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Camille A. Brown & Dancers to perform on campus

Photo contributed

Lily Bohlke

Camille A. Brown, who is bringing her dance company to Grinnell this weekend, thinks about dance as more than an art form.

“Dance is a language and social dance is an expression that emerges from a community,” said Brown in a TED talk on the history of social dance. “A social dance isn’t choreographed by any one person and it can’t be traced to any one moment. … Social dances bubble up, change and spread like wildfire.”

Brown’s “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” is a performance about the nuances of being a Black woman in America. On Saturday, Jan. 28, Camille A. Brown & Dancers will perform in Bucksbaum, in part to start conversations about the value of positive senses of identity.

According to Rachel Bly, Director of Conference Operations and Events, this performance will be unique and relatable to many Grinnellians. Outside of the theater, Camille A. Brown & Dancers plans to put up chalkboards before and after the show for attendees to share their thoughts and start a dialogue.

“There’s a lot of writing and ideas, sharing stuff that way as part of the show. They wear sneakers or tennis shoes, instead of dance shoes. It’s a real, current, the type of dance is very relatable to students and to what’s going on in the world right now,” said Bly.

Brown’s dances are composed of steps that many people are able to do, choreographed in a way that draws in and engages the audience so that even if they could perform the steps themselves, they would rather watch, according to Professor Celeste Miller, Theater and Dance.

“I think that’s a challenge in putting something on stage that we all do. If we all know how to do the dance, why should I watch somebody else do it? It’s more fun to do it myself,” said Miller. “[That is] the richness and brilliance of her as a choreographer.”

According to Bly, one of the reasons the Public Events Committee was drawn to Camille A. Brown & Dancers was that few performances like this one are brought to Grinnell’s campus.

“Our goal is to bring things to campus that no one else is bringing and that will stretch our students, faculty and community. [It’s] to stretch their thinking,” Bly said.

In addition to the dance performance, Brown herself will give a lecture today at 4:15 p.m. in Bucksbaum 152 called “Artists as Activists,” and the company is holding a social dance workshop tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the Bucksbaum dance studio.

“The question is framing it as how can we use the arts as activism. How can the arts be a platform for creative expression, protest and healing?” Miller said.

The current political climate, according to Bly, also plays a role in what she hopes students get out of Brown’s performance this weekend.

“We’re thinking about what’s going on in the world that we want reflected on campus and how can we inform those, how can we create more thoughtful conversations and how can we give the tools to have those conversations,” Bly said.

Miller is excited for this weekend, not only for the “absolutely beautiful visual,” but also because of the importance and relatability of Brown’s message about social dance. She emphasized that dance is a crucial part to a liberal arts education, for “everybody,” and identity is a part of that conversation.

“[BLACK GIRL: Linguistic play] has this undercurrent of wanting to place the African American experience, specifically the Black girl experience, within a context that makes a statement about identity and content and how we activate ourselves, motivate ourselves and the intersection of arts and activism.”

BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, will be performed Saturday night, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. in Roberts Theatre.

Photo contributed
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