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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II

Siegel, Marcia B.
Notes and discussions: starting with dance,   pp. [504]-508 PDF (5.4 MB)

Page 505

Afro-modern folk styles. Rodgers, a 30 year
old native of Detroit who has three
small boys of his own, spoke to the
children simply but not condescendingly
about why people all over the world dance,
and how much he and his company
enjoy dancing for others.
"When we decided to do this Head Start
program," he explained later to an
interviewer, "my idea was to present
concert dance material, not kiddie-poo
material. Even though these are very
young children, there's no reason for them
not to understand or to be bored and
restless. They won't behave like adults,
but they shouldn't. I take my work very
seriously, but the audience should enjoy it
in whatever way they can. If the kids
want to talk during the performance,
that's okay. They're so alive and responding
all the time to what's happening. They'll
take a little break to chatter about what
they see, but when the high points in the
dance happen, the faces come around
and the eyes are riveted."
After the first dance Rodgers showed the
children two long, thin sticks. He
demonstrated how the sticks would be
used by the dancers in the next piece,
Tangents, to create designs in space, and to
make sounds of tapping on the floor or
swishing through the air.
Rodgers is interested in developing a set of
concepts that can be used to relate
dance to the experience of children at
different ages from preschool through high
school. "Anybody could do a lecture-
demonstration using these points applied
to his own material, even if the director
isn't particularly education-oriented," he
says. "Teachers can also take these
ideas back to the classroom and use them
in connection with other activities."
For the age level of children in the Head
Start program, Rodgers stresses the
emotional and ritualistic aspects of dance,
he explains some of the theatrical
devices the choreographer employs, such as
costumes, lights and music, and he shows
that dance can either tell a story or
merely make beautiful designs. The
concluding dances were a narrative piece
based on a traditional primitive theme and
a Percussion Suite in which the dancers
created their own accompaniment with bells,
cymbals and other instruments.
The dances on the Head Start programs,
although less elaborately produced, were
the same choreography the Rod Rodgers
company presents in concert performances
on tour and in New York. "It's important
for these kids to see things that represent
a maximum artistic possibility, otherwise
we can't even talk about developing
discriminating taste," Rodgers says.
"Most of what they see is done in a
compromising way, like TV and grade B
and minus C movies - things that are
made to be sold to an audience that's
ignorant. All kids need to rise above
this TV mentality, but especially in the
ghetto, where children have so little other
Rodgers knows about commercial art
first-hand. Before coming to New York in
1962 he choreographed musical shows
for night clubs and resorts, and he was
resigned to the idea that the only
opportunity for a Negro in dance would
have to be in the field of jazz. Now,
however, he is evolving his own movement
style of abstract modern dance, and, with
growing confidence in himself as an
artist, he refuses to rely on the stereotype
of either the grinning tap dancer or the
stridently black protestor.
"One of the worst things the contemporary
black artist can do," he says, "is to
confine himself to oversimplifying the black
aesthetic image, to implying that
Afro-American art is either primitive or
jazz dance. I'm an Afro-American, and any
dance I do is Afro-American. Each
dance that I create has grown out of my
personal experience as a black American.
My function in the revolution will be to
share my vital and growing experience, not
to show only old stereotypes or create new
ones. It's important for children to see me
experimenting, to see that there are no
limitations to what the black artist can do."
Ed Taylor, executive director of the Harlem
Cultural Council, believes Rodgers is one
of the most promising young black
choreographers, and that modern dance,
America's primary dance form, is also the
form of black choreographers. The
Council is a cultural umbrella for the
black arts community, with the goal of
providing employment for artists and
making their work accessible to wider
audiences. One of the Council's early
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