At family barbecues, my cousins ââand I would always hide somewhere listening to Salt-N-Pepa, Chuck Brown and New Edition, practicing dance moves. Smelling of cocoa butter and Palmer’s rose oil, our hair curled and braided, we did our best to synchronize ourselves so that we could put on a show.
Even when I couldn’t get my body to bend to the beat, I would lean where the music would take me, whether it was a swaggering nod or part of facial gestures. And when I was with my cousins ââor my friends and we were together in melody? Little black girls felt free.
Powerful. Bound. Right here.
A few years ago, on a lonely New Years Eve, I looked for a cardio dance class. I knew I would feel love there. I would feel strong. I would feel new. Because the dance.
Our teacher, Meli Valdez, was so anchored in the dance that her voice moved the room and filled all the empty spaces for a little holiday evening class.
With just three of us, his choreography evoked a crowd in our minds. We were a synchronized brotherhood with her by our side.
âDancing is such an expression of yourself, and when you move, you connect with the drums, thinking about our ancestors,â says Valdez, co-founder of fitness studio TrillFit and host in the arena for them. Boston Celtics games.
Growing up Dominican in Boston, dancing has always been an important part of family reunions.
âI learned to dance through blood, through family, through culture. When I move in my body, I don’t feel judged. It’s like this intergalactic moment and it gives me freedom and that’s a beautiful thing, âsays Valdez.
When she created the framework for cardio dance at TrillFit, she wanted to convey that confidence.
âI stay true to where I come from with a fusion of hip-hop, Boston, Dominican Republic. My intention is that everyone can understand the movements and feel proud and feel some type of joy to be comfortable in their own skin and to be able to have freedom in their own body, âshe adds.
This New Years Eve, with BeyoncÃ© tapping on the speakers, we became friends, a group of girls connected by dancing and self-liberation.
If we weren’t carrying Queen Bey with us then we were giving our best Ebony Williams to the beat.
Williams is one of the iconic “Single Ladies” dancers and the genius who helped choreograph BeyoncÃ©’s “My Power”, as well as moves for Doja Cat, Alicia Keys and “In the Heights”.
The Dorchester native is dancing. It’s in his art, his acting, his creative direction.
Even her fingers seem to stretch and play to a beat as she speaks. The former Boston Conservatory student at Berklee returns to the city regularly to teach at her old school.
âI feel like the dancing decided it would be mine before I did,â she told me during a class break earlier this year. “Nothing else makes me feel what dancing feels like, you know, there’s nothing that makes me feel myself.”
When she was a conservatory student, she was the only black girl in her class. At Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in New York City, she became the company’s first black dancer in 2005. So now when she sees the black girl alone in one of her classes, she sees herself. She wants these students to know that they belong.
“She doesn’t have to apologize for being here,” Williams says of the dance students of color. âThe most important thing to me when I walk around the room and see another young girl, I just want her to feel precious and that she’s meant to be there when she’s holding up and taking up space. “
When Williams creates movement, whether it’s for a movie scene or a pop star, she is telling stories. And a signature of her style are the stories she carries with her from Dorchester.
âGoing out and remembering the sounds of the kids playing, the swings, being on the streets dancing with my friends outside to the point of creating an audience,â she says. “These are the roots of the culture that continue to live on in me.”
When she’s not dancing professionally, there is also an aspect of the dance that Williams relies on for catharsis.
âAs you grow up you are told to shut up or you are too loud and angry. In my body, I can express myself as I want. No one can say it’s from anger, âshe said.
âSometimes it comes from the happiest place. … Sometimes when I’m dancing I feel like I have a riot in my body that I have to let out, it feels like a huge protest … so the feelings change, but every time I feel lighter. “
For Ellice Patterson, it’s about healing, freedom and representation.
As a child, she took tap dancing lessons. But it’s her bond to her grandmother that keeps the dance going in her mind. The family heritage, the diaspora, the song of the Blacks.
âI grew up being very close to my grandmother, whose grandmother was born a slave,â she says. “She was telling me these stories of her experience and how she used art as a way to come together through joy, healing and connection.”
Patterson continues the tradition of using creativity to make room for community and empowerment.
she founded Boston Dance Abilities promote the intersectional rights of persons with disabilities and, as executive director of BalletRox she helps uplift Boston students through dance, education and fairness.
âRepresentation is really important. I didn’t see any stories that reflected my identity. I didn’t see dark stories, cultural stories, things that really reflect the cultural intersections of my identities, âPatterson says.
âWork on people with disabilities can be really white and racist for those who identify as BIPOC and people with disabilities and work on equity can be ableist. The aim is to create work that transforms mentalities and to advocate for real systemic change, âshe says.
Earlier this year, she launched her reimagined multicultural and inclusive version of the classical ballet, “Firebird”. On stage there were all kinds of people of color with different ranges of mobility. There was ASL narration. It was totally inclusive because dancing is for all of us.
âDance can be liberating, especially with the weight of the various forms of discrimination that we may face,â says Patterson. “Dancing is a way to get that out of our systems and find joy and find peace and healing within our identity.”
Movement is more than the wind of our bodies to the rhythm. The movement is in our soul. The movement is our present, our time and the continuation too. Dance is a story of us that we sing about in a myriad of spiritual keys.