News: Strengthening the Field

“Back to Basics” is the title and theme of the 22nd Annual Conference and Festival of the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD), which returns this year to Philadelphia, its city of origin. Running January 13–17, the 2010 conference will pack classes, showcases, panels, performances, meetings and special events into its five-day schedule. Hosted by the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) in collaboration with Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, the conference coincides with the 40th anniversary of Philadanco and the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts (PSDA).

The annual IABD conference has become a renowned meeting place for dance practitioners of all ethnicities to learn about, support and celebrate the black tradition in American dance. Conference coordinator Sandra Haughton says, “The conference’s basic goal this year is really to help the dance field strengthen itself—its institutions, dancers and choreographers—in this tight economic climate.” With this in mind, there will be panels on funding, choosing competent staff, utilizing the internet and other logistical solutions. But that’s just one aspect of meeting the conference’s goal.

“I’m excited to have a wider range of panels this year and more simultaneous classes,” says Kim Bears-Bailey, assistant artistic director of Philadanco and former soloist with the company.

Panels are grouped in three divisions: creative arts, education and administrative. These tracks will deal with topics from nutrition to management models and documentation. The conference’s classes range from ballet to hip hop and will go from morning to midnight.

The Midnight African Dance Class, taught by Baba Chuck Davis (Friday), and the Midnight Hiphop Class, taught by a member of the Rennie Harris Puremovement ensemble (Saturday), are two of the conference’s trademarks. Bears-Bailey says: “The African class is an exuberant circle of family energy, composed of attendees of all ages, sizes and abilities. There are hundreds of people in the largest ballroom of the facility. And the class itself is a healthy challenge.” A younger crowd attends the hip-hop midnight class, she adds. Other classes will include modern, jazz, Horton, Dunham and Graham techniques, tap, Pilates and choreography.

IABD, Philadanco and PSDA are all the brainchild of Joan Myers Brown, who founded each institution to create opportunities for dancers of color. She started the IABD conference in 1988 to assess and address the professional needs of this underserved community, and once again this year, she’s hosting the conference.

“We’re expecting a very large turnout this year,” says Myers Brown, “because of Philly’s proximity to New York and the concentration of dance on the East Coast.”

Tapper Maurice Hines will deliver the conference’s keynote speech, and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Rennie Harris/Puremovement, Urban Bush Women and Philadanco are among the dance companies that will showcase their talents. The participating performers will offer dancers a multicompany audition to join the companies and their summer programs. Bears-Bailey says, “It’s an opportunity unique to our conference.” Eight to 12 artistic directors will attend, with choreographer Christopher Huggins (Steps on Broadway, Ailey) leading the audition, the conference’s final event. DT

Brenda Dixon Gottschild is a senior advising editor for Dance Magazine and is writing a book on Joan Myers Brown.

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