Site Network

What to Watch: This New PBS Doc Tracks the Creation of DTH's Work Honoring the Arrival of Africans in North America

Dance Theatre of Harlem's Derek Brockington and Da'Von Doane in Claudia Schreier's Passage. Photo by Brian Callan, courtesy of DTH

Back to your routine after the holidays, but still looking for something to watch? Then this new PBS documentary titled Dancing on the Shoulders of Giants is for you. The hour-long film tracks the creation of two dance pieces: Claudia Schreier's Passage for Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Sir Richard Alston's Arrived featuring students of Norfolk's Governor's School for the Arts. Both works were co-commissioned by the American Evolution 2019 Commemoration and the Virginia Arts Festival last May, in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of Africans to English North America and the history of slavery that followed.


The film, narrated by former DTH principal and current Norfolk's Governor's School of the Arts instructor Lorraine Graves, is split into two parts. The first half focuses on Alston's process working with 20 high school students from GSA on Arrival. After just two weeks of rehearsals, Alston incorporated the students into a cast made up of dancers from his own company. The documentary also touches on how the British choreographer grappled with handling this dark side of American history, and what it was like for two of the GSA students to confront the events of 1619, which took place so close to where they grew up.

The second half of the film is about the creation of Claudia Schreier's Passage for DTH. Artistic director Virginia Johnson stresses what she saw as the importance of bringing in collaborators who are women of color for this project, and the documentary features interviews with Schreier and composer Jessie Montgomery. After seeing them work separately at their crafts, it's exciting to see both artists come together with the dancers in the studio. This creative process went on just after DTH co-founder Arthur Mitchell passed away in September of 2018, and the documentary ends with Johnson, Schreier and company dancer Christopher Charles McDaniel talking about the importance of carrying on Mitchell's legacy.

Click here to watch Dancing on the Shoulders of Giants on PBS.org for free.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

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.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

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.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.