Updated: Jun 12
Welcome to another More Than Movement Dance Education spotlight! These spotlights are dedicated to sharing the history and culture of various Black dance forms. We specifically aim to spotlight dance forms that are historically appropriated and set the record straight about where so many of these beautiful dance forms originated!
Have a dance form you would like to see spotlighted next? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Happy Pride Month from Rae Studios!
In honor of Pride Month, we are honoring some of the LGBTQ+ trailblazers of various dance forms, from Voguing to Modern Dance! Read more about these artists below, get inspired by their movement, and visit our Resources Page to learn more about the artists.
Willi Ninja (1961 - 2006)
“Ninjas hit hard, they hit fast, an invisible assassin, and that’s what we are. We come out to assassinate.”
Willi Ninja, Paris is Burning (1990)
Willi Ninja, the “Grandfather of Vogue,” helped bring voguing from the 1980s Harlem Drag Ball scene to popular media and the world. Ninja is the founder and first “mother” of the House of Ninja. Ninja helped create and shape voguing, using exaggerated model poses and intricate, mime-like choreography. The award-winning documentary Paris is Burning brought Ninja to fame as an artist, runway model, and modeling coach.
Vogue has three distinct styles - Old Way (1970s - 1980s), New Way (early 1990), and Vogue Fem. Vogue Fem consists of the following elements: catwalk, hand performance, spins and dips, duckwalks, and floor performance. Ninja described voguing as a way of throwing shade “because it was a dance that two people did because they didn’t like each other. Instead of fighting, you would dance it out on the dance floor and whoever did the better moves was throwing the best shade.” (Ninja, 1990).
Today, the House of Ninja continues to keep voguing alive and raise HIV/AIDS awareness.
Josephine Baker (1906 - 1975)
“I did take the blows [of life], but I took them with my chin up, in dignity, because I so profoundly love and respect humanity.”
Josephine Baker, n.d.
Known for her distinct dancing style and unique costumes, Josephine Baker was one of the most successful performers of her era. Josephine symbolized the beauty and vitality of Black American culture, becoming immensely popular in Paris during the 1920s. One of her most notable performances is the “banana dance,” when she fiercely and brilliantly challenged the sexist and racist fantasies about Black women by clowning and subverting stereotypes through her movements. She reconceptualized the image of Black performers, and her work helped Black entertainers gain recognition as artists.
Read more about Josephine Baker on our Jazz Highlight Month blog!
Alvin Ailey (1931 - 1989)
“I’m a choreographer. I create movement and I’m searching for truth in movement.”
Alvin Ailey, n.d.
Alvin Ailey is one of the most influential choreographers in the history of modern dance. He trained under Lester Horton, who soon became his mentor as Alvin embarked on his professional career. In 1958, Alvin founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which focused on his vision of a company dedicated to preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience. In 1969, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now called The Ailey School). He was not only a pioneer in modern dance but also in programs promoting arts education, especially programs for underserved communities.
Alvin blended elements of modern dance, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and other dance forms. His style notably includes contracted muscles and creating angular movements, traveling across large distances, expressive hand movements, and heavy influences from African American culture. One of his most notable works, Revelations, draws on his childhood experiences, telling the story of African American faith and persistence from slavery to freedom.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and The Ailey School continue to perform, tour, and teach. As the New York Times stated following his passing in 1989, “you didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm, and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”
Jin Xing (1967 - )
“By living healthily and facing life positively, I’ve already positively impacted society. That’s enough.”
Jin Xing, 2021
Jin Xing is a transgender, Chinese ballerina who is one of the most transformative figures in modern Chinese history. She moved to New York City in the late 1980s, becoming an acclaimed dancer, and later moved to Europe where she performed and taught in Rome. In 1999, she founded China’s first private dance group, Jin Xing Dance Theater, in Shanghai. It wasn’t until 2013 that she got her big break on TV when she appeared as a judge on China’s So You Think You Can Dance. This led to her talk show, The Jin Xing Show, which was the most popular TV show in China during its run. While she rejects the role of the standard-bearer for transgender people, many in China have become more accepting of transgender people.
In May 2021, Jin appeared in a Dior campaign to promote the empowerment and independence of women.
Tyrone Proctor (1953 - 2020)
“You have to make people see what they hear. You have to make people feel that emotion in the movement.”
Tyrone Proctor, 2020
Tyrone “The Bone” Proctor is a Waacking legend who popularized the dance form on Soul Train in the 1970s. Don Cornelius picked Tyrone to join the Don Cornelius & The Soul Train Gang Presents stadium tour. Tyrone went on to choreograph for various artists including Jody Watley, Taylor Dayne, the Isley Brothers, and New Kids on the Block, receiving a nomination for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography in 1989.
Waacking was born in the underground LGBTQ+ club scene in Los Angeles in the early 1970s by primarily Black and Latino communities who had to hide their gay identity in public. They were able to find freedom in expression to funk music and escape society’s condemnation of their sexuality. The basic “Whack” (original spelling) is an arm movement that creates a striking motion (as if you’re whacking something).
Up until his passing in 2020, Tyrone continued to teach Waacking around the world, becoming a mentor and guide for young dancers.
Check out our Instagram Reel featuring some of our LGBTQ+ instructors and allies!
Interested to learn more about these trailblazers and their dance forms? Visit our living resource document which we are continuously updating with more resources on different dance forms!
You can also check out Rae Studios' 2021 post called "Move with Pride," a celebration of the work by LGBTQIA+ artists and organizations!
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Learn More About More Than Movement
If you have any questions or comments regarding our More Than Movement program or have any resources you’d like to share, please email our More Than Movement Committee leads, Lexi and Kristie at email@example.com.
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