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

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

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So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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