I am so grateful I could host my 1st Annual Yauri Dalencour Dance Black History Month Celebration and Benefit which was an absolute blast. Through the event, I was able to …connect with many people and speak about the history, mission and vision for Yauri Dalencour Dance as well as the past and successful efforts of its educational outreach EthnodanceologyCreative™. The evening was full of dance, dialogue, dining, and let’s not forget the wine.
To kick off my presentation, I showed a short film on Katherine Dunham and Zora Neal Hurston as segue into sharing my vision and the work I have been doing since I came to NYC to pursue a career in dance connecting Ms. Dunham and Ms.Hurston’s early and trailblazing efforts to what I am doing now – my theories and philosophies in culture, education, and especially dance.
I had the honor of working with Katherine Dunham as an archivist while I was in grad school at NYU in 2005 and it was an experience of a lifetime. The conversations and small moments – when I stumbled upon an article or a video while with her in her Upper West Side apartment I visited once a week; the day she told me that I should teach Dunham Technique which she founded in the early 1930s following her ethnographic work in Haiti, Cuba, Martinique, and other places in the Caribbean; the day she graced me with an interview; to the moment she told me to “be patient this dance will come back” are timeless moments I can never forget.
However, memories that I do not share enough.
The work I have done through earning my BFA in Dance, Master of Arts in Dance and Dance Education from NYU and beginning my PhD work in Dance in 2005 not only stands on what Dunham’s foundational contributions are as well as others of her time, but my work has evolved into something bigger than I had imagined. Big enough that I would be doing a disservice to my community, friends, and family not to share enough of. The influences of not just Katherine Dunham but others like Carmen De Lavallade in particular go beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I worked on a short documentary on Ms. De Lavallade through my work as founding board member of Camille A. Brown and Dancers Dance Company. Before that however, I met Ms. De Lavallade while a young dance student at the Alvin Ailey American Dance School where I received my formal dance training. I will never forget it. I attended the 45th Anniversary of he Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and among many I met, Ms. De Lavallade took out a piece of paper and she wrote her phone number down offering to help me with anything I needed. It is a 2002 experience I am still in awe over. She was so gracious and extended her hand with such delight. Ms. De Lavallade was born in 1931 and at nearly 82 years old is still dancing. Still performing. Still sharing her gift. When one looks at her career over her life span as I had the opportunity to do when doing this documentary -her 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and now 80s … are a testament to anyone to live a life of creativity, movement, consciousness, and care. The importance of finding ones gift and tapping into it as it transforms us to be a blessing and inspiration to someone else.
I still have the fun memories of archiving and being education coordinator for Bill T. Jones‘ non-profit organization, Foundation for Dance Promotion, now Live Arts, after merging with Dance Theatre Workshop. I can most easily recall the very first day I heard him speak to me: “Hello”. His powerful and dignifying voice and gesture rolled out of his mouth and filled the hallway flowing from this dance virtuoso. One word. One second; yet memorable.
The day I met Judith Jamison when she told me “I know who you are” after I introduced myself, was a response I had not anticipated. I was far from, like all of the students, to her just another dancer in the great halls of the “Ailey School”. None of us were “just another dancer”. It was such an amazing feeling. When Ms. Jamison would walked through the halls at the former Ailey School located on 61st and Amsterdam, we would – us young naive and dreamy dancers – freeze. Get quiet and tense up. Ms. Jamison did not like that. She wanted to talk with us, engage with us, know us… but we were all so in awe of this amazing legend in a space we were honored to be a part of. The shock of course could not have been greater to hear or better to know, that my dance that I was exploring and settling into my bones as a young professional was in the presence of others dancers like me… and further, in the presence of Ms. Jamison. None of this was just a figment of my imagination – a dream too far fetched to be anything true. It was real.
The late and great Dennis Jefferson who signed me up for her 9am Graham Technique class (M/W/F) asked me at my Ailey audition in January 2001 if I was “sure I did not want to audition for the certificate program rather than the independent studies program”. I hesitated with my response as my prowess for movement and dance was right at my fingertips. At that very moment, she copied my number down on a piece of paper from my wrinkled audition tag hanging by a safety pin stuck on my sweaty leotard. Her subtle encouragement was obvious but my decline after the second time she asked was an answer I remember to this day. I was a sophomore in college at the time and I had only decided to take a year away to pursue the independent studies program in the professional division but I was being asked to be more here at Ailey than what I thought I could commit to in addition to the pursuit of finishing my degree. It is a decision I still ponder over… how would my life have been different. I was on the path to finishing my degree although I wanted to dance… I constantly strive and have always strived to balance the two (academia and movement) but I think its something that can exist in a world to together – in one mind, heart, and body.
