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Dance Artist Explores Black Male Experience In Art Basel Performance

Nadege Green

Nora Chipaumire is in the middle of a dance workshop at the Kendall Campus of Miami Dade College.

She asks about 12 dance students of different races to define what it means to be a black man in America -- an especially weighty topic right now.

Many of the students are hesitant to try to describe the black male experience.

"I’m saying, let's go into places of inquiries," she says.

Dance is more than tendu and pliés, she tells her dancers. Choreographers often create work as a reaction to what's happening around them in society. Chipaumire asks the students to be honest about race.

Karl St. Luis, one of the dance students, offers his personal experience as a black man.

"We live in a society that tends to diminish me and who I am," he says.

Right now, there is a national conversation happening about the value of black men’s lives.

And it's also part of Chipaumire's work, which is influenced by the intersection of race, culture and gender.

Credit Nadege Green / WLRN
Nora Chipaumire conducts a dance workshop at Miami Dade College's Kendall campus.

She says she watched the Trayvon Martin case unfold on TV, she watched Ferguson go up in flames after Michael Brown was killed. She watched the protests in New York this week, after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer who choked an unarmed black man to death.

"Their death is my death," she says. "I am a black woman I am complicit in their survival."

After the class discussion about race, Chipaumire rehearses her piece, which will debut at the Little Haiti Cultural Center during Art Basel. It’s a duet with Senegalese dancer Kaolack.

The rehearsal space has elastic bands criss-crossing the room. It looks like a boxing ring.

On one side is Chipaumire. On the other Kaolack sits in a chair. He wears nothing except for black briefs decorated with gold studs.

Kaolack walks over to Chipaumire. He winds his hips sensually as she holds on to him by a rubber tether -- almost like she has a dog on a leash.

"I wanted to present this maleness and not bat an eye about it," says Chipaumire. "What are we afraid of? What is about the male body which happens to be black that we are afraid of?"

Before choreographing this piece, Chipaumire says she examined her late father’s experience as a black man in Africa and found herself drawn to the global experience of black men.

Michelle Murray, dance coordinator at Miami Dade’s Kendall campus says the workshop and Chipaumire’s work show that dance is much more than physical movement. It can be inspired by a deeper thought process about topics like race.

And she says she is seeing more of that as Art Basel week expands into other neighborhoods beyond Miami Beach, Midtown and Wynwood.

"It’s a definite presence of black people in Art Basel, which I think it really beautiful and very powerful," she says.

If you go: “Portrait of Myself As My Father” is  at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59 St., Miami.