Camille A. Brown

Music for modern dance

Despite her gift for creating narrative-driven and relatable dance work, Camille A. Brown started out as a reluctant choreographer. She didn’t have the ideal dancer’s body in college, and her stage time suffered consequently—choreographers didn’t bother calling her to auditions because they thought she wouldn’t be right for the costume they had in mind. With so much downtime on her hands, Brown found herself in the studio consistently, crafting her own choreography. “I got to move the way I wanted to,” she says. “I didn’t have to audition to be in my own piece.”

By the time her body changed—she slimmed down and strengthened her technique—she’d found her voice as a choreographer. But her focus remained entirely on her performance career with Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, A Dance Company, until a friend pushed her to enter a national choreography competition sponsored by Hubbard Street 2. (She won.) More than a decade later, Brown has amassed a considerable repertoire of choreographic surprises for her modern dance company Camille A. Brown & Dancers—she’s crafted unflinching explorations of present-day minstrelsy and deconstructed Eurocentric beauty ideals. Her musical preferences are just as unexpected: Jazz, neo-soul, contemporary R&B and hip hop carry equal weight in her playlists. She laughs when she remembers a day on tour when her iPod jumped from TLC to Radiohead to Kendrick Lamar, and one of her dancers wondered aloud if the music source had changed. “I guess I can groove to just about anything,” she says. DT

 

Artist: Esperanza Spalding

Album: Radio Music Society

“We’re currently using this album for our pre-show music. Her sound is so beautiful and soulful. It’s a nice entryway for the audience members. Your pre-show music is just as important as your show—you’re unconsciously bringing it into your body.”

 

Artist: Doug Organ Trio

Song: “The Price Is Right”

“They do one of the dopest versions of this theme song—the percussionist is phenomenal. There are so many rhythms! They’ll start on a five, and then they’ll go to a seven. I love the challenge that this song brings.”

 

Artist: Jill Scott

Album: Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1

“There are so many amazing artists that come out of Philly who are rooted in neo-soul. Everybody was talking about Jill Scott, so I got her album, and that was it. She writes poetry, too—I have her book.”

 

Pandora station: McCoy Tyner/jazz

“I love jazz for the musicianship, because that’s something you don’t normally hear in contemporary music—that’s more about the beat. Jazz is about being organic and the improvisation of the artist. I can learn a lot from jazz musicians because of their rhythm and the way they work with each other.”

 

 

Pandora station: Chaka Khan/funk

“I grew up on this music—there’s so much groove and funk and soul in it. And the lyrics aren’t sexual, like they seem to always be now. I love to pull from these old-school sounds when I teach classes centered on social music, because the two are so closely connected.”

 

 

 

Photo by Grant Halverson, courtesy of Camille A. Brown

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

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"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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