Meeting Renee Robinson for the first time to working with Dudley Williams studying Graham Technique with him while a student at the Ailey school swim in the ocean of my fondest sensations of realizing my dance, this dream was real. Perhaps these sensations manifest deeper in my soul and these legends sucked me in like a piece of metal. These legends like magnets because of my search for dreamers who dream and never give up pulled me to them. It can be a thought right? Meeting Harry Belafonte while a bar maid at the Apollo Theatre, attending a George C. Wolf’s off Broadway show and after party after a night serving at the Apollo and meeting so many others at the event like Carmen Dellavallad’s husband Geoffrey Holder are all, all those meaningful memories I rarely share about.
I would only find myself a few years later meeting Harry Belafonte’s wife Julie Belefonte at Ms. Dunhum’s house. Julie would come over to spend time with Ms. Dunham and it was a ritual I found to be of women connecting and supporting one another – passing wisdom and cherishing time.
All these pieces of my dreams coming to life that can. When you just keep dreaming. Inspirational moments of such greats who show me to share my passion and no matter what, that one’s voice is strong enough to move mountains if you will have one.
This all brings me back to my event.
I wanted to bring forth not only my vision for my work but my perspective of culture and how we process it, experience it and how we can use both the arts as well as education to tap into it and better understand it.By those efforts, at my event, I honored Camille A. Brown with an award for her “Contributions to Contemporary Dance” and being the “First Recipient of an Archived Collection in the Yauri Dalencour Dance Archives” which are underway. I also shared details about my current projects, my recent story about my heart and my 35mm heart implant – these holes I have had since birth that went undetected throughout my entire life and had to be sealed by my badge of honor, of triumph, and grace and my life truly a testimony I hope to inspire others with. That song titanium? The movie Ironman… that is how I see myself now and through my efforts I am demonstrating that one can keep pushing and following their dreams in spite of whatever may come one’s way … as the show must go on!
In closing of my event, I shared a dance summarizing what I came to NYC to do without words – just movement and gesture. My accompaniment – vocalist, pianist, and percussionist belted and played furiously giving me a soundtrack of my lifetime! My formal training (and hard work) at the Alvin Ailey American Dance School really paid off ;) and I was honored to share both my theory and practice with many of you that night and to stress that we make our own choices, our own generation, we support what we want and we make our own history… for our legacy, for our community, our society and for our children, the future of tomorrow.
Ms. Dunham was in her mid 90s when she passed on but not long before that, she showed me the evidence and power of remembering those you connect with along your journey as you will cross paths again more than likely. The notion of six-degrees and small circles are nuggets to live by. With my continued efforts despite many obstacles, I would have never learned these special things about life or get to see them play out from many things my parents taught me as a young girl. My interview with Danni Gee (former principal dancer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) for my documentary through one of Camille A. Brown’s fundraising events among so many other experiences, meeting legends to me, legends to many, these greats have not only given me the fuel and the fire to be okay with my desire to push the envelope, seek out ways to contribute to the community, inspire others but while doing so be true to myself. I have learned without knowing I was learning that we are what we make our journey, we make our history, and we live our generation by supporting, enduring, cherishing, creating, and loving what we are and shaping our world into what we want it to be.
For those who could not make it, I missed you but if you would still like to donate you can click the link below.
Last but not least, my gallery is up, revealing a snippet of the 1st Annual Yauri Dalencour Dance Black History Month Celebration and Benefit giving you a taste of the evening. If you missed this one, we look forward to seeing you next year as well seeing you at upcoming events you will find listed below. Check my site shortly at http://www.ethnogroundzero.com to see footage from this magical evening, and take a moment to comment to this post and give me some of your thoughts on
using your legendary voice and what you think about this notion.
I look forward to sharing more of my work with you and my dance for years to come! Thank you again for your support!
All the best & artistically yours,
~ Yauri (the dancer) Dalencour