Hello! I am Marissa Thomas, and for my Artistic and Creative Endeavor STEP Signature Project, I attended the 2018 International Associations of Blacks in Dance (IABD) Conference in Los Angeles, California. At this conference, I took various workshop classes with companies and artists I admire, I increased my technical skill and artistry by learning renowned artists, I forged connections with artists in the black dance community, and I researched and auditioned for companies that I am interested in dancing for.
As a biracial female, I have always struggled with the complexity of my identity. For much of my life, I have wondered about my own blackness and my fit into the black dance community. Being able to attend a conference that celebrated an enforced my identity as a black artist was transformational. I felt encouraged to engage and share; create and absorb; and most importantly, to enjoy being black. This project has also given me insight to my future career as a performer. I was able to see options that I have – companies and artists that I would love to work with and who are looking to work with me. My view of myself and of my future has definitely transformed through my STEP Signature Project, and I feel inspired to see where dance takes me in the coming years.
The IABD Conference was created to celebrate black artists, choreographers, and companies and to share the knowledge of dance forms of the African diaspora. This was something that I was specifically searching for, because it is something that I do not get to experience everyday at Ohio State. I attend a predominantly white institution, where the black student population is near 5%. I am part of a dance program where the number of black students can be counted on my hands and where focus is on contemporary and Western concert dance styles. Having the opportunity to learn about dance from my own cultural heritage through this conference gave growth my artistry by giving knowledge and substance to my identity.
I think one of the most important aspects of the IABD conference was being able to take classes with choreographers and company directors. Being able to learn from them, talk to them, and engage myself in their work is invaluable as an artist. Dance is a form of oral history that is passed from person to person, and a relationship with a teacher is the key to learning. I took class and learned from great artists like Christopher Huggins, Allyne Gartrell, Rueben Cintas, and Virginia Johnson. I immersed myself within the bodies of the major companies Philadanco!, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, and Dallas Black Dance Theatre and took class with directors and company members. Learning from accomplished dancers was not the only benefit from attending this conference. I was also able to connect with dancers like me – college students looking for careers in performance. I made many new friendships and can now consider myself part of the larger community of black dancers.
This conference also gave me insight to my future as a concert dance performer. Advice that has been shared with me many times is that opportunities are given not only based on how good of a dancer I am, but my chances rely on who I know and my expressed interest, or passion, for these opportunities. Some of my favorite companies were at this conference, and I was able to engage with them in various ways. Not only through taking class with their directors, but by seeing their company perform works in the repertory, by learning about their history and mission, and by talking with current company members. Next fall, I will be entering my senior year of college and searching for companies that I can join and work with for my future career as a performing artist. Having been able to research these through this conference and by being able to introduce myself in these ways has already given me an advantage for my job search far before the audition has even started.
I more ready than ever to dive into the world of concert dance. This opportunity has helped me grow artistically through all that I have learned and experienced. And this transformation that I have gone through, where I have found my place as a black artist, is extremely significant to my development as a dancer. It is reassuring to know that I can make a place for myself in the dance world and can depend on a community and network of people who support me. The technique, knowledge, and connections that I have gained have driven a newly revived passion for dance, and I am ready to take what I have gained with me to every studio and stage.