Black dance of Washington, D.C. originated in the 1930’s. With many African-Americans living their lives as service men and women, factory workers, maids, and laborers, the arts were “out of reach” for most; a privilege for the educated and social elite. Image: Scurlock Photography Studios. Mrs. Bernice Hammond’s Dancing Class (1938), Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History)
During the 1930’s of Washington, D.C., U Street’s “Black Broadway” was in full effect. Dancer-celebrities like Pearl Primus graced the stages of U street’s theatre house corridor. Additionally, dance clubs are created on Howard University’s campus, which exposes students to modern dance. Image: unnamed dancers, c. 1930s. Scurlock Studio / Archives Center. Smithsonian Institution.
Bernice Hammond: Howard U Alumnae & Pioneer
The Northeast Academy of Dance (NAD) founded in 1934, became a mainstay for dancing Black youth and adults close to the H Street corridor. H Street was a busy African-American community main street of that time in the northeast corridor, while U Street was a prominent entertainment and social main street for African Americans in the northwest corridor. Mrs. Hammond learned classical ballet in the back room of a local dry cleaner; learning from the same Russian teacher as Washington Ballet’s Founder Mary Day. Hammond created NAD’s dance ensemble, Africana Americano, which performed throughout D.C.  “Washington, DC Dance Pioneer:..Read More
The First D.C. Dance Business Was Black
Northeast Academy of Dance is the first dance entity to be registered as a business in Washington, DC; founded by Howard University’ alumnae Bernice Hammond. Image: NAD on H Street NE / InfoUSA
The Jones & Haywood School of Ballet (Now the Jones and Haywood School of Dance) was founded in 1941, under the direction of Doris Jones and Claire Haywood, and eventually gained larger historical prominence in concert dance by becoming a ‘dance-feeder institution’ for Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Image: Jones and Haywood students in pose.  Jones Haywood Dance School. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. http://www.joneshaywood.com/index.htm>.
In 1961, the Capital Ballet was created which later became the first Black ballet company of Washington, D.C. The first attempt to establish the company in earlier years was unsuccessful. With the death of Claire Haywood, Doris Jones contacted American Ballet Theatre’s first Black principal male dancer, Keith Lee (who was performing at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts in DC) to be a guest teacher at the school. Image: Courtesy of JHSD Website/ Doris Jones and Claire Haywood. Eventually, Jones asked Lee to revive the company and become its new artistic director. He accepted and gathered 15 dancers in..Read More
The DC Black Repertory Dance Company (DCBRDC), under the direction of Louis Johnson and Mike Malone, had an impressive ensemble of dance professionals that would soon make their mark locally and internationally. Notable dancers of DC Black Repertory Dance Company were Kiki Sheppard (Apollo Theatre in Harlem, N.Y.), and Charles Auggins (Duke Ellington High School Dance Chair/DCBRDC ballet master, who directed and choreographed in London, England for over 20 years. The company exisited from 1968 to 1977. Many DCBRDC dancers traveled abroad – making outside of the United States their home; others toured and returned back to the United States...Read More
Louis Johnson, Co-Founder of The DC Repertory Dance Company. Louis Johnson moved to New York City to launch his own dance company the Louis Johnson Dance Company and choreographed the film adaptation of The Wizard of OZ entitled The Wiz with Quincy Jones.
Mike Malone, Co-Founder of The DC Repertory Dance Company. Malone went on to co-found and develop Washington, D.C.’s first high school of the performing arts, Duke Ellington High School of the Performing Arts in 1974
The 1970s brought chants of “Black Love”, and a greater understanding and appreciation for Africa and African culture. Image: The Late Andrew Cacho (Husband of Bonito Cacho) of Andrew Cacho Drummers and Dancers “African dance influenced a greater sense in our blackness and who we were. We Danced Baby!” Tyrone Murray, the Founder of Rafiki Dance Theatre.  “Dancing in The Dark: Black Concert Dance in Washington, D.C.; Tyrone Murray.” Personal interview. Feb.-Mar. 2010. Other African dance based companies (Circa 1970): Rafiki Dance Theatre under Tyrone Murray, Cacho Dance Theatre(1973) and Wose Dance Theatre (1974).
Washington, D.C. native Baba Melvin Deal, the founder of the Heritage Drummers & Dancers, is one African dance pioneer who brought a mass appreciation of African dance and culture to southeast and northeast DC. A Howard University alumnus, Deal began his dance career at the Northeast Academy of Dance in 1959. Melvin, devoted his time and talents to the positive development of youth in the community. He founded the former African Heritage Center in 1973 (Housed on Minnesota Ave/Now Park 7 Apartments). His company Heritage Drummers & Dances trained many city youth and adults through their classes and provides them..Read More
Rising from the ashes. In the 1980s, many talented African-American dancers in Washington, D.C., were lost to the onslaught of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Still, there were artists who made their marks in their respective genres of dance.
