Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance (Hardcover)
In her first posthumous work, the revered poet crafts a personal history of Black dance and captures the careers of legendary dancers along with her own rhythmic beginnings.
Many learned of Ntozake Shange’s ability to blend movement with words when her acclaimed choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf made its way to Broadway in 1976, eventually winning an Obie Award the following year. But before she found fame as a writer, poet, performer, dancer, and storyteller, she was an untrained student who found her footing in others’ classrooms. Dance We Do is a tribute to those who taught her and her passion for rhythm, movement, and dance.
After 20 years of research, writing, and devotion, Ntozake Shange tells her history of Black dance through a series of portraits of the dancers who trained her, moved with her, and inspired her to share the power of the Black body with her audience. Shange celebrates and honors the contributions of the often unrecognized pioneers who continued the path Katherine Dunham paved through the twentieth century. Dance We Do features a stunning photo insert along with personal interviews with Mickey Davidson, Halifu Osumare, Camille Brown, and Dianne McIntyre. In what is now one of her final works, Ntozake Shange welcomes the reader into the world she loved best.
About the Author
Ntozake Shange (1948–2018) was a renowned poet, novelist, playwright, and performer, best known for her Broadway-produced and Obie Award–winning choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. She wrote numerous works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, including If I Can Cook/You Know God Can, Wild Beauty, and Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs (Foreword) is the literary advisor to the Ntozake Shange Revocable Trust. She is the author of M Archive: After the End of the World and Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and is the co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. She is the founder of Brilliance Remastered, an organization that supports underrepresented scholars, artists, and organizers. Alexis has received numerous awards and recognitions such as the Advocate Magazine’s 40 under 40 and Colorlines’s 10 LGBTQ Leaders Transforming the South. Connect with her at alexispauline.com..
Reneé L. Charlow (Afterword) was the personal assistant to Ntozake Shange from 2014 to 2018. She is an actor, director, writer, and Theatre professor. She served as associate producer and assistant director for the production of Shange’s Lost in Language and Sound at Karamu House, Cleveland, OH, and directed for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf at Virginia Commonwealth University and Bowie State University. Keep in touch with Renee at mycreativespirit.net.
“Of interest to those familiar with Shange’s written work, and generally to dancers and dance historians.”
“An elegant and eloquent work by an artist who left us too soon that recognizes and celebrates the unique contributions of Black dancers and choreographers.”
“An absolute ‘must read’ for the legions of Ntozake Shange fans, Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance is a much appreciated posthumous publication of her work in which a truly revered poet crafts a personal history of Black dance and captures the careers of legendary dancers along with her own rhythmic beginnings. While especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Black Studies collections in general, and Dance Studies/History collections in particular.”
—Midwest Book Review
“An essential addition to our cultural history and to Ntozake Shange’s legacy as a pioneering creative force.”
“Through Ntozake Shange’s personal memories of dance—what it has meant to her, how she came to know, understand, and feel it—we are taken on a journey that chronicles some of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the latter part of the twentieth century.”
“A gorgeous last offering from one of our most gifted and multifaceted artists. Her passion for dance, just like her passion for words, is among the many reasons she will be missed, though these insightful interviews, ruminations, and reflections will continue to be a balm, across generations, from her to us.rdquo;
—Edwidge Danticat, author of Everything Inside
“A workaholic to her last breath, Ntozake Shange has left us with a book that expands our knowledge of Black dance. Not only is it a textbook but it was composed by someone who created a new form. A true innovator.”
—Ishmael Reed, author of Malcolm and Me
“Ntozake Shange presents a language of movement that only she knew—relearned with clarity and courage, and unveiled to the world as a black American groove of words in commemorative motion.”
—Rebecca Carroll, author of Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America and host of the podcast Come Through with Rebecca Carroll
“Ntozake Shange delivered her gifts to us embossed with directions, and permission, to create our own magic and miracle and movement. Dance We Do is her final gift to us, but it is, like she was, a gift that will nourish and replenish us for generations to come.”
—Bassey Ikpi, author of I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying
“In Dance We Do, Ntozake Shange offers the living history of Black dance our current movements need. In these conversations’ exquisite choreography, we witness the artist’s incomparable poetic stretch, her dazzling theoretical reach, and her unparalleled ability to name the deep political necessity of Black bodily knowledge. Here, we see Shange as teacher and theorist, charting the spiral histories of Black dance with the eloquence of a lyrical rond de jambe. Her keen and tender reflections on dance greats such as Dianne McIntyre and Dyane Harvey set the beat for interviews with newer voices like Camille A. Brown and Davalois Fearon, alongside whom we learn from Shange’s great vision and pedagogy. To read Dance We Do is to move with a master. It is to learn not only what Black dance means, why Black bodies matter, but how. Dance We Do makes its meanings elegantly, fearlessly, with the endless precision of Blackness itself: a full vocabulary of bodies and lives, writing rhythms that out-move time.”
—Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, PhD, author of Blue Talk and Love
“Blessed are we to have a new work by the inimitable Ntozake Shange, whose writing is a balm for the soul. Sharing with readers her earliest body memories, Shange takes us into the most intimate spaces of her own fleshy form and, by extension, those of the oft overlooked Black dancers she spotlights. She makes us feel the connections between body and brain, the ache of overworked muscles, the discipline required to make jetés and fouettés appear effortless, as we linger on every word of this taut work of Black brilliance, wanting our eyes to forever dance on its pages.”
—Tanisha C. Ford, author of Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion
“Dance We Do holds an eternal flame for the embodied work and life of Ntozake Shange. This new work is our spiritual relevé. It helps us rise to our toes and once again honor Black bodies as beautiful, magical, and elegant. Each chapter is a radical intervention that brings us closer to the Black Radical Tradition of exploring our rhythms. Shange has always known that Black lives matter, and this text is a reminder of her commitment to the nuance of Blackness. While reading I had to stand up, move around, walk, and signify with the text. Thank you, Shange, once again for bringing us home.”
—Jamara Wakefield, writer
“A dancer first, the irrepressible Ntozake Shange writes of her art with passion and humor.”
—Jennifer Dunning, author of Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance
’A celebration of poetry, mentorship, music, and the Black body in movement and art.”
—Aku Kadogo, chair, Department of Theater and Performance, Spelman College
“Remarkable—provoking—insightful. Ntozake Shange’s Dance We Do is a valuable document for those interested in the foundational elements that make dance what it is today, especially Black dance. A real look-see into a world many people knew about but that has never been explored. A must-read for those interested in identifying and understanding where much of American dance concepts today are derived.”
—Otis Sallid, producer, director, and choreographer