[Photo courtesy of the writer. ID: Group of women of various ethnicities and ages and one small boy child. Everyone is dressed in casual and business casual attire, faces filled with smiles and laughter. They are all inside a brightly lit conference room with a screen behind them reading “WOCA Women of Color in the Arts”. ]
Andréa Spearman is the Dancers’ Group Artist Resource Manager and represented Dancers’ Group at the Dance/USA conference in June.
Black people have this unspoken greeting out in public: the nod.
It’s an all-ages greeting that can convey many things, from, “Hey, I see you,” to, “Let’s head out. The environment seems unsafe.”
For Black women the nod can lift into a smile and compliment: “Okay hair!”, “Yes yellow dress!” “You betta walk sis!”
Black women are even more affirming to each other as we move through the professional circles of our lives. That is what I experienced at this year’s Dance/USA conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
This year’s conference was very, very Black. From Dance/USA’s fearless leader Kellee Edusei to 4 out of 5 of the extraordinary honorees (Virginia Johnson, Judy Tyrus, Nena Gilreath, Waverly T. Lucas, II), to the performances throughout the week.
There were innately Black moments. At the opening reception loud rumblings of African drums filled the room. An older Black woman danced across the stage and encouraged us to grab instruments and join in. There were performances by Ballethnic Dance Company (ballet), Tap Rebels, and CiCi Kelley (hip hop/street dance).
As I watched these performances and heard words of gratitude and honorees’ accolades, it dawned on me how many Black women were in the room: in the audience, presenting on stage, being lifted up among their colleagues. For decades of hard work. Would I be one of them one day?
I’ve been a dance artist since I was a child.
Dance moved from hobby to profession—from my praise dance beginnings, to my current roles as teacher, choreographer, artist resource manager, podcast producer and more.
As I’ve learned about the business side of dance, I’ve found more women to be impressed by. Black women founding and leading companies. Making waves in the community.
I picture my name in lights one day, just like them.
When I heard Women of Color in the Arts (WOCA) would be holding a forum within the Dance/USA conference, I knew this was my chance to meet other Black women working in white-centered spaces, looking to put down roots and raise voices.
WOCA dedicates itself to transformational change in the arts sector. During the forum we lifted up one another’s work, reflected on the Dance/USA conference experience, unpacked the experience of being a woman of color in a predominately white industry.
The room was 99% Black women. It felt like a homecoming. There was a moment when a rap battle broke out and almost everyone started beatboxing, laughing or hyping up the women on each side of the room.
This room held the types of women I’d seen throughout my entire life:
The OGs—the groundbreakers who took those first steps into ballet when society was telling them nobody wanted to see them.
The Troublemakers—women who brought our heritage to the stage front and center and didn’t take no for an answer.
The Next Wave—my peers, women who are showing our creativity onstage and at the heads of tables. And bringing our sisters with us. The crowns that the OGs labored for placed squarely on our heads.
As Black women, our crown is essential to our self image. I looked around the room and saw a diversity of crowns: braids, locs, curls, perms, twist-outs, sew-ins, Afros, presses and waves. Hair as dynamic as our goals.
A question was asked by WOCA director, Kaisha S. Johnson: “What are your dreams and what do you need to make them a reality?”
Dreams ranged from hiring a photographer, to creating a youth program, to expanding a physical space, to creating podcasting networks.
Some dreamers had their needs met right there in the room. Others exchanged business cards and promises to connect for resources. It was a moment of connection and community. Minds coming together to conceive and build an arts community that can rise to its fullest potential.
As I was leaving the conference, filled with pride at such an awesome display of culture and leadership, I wondered again to myself, “Will I be one of these dynamic wonder women that lead the way and make a change in our community?”
I’m definitely on my way there.
This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of In Dance.