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African-Caribbean Dance at The Blackie

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‘Black Dance’ (to use those two words in the most simple and direct of ways) first took root at The Blackie in 1969 through the twice weekly (Junior and Senior) Soul Discos created in partnership with Radio Doom Discoteque and Nova Express Lightshow.  The youngsters participating in these Discos  -  principally from Liverpool’s African-Caribbean communities in L8 and L1  -  engaged in social dancing to the music of African-American artists and groups James Brown, The Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Gladys Knight and The Pips, and more..

Dancing skills and styles were sharpened and up-dated through regular viewings of video recordings of the American TV series ‘Soul Train’, and dance routines were learnt from video recordings of groups such as The Temptations in performance.  Youngsters performed in self-choreographed routines (sometimes with some assistance from Bill) in situations as varied as shows at The Blackie (‘Disco In The Blackie Fashion’), and a lecture demonstration at the Royal College of Art in London.

The Soul Discos were augmented in the 1970’s with professional dance performances at The Blackie (The Edith Stephens Dance Company from New York) and by coach trips to performances such as the New York-based African-American Dance Theatre of Harlem (where youngsters also watched a company class and rehearsal and met and socialised with the company).  Dance  -  and particularly dance with African-Caribbean roots  -  was built into the cultural foundations of The Blackie.

From these roots the programme  -  of workshops, performances, trips, scholarships, conferences, seminars, and Festivals of African-Caribbean dance and associated African-Caribbean arts   -  developed and flourished.

The list (in alphabetical order) of companies, organisations, and venues with whom we worked to create the programme includes the following :-

Abisindi, Badejo Arts, Adzido Pan African Dance Ensemble, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Association of Dance of the African Diaspora, Black Dance Development Trust, Dance Alive, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Double Edge Theatre Company, Irie ! Dance Theatre, Jivers, Jiving Lindy Hoppers, Keskidee Afro-Caribbean Centre (London), Kokuma, Merseyside Dance Initiative, National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, Nia African-Caribbean Centre (Manchester), Pan Project (now Pan Intercultural Arts), RJC Dance Theatre, Sakoba Dance Theatre, Shikisha, Urban Bush Women

(Apologies for any omissions.  Please contact us to improve and add to this list).

A comprehensive list of individual artists who contributed to the creation of this programme would be impossible to produce.  We do not have cast lists for all the performances at The Black-E.  Nor did we keep a log of the artists we met and socialised with following trips to performances, encounters which were an inspiration to youngsters.

However, the following list (in alphabetical order) gives a ‘flavour’ of the artists engaged in the programme :-

Francis Angol, Peter Badejo, Pauline Bennett, Djo Bi, Maxine Brown, Ivan Blackstock, Jonzi D, De Napoli Clark, Lorna Diekuuroh, Donald Edwards, Louisa Eyo, Beverley Glean, Sandra Golding, Jackie Guy, Leo Hamilton, Elroy Josephs, Koffi Koko, Sue Lancaster, Edward Lynch,  Bode Lawal, Coral Messam, Arthur Mitchell, Barry Moncrieffe, Toni Morgan, Mapopa Mtonga, Stephen Mulrooney, Namron, Rex Nettleford, Gail Parmel, Ian Parmel, ‘H’ Patten, Bob Ramdhanie, Patsy Ricketts, Sigourney Robinson, David Rousseve, Lati Saki, Alicia Smith, Arsene de Souza, Allison Ray, Ritchie Riley, Val Thompson, Chantel Weaver

 (Please contact us to improve and add to this list)

Our extensive library of photos of the African-Caribbean programme is currently being tagged for identification and will be launched on this on-line archive with accompanying documentation and texts over the coming months and years.  The resulting archive will provide a major resource for students, scholars, practitioners, and everyone interested in the subject.

Not that African-Caribbean dance and associated African-Caribbean arts featured in the cultural programme as stand-alone artforms.  Performances, Festivals, and conferences also celebrated and explored Indian dance, classical ballet, and contemporary dance alongside African-Caribbean dance  -  with dancers Mallika Sarabhai, Surya Kumari, Sui Kan Chiang,  Janice Murphy, Frank McConnell and Mira Balchandran-Gokul among others contributing to these celebrations and explorations.

Since 2008 our dance programme has been augmented with circus, under the umbrella of a Kinetic Theatre Programme embracing culturally diverse dance, ground-based and aerial circus, physical theatre, and mime.  We are welcoming circus artists from around the world.  Visiting circus groups have included performers from the Barefoot Acrobats school in Zambia.

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