Solid Gold: PHILADANCO at 50

Photo by CJ Harris, courtesy of PHILADANCO

Each anniversary celebration of a dance company might also be considered a lesson in dance history and a study of endurance and perseverance. Thus the 50th anniversary of PHILADANCO is an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable legacy of founder and artistic director Joan Myers Brown as a source of inspiration for students, dancers and colleagues nationwide.

PHILADANCO is a resident company at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and kicked off its 50th season on October 5. Brown and the company will participate in the International Association of Blacks in Dance's 32nd annual conference, January 14–19, in Philadelphia. And you can catch the company throughout the U.S. in 2020, including February performances in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Brown founded the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts in 1960 and PHILADANCO in 1970, when it was common for African-American dancers to be turned away from studios and companies. In 1988, she and her staff further advocated for this underserved community by founding the International Conference of Black Dance Companies and the International Association of Blacks in Dance in 1991.

"Joan Myers Brown for me is the Fannie Lou Hamer for the African-American dance community," says colleague Lula Washington. "She is an organizer, activist and spokesperson. She truly has made a difference not only for PHILADANCO but for Lula Washington Dance Theatre and hundreds of other African-American dance companies."

The rich repertoire of PHILADANCO includes the work of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Ronald K. Brown, Bebe Miller and Milton Myers. "I've had the pleasure of working with PHILADANCO and Joan for over 20 years," says Ronald K. Brown. "I was a fan of the dynamic and explosive dancing that they were known for and was ecstatic to work with the dancers. It's one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences each time I am in the studio."

Ms. Brown has worked hard to provide stability for her company members with impressive support, such as a 52-week contract with benefits for dancers and a robust touring schedule. In 1981, PHILADANCO purchased a building to house its studios, school and administrative offices. The five decades have seen the expansion of the company as well as several natural outgrowths of it, including the D/2 Apprentice Company for dancers ages 15–23 and the D/3 Youth Ensemble for ages 9–16.

Scholar and historian Brenda Dixon Gottschild honored Brown with her 2012 book, Joan Myers Brown and the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina: A Biohistory of American Performance. Brown has announced her imminent retirement as of the end of this anniversary season. Elgie Gaynell Sherrod has joined the organization as interim executive director.

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