Dancing with Ronald K. Brown at American Dance Festival

In June 2018, I had the privilege of auditioning and dancing with Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE during the American Dance Festival.

American Dance Festival is an annual dance event in Durham, North Carolina, and is a modern dance institution in and unto itself. Since 1934, ADF has hosted dancers, choreographers, artists, and educators…

Ronald K. Brown is a renowned dancer and choreographer from Brooklyn, New York. He and his company EVIDENCE have performed…

Feeling Disenchanted with Dance

I’ve been feeling pretty disenchanted with dance for a while. 

Amidst the faltering of my freelance business I faced some uncomfortable circumstances in my dance life.

I won’t go into all of my dance history here, but I seemed to be on a downward spiral of satisfaction when it comes to dancing and finding the right community for me.

At this point, I’d been at Arts Together for almost two years. I was completing my first year at Rainbow and was less than happy with my experience. 

Drama, job rejection, egos, ugly dance costumes, and financial stress. 2018 has been a year full of disappointments.

The Audition

After I met a friend for lunch, she sent me an audition notice from the American Dance Festival. They were auditioning dancers for Ronald K. Brown’s performance. The show would take place June 28-30. 

I figured, why the hell not. I hadn’t signed up for any summer dance classes at Arts Together, because I couldn’t afford to. And auditioning for Brown’s performance was free.

So I drove 40 minutes out to Durham in my 15-year-old Corolla with a dying clutch on Saturday, June 16, to the ADF studio.

There were dozens of people auditioning: women, children, and men of all ages and sizes. 

The audition was four hours long from 2PM-6PM. Yes, a four-hour audition. I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t auditioned in a while, but was able to relax and just enjoy the process and the moment.

Brown’s was accompanied by his assistant director Arcell. Brown’s style is contemporary jazz infused with West African movement. 

The dancers were led through an extensive warm-up and a series of combinations. Arcell then split us up so we could perform in smaller groups.

Being that was modern dance, my bare feet were killing me by the end of evening. 

But I felt good about what I had accomplished and enjoyed my time. At the very least, if I didn’t make the audition, I had a great master class.

Rehearsals

So I made the audition, and rehearsals were set to commence on Thursday, June 21. It was going to a very intense six days leading up to the performance on the 28th. 

We rehearsed Thursday through Saturday, had Sunday off, and then came back Monday through Wednesday leading up to our performance the next night. Each rehearsal was on average three hours each, so that was about 18 hours of rehearsal total.

The Durham community dancers, as we were dubbed, would appear in the second half of EVIDENCE’s concert. The second section was choreographed to Stevie Wonder songs: “Living for the City” (company only), “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” (Durham dancers), “You and I” (company and Durham dancers) and finally “Jesus Children of America” (company and Durham dancers).

This isn’t Fun Anymore

Rehearsals started out pretty well for me. Brown and Arcell taught us large chunks of choreography at a time. For “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing,” Brown taught us the base choreography with the intention to split us into groups later.

For some reason, I had a difficult time picking up parts of Brown’s movements. Partly because he did them differently every time, and he seemed to have trouble articulating clearly what he wanted. As the dancers, we were expected to divine his vision without the clearest direction.

Also Brown’s and Arcell’s teaching styles are very different. Brown is very organic and relaxed in his movement. Arcell is more technical and count-specific, which is great for clarity. Brown demonstrated the “spirit” of the movement while Arcell broke it down technically. However, both approaches produced a different style of movement, which was confusing at times.

Being that part of Brown’s aesthetic was West African movement, much of the movement we were taught was in this style.

It just so happened that a majority of the dancers who auditioned currently or at one time danced with Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble.

And this is where the wheat was separated from the chaff.

Brown clearly favored the dancers who had that extensive African dance experience. So when it came time to add on to the base movement phrase he taught us, he gave those dancers more complex choreography. So complex, that even the EVIDENCE company dancers were impressed.

I guess because I had some troubles catching on to the phrase in the beginning, Brown deemed me an inept lost cause and relegated me to the “remedial” group. There were four of us. The sense of dejection we felt must have been palpable when we realized at the end of the Saturday rehearsal that we would not be getting a variation. We were just going to do the base phrase across the stage while everyone else got to do jumps, spins, leaps, and the works. 

Even the kids got a damn variation. We got nothing but ignored.

I tried to make the most of it, but my spirit pretty much sunk at that point.

It was one of those moments when I began to question myself and my dance ability. Was I really that bad? Did I really suck that much? What was I doing driving all the way out here just to be relegated to the crappy dancer group?

Honestly, no one in my group was incapable. Brown could have given us something more to do, but he seemed to almost be making an example out of us out of some hidden spite.

And to top it off, Brown seemed to take a peculiar interest in me that made me very uncomfortable. He zeroed in on me a lot, pointing out every little mistake I made like I was the only one making them. 

