July 25, 2021—I recently had the delightful opportunity of moderating a discussion with the creative leaders of the Najwa Dance Corps (NDC) for the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project’s Legacy Conversation Series. You can view my discussion with Najwa I, Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus, and Sheila Walker-Wilkins, Executive Director, at this link.
NDC is comprised of professional dancers and musicians devoted to the performance, production, and preservation of dance styles and techniques reflective of the African American dance heritage, culture, and experience. Through its performances, NDC showcases the expansive diversity of African-influenced dance within a historical context—from the rituals of traditional Africa to the glamorous chorus girls of the swing era—bringing to life the dance cultures that have influenced contemporary American dance. They refer to it as a “Living Archive of Dance History.”
The Legacy Conversation Series delves into the stories of creative leaders and their companies, and the significant impact their legacies have made in the Chicago Black dance community and beyond. NDC is one of eight Black dance companies that comprise the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project, a dance service organization that is partnering directly with these companies to strengthen their financial and operational capacity, ensuring the long-term survival of their work.
The program was developed as the result of a partnership between the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at The University of Chicago and The Joyce Foundation’s Culture Program. This initiative leverages the strategic resources of the Logan Center and the University of Chicago to facilitate access to funding; support dance programming and training, and provide key administrative support.
In addition to NDC, the other dance companies are Ayodele Drum & Dance; The Chicago Multicultural Dance Company; Deeply Rooted Dance Theater; Forward Momentum Chicago; Joel Hall Dancers & Center; Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, and Red Clay Dance Company
As the readers of Arts & Culture Connections may recall, I have a personal connection to NDC. In 1977, after returning from a spectacular two weeks of performances at Festac in Lagos, Nigeria, my two sisters and I joined a small group of people to become the founding members of NDC. We were so excited to be a part of something new that carried forward our African heritage and culture through dance; engaged new audiences, as well as taught dance on Chicago’s West Side.
Moderating the panel brought back so many memories for me of not only learning African dances, but also the meaning behind the movements and the music. Najwa I and her dance partner, the late Julian Swain, in whose company I also performed, were instrumental in forging my cultural identity and influencing my commitment to the arts. Najwa I has been a mentor to many of us; we took what we learned from her and applied it to a variety of careers.
I believe you will find this conversation informative and enlightening. I thank the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project for their efforts to archive and preserve this vital history and the contributions each of the leaders of the participant dance companies have made to cultural life in Chicago, as well as to the broader world of dance.
As always, I would like to know what you think. Please share your comments below: In what way has witnessing performances by any African-American dance company impacted you?