Empowering Youth to Move in New York >> An Interview with Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown is a prolific dance artist, inspired and authentic in her approach to movement and performance making. I wanted to get up and dance just speaking with her. Free Body Project exists to learn more about, and share about, initiatives that use dance to empower and make change. Ms. Brown spoke to us about her take on dance and social justice and about her powerful initiatives including Black Girl Spectrum which presents a safe, movement-filled space to nurture creative citizens and bring more awareness to Black girl brilliance. 

From Mr. TOL E. RAncE. Photo by Christopher Duggan. Dancer: Walden Nelson.

From Mr. TOL E. RAncE. Photo by Christopher Duggan. Dancer: Walden Nelson.

Is it the responsibility of the artist to talk about what’s happening in the world and to use their art as activism?

Above all, it is the responsibility of the artist to create the work they choose to.  Every story, concept, and perspective is needed in the world.  That’s part of the beauty of art; you’re free to share your voice in whatever way you choose. 

Some of my works have delved into highlighting our political climate, but my portfolio is diverse- demonstrated in works that range from light-hearted (“Groove to Nobody’s Business”; “Been There, Done That”) to spiritually based (“New Second Line”; “City of Rain”) and politically charged with comedic flare (“Mr. TOL E. RAncE”) to personal (“BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play”).

You received a question recently about police shootings and whether or not you think about this issue while you're creating work. What is your response to this? 

My question is, are white choreographers being asked this same question? This problem of Black people being killed by police is not just affecting Black people, it should be affecting everyone. 

You have such an accomplished choreographic history. How did your outreach programs come into being?

Thank you! Black Girl Spectrum (BGS) was created during the process of BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play (BGLP). As a choreographer, you never know if you’re going to have a successful piece or if it will translate to audiences in the way you intended. I wanted to create an initiative that would live beyond BGLP to continue empowering Black girls of all ages through movement. Thankfully, the work is extremely successful so that both the initiative and BGLP can coexist. In order to provide participants of BGS an entry point into the world of dance, I use social dance as a way to create a space that is familiar but also educates. It is really important for me to show people that movement is a part of African and African-American tradition and culture. In order to move forward we must acknowledge it, understand it, embrace it and use it as inspiration for innovation. 

From BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Photo by Christopher Duggan. Dancers: Fanta Fraser & Beatrice Capote. 

From BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Photo by Christopher Duggan. Dancers: Fanta Fraser & Beatrice Capote. 

Why is dance a relevant and important mode of communication?

In many cultures dance was the foundation for rituals, rites of passage, resistance, and celebration - specifically for the African and African-American traditions. Dance provides a space to communicate in a different way. It's the language of the body and can connect people when languages spoken may be a barrier. Look inside a community and you will see the movement of the people - through gesture, dance, music, etc.

How do we broaden a general understanding of dance?

When I’m working with people who aren’t dancers, I ask them, when you hear the word dance, do you retreat or do you walk closer? I ask them why? It’s important to figure out why people are so hesitant about dancing. People dance all the time, at parties, concerts, and other social gatherings, but to take dance out of these frames seems hard. It's important to have a conversation and show how we all move in our every day lives. There’s such beauty in how people move and communicate with each other through gesture. It opens the gateway to movement, and movement gives birth to dance.

How do you view a connection between dance and social justice ?

Movement and social justice work together. When people are marching, holding their hands up in fists, and other forms of expression, they are using their bodies. Our voices are just one part of activating a space of peace/protest. 

What has been the impact of your initiatives so far?

Each year, the initiatives grow in participants and programming. It is truly exciting! For instance, after the inaugural Gathering, we discovered a need for educational components that address the business side of dance, particularly for emerging choreographers. So, we partnered with The Field - which provides "strategic services to thousands of performing and media artists and companies in New York City and beyond"- to offer two FREE workshops prior to The Gathering to discuss items such as: business models, grant writing, budgeting, branding/social media, etc. These workshops add another layer to the overall Gathering experience. 

We have also partnered with Dance/NYC - which promotes the awareness of dance in NYC and "embeds values of equity and inclusion into all aspects of the organization." They help us with the management and promotion of The Gathering. Both organizations have been extremely generous and I'm so honored they have come on board with us. 

Black Girl Spectrum is now expanding to  Every.Body.Move, including the refinement of the Black Girl Spectrum audience engagement model and new programs to reach Black boys and men, leading up to the tour of the new work" ink." The Young Men’s Initiative expands Black Girl Spectrum’s public forums, social dance classes, and youth mentorships.

What do you want future impact to be?

Every year, we learn something new, so it's my hope they initiatives continue to respond to the needs of its community and uplift people through movement. I also want to continue to support other organizations that are doing the same kind of work and create spaces for collaboration. 

It is my hope that these initiatives activate social dance and open dialogue as a tool for visioning, storytelling, empowerment and community building. Also, to contribute to educating people about social dance and the African-American contributions to American social dance and its history.

What is the ideal for your programs?

More people engaging with Every.Body.Move and The Gathering by attending or becoming a partner to support the programmatic elements, organization of the event, and continued growth. We encourage and appreciate having our allies attend such as agents, presenters, programmers, men, women of other ethnicities, etc. We need them as well as we continue to advocate for changes that must transpire in the field.

What advice would you share with other movers who want to make an impact?

The impact starts with you. When your intentions are honest and you are speaking your truth, you will have an impact. 

Learn more at www.camilleabrown.org 

 

CAMILLE A. BROWN (originally from Queens, New York) is a prolific choreographer who has achieved multiple accolades and awards for her daring works. Informed by her music background as a clarinetist, she utilizes musical composition as storytelling and makes a personal claim on history through the lens of a modern Black female perspective. She leads her dancers through excavations of ancestral stories, both timeless and traditional, that illustrate stories which connect history with contemporary culture. Her versatility is effortlessly demonstrated in works that range from light-hearted (“Groove to Nobody’s Business”; “Been There, Done That”) to spiritually based (“New Second Line”; “City of Rain”) and politically charged with comedic flare (“Mr. TOL E. RAncE”) to personal (“BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play”).

Read her full bio here. 

 

Camille A. Brown Free Body Project