In one instance, I was just marking some movement in my head, so my focus was a little bit down and inward. Brown thought that he would make an example out of me by telling me to look up. When I said, “Oh, I’m just thinking,” he said, “You need to think looking up.” It was a fine point, but the way he did it was conspicuous and meant to embarrass me.

He would go on to say things like, “When I correct you (in general) it’s for everybody.” But he seemed to save his “corrections” for people who irritated him, like me.

It was embarrassing and very disconcerting. After that Saturday, I considered dropping out of the performance.

It got to the point where I began avoiding him. For warm-ups and the rest of the rehearsals I would place myself in the back and avoid eye contact with him.

During one of our dress rehearsals for “You and I,” Brown made some comment about my arms needing to come down sooner. I listened to him and lowered my arms. But I didn’t adequately acknowledge his majesty, so he exclaimed loudly, “Krystal, don’t ignore me. It hurts my feelings.” And this is the man who had been criticizing me and scapegoating me for practically the entirety of my time dancing with him.  When I did nothing to him.

Time for some Reinforcements

I’ve been practicing magick for some time now, and when things start getting out of hand, the witch has to come out. 

Some magick works better than others for some situations. 

First I tried my method of telepathy. In a psychic state I stated how Brown made me feel and for him to cease his biased actions towards me. Coupled with a social pheromone, this just drew more unwanted attention to me from him.

Then I tried an anti-bullying spell from Damon Brand’s Magickal Protection book. It wasn’t quite powerful enough.

Finally, I went to my tried-and-true “Aggressive Prayer of the Psalmist” from my Prayer Rain book.  Don’t let the term “prayer” fool you. This book is a book of sorcery and magick, even if the author uses the name of Jesus. It’s a powerful book of spells. Some work better than others, but I almost always get results.

I use the “Aggressive Prayer of the Psalmist” any time I have to deal with a strong personality or someone who is especially stubborn, authoritative, or power-tripping. It’s just a good all-around prayer to use when you are facing very tough opposition from a group or individual.

And this time was no different. I prayed the prayer at least once a day for three days. But it usually takes effect within 24 hours.

I noticed that Brown seemed nervous around me. He avoided me like I was the one belittling and scapegoating him. It’s like the roles reversed. Arcell, on the other hand, became much more friendly with me after ignoring me most of the time. Giving me high fives after our “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” section in the wings of Reynolds Theater. He even gave me a hug at one point.

Brown just kept his distance up until the end of the final performance. After the curtain was drawn he congratulated each of the dancers. When he came to me, he thanked me, but he looked over my head, like he didn’t want to look into my eyes. Then he quickly moved on.

The Other Dancers

I didn’t mention much about the other dancers, because there really isn’t that much to say about them. 

Out of the Durham dancers, they ranged in ages from 7 to 70. There were only two men. The rest were women, mostly black (see in the photos below). One girl is from Arts Together’s Rainbow like me, so it was kind of nice already knowing someone there.

My group for “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” wasn’t any better. These women didn’t even want to rehearse. I understand that they might have just as upset as me for getting only the basic choreography, but that’s no excuse to not practice. I kept encouraging us to rehearse the part. We did a couple of times, but after that, I gave up and just practiced on my own. Even though it was basic, I was still going to give it my best so the movement would feel second nature to me. I wasn’t going to stop and look around at everyone else feeling inferior because they got a more advanced combination than I did. 

One lady in my group, a dance teacher somewhere, was watching me mark a section of the dance and decided to give a “correction.” I told her, “I’m just marking it.” She skulked away in a huff. 

Other than that, I didn’t really make much of a connection with anybody. By that point, Brown had cast such a negative light on me so many times, that I think some people didn’t want to associate with me. 

Most of the conversations I did manage to have with the other dancers were shallow, superficial, and virtually meaningless.

The EVIDENCE dancers were pleasant enough. Didn’t seem as ego-driven as Brown. One guy I met, William, was very friendly. We only spoke twice, but he had nice, bright energy about him.  And Valeriane was really sweet during rehearsals.

Bittersweet

I wish this experience has been more positive. It really was a privilege to dance with EVIDENCE. I mean, this might be the closest I ever come to dancing professionally. But my interactions with Brown, and sometimes Arcell, left a lot to be desired.

Oh, and here’s a bonus.

The final performance night, my parents came. But for some reason unbeknownst to me, they decided to leave right after my performance without greeting me. Meaning, after the curtain closed, they high-tailed it to the parking deck, jumped in their GMC Terrain, and booked it.

???????????????????????????

I stood in the lobby for what felt like an eternity waiting to see them, hoping they would be congratulating me just like the other dancers were experiencing. 

Finally, I dialed my mother’s cell phone and asked them where they were. When she told me they were in the parking deck on the way out, I was livid. And crushed. I had gone through all of this difficulty from rehearsals up until the final performance night just to have my parents abandon me like it was no big deal.

Jesus.

What a fucking joke. How humiliating. What a disappointing end to a disappointing two weeks.

Photo Gallery