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www.kennedy-center.org
www.kennedy-center.org

Hip-Hop Dancer Comfort Fedoke Comes to Kennedy Center

Comfort Fedoke realizes that in order to grow and gain skills in anything you aim to do, you have to start where you are. The Emmy Award-winning dancer didn’t start out as the superstar we have seen her become since her TV debut on So You Think You Can Dance. Fedoke was drawn to dance after suffering an injury while running track and field. For her, it started with the electric slide, a super popular line dance that’s social, group-focused and fun for dancers of all levels – much like the Dizzy Feet Foundation’s National Dance Day.

This Saturday, dancers of all skill levels and abilities will gather at the Kennedy Center to celebrate dance by learning choreography, watching incredible performances and participating in various dance-related events. In honor of this nationally recognized holiday, we spoke to Fedoke about her dance career, working as a choreographer for the one-and-only Missy Elliott and what’s she’s most excited about for National Dance Day.

On Tap: National Dance Day is all about celebrating the art of dance, encouraging Americans to dance and making it accessible to all kinds of people of all ages. What made you get involved with this event?
Comfort Fedoke:
It’s so important [to have] a place and a platform for all types of dancers. Dance is a universal language and I just have to be involved with it because dance is my life. I always say, “Movement is my communication, so watch and get to know me.” I really wanted to make sure that National Dance Day could be celebrated by everyone and we can all communicate through dance and movement. I have to participate in it as much as I can, to just make sure that dance is being put on that platform. [As dancers,] we get put in the background so many times, so to actually be put in the front and be able to celebrate [dance] through movement is just beautiful.

OT: What inspired you to dance and how did you get started?
CF
It was just something in my body. My mom dances. She’s a really, really incredible dancer. My dad also – he has his random drops and claps and stuff. I think it’s innately in our family, so rhythm was just something that was destined [for me]. It turned into a hobby and then it turned into a career. I couldn’t dance at first. I could do the electric slide that my mama taught me and that was all I needed. But I got hurt because I used to run track and field. Dance was just another passion, another outlet that felt like a competitive sport. I didn’t really think of dance as a sport then, but in my head it was so competitive so I was able to gravitate to dance competitively. I just loved the rush and the feeling of freestyling and battling. After that, [my inspiration came from] learning from and wanting to dance with artists that I love to listen to all time like Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Missy Elliot who were dancing as well as singing and performing. That was so incredible [to me] that they were dance artists.

OT: I know it’s every dancer’s dream to work with Missy Elliott, so that must be amazing.What has been your favorite experience working with her?
CF: When I first got with Missy, that was the start of everything. As dancers, some of our first steps of wanting to become a dancer is because we want to dance with an artist or on Broadway. Whatever the case may be, it’s always with someone else – it’s never on your own. As dancers, we can brand ourselves. If you’re a dancer in Los Angeles, your goal is to dance with an artist. Coming from a freestyle space, I wanted something with more movement. When Missy Elliott came in 2012 and said, “Hey, I’m coming back and we’re looking for dancers,” I went to the audition. The audition was for Get Ur Freak On, which is one of my favorite songs and videos, and the biggest surprise –which still drives me crazy to this day – is that I was the only one she picked from Los Angeles out of the entire [group]. 

OT: Wow, that’s a huge honor!
CF:
Yeah, it was crazy! Since then, I’ve been working with her and going around the world. She trusts in my movement and she asks me to help create the choreography so I’ve been able to have my hands on a lot of the choreography at a lot of points. I’m from Nigeria, so when we did WTF (Where They From), she saw me doing a lot of my Nigerian moves and was like, “Oh my gosh! Where’s that from?” and I was like, “Oh from Naija” and she was like “Whaaat? We gotta put this in the music video!”So it was cool to be able to put some Naija moves like “Shoki” on the map. My Naija fam was like, “Ohhhhh!” [when they saw the video]. I feel like that beginning point was my greatest highlight with Missy. From there, it was just history.

