Sidesplitting laughter reverberates on the wooden floorboards of Room 222 in Pearson Hall. Young women in athletic attire scatter the spacious room, stretching.
These women form the Uzuri Dance Company, an organization at Temple founded to empower young women of color through the art of dance.
“Dance is a form of expression, and for many of us it’s very personal,” said Daniella Brown, founder of the Uzuri Dance Company and a senior sociology major.
The term Uzuri is a popular Swahili name meaning beauty. Brown said she created Uzuri as a response to many people’s false conceptions of an ideal dancer, and the main focus of the company is on technical dance training and emboldening young women.
“Uzuri represents a resilient, beautiful woman of color,” Brown said. “We created Uzuri for that purpose: to encourage and empower.”
The group is currently the only contemporary dance company on campus.
When Uzuri began in Fall 2013, the initial roster consisted of nine dancers. It has since grown to approximately 22 dancers, including the original nine.
“Uzuri embraces the fact that we’re all different, and we all have different shapes and sizes – short, tall – and we all have different things to bring to the table,” said Raven Emanuel, captain of the Uzuri Dance Company and a sophomore dance major. “We’re unique. Each and every individual is unique and that just makes it even more amazing.”
Emanuel teaches the other dancers short routines she choreographs and she works a piece of her own personality into each movement. She said she still encourages each dancer to make certain moves on their own to keep originality and self-expression.
“While dancing with my sisters in Uzuri, we all have different styles and different things that we come up with,” Emanuel said. “I feel like, in that type of way, we all empower and support each other on our strengths.”
Bria Coaxum, manager of the company and a junior bioengineering major, said there is a place for everyone in Uzuri. Although she did not receive a spot as a dancer, her increased involvement earned her the title of manager.
From her position, Coaxum is able to provide an outside perspective different than a dancer. “[Uzuri] is a diverse group who is allowing women to branch out,” Coaxum said.
“[Dancers] are given such a certain look, and I want us to be able to get out of that box,” Kalayah Curry, captain of the Uzuri Dance Company and a sophomore dance major, said. “A lot of people envision the dancer as one color, a certain body type. For us, no matter what you look like, you can do [dance].”
Brown said the basis for creating a relaxed dance atmosphere stemmed from personal conflicts.
“As an African-American dancer, growing up I was always a little curvier than most, hair a little different, dressed a little differently,” Brown said. “When you do not have that comfort in your dance home, it gets hard for you to really build and expand.”
“What makes us different is our sisterhood,” Curry said. “A lot of people have compared us to a sorority. We click automatically and we do whatever we can for each other.”
Uzuri connects to the North Philadelphia community by volunteering at the Providence Center. The members teach dance to children in grade levels ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.
The expansion of Uzuri over a year’s time exceeded the Brown’s anticipations. “It kind of just went above my expectations,” she said. “I did not expect it to be this big in such a small period of time.”
While the rapid growth of Uzuri is surprising to her, Brown said she plans to continue expansion through civic work and the company’s Spring Showcase.
“Although [dance] may not give anything back, other than fleeting moments on stage or in the studio, it’s all I need,” Curry said.
“This is who I am,” Brown said. “This is who we are.”
Allison Merchant email@example.com