From February 16-19, 2018, the third bi-annual Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) conference will convene at Duke University in Durham, NC. This year’s conference, themed Dance Black Joy: Global Affirmations and Defiance, will feature Drs. Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Melissa Blanco Borelli and Marianna Francisca Martins Monteiro as keynote speakers and a variety of breakout sessions, movement workshops and film screenings. There will also be a remembrance of the late Baba Chuck Davis and a performance of CANE, a responsive environment dancework by Thomas DeFrantz, SLIPPAGE: Performance/Culture/Technology and Wideman/Davis Dance (DeFrantz 2018).
Founded by a powerhouse of artist-scholars in the field of African diaspora dance studies, the conference is committed to “exploring, promoting and engaging African diaspora dance as a resource and method of aesthetic identity” (Duke University 2016). Since its inception in 2012 as the African Diaspora Dance Research Group at Duke University, the conference aims to facilitate interdisciplinary inquiry that challenges and expands the field of Black Dance Studies.
I attended CADD in 2016, where I presented a lecture-demonstration on corporeal memory and Germaine Acogny’s Modern African Dance Technique. I enjoyed the networking and stimulating academic discourse one would typically expect at an academic conference. Even the dance workshops in which I participated blended an unusually high level of theoretical discourse with kinesthetic engagement. However, there was one aspect of the experience that I found unique to CADD. Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin, one of the founding members of CADD, summed it up during her opening speech:
Welcome back home.
As Dr. Amin explained to the room of rapt listeners, who nodded and clapped in agreement, CADD is more than place of ideological exchange. It is a meeting ground for a unique group of thinkers and movers—those of us whose research centers on the methods, aestheticism and theories of African and diaspora dance practices. As a first-year PhD Dance student, I found myself in a safe space where my ideas had room to stretch and breathe. Before offering my theories on Acogny Technique, I did not feel the need to first qualify WHY Acogny Technique should be taken seriously as a contemporary dance practice “despite” its African aesthetics. There was a shared acknowledgement in the room that movement forms of Africa run the gamut from traditional-based social dances to urban dances to neotraditional and contemporary dance forms (that’s what makes them so cool). The idea that a dance practice can be simultaneously of African origin and expressed within a Euro-American paradigm is a common understanding we have here at Temple (we have Umfundalai, after all). But, as many CADD attendees could surely tell you, our work is sometimes met with resistance by well-intentioned (and sometimes not) but misinformed academics who believe otherwise.
This is not the case at CADD.
I was at home, amongst pioneering scholars and scholars-to-be who supported my work. The questions my audience proposed and suggestions they offered me were critical but not antagonistic—they were seemingly interested not only in the success of my work but with our collective forward movement as African Diaspora (and Black) dance scholars.
This year I’ll attend the conference, not as a presenter, but as a lowly, overwhelmed (and possibly underwhelming?) third-year PhD student who desperately hopes she won’t mess up her elevator pitch while donning a thinly veiled facade of nonchalance to hide her newbie excitement at being in the room with some of the most groundbreaking scholars in the field but worried that she will talk too fast or say too much like she always does when discussing her research that unfortunately spins her around in circles that never produce enough AH-HA! moments.
So back to CADD I go. Because in the process of babbling nonstop with kindly indulgent artist-scholar-strangers and sharing war stories with other Dance PhD students, somehow clarity descends and I realize that I’m on the right track after all.
Omi Davis, M.F.A.
Third Year PhD Dance Student
Boyer College of Music and Dance
“Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) Conference, February 19-21, 2016: Call for Proposals.” Duke University. Last modified 2016. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://danceprogram.duke.edu/news/collegium-african-diaspora-dance-cadd-conference-february-19-21-2016-call-proposals
“Dance Black Joy: Global Affirmations and Defiance.” Collegium for African Diaspora Dance. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://www.cadd-online.org/2018-conference.html
DeFrantz, Thomas F. “African Diaspora Dance conference focuses on themes of joy and defiance.” (press release) Facebook. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://www.facebook.com/thomas.defrantz/posts/2014733948767498