OT: So let’s get back to National Dance Day. Why do you think it’s a good idea for people to participate and what are you looking forward to most about it?
CF: I think you should just ask yourself “Why not?” It was established by Nigel Lythgoe in 2010, and it’s recognized by Congress. It’s actually a day, you know? It’s just one of those days when everyone can share – there’s no color lines, there’s no anything. I’m just looking forward to being able to be onstage at the Kennedy Center and looking out into the audience and saying, “Look how many individuals are out here for one reason and one reason only: to elevate themselves through movement and dance.” It’s also good because dance is important for the human body – mentally and physically. The more you dance, the more you move. My good friend Courtney Galiano [now Courtney Platt] has MS [Multiple Sclerosis], and she is a fighter. She has an MS walk where she actually dances and moves and tells people to not let that bring them down. Dance does that for so many people in so many different ways. That’s why National Dance Day can involve anybody through any health issues.

OT: I love that. I was watching the combo video and I appreciate that you guys make it accessible to people that don’t have a full range of movement. That definitely ties into the idea of making National Dance Day accessible to everyone.
CF:
Absolutely. People that can’t walk and aren’t mobile can create hand tuts. You can still dance with your hands and create different tut lines and stuff like that. Bollywood [has] all the different lotuses and the hand movements they create are beautiful. That’s still movement and it’s still elevating you in a different way. National Dance Day just speaks to everyone.

OT:  Do you have any advice for people that may be participating in National Dance Day for the first time?
CF: It’s extremely easy to participate. Mandy Moore created the choreography, and she made it so you can do it your own way. She takes some of the moves and she also gives you a little bit of a platform to showcase [your dance] with the hashtag #dancemademedoit. It’s something people can share with friends and not feel alienated. It’s just something they’re trying to get everyone to participate in and really show that each individual community can do it and not feel insecure. Not everyone is an incredible dancer, but if you’re moving with some type of rhythm, or if you can do a two-step and take at least one of those moves and turn it into the entire dance, then you can do something. You’re a dancer now. It’s something that really anyone can enjoy.

OT: Here’s one last question that I’d like to throw in for fun. What’s a question that you wish that I’d asked you?
CF: Hmmm. Maybe “What’s my favorite dance movie?”

OT: Okay, what’s your favorite dance movie?
CF: It’s The Goofy Movie, which is kind of a ridiculous answer.

OT: Well, they had some moves. I can see that.
CF: Yo…Powerline?

OT: A.k.a. Michael Jackson
CF: He was going in. I found out it was choreographed and played by Anthony Thomas, who is my favorite choreographer now. He did all of Rhythm Nation. I freaking love that movie. It’s like my go-to movie and when I was a kid, I tried to learn that choreography. Plus it had a perfect cast!

Catch Comfort Fedoke leading the official National Dance Day routine this Saturday, July 28 at the Kennedy Center. For a full list of National Dance Day events, click here. This event is open to the public and free to attend; no tickets required.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F Street, NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Woolly Mammoth Botticelli in the Fire

Stage and Screen: The Remains, The Tempest and More

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 9

An Iliad
The Iliad is one of Homer’s great tales, culminating in a heartbreaking battle between Prince Hector of Troy and Brad Pi…I mean Achilles, one of the greatest warriors in fictional history (any time your name becomes nomenclature for a pesky body part, you know you’re a legend). Conor Bagley’s version at Atlas Arts is a modern retelling, settling on a more personal story between the two powerful mortals. While the description throws a ton of adjectives to focus on, the one highlighted heavily is that of rage and why the intoxicating feeling is so hard to control but easy to unleash. Tickets are $15-$25. Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab 1: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 16

Laugh Index Theatre’s Annual Comedy Festival
This festival is a smorgasbord of comedy, featuring a variety of acts from all over the country. Over the course of a few weeks, and at several venues, there will be improv teams, sketch teams, musical comedy, stand-up (duh) and podcasts all dedicated to making you laugh. So no matter what tickles your fancy, your funny bone will be scratched (no not the area on your arm, don’t be weird). Performances at various locations. Ticket prices vary. LIT Annual Comedy Festival: Various locations around Washington, DC; www.laughindextheatre.com

