In 1988, The International Association of Blacks in Dance held its first conference, prompting the founding of its organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
IABD held subsequent conferences across different cities in the United States. This year, for the conference’s 32nd edition, they “are back home,” Denise Saunders Thompson, president and CEO of the organization, said.
This year’s festival, “Then Now Next,” ran from Jan. 14 to Jan. 17 at the Merriam Theater off South Broad street and Bach. It was held in partnership with The Philadelphia Dance Company and featured more than 40 established and emerging black dance companies from across the nation.
“It’s wonderful because it’s an opportunity to showcase choreographic work from your repertoire, but it’s also an opportunity to showcase work that really represents and speaks to the essence and the core of the artistic nature and the artistic mission of the company,” said Sheila Ward, a 1992 exercise physiology alumna and co-director of Eleone Dance Theatre, who performed on Jan. 17.
Kristen Adams, a senior dance major, and Dara J. Meredith, a 2015 MFA alumna, are also part of Eleone Dance Theatre. They performed in a piece called “Unveiled,” which provided an in-depth analysis of mental health.
“It takes a really close look at mental states as well as mental health in society and how people are able to maneuver, how they are able to seek out an existence and continue to make it through,” Ward said. “It highlights the need for caring, the need for society to make sure that everyone is being taken care of”.
Other festival performances of the night included a contemporary dance that was choreographed by dance professor Kun-Yang Lin and performed by Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, a Denver based dance company.
The festival and conference also included dance classes, panel sessions and mock auditions for attendees throughout the week. It closed with a performance on Saturday that featured established companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Urban Bush Women, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and PHILADANCO.
“We are going to be awarding some really fabulous people from the black dance sectors who have, I think, had major accomplishments in the field for many, many years,” Thompson said. “We’re going back in time and really recognizing the people who have been significant in the development of this organization”.
The awardees included Ronne Arnold, Marian Godfrey, Kavin T. Grant, Derrick Minter, and Dr. Glory Van Scott. They were honored for their accomplishments that have advanced dance, enhanced its cultural legacy and inspired others to do the same.
“Experiencing the connections, the ‘a-ha moments’, the incredible dancing that occurs throughout the week, the sharing of information and knowledge,” Thompson said. “All of that, that’s really the biggest thing that brings me great joy”.