Buffalo’s Dance Community: Reimaging, Restoring, Celebrating

Buffalo, New York has a celebrated history for its repertoire of outstanding music and musicians, visual arts and artists, and superb theater. But, it’s important not to overlook dance and dancers in the Queen City. Over the years many of you may have heard folks talking about Buffalo City Ballet, Gemini Dance Company, Empire State Ballet, Pick of the Crop Dance, Festival Ballet, American Academy of Ballet, Miss Barbara’s School of Dance, Matthew Clark’s Dance Academy, Buffalo Ballet Theater, Neglia Ballet, and Floorplay, among others. Then, beginning in the 1990s there was a major shift in the region’s dance community driven by shortfalls in funding, and large presenting venues deciding to bring in big names that could command higher ticket prices to offset the funding losses. As a result, the dance community started falling into chaos and in-fighting over funding. Only the most determined survived. In this instance, Buffalo City Ballet, aka Buffalo Inner City Ballet, shook off the dust, buckled down and continued working. As of this date, it remains the longest running ballet company in the region, operating under the direction of a classically trained African American executive director, Marvin Askew. Buffalo City Ballet can legitimately be recognized as a cornerstone of this region’s dance cathedral. The luster of other ensembles such as Empire State Ballet, Buffalo Ballet Theater, Gemini Dance, Floorplay, and Pick of the Crop has worn off and fallen into a heap of beloved memories.

But, what of the people who still aspire to be dancers? For many years they floundered around in their own corners trying to make the best of things and grab onto whatever bits of funding was being distributed for dance. Recently, a handful of dancers, people who love dance, and those who support dance convened for some serious dialogue about strategizing a path out of the separatist rut they were in and chart a course for all of them to come together to revive and retool the character of dance in our community.

Leading the charge on this new approach are four individuals whose passion for dance helped forge a bond and pathway that has already begun to reimagine how the dance community can interact with each other and promote the craft. The vehicle for this is M.O.V.I (Movement of Various Identities) – The brain child of acclaimed dancer/instructor/ choreographer, Robin Hibber; Nancy Hughes, professional dancer, choreographer, educator, and performer; Sophia Roberts, a dancer trained in Russian classical ballet, who also studied with Garth Fagan, is a liturgical dancer, and has a list of innovative performances throughout the region; and Fenna Mandolang who is a visual artist, has a passion for dance, and experiments with body movement through Contact Improv work. 

      MOVI examines diverse styles and forms of African dance and presents the many ways that traditional African dance influenhe interpretative movements in other cultures across the globe as well as Euro-western dance as the result of explorations and co-mingling of cultures.  MMOST – cal Women of Color Culture Series – showcased specialty dances associated with specific cultures through a series of dance classes.  Beatriz Flores of El Beaty, Natasha Perkins, Naila Ansari, Kesi Akono, Gaitrie Subryan, Meghan A. Rakeepile, Elyssa Bourke, and  Abhishek Sharma have all taught classes focused on techniques ranging from hip hop and Afro World Beat to Cunningham, Dunham, and Salsa.  The series is continuing with a new set of opportunities: MOST (Men of Swagger and Style Technique) taking place at the Clark Dance Academy, 255 Great Arrow Parkway, Suite 118, Buffalo, NY 14207.  More dance classes in different techniques are being planned and scheduled.

The goal is to share various dance forms with other dancers and students of dance in order to foster respect, appreciation, and knowledge and build a stronger, more vibrant dance community. To sign up for information and classes, go to the MOVI Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/movibuffalo You’ll be glad you did!