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 24

Botticelli in the Fire
What do artists do when faced with a populist takeover of the societies their work reflects? There’s no right or wrong answer, as those kinds of regimes often are accompanied by attempts to censor or deride anything seen as contentious. Does this sound relevant? Yeah, that’s what Woolly Mammoth’s Botticelli in the Fire wants you to take away, as it draws comparisons to the current political climate and that of the famed artist during the populist revolution in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Florence. Faced with numerous choices throughout, Botticelli must make decisions with no easy answers. Tickets are $20-$51. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net 

The Remains
Yes, The Remains does sound like the title of a straight-to-video knockoff of HBO’s The Leftovers (fun fact: Nick Cage actually stars in this very thing, a little remake titled Left Behind), but Studio Theatre’s play is anything but. Instead of a story centered around people vanishing into thin air (*snap*), this story focuses on the 10-year marriage of Kevin and Theo, who host a dinner party to celebrate their newly renovated condo. As families tend to upon gathering together for an occasion, philosophy and truth come to the forefront, pulling the curtain on their thought-to-be perfect union. Learn more about the production in Keith Loria’s story on page 6. Tickets start at $20. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 1

The Tempest
A classic comedy by the classic hitmaker William Shakespeare, The Tempest is a veteran of the theatre scene and one which commands a certain respect. I have little doubt the folks at Avant Bard will deliver the show with their own offbeat twist. The story is filled with love and magic and of course, riddled with conflict. It wouldn’t be a Shakespeare special if it didn’t also contain a smidge of tragedy as well. Tickets are $30-$35. The Gunston Arts Center: 2700 S. Lang St. Arlington, VA; www.wscavantbard.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6 – SATURDAY, JUNE 23

Switch
If you thought the most intriguing body-switching tales involved those of kids and their parents (as seen too many times in pop culture, so excuse me for not listing), you’re wrong. Switch takes the premise and flips it on its head, as the story involves a couple who wake up in one another’s bodies following sex. What follows is the two deciding to explore their boundaries with their gender-fluid friend Lark. Written by Brett Abelman and directed by Megan Behm, this play depicts a world “where sex, gender and sexuality intertwine.” Tickets are $25. Trinidad Theatre at Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 19 – SUNDAY, JULY 22

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations
The Temptations are arguably one of the greatest musical acts of all time, so it’s nice to see their story get the recognition it deserves as Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations comes to the Kennedy Center this month. The performance is biographical in nature, following the five young men who would eventually emerge from Detroit, Michigan as The Temptations. The play was penned by Dominique Morisseau and features hits like “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Tickets start at $59. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, JUNE 23 – SUNDAY, JUNE 24

RebollarDance
Erica Rebollar returns to DC to celebrate the tenth anniversary of her works with a new piece titled Variations. According to Dance Place, this piece is a meditation on the choreographic method, or theme and variation. All that being said, this seems like a very meta dance piece, as the focus is about the construction of an actual dance choreography. Though art about art can sometimes be confusing for neophytes, this performance is likely to avoid the possible pitfalls and be enjoyable for all. Tickets are $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Photo: Lydia Daniller
Photo: Lydia Daniller

BOYS IN TROUBLE Tackles Toxic Masculinity Through Dance

BOYS IN TROUBLE is a dance performance, but it’s not only a dance performance. The show is radically different than what most modern dance is – abstract movements perpetually difficult to follow for the untrained eye. Instead, this piece is based on storytelling, and it’s deeply understandable and relatable.

“The first thing people need to know is it’s not boring modern dance,” choreographer Sean Dorsey says. “Most people feel like they don’t ‘get’ modern dance, and for good reason. It’s pretty inaccessible!”

