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Well before acclaimed ballerina Misty Copeland stepped into her role as the first female African American principal dancer at American Ballet Theater, there were many other trailblazers who claimed their Black heritage, both on stage and off. Internationally celebrated ballerina and post-modern movement based performance artist Paunika Jones (Dance Theatre of Harlem, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Collage Dance Collective, DeMa Dance Co. and Ballet Noir) shares her personal journey as a professional dancer of color in a dialogue centered on the complexities of Black presence within the European tradition of classical ballet. Joined by other dancers of color, the conversation will consider issues of race and colorism in dance and other visual traditions while also delving into questions of the classically Africanist aesthetic, politics of Black movement expressionism, and the history of the Black body in ballet.
Ms. Jones is a native of Miami, Florida. She is an alumna of New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida, where she studied ballet, various modern techniques, tap and jazz dance. She has trained under the direction of Suzanne Laliberte Clark, Ursino Del Ville, Linda Rodgers Albritton, Yayi Vega, and Beatrice Laverne, to name a few, and studied at the Ailey School and the Dance Theatre of Harlem School’s Summer Intensive Programs.
Ms. Jones was invited to join DTH’s Dancing Through Barriers Ensemble in 1996, where she remained for two years until she was accepted into the professional company in 1998 as an apprentice and ascended through the ranks to become a Principal Dancer in 2004. Ms. Jones has performed leading roles in John Taras’s Firebird; George Balanchine’s Serenade and Four Temperments; Geoffrey Holder’s Dougla; Arthur Mitchell, Augustus van Heerden and Laveen Naidu’s South African Suite; and Robert Garland’s Return and New Bach. She has worked with the legendary Freddrick Franklin, Donald McKayle, various representatives from the Balanchine Trust, Michael Smuin and George Faison to name a few. She also had the honor of performing at the legendary Aretha Franklin’s 70th birthday party in New York.
Ms. Jones’ professional company experience includes: Dance Theatre of Harlem, Oakland Ballet, Columbia City Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Collage Dance Collective, DeMa Dance Co, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Ballet Noir and Brooklyn Ballet.
Most recently she worked as a company member with the Brooklyn Ballet where she was offered an opportunity to work weekly collaborating with the MoMA in New York on an exhibit by Jannis Koinnellis entitled Da invetare sul posto or To invent on the spot. Currently, Ms. Jones is a freelance artist who is an Apprentice Gyrokinesis Instructor all while in the process of launching her own Dance and Performance Art Company in New York City. While her career mostly consists of Ballet Companies and Dance Theatres, Ms. Jones was exposed to and discovered a great and profound interest in the study of Butoh, which is a Japanese form of art falling under the category of Performance Art.
Norma Porter is a journalist, dancer, and educator. She currently works as the Dance Admissions and Recruitment Coordinator at Temple University; she recruits students for undergraduate and graduate dance programs, and manages the marketing and promotion for the Dance Department.
Norma is the Publisher and Editor of Black Dance Magazine and the creator of the Black Dance Magazine Journalism Workshop. She is also an active member of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, Board Advocate for the Coalition of Diasporan Scholars Moving, and the Board Secretary for ThinkingDance.net.
She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in Journalism from American University. Norma received her dance training at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC.
Required to read dance industry magazines for school, Norma read about the discovery of American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland. It dawned on her that other than the major headliners in Black dance – the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and The Dance Theatre of Harlem – she did not see many faces of color on the cover or inside pages of the magazines. Noticing the lack of representation of dancers of color in the media, Norma decided that she would produce a Black dance magazine.
Norma launched Black Dance Magazine at the 25th annual International Association of Blacks in Dance conference in 2013.
Francine Sheffield started her dance career in New Jersey, where she was born and raised. She studied at New Jersey Ballet as well as Newark Community School of the Arts, where she received scholarships and graduated from Arts High School in Newark, NJ. She went on to Montclair State University where she received her BFA in dance performance. Francine has performed with choreographers such as H.T. Chen, Wendy Perron, Amy Pivar, Marlies Yearby and Baraka De Soleil. She was a company member of Urban Bush Women under the leadership of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar for six years, where she traveled and performed all over the world. Francine went on to work as an administrator for Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation in Marketing and Development for six years. While at Ailey, Francine pursued and received a MA in Performing Arts Administration from New York University, where she interned at IMG Artists as a Dance Division Representative in New York and ADAD (Association for Dance of the African Diaspora) as the Audience Development Specialist in London, England. She also studied abroad in Uganda, East Africa, for a cultural exchange of learning and teaching dance to underserved children. Francine then went on to work as Artist Representative for Pentacle, where she booked engagements for emerging dance companies. With her knowledge of dance and skills in arts administration, Francine decided to start her own arts management company, Sheffield Global Arts Management. SGAM is in its 1st year of existence.
Jessica Lynne and DéLana R.A. Dameron reflect on ways they make a home, creatively, wherever they are.