Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance

Beacon. Oct. 2020. 152p. ISBN 9780807091876. $19.95. DANCE
Playwright and poet Shange sometimes mixed artistic forms, as in one of her best-known plays, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. Dubbed a “choreopoem,” this Obie-winning mix of poetry, music, and dance is just one instance where Shange’s deep love of dance meshed with her talent for the written word. In the midst of recovering from a stroke, Shange conducted and edited interviews and tributes to dancers who taught and influenced her and the Black dance movement in general. This book, which Shange began working on in the 1990s, was published posthumously (Shange died in 2018). With ample homage to choreographer Katherine Dunham, her essays focus on lesser-known figures in the Black dance world: those with whom Shange interacted, as a student, a colleague, or both. Shange’s recollections are often personal and include informal interview transcripts that chronicle those who influenced the dancers whose work impacted her. Many of the subjects, and Shange herself, stress how little attention has historically been paid to Black dancers and dance movements, leaving a gap that this book at least partially fills. An introduction and afterword place the work in the context of Shange’s life. The glossary and brief biographies of the dancers and choreographers featured are helpful.
VERDICT Of interest to those familiar with Shange’s written work, and generally to dancers and dance historians.
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