The actual product isn’t the only aspect that sets BOYS IN TROUBLE apart from what you might normally see at Brookland’s Dance Place, the show’s DC host on May 19 and 20. Much like Dorsey’s other works, the project focuses on masculinity from a transgender and queer viewpoint.

“We do this through full-throttle dance, highly-physical theatre and vulnerable storytelling,” Dorsey says. “One minute we’re flying through the air doing super technical and rigorous dancing, the next minute we’re delivering dialogue and irreverent humor, and the next minute we’re doing movement with storytelling.”

This kind of subject matter is a reflection of previous works by Dorsey, who is seemingly unanimously titled the first acclaimed transgender modern dance choreographer. His company Sean Dorsey Dance is located in San Francisco.

“As a trans person, I grew up without ever seeing a single other transgender modern dancer, let alone a choreographer. I’ve been so alone on this journey in many ways, all the while facing harsh barriers, judgement and questions from the world. This project pushed me to unleash some defiant energy and righteous, proud anger – and sass.”

With the titles and recognition, Dorsey feels a deep sense of responsibility, creating a huge amount of pressure each time he begins to craft a new work.

“I had to dance myself into being. I had to insert trans bodies and stories into dance. I care so deeply for my people – for my trans and gender-nonconforming communities – that I often take on too much, and work too hard.”

A piece with this kind of emotional weight doesn’t form overnight; Dorsey began initial research on the project three years ago. A year later, he began hosting free community forums on masculinity, led transgender-supportive dance classes and taught self-expression workshops for anyone willing to partake.

“The themes that arose in these communities guided me as I built the show, which is also built around the dancers’ own experiences and life histories,” he says. “After working for two years creating a show, you wait for a moment when you know that the piece is complete. There were several deep themes related to masculinity that I really, really wanted and needed to get into – sections that explore shame, body shame and questions of self-worth. These lie under everything that is toxic about masculinity.”

While the process of developing what would eventually become BOYS IN TROUBLE began years ago, Dorsey is not surprised that the topics he chooses to tackle are still wholly relevant to society. In his view, these issues have perpetually existed within society’s collective subconsciousness.

“When I started this project, I could not have imagined how timely and even more urgent it would become. Here’s the thing. Toxic masculinity, racism and white supremacy, transphobia, body shame and gender norms – none of these things are new. These things have plagued us ever since this country was founded on invasion, genocide, slavery, segregation, internment, and the criminalization of trans and queer bodies and love.”

All of Dorsey’s dance is uniquely educational about the transgender experience and has been performed all around the country on several tours, but he still feels a lack of acceptance from his own community on a wider scale. Though his work is routinely critically acclaimed and celebrated, he still sees barriers within the medium – walls he hopes to eradicate, one piece at a time.

“In ways, the dance field has not changed,” he says. “The field still actively excludes trans and gender-nonconforming people. I am now asking the field to call this a crisis. The barriers are massive and numerous. My national education program, TRANSform Dance, addresses these, and through trainings, workshops and performances, we are working with the field to change.”

One of those performances is BOYS IN TROUBLE, and Dorsey is excited for the District to see his work.

“If you love the theatre, I guarantee you will be moved deeply and laugh out loud. You will leave with your heart cracked open and transformed. It’s a very, very powerful show.”

BOYS IN TROUBLE will be performed at Dance Place on Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30. Learn more at www.danceplace.org.

Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; 202-269-1600; www.danceplace.org

Photo: XMB Photography
Photo: XMB Photography

TRANSIT at Dupont Underground

After a three-day stint at Dupont Underground, Australian-born choreographer and dancer Sarah J. Ewing’s site-specific, original dance and technology performance of TRANSIT left observers with pensive expressions. The looks were not of confusion, but rather a contemplation of the progression of life and the various elements that contribute to our individual present or future state.

The performance began with white words cast upon stonewalls spelling “TRANSIT.” Then blinding lights lit up the tunnel as dancers stepped lightly into the space. Each dancer’s gray attire matched their facial expression, as well as the intended expressionless ambiance.

