Author: Nadine George-Graves (Northwestern University)
Keywords: hip hop dance, streetdance, social justice, activism, Black dance, Los Angeles, lineage, global, memory, race, hyperlink
How to Cite: George-Graves, N. (2022) “Liner Notes: Street Dance Activism & Black Liberation - Spatial Affirmation”, Conversations Across the Field of Dance Studies. 41(0). doi: https://doi.org/10.3998/conversations.2355
Our obsession with locations of embodied knowledge and influence is an important topic in the conversation between Shamell Bell and d. Sabela Grimes. They interrogate hegemonic tools of institutional legitimacy and challenge sites of affirmation by centering on street dance activism and Black liberation. They ask, “Who am I in the street? Who am I in the institution?” “How do we affirm ourselves in the streets?” I come away from this conversation reminded that rejecting the identity crisis the academy wants us to have is a daily practice of decolonizing our minds.
I am reminded that the academy is just the white hood. Likewise is the studio. The creative and intellectual gatekeepers in these spaces make up the rules of engagement, just as much as we do in a cypher. (They just pay themselves more.)
This conversation honors people who dismantle institutions. Kariamu Welsh, Tommy the Clown, Sonia Sanchez, Shamell Bell, and others create spaces for people to show up and put their bodies on the line. They invite us into spaces where we are not “supposed” to be and insist on the importance of spaces too easily dismissed. Terms, labels, and structures come and go. And they usually don’t work in our favor anyway, so we just keep doing the work. While it is important to resist labels that institutions try to place on us, we should also be proud of our accomplishments. All four people involved in this conversation have or will soon have terminal degrees. But I’m confident they will not let academic institutions kill them. My words here are just part of the conversation—another hyperlink. They are the “they” that say. They will continue to affirm our right to define ourselves, locate meaning, and produce knowledge on our own terms. We see each other, no matter our experiences. Black people see each other. I see them seeing each other, and me. We know there is transformational Black magic in all our corrugated dance spaces—as long as we keep it moving.
Nadine George-Graves is the Naomi Willie Pollard Professor at Northwestern University, where she chairs the Performance Studies Department and has a joint appointment in the Theatre Department. She also serves as Executive Co-editor of Dance Research Journal. Her work is situated at the intersections of African American studies, critical gender studies, performance studies, theatre history, and dance history. She is the author of The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville: The Whitman Sisters and the Negotiation of Race, Gender, and Class in African American Theater, 1900–1940 and Urban Bush Women: Twenty Years of Dance Theater, Community Engagement and Working It Out, as well as of numerous articles on African American performance. She is the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theater. She is a past president of the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) and former chair of the Department of Dance at the Ohio State University (OSU) and the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). George-Graves is also an artist, and her creative work is part and parcel of her research. She is an adapter, director, and dance theatre maker.