us from watching his "What a Feeling" (from Flashdance) performance over and over again:
When she was 20, Sue Sampson-Dalena rented a single room in a strip mall on the deserted north side of Fresno, California, with a simple dream. "I wanted to create a dance school where all disciplines were taught at a high level," she says. "In those days, you were either a ballet school or a tap-and-jazz school. So many people told me it couldn't be done that I decided I was going to try."
Thirty-five years later, The Dance Studio of Fresno has a faculty of 25 and a beautiful seven-studio facility. "I never envisioned I'd have this when I was 20 years old," she says of her 13,000-square-foot space. "But I did know even then that I loved education and all forms of dance and that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life." In 2015, Sampson-Dalena earned a rare honor. Her school was named Studio of the Year at The Dance Awards (produced by Break the Floor, NUVO and 24 Seven Dance conventions) and a top school by Youth America Grand Prix—a well-deserved validation that she'd indeed achieved her early goal.
Next month at the Dance Teacher Summit, we'll be honoring legendary choreographer, teacher and businessman Joe Tremaine with the Dance Teacher 2017 Award of Distinction. You may know him as the forward-thinking founder of Tremaine Dance Conventions, innovator of West Coast jazz or a choreographer to Hollywood's biggest stars. For our July 2017 cover story, Rose Eichenbaum photographed and interviewed Tremaine. But these Tremaine Dance Competitions & Conventions #TBT photos of him are just too good not to share—and far too evocative of his jazz classes, which Eichenbaum writes "included...high-powered lightning-speed combinations, which often left everyone dripping wet and in need of an oxygen tank." Scroll through for Tremaine's thoughts on what he's sought in his career and the state of dance today.
Jacob's Pillow has a long-standing tradition of showcasing the best in dance each summer in Becket, Massachusetts. But did you know that the festival, founded in 1933 by Ted Shawn, offers more than just great live performances? Check out the exhibits, talks and community classes being offered this summer.