As the performers stood motionless, the sounds of commuting began to echo through the seats. In coordination with the music, the lights shifted from spots to ripples to darkness, illustrating the obstacles of traveling uncontrollably through life.

The interpretive showcase told the story of three generations of women experiencing similar hardships and joy at every turn in life through different time periods. During a brief interview with Ewing, she explained her vision as a “treasure map of life showing moments intertwined with linear time.”

This movement was a display of power and grace. The dancers’ modern choreography coupled with the music, which maintained a steady beat except for the occasional syncopation, kept viewers fixated on the stage and constantly wondering what would come next.

The audience witnessed solos, duets and a small ensemble, all of whom told the narrative of the linear timeline of life. In one ensemble scene, each performer moved in their own style, sometimes in a haphazard way that might not be considered dancing at all, followed by the rest of the ensemble mimicking the leader’s motions in sync. The scene spoke to the chaos of life and how we are often solely focused on our personal forward progress while others are stuck in peril.

The performance welcomed a plethora of themes, but it would be tough to argue against the significance of time in the piece. The transformative lighting and shifting sounds in each scene highlighted the evolution of characters. Time, illustrated by score, was constant. The volume rose and fell, but it was constantly there, declaring the inevitable continuation of time, no matter our individual circumstances.

The hour-long performance sustained a solemn tone throughout, however, the final scene marked a shift in rhythmic excitement and exaggerated dance that brought a sense of joy to the dark, underground tunnel. This conveyed that through life’s journey, one will always have reasons to celebrate even when it seems impossible.

TRANSIT is a collaboration between S. J. Ewing and Dancers, CulturalDC at Dupont Underground and CityDance. To see upcoming showcases at Dupont Underground or to learn more, visit here. Ticket prices vary from exhibit to exhibit but typically range from $10-$20, with an occasional free event happening.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Circle NW, DC; 202-315-1321; www.dupontunderground.org

Photo: Rachel E. H. Photography
Photo: Rachel E. H. Photography

Local Entrepreneur Brings Dance to World Stage

Like many young professionals, Megan Taylor Morrison arrived in the DC area for work.

“The job was amazing,” Morrison said. “But ultimately, I knew I was destined to start my own company.”

Two years in, Megan quit and began earning money as a life coach and dance instructor at Joy of Motion, where she still teaches.

“All the while, I worked with my business partner Melaina Spitzer to design and run dance trips to Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Argentina,” Morrison said. “We were testing the business model for Dance Adventures (DA). Even though Melaina and I had 18 years of experience leading trips, this was a different niche, and we needed to learn the ropes.”

DA is now in its third year of business. As an adventure travel company, DA specializes in “epic dance tours around the world.” In 2018, DA will sponsor trips to six destinations. The company was recently accepted to Creative Startups, the foremost accelerator for creative businesses in the world. We spoke with Morrison about DA, her experience in the incubator and what it’s like to start a business in the DMV area.

On Tap: What inspires you about this work?
Megan Morrison: I always knew our travelers would have a great time, but I didn’t expect the experiences to be so transformative. Most of us are busy, burnt out and disconnected in our daily lives. My favorite part of this work is seeing people reconnect to their sense of community, self-expression, wonder and play. Connecting to these things is key to living our most joyful, healthy and successful life.

OT: Where is your favorite place to visit?
MM: Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is fabulous because it offers so much: hikes to incredible vistas, great music and lots of fun dance styles. Samba no pé, the dance featured in Carnaval, is the best-known. I also love partnered samba (“samba de gafieira”) and forró, which is a partner dance done to the Brazilian version of country music. I also love the Dominican Republic because it’s the birthplace of bachata and merengue. My favorite thing to do is sit at a colmado, or corner store, drink an ice-cold Presidente beer, and listen to music or play dominos with the locals.

OT: Where can people learn these dances in DC?
MM: I teach at Joy of Motion, and I recommend taking classes there. You can also join our Dance Adventures Meetup group.

