African American Dance Company, IU Northwest students enthralled by Dance Theatre of Harlem performance at IU Auditorium

When it was announced that the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a historic African American dance company founded by the legendary Arthur Mitchell, would tour three Indiana University campuses—IU Bloomington, IUPUI, and IU South Bend—in January, both Iris Rosa, the director of IU’s African American Dance Company, and James Wallace, director of IU Northwest’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, knew it would be a great opportunity for their students.

The two directors of programs administered by IU’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA) had different reasons for wanting to expose their students to the ballet performance, “Power on Pointe,” held at the IU Auditorium last Saturday. For Rosa, the only director in the history of the African American Dance Company, not only could her students learn from the performance, but she had a longstanding connection to the New York-based dance troupe. Wallace, on the other hand, had the chance to connect a group of students to IU’s flagship campus.

“We had some students that were really interested in dance, that wanted to come to the IU Bloomington campus and experience the IU Auditorium as a connection to the larger institution, so they can feel part of something that’s even larger than what we have and offer at IU Northwest. We do have theater and performing arts, but we don’t have that dance component and our students wanted to see that, so that’s why I wanted to make it available to them,” Wallace explained.

“I thought it was outstanding. One thing that really struck me was the grace and the power of the dancers. We had front-row seats, and when we had a chance to meet and interact with them after the performance, they were all very gracious, kind, and friendly. They chose what they wanted to do at a young age, so that kind of inspired our students. It gave them more focus about what they’re doing, so they can buckle down and pursue their careers to a higher degree.

I really enjoyed the meet-and-greet after the show because we got to meet new people from the Bloomington campus and other areas, and also the dancers themselves.

IU Northwest student Ethan Riddell

“When we had the dance master class, it was an hour of warmups and movement. Devon Doane was very inspiring, and he really taught the class from his heart. I think it was very inspiring for the students to hear about his background, successes, and challenges as a young, black, male dancer.

“For many of the students and faculty, whether or not they are involved with dance, the performance was really inspiring. Virginia Johnson, who used to be one of the principal dancers, is doing such a great job in directing artistically the young crop of dancers. You could see the challenge, technique, and excitement in the dancers’ bodies and faces. All of the pieces, including the solo, were danced with such passion,” continued Rosa, a professor in IU's Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies (AAADS).

“The reception was also great, because it allowed them to see each other in a more relaxed environment. I brought down a 1975 magazine that focused on the Dance Theatre of Harlem so that the current Dance Theatre of Harlem company members could sign a photo that was in the magazine. Hopefully, the students should understand how legacy is carried on their bodies. The current members of the Dance Theatre of Harlem carry the legacy of Arthur Mitchell, who was so instrumental in making sure that African Americans had the opportunity to perform in the ballet form of dance.”