Creating the Dance to Power

By Amistad Cinque Meeks

Cinque MeeksEveryone’s wearing black — the outfits are paramilitary, inspired by the clothing of those who marched the streets in the 1960s — and we’re waiting for the lights to brighten. When I’m choreographing, clothing serves a similar function as Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”: to instill a scene. We’re wearing black because that’s what people wore when they took to the streets to protest discrimination: black turtlenecks and khaki pants, a mix of power and class.

I had never choreographed a dance. Therefore, my class assignment to create an eight-minute-long piece seemed almost impossible. Yet, as a dancer, it was something I welcomed. I chose the Civil Rights Movement after reading an article about Lennon Lacy, a 17-year-old black male who was found lynched in 2014. This sparked the idea to connect the Civil Rights Movement to the contemporary, because I found the idea of lynchings still happening unfathomable.

To an untrained performer, keeping every inch of the stage alive is demanding. It’s imperative, however, that the stage never has dead space. Likewise, each movement must connect with the audience, must move them in some way. A dance should instill emotion, from inspiration to discomfort in the minds of those who watch. So I kept asking myself: how would I fill the stage and express my disgust toward lynching?

I made sure the dance conveyed my sense of the strengths and vulnerabilities of a Sixties protest, creating sections that were both sad and powerful. My dancers sometimes moved with tense arms and loud stomps, and, at other times, with long limbs and dragging demeanors. I created movement reminiscent of hangings and slavery as well as movement that spoke to today’s protests.

I grew up in a home recognizing racism in America. My father wrote a book about racial profiling in 2000 and, yet, when I was younger, I protested my parent’s orders to be careful when I’m outside. They often told me that society views black males as dangerous. I dismissed them because I always knew I was not dangerous. My dance communicated my awakening as I became aware of the many police shootings that happened this year, realizing that blacks don’t have to be dangerous to get killed.
An important step of choreographing is casting. To genuinely embody the Civil Rights Movement, I chose dancers of different races. I spent a lot of time trying to teach them how I moved. I met with them individually; I encouraged them to dance as I did. It was only after watching them during one rehearsal, watching as they went against their own instincts, that I realized my selfish attempt to make dancers in my own image. Doing so was taking away from the core values of the performance. I realized that choreography must allow dancers to add their own souls to the creator’s vision, like a protest movement. When watching protesters march, not everyone is the same. With different backgrounds and reasons for marching, they’re moving in the same direction. I let that sentiment complete my dance.

Afterwards, filling the stage came naturally. The actions of each dancer made them less a collection of individual and more a movement. Later, as I watched videos of my dance, I saw that not only was I watching a performance that encompassed the entire stage, I was watching a true protest movement, one that had different bodies moving in the same direction. I had accomplished my goal of accurately representing the Civil Rights Movement.

Everyone’s wearing black. The dance’s last scene is the same as its first: powerful, because it proves that despite all of the progressions, the movement has been circular. My hope — the point of this dance — is to teach the audience something: that the issues of fifty years ago are still plaguing our world today, but that the circle can one day be broken.

Amistad Cinque Meeks graduated from The Dalton School yesterday and will be a freshman at Brown University in the Fall.

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