OT: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business in the DMV area?
MM: Living in the DMV is expensive, but don’t let that stop you from starting a business. You can always make it work, even if you need to drive an Uber or stay at your day job until you’re turning a profit. Get lots of support to keep you accountable and moving forward.

OT: How is Creative Startups helping you building your business?
MM:
Over the last three years, I’ve identified the gaps in my knowledge and I knew Creative Startups would be a fast and powerful way to fill those gaps and hone the business model. It’s extremely intense and gives us access to incredible mentors, like Lena Ramfelt from Stanford University. We’re only a few weeks in and we’ve already completely changed our business model. It’s exciting and we’re really encouraged by the community.

OT: What other advice would you give young professionals with big dreams?
MM: Surround yourself with other visionaries. It can be lonely having a big vision and not having those around you understand. Before I left my job, there was a three-month period where I cried every day after work. I wanted to start my business so badly, but I was afraid and many people told me it was crazy. Trust yourself and get started, because there is magic in beginning.

Learn more about DA here.

Photo caption: Dance Adventures’ Founding Director Melaina Spitzer dances bachata with a fellow traveler in the Dominican Republic

Decades dc
Photos: Alex Martin

Dancing Through the Decades

Last August, I checked in with Panorama Productions owner and longtime DC event promoter Antonis Karagounis about potentially covering a few upcoming events. I’ve been collaborating with Karagounis since the start of my nine-year career as a music and nightlife journalist, covering the likes of Tiësto, David Guetta and more at his Club Glow parties.

But instead of a media pass, Karagounis presented me with the opportunity to become the concept development and social media director of Decades, a three-story, 12,000-square-foot, retro-themed nightclub that opened downtown at the end of 2016. The last six months have been entirely unexpected, and ultimately beneficial to the nightlife scene in the nation’s capital.

Until February of last year, the space now occupied by Decades was known as Midtown, a club that specialized in Top 40 pop and dance from the present day. However, for Panorama Productions, opening a pop nightclub wasn’t enough. Panorama owns Northeast DC mega concert hall Echostage, and a quartet of Northwest DC spaces including restaurant and nightclub Barcode, fully soundproofed underground house and bass music venue Soundcheck, multilevel dance den Ultrabar, and urban pop space L8 Lounge.

Alongside vaunted turntablist DJ Enferno (who once toured with Madonna), venue designer Josh Lee, artist Keneth Nyakabwa, Decades  Marketing Director Kamal Azzouz and myself, Karagounis focused on creating an atmosphere “celebrating club and DJ culture, plus the hits of the recent past and the present day.” Together, we are aiming to do something more by paying homage to the top hits of the 80s, 90s, 2000s and today.

As the journalist involved in this process, my most significant role is ensuring that the story of the club is correct. Everything in the planning stages was selected with precision – the Air Jordan sneakers hung artfully as if they’re swinging from telephone wires on the Decades of Hip-Hop floor, the beer and other alcohol served on the 90s floor, the faces of the most culturally relevant pop stars in the 2000s floor’s Pop VIP bottle service area, and of course, the music itself. It’s my job to ensure that the respective timeframes of each floor are accurately represented, making a nostalgic impact on the nightclub’s clientele.

It’s important to hear the perfect song in the perfect place with the perfect mood and feel completely transported to a likely forgotten, but pleasantly remembered age. If even one of those concepts falls short, in many ways the club falls short. In my attempts to overdeliver alongside a team of creatives also obsessed with overdelivering, Decades has thankfully been packed since it opened.

The larger goal of Decades is to celebrate just how well-liked and remembered these songs and eras were – forever. Within one classic era cycle, the music industry sold nearly 1 billion albums in the year 2000 alone. And for roughly 30 years, MTV excelled at turning music into indelible pop culture. There is now a very real, three-story and must-enjoy opportunity in the heart of DC for everyone who wants to connect with a sound from their past.

Decades: 1219 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; 202-853-3498; www.decadesdc.com