After being virtual for two years, the Black History Month Dance Concert is set to make an in-person comeback Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 filled with African drumming, multiple styles of dance and celebration of Black culture.
Elon Dance partnered with the CREDE this year to put together this Black History Month Dance Concert called Black in the Theatre, directed by Keisha Wall, professor of dance at Elon. Together, they chose the theme “Black Renaissance” to celebrate Black art. Black in the Theatre has been put on at Elon since 2012 as part of Black History Month, but in 2020 — with Wall as the new director — they held their last in-person performance right before the COVID-19 pandemic placed concerts on pause. In 2021 and 2022, the performance was filmed with dancers wearing masks.
This year, there will be three performances — two bigger groups of Elon dancers and one smaller group. The bigger groups’ choreography were taught by special guest choreographers Souleymane Solo Sana and Michelle Gibson, respectively.
Wall said she brought in the guest choreographers in order to expose the dancers to other Black artists, since all they have known is her choreographing.
“I wanted to take a step back this year and allow them to experience other people out in the world doing this amazing stuff, especially with the theme ‘Black Renaissance,’ they need to know there's other people outside of Elon that are doing some really cool things,” Wall said.
Senior Parker MacIntyre is one of the dancers in the first group and he will be dancing to African drum rhythms, taught by Solo Sana and performed by outside drummers. MacIntyre said he loved being in the performance when he was a freshman and he’s excited to finally do it again.
“The energy of the Black History Month concert is wild; people just go nuts,” MacIntyre said. “The audience is crazy. It's so upbeat and fun and lively.”
The first group will dance to West African music, the second group will dance in a New Orleans “street dancing” style and the third group will dance in “contemporary African.” Most of the dancers are dance or dance science majors, but all majors were open to audition. There will be 30 dancers in the production, including dancers from outside of Elon.
Black in the Theatre will open with an a cappella performance of the Black National Anthem by Elon a cappella group Melanated Melodies, followed by a dance segment by The Moment — a Black musical theater organization.
For her first time, freshman Evelyn Ealey will be performing in Black in the Theatre as one of the dancers in the second and third group, one being guest choreographed by Gibson and the other by Wall.
Ealey said she is very excited about this performance because she feels it will be different now that audience members can connect more with the dancers.
“For Fall Dance, it wasn’t exactly that way because they were more contemporary dances so people couldn’t really get into it,” Ealey said. “They can hear the music but people are going to feel the music, feel the drums and just have a good time.”
As this is MacIntyre’s last year dancing in the program, he said he feels “very bittersweet” but that it’ll be “a good way to go out” and is grateful for Wall’s instruction.
“I am 100% going to like to have a breakdown after this is over because this is something I look forward to every year and I was never exposed to it before coming to Elon,” MacIntyre said. “She's taught me everything and opened this whole new dance form to me, and I'm so thankful for that.”
Ealey hopes that what people get out of Black in the Theatre is that there is this other style of dance and culture that she said not a ton of people get exposed to — not even herself.
“When I came here, I had never danced with live drums, didn't have a live band, and I'd never done African style dancing,” Ealey said. “So I think it's just a great opportunity for people to see something different.”
MacIntyre urges Elon students to attend Black in the Theatre because he said this culture needs to be shared in order to bring people together, form community and celebrate.
“Sure, maybe you'll go to a ballet or you'll go to a show on Broadway, but you're never really going to see West African dance,” MacIntyre said. “It's such a beautiful art form and it's so fun to be a part of. I'm so thankful for it.”
Wall also said she thinks attendees of the performance will have fun, not just because everyone will be in-person again but because people will get meaning out of the experience.
“They will be really moved by the works that are going to be shared if they have any interest at all in black art, black artists or black music,” Wall said. “They are guaranteed to get all of that in this one-hour show.”
Black in the Theatre is set to perform on Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. in McCrary Theatre. At 6:30 p.m, right before the debut performance, there will be a showcase of Black art and artifacts in the Global Education Center. Registration is not required for the performance nor the art display.