The late Baba Diali Djimo Kouyate and his wife Akua Kouyate created their African organization Memory of African Culture in 1983. Baba Djimo and Akua wanted to give the Black community a taste of African culture through song, movement, art, clothes, language, and food. They wanted to provide the whole experience.  Memory of African Culture INC DC. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://www.memoryofafricanculture.org/>.
KanKouran was formed in 1983, in Washington, DC, by Artistic Director Assane Konte and former Director of Music, Abdou Kounta, who grew up together in Dakar, Senegal. Kankouran has placed Washington, D.C., on the map through its energized performances and its founding and hosting of the annual West African Dance Conference that is held every fall in Washington, D.C. For over three decades, KanKouran West African Dance Company has been a force in the DC Dance community and across the United States. By providing classes in African dance and drumming to students of all ages, the company shares the history and culture of West Africa...Read More
Founded in 1982 under the directorship of Japanese-American Miya Hisaka, DC Contemporary Dance Theatre was Washington, D.C.’s first multicultural dance company selected as cultural ambassadors by United States Information Service to represent the United States for a world tour for a decade. DCDT started with a group of dancers from New York City, Philadelphia, and Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; notable artists include Tyrone Murray, Dewayne Murray, Vincent Williams, Lucy Bowen McCauley, Kevin Iega Jeff, Gene Sagon, Adrian Bolton, Elena Anderson, Lloyd Whitmore, and Kathy Smith. The company conducted performances at the Kennedy Center of the..Read More
Tap emerges for the shadows. In the late 1980s, the resurgence of tap arrived with Toni Lombre’s Tap’s & Company (1989 – 2008). Lombre’s students, Chloe and Maud, further their artistry and become nationally rank tap dancers; founders of the DC Tap Festival. Image courtesy of DC Tap Festival.  Lombre, Toni. “Black Dance of Washington, DC.” Telephone interview. Spring 2010.
Other dance companies (circa 1980): Jason Taylor Dance Theatre, Universal Experience, Cole Harrison Dancers and the Laverne Reed Dancers, Uhara Sasa Company, Ebony Impromptu, “Ajax” Joe Drayton (Co-Founder of Joe’s Movement Emporium), and interracial duo Karen & Alvin. Image: Alvin Mayes and Karen Bernstein/Facebook
In the 1990s, dance spaces built in the 1970s gave life to more Black artists: Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in 1976, DC Wheel Productions, INC./Dance Place in 1978 (Carla Perlo & Deborah Riley), and Joy of Motion dance studio in 1976 (founded by Michelle Ava); all established by non-African-Americans. These spaces launched new Black dance artists into DC’s dance scene.
Dr. Johnson was a choreographer, performer and artistic director for Images of Cultural Artistry Inc., In The Spirit of…Performance Company. With extensive study at the Katherine Dunham Institute, East St. Louis Missouri and under the tutelage of Katherine Dunham and Pearl Reynolds peace and blessings be upon their souls, since 1982 she was given permission to perform works of Katherine Dunham as well as her choreography including the Katherine Dunham technique, ballet, modern dance forms, traditional dance of West Africa, the Caribbean and America. Dr. Sherrill Berryman Johnson who was the Founder/Artistic Director of the first HBCU B.F.A. Dance Program at Howard University in..Read More
Founding Director of the Katherine Smith Contemporary Dance Ensemble. Katherine Smith danced professionally with Dayton Contemporary Company, Forces of Nature, Gallman’s Newark, New World and others, and toured nationally and internationally in George Faison’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf; Debbie Allen’s Soul Possessed, and Mike Malone’s Black Nativity, Spirit, and Purlie Bessie’s Blues. She has also performed in works by Donald McKayle, Ulysses Dove and Faye Snow, and been honored by the International Association of Blacks in Dance, of which she is a Board member. Smith formerly served as artistic co-director of the Adrian Bolton & Katherine..Read More
A genius choreographer and passionate teacher, Adrain Bolton is the former Founding Director of Adrian Bolton Dance Company and Co-Director of Bolton/Smith Dance Center. An alumnus of the Duke Ellington High School for the Arts, Bolton choreographed vivid and entertaining dance works throughout the Washington, D.C. area since the 1990’s. He, like his longtime dance partner Katherine Smith, has touched the lives of many young Black students and professionals alike. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Image: Joe Movement Emporium
