OMAHA PERFORMING ARTS

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Q&A with Joan Myers Brown the founder of PHILADANCO!

Posted On Apr 14, 2021, 22:41 PM by Dara Hogan
Joan Myers Brown

Ms. Brown is a true legacy and pioneer in the dance industry. Her contributions have motivated and inspired generations of students, dancers, choreographers, directors, historians and educators in all of the allied performing arts. In 1970, she started The Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO!) to create opportunities for Black dancers. PHILADANCO! uses the language of dance to explore Black history, social justice and civil rights. When the company hit its half-century mark in 2020, Brown passed the torch as the artistic director but she still advises the company.

Her commitment and work continue through other programs she founded, like the International Conference of Black Dance Companies in 1988. "IABD preserves and promotes dance by people of African ancestry or origin, and assists and increases opportunities for artists in advocacy, audience development, education, funding, networking, performance, philosophical dialogue, and touring." Brown's accomplishments and challenges in the industry are also captured in her memoir, "The Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina."

We'll get to hear more about Brown's experiences and work on April 28, when she joins us for a Voices AMPLIFIED! panel discussion about the Black voice in dance. Other panelists include artistic director Kim Bears-Bailey, company member Jameel Malik Hendricks, and Omaha native and director/choreographer Ray Mercer. The panelists will discuss the influence of dance in social justice and the arts, as well as fighting Black stereotypes in dance as an art form and as an artist. Omaha dance educator Aaron Derell will moderate the event.

We caught up with Ms. Brown for a short Q&A before the live online discussion. Here's what she had to say.

Q: How did you get your start in the dance industry? 
A: My gym teacher, a former American ballerina, encouraged me to join her ballet club in high school. During the time of segregation, I couldn't find a ballet school that took Black youngsters. One of the other girls taught me whatever she learned, and then I got "the bug" for dance and never stopped.

Q: What inspired PHILADANCO? What challenges has PHILADANCO! faced?
A: I started PHILADANCO! to provide opportunities for Black dancers, mainly those I had taught. The challenges continue, although there are lots of "DEI" discussions (i.e., funding, touring, employment, etc.) It is still mainly conversation and once the programs are no longer funded, it will be back to business as usual.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring dancers looking to work in the industry? 
A: Get the best training possible, then you can compete when or as the trends change and different opportunities arise.

Q: You've had various accolades, but what would you say has been your greatest accomplishment over the years? 
A: Receiving The National Medal of Art from former President Obama. Secondly, keeping PHILADANCO! alive for 51 years and my schools for 61 years. Also, I have received three Honorary Doctorates.

Curious to learn more? Join us on Wednesday, April 28 at 5:30 PM on O-pa's Facebook or YouTube Channel. The links to watch the discussion will be available one week in advance.