Emily Labhart

Producer | Consultant | Mentor

PoP MOVES – Circling Caribbean Dance: A Global Community Discussion

In June this year, I was approached by Dr Celena Monteiro of Kingston University to be a panellist for a PoP Moves online discussion event about Caribbean Dance.

Later, seeing the line-up of guest speakers that I would be joining, this was a definite “pinch me” moment! It was a real honour to be invited to speak alongside such a phenomenal cohort of artists and scholars, many of whom I have studied or worked with previously.

Taking place 23 June 2021, Circling Caribbean Dance: A Global Community Discussion brought together:

The event took the form of a live conversation between the above Caribbean Dance practitioners, researchers, producers and educators, who shared insights from their experience in the field and discussed pressing topics affecting Caribbean Dance communities today.

Circling Caribbean Dance was focused around a series of questions concerning the real-life impacts of the pandemic on the sector and its relationship to de-colonial and anti-racist agendas. The session   included a series of provocations in the main Zoom, followed by the opportunity for more detailed discussion in ‘break out rooms’ facilitated by pairs of guest speakers. Questions included:

  1. How can Caribbean Dance researchers, practitioners, teachers and producers meaningfully collaborate and engage in activity that serves and benefits the field of research and the arts sector?
  2. How do Caribbean Dance communities engage and support anti-racist and de-colonial agendas?
  3. What can we learn from one other about coping and thriving during the pandemic, and how can we support each other moving forward?

DX’s Dance Insights Online: Autumn Series – Dance of the African Diaspora line-up

I was invited to speak about my practice in response to these provocations, both as Director of Dancehall Origins and as a Creative Producer working with a range of arts organisations. Here I can share a brief overview of my presentation, to give a sense of my work within Caribbean Dance.

In all of my roles, I am a strong advocate for Dance of the African Diaspora (DAD). I broker relationships for artists who might otherwise be overlooked or misinterpreted, using my position to make sure other people get through the door. Some examples of this include:

  • In 2020 I curated DanceXchange‘s first ever DAD season working with the likes of Jade Hackett, Alesandra Seutin, Joseph Toonga & Dickson Mbi. I also led an Unconscious Bias training session for the organisation as part of their Anti-Racism Focus Group.
  • In 2019 I tripled the number of Dancehall classes at MOVE IT, which meant over 650 people experienced Dancehall for the first time at the show.
  • In 2017-18 on arrival at Greenwich Dance, I identified early on that the organisation did not programme or support enough work created by or made with black communities.  By the time I left in mid-2018, Greenwich Dance had increased the number of black artists and companies it supported, programmed and employed by 500%.

Since it’s inception in 2016, Dancehall Origins (DHO) has hosted 11 Jamaican artists here in the UK and abroad – for 10/11 of those artists, it was their first time teaching in those countries.

DHO in its nature celebrates the Jamaican Dancehall community by providing the only platform of its kind in the UK. The Jamaican artists have the autonomy to decide how their culture is shared through workshops, lectures, panel discussions, film screenings and more.

Not only is it about shining a light on Jamaican Dancehall artists, it also brings together a community of UK Dancehall fans who have a rare opportunity to learn from these incredible artists on their doorstep.

Who is better placed to share Dancehall culture than the artists who live it, shape it and experience it every day in Jamaica? This goes against placing Western interpretations of Jamaican culture as the only answer. Instead, it places the Jamaican artists front and centre, giving recognition by facilitating that open space to both preserve & share the culture.

During the pandemic, DHO was unable to deliver live events – this meant our method of advocacy had to change. Particularly with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in response to the repeated trauma of seeing black communities suffering over and over again on our screens, there was no way we were going to ‘stay in our lane’ as it were and continue to post content related to dance alone.

We shared artwork made by black artists with messages of equality and justice, we shared anti-racism resources to provide opportunities for our followers to educate themselves and take action, and we opened up conversations with our audience through our monthly newsletters.

Despite not hosting any live or online events, we still found ways of supporting Jamaican artists through our Music Mondays campaign. This was a new series whereby artists would share their top three tracks for the summer and their reasons as to why those songs were important to them. This meant that our audiences could find out more about the artists they are inspired by, and add new music to their training playlists. We also signposted our community to the online classes the Jamaican artists were scheduling, to continue the relationship (and source of income) moving forward.

All of the panellists spoke candidly about their experiences during the pandemic and how their practice shifted to make space for new creative responses through their art or research. Whether that be utilising Caribbean Dance through fundraisers, as a form of protest, as a tool for teaching and learning, or for trying out new technologies – there was a shared sense of comradery between us all and the webinar attendees.

In creating this space for exchange, the event created a network of connectivity between the participants and encouraged the development of future relationships and collaborations. Contact details were exchanged and new conversations began that set to further the profile of Caribbean Dance internationally.

PoP Moves hope to continue the discussion with future events, so keep an eye out on their website and social media pages to stay up to date with the next in the series. Be sure to visit the website of all the panellists and check out their inspiring work around the world.

Looking forward to more events like this!


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