Step Afrika, founded in 1994 by Brian Williams, is the first professional company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping. Based in Washington, D.C., the company serves as a cultural ambassador for the United States, representing the nation at events around the world through special invitations from American embassies. Step Afrika tours 5o cities annually during its American colleges and universities tour. The company is critically acclaimed for its efforts to promote an understanding of and appreciation for stepping and dance tradition’s use as an educational tool for young people worldwide. Image: C. Brian Williams, founder and executive..Read More
A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, Helanius J. Wilkins arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1995. Wilkins soon created a mixed raced dance company called Dimensions Dance Company that he dissolved in 2000. Two years later, Helanius created his present company Edgeworks that has performed nationally and internationally. Image: Men of Edgeworks (L to R) Unknown, Reggie Glass, Boris Willis, Helanius J. Wilkins, Reggie Cole)/Edgeworks Dance Theater Wilkins had a vision for sharing his appreciation of dance as a form of expression for men, to bring an eclectic group of artists to work together on common ground to explore identity and masculinity...Read More
Coyaba Dance Theater, founded in 1997 by Cincinnati native Sylvia Soumah. Sylvia arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1986 to focus her skills in modern dance under Carlo Perlo of (Carla & Company) where she was exposed to many choreographers, Lesa McLaughlin, Nancy Havlik, Debra Riley, and African American postmodern choreographer Alvin Mayes. In 1992, Sylvia began her extensive study of West African dance under the tutelage of Aidoo Holmes, Founder/Artistic Director of Wose Dance Theatre. Every two years Ms. Soumah hosts a two- week cultural dance and drum study tour to Dakar, Senegal, adding to the trans-continental sharing of culture..Read More
Dubbed, “a 21st Century Renaissance Man” by The Washington Post, Powell is a choreographer, composer, painter, sculptor, photographer, filmmaker, graphic designer, and writer. He is a 1995 graduate of The Juilliard School and directed his own dance company, Tony Powell/Music & Movement, for 10 years (1997-2007). Pulitzer Prize-winning, Washington Post, dance critic Alan Kriegsman proclaimed that Powell is, “a master of more artistic trades than one can shake a stick at…a fresh, brilliant, idealistic artist in our midst!” A native Washingtonian, he has won numerous awards from the Maryland State Arts Council for his choreography, and his 4th String Quartet received the first-ever Metro DC Dance Award for Original Music. He has written three scores for the Internationally-renowned Parsons..Read More
Adding to the richness of modern dance, Gesel Mason comes to Washington, D.C. With her co-founder Cheles Rhynes, Mason incorporates Mason/Rhynes Productions (MRP) in 1998. The mission is to provide quality performing arts workshops, residencies, projects, and performances designed to challenge, enlighten and entertain diverse populations.MRP has assisted many minority dance artists in their development. MRP becomes the catalyst for presenting Gesel’s dance works that range from comedic, Black narrative examination to feminists. Image: Mason performing Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s “Bent”/ Amitava Sarkar/Gesel Mason Performance Projects  “About Us.” Mason/Rhynes Productions. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.mason-rhynes.org/aboutus.php>.
Debra Floyd arrived in Washington, DC in the mid 1990’s. Her choreography has been presented at numerous venues to include Jack Guidone Theater, Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center, F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater, and Joe’s Movement Emporium. Trained in American Sign Language, Debra has often incorporated this communication form into her choreography. In 2000, she founded Floyd Project Dance Company, thereby continuing her mission to use dance as a vehicle for supporting women. The company of diverse women emerged onto the DC dance community, striving to build positive images, raise audience awareness of broad issues..Read More
The provided DC Black dance research focuses on the history of Black and Black-Managed dance companies, respectfully. However, many of these 20th-century institutions fed dancers into these adult companies. These institutions include Therrell C. Smith School of Dance (1948), Davis Center (1969), Kelsey E. Collie Children’s Theatre Experience (1973), Northeast Performing Arts Group (1979), DC Youth Ensemble (1983), Dance Institute of Washington (1987), Showbiz (Creative Dance Center (1989)), New School of Dance (Circa 1980), Knock On Wood Tap Studio (1994), and the Bolton/Smith School (2003). Image: The Ngoma School/Shawn Short
Contemporary dance emerges, and dance fusion of techniques became the norm in Washington, D.C. in the early 2000’s.; artists launch their own journeys into new directorship: Lesole’s Dance Project, Reflections Dance Company, Urban Artistry, Life, Rhythm, Move Project, Farafina Kan, and Dissonance Dance Theatre claim their place in the concert dance legacy. Young directors with diverse styles of interests.
Under the direction of Kadiatou Conte, the mission of Balafon West African Dance Ensemble is to provide an insightful, woman-centered perspective on West African tradition and culture as a source of healing and balance by providing quality education and entertainment to audiences of all nationalities and walks of life; founded in 2001 as a non-profit organization. Source: http://www.angelfire.com/on/balafon/html/kadiatou/index.html
Lesole’s Dance Project was founded by Lesole Z. Maine in 2003. Maine a native of Sebokeng, South Africa, a small township just outside of Johannesburg, moved to the United States in 2002. Lesole like many quickly started participating in performing arts projects. He created the Lesole’s Dance Project (LDP) in 2003. The company creates and performs works that highlight the unique qualities of contemporary modern and Afro-fusion dance and provides educational residency programs on the movement and history of popular traditional South African dances such as Gumboots, Indlamu and Panstula.  “About Us.” Lesole’s Dance Project. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.lesolesdanceproject.com/about.html>.
As the Founding Director of Dance Institute of Washington, Fabian Barnes developed Reflections Dance Company in 2003. Barnes wanted to provide a professional dance company to inspire his students; providing the opportunity to dance professionally in Washington, DC. Reflections performed the works of many notable minority choreographers, toured internationally, performed at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts, Jacob’s Pillow and the Theatre at Riverside Church in New York City. The company closed in 2009. Image: Fabian Barnes/Dance Institute of Washington  “About DIW.” Dance Institute of Washington. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.danceinstitute.org/about-diw.html>.
The emergence of a hip hop voice unfolds with Urban Artistry. Founded by Executive Director Junious “House” Brickhouse in 2005, Urban Artistry’s core group consists of an international collective of artists, dancers, orators, designers, vocalist, musicians, photographers, and educators, who remain focused on the authentic and complete representation of urban dance genres. These styles include (but are not limited to): b-boying/ b-girling, Popping, Locking, Hip-Hop, House dance, Waaking and Vogue. Image: Urban Artistry website  “About US.” Urban Artistry. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://urbanartistry.org/>.
A woman from St. Louis, MO named Aysha Upchurch. Aysha moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue her educational pursuits in international studies, international peace and conflict resolution at American University. Prior to American University, she studied with Hip-Hop and tap legends: Buster Brown, Diane Walker, Rennie Harris, and Mr. Wiggles. Upchurch locally performed with Joy of Motion’s JAM Crew and DC Artistry before founding Life, Rhythm, Move Project (LRMP) in 2006 to reflect her experience as a writer, educator and children’s rights advocate. LRMP uses a mixture of various dance forms, including hip hop, tap and spoken word to fuse..Read More
Dancers are welcome regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, or religion. Founded in 2003 by Steven “Kahos” Wilson, the OASIS Dance Collective is a nonprofit located in the national capital region of Washington, DC, and Norwich, CT, committed to making dance a meaningful experience for all. OASIS combines all forms of dance to create an eclectic performance that captivates and rouses the senses of the audience. The collective participates in diverse performances, including local and national parades, talent competitions, television appearances, music videos, tours, and pep rallies. The dance collective’s success reflects the commitment and enthusiasm of..Read More
Reared from the traditions of African dance & drum elders of Memory of African Culture, KanKouran Dance Company, Sankofa Dance Theatre, Dono Drum and Dance Ensemble, Maimouna Keita West African Dance Company, and Wose Dance Theatre, the performers of Farafina Kan are born. Literally translates to Sound of Africa, Farafina Kan, which literally translates to “sound of Africa”, was founded in 2006 and is dedicated to maintaining the history and integrity of traditional African drumming and dancing. “We are eternally grateful to our parents for having the foresight to search for the traditions of our ancestors and the many elders..Read More
A young Black dancer during the decline of Washington, DC’s Black dance golden age (1932 – 2000), Shawn Short represents one of the last African-American dance artists to study with notable Director Mr. Mike Malone (Fame – TV Show; Founding Director of Howard University’s Musical Theatre Dept), and legendary D.C. dancers: Tyrone Murray, Assane Konte, Adrian Bolton, Katherine Smith, Sandra Fortune-Green, Adrian Vincent James, Fabian Barnes, and Miya Hisaka. Increasing D.C. dancer access to pursue contemporary ballet performance and artist development, Short founded Dissonance Dance Theatre (DDT) in 2007. Initially a laboratory for Short’s choreographic progress, Dissonance Dance Theatre has..Read More
Gentrification and new idealisms change the facade and feel of Washington, DC. Traditional D.C. Black dance companies begin to ebb and are replaced with multi-cultural creativity with Black artistic directors.
Founded in 2015 by Da’Shown Rawl, RawArts Dance Company is a contemporary dance company based in the Washington D.C metro area. Its mission is to push dancers in a direction of nonstop growth and creativity; focusing on assisting dancers to step out of their comfort zones and find the source of their imagination. Source: https://rawartsdance.wordpress.com/about/