Friday, September 30, 2011

Political Vaudeville

Political Vaudeville!
Jaz Dorsey

As we go careening into another election year with our economy evaporating in to cyberspace, isn't it about time someone had a little FUN IN THE WHITE HOUSE?

Growing up to be the President
Isn't that what America meant
It doesn't matter, poor or rich
Good guy or a son of a bitch

O we'll have fun in the White House
Wait and see
It's just the right house for you and me
We'll party away international gloom
Smoking a blunt in the Oval Room.

But if you want to get elected
Then you have got to be respected
And if you want to be respected
Then you have got to get elected
And if you want to get elected
And if you want to be respected
You'd better tell them what they want to hear
Or you'll probably get rejected
And then instead of making headlines
You'll be standing in the bread lines
And you can't change anything there

Chinks and Pollacks, Wops and Spics
All get involved in politics
We may not like it but what can we say - We're
Victims of the American Way!

Fun in the White House
What the heck
Who cares if the country is a
Nervous wreck
To lighten up a day which is rainy
We can blow up Sadam Hussein- y

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

Copyright 1988 by Jaz Dorsey
First produced at in the George Lawes production of FAUST FOR PRESIDENT at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BLAST is a blast at TPAC (Nashville)

Review of BLAST by Jaz Dorsey

I go to the theatre to see and review plays. Last night I went to see BLAST.

BLAST is not a play. There is no way I can "review" it except with regard to how much I enjoyed it. It is an extraordinary show.

And it does have characters and those characters are the amazing array of instruments from the Tuba to the Marimba and the wonderful young artists who not only can play them, but dance, sing and act with them as well.

Add to that an almost hallucinogenic light show, brilliant choreography from many eras and cultures, smart costumes and the wonderful wonderful music and BLAST gives you the kind of thrills and chills that make it unforgettable.

BLAST runs through this Sunday, October 2 and the 411 is at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mark Clayton Southers to appear at the reading of his play NINE DAYS IN THE SUN this Saturday (Nashville)

Mark Clayton Southers

Mark Clayton Southers, who is the Artistic Director for the Theatre Initiative of The August Wilson Center for African American Arts in Pittsburgh, is coming to Nashville for the William Jenkins reading of his play NINE DAYS IN THE SUN at The Z. Alexander Looby Theatre as the second event in the Nashville Metro Parks Theatre Deaprtment's New Play Reading Series.

For more about Mr. Southers and his work, visit

Mr. Southers is a founding member of The African American Playwrights Exchange, founded in 2007 by Dramaturg Jaz Dorsey of Nashville, Tennessee

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre.

Jaz Dorsey
Producing Dramaturg
The African American Playwrights Exchange
Nashville, Tennessee

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marsha Trice's IMPERFECT WOMEN OF THE BIBLE opens 10/22 (Jersey City)

Please click image to enlarge.

The Phoenix Ensemble Inc. Troupe will perform its play Imperfect Women of the Bible on October 22, 2011, two shows, 2:00 pm and 6:00pm at Middle School No. 4: 107 Bright Street, Jersey City, N.J.

The Phoenix Ensemble was founded by an intense desire to see theatrical arts active in the Jersey City community, a desire to offer the African American community in Jersey City and the broader New Jersey area an opportunity to escape the streets and to participate in theater which challenges as well as uplifts. This company is not only interested in seeing the arts represented in Jersey City but performed for a community not always given the chance to see another view of the world, producing such projects as “A Raisin in the Sun,” “A Soldier’s Play,” and “For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide.”

Imperfect Women of the Bible, written and directed by Marsha Trice, is a story about the greatest love told by a few women that one would not consider so “holy”. It is a compelling and uniquely expressed story told through monologue, song and dance. As the story moves forward the women (portrayed by Marsha Trice, Nancy Manning, Renee Walker, Michele Baldwin, Asha Nikki Jenkins , Gretchen Lee-Noel, Crystal Nuchurch and Glenda Houser) learn that they too can bring the good news.

Please join us for this inspiring faith based play. For more information and tickets please contact: 201-376-9810 or 732-951-8970 or 908-276-5926

In addition, Phoenix Ensemble Inc. is involved in the Jersey City Public School system, teaching film, theater and fashion/costume design with a Bullying theme tied to the film and theater projects. More upcoming community projects and events are slated for the 2011 calendar year.

Please click the post's title to visit the Phoenix Ensemble website and to learn more about Imperfect Women of the Bible.

Last 2 weeks for Radha Blank's SEED at Classical Theatre of Harlem

To learn more and to buy tickets, please click the post's title.

Elmo is African American?

What does an award-winning documentary on Kevin Clash, a black man who is the heart and soul of Elmo on Sesame Street, have to do with AAPEX? It's a story about being pro-active in your career and following your dream no matter what others may think, something we have been encouraging from the get-go.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vote for Liliane Klein!

Liliane Klein

Liliane needs your vote to get into the NYMF Next Broadway Sensation Finals! Lord knows how much she has done for AAPEX playwrights by not only finding us free venues in NYC for a whole slew of readings but also by appearing in them too (just click her name below and it will bring up her long and storied AAPEX past).

Please note votes must be in BEFORE 5pm THIS TUESDAY. To vote, just click the post's title.

Petronia Paley nominated for AUDELCO Best Director Award

Petronia Paley

The Take Wing And Soar production of Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra, has received five AUDELCO Recognition Awards Nominations.
Dramatic Production of The Year: Antony & Cleopatra | Take Wing And Soar Productions.
Best Lead Actress: Debra Ann Byrd
Best Costumes: David Withrow
Sound Design: David D. Wright
Best Director/Dramatic Production: Petronia Paley

Ms. Paley is now raising funds for her one-woman play On the Way to Timbuktu and scouting venues for DC Copeland's Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance which she will direct in January 2012. To learn more about these projects, please click their titles.

The 39th Annual Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO Recognition Awards for Excellence in Black Theatre, aka "The Viv," are the only formally established awards presented to the black theatre community. The ceremony will be held Monday, November 14th at the HarlemStage/Aaron Davis Hall in NYC. Voting is for members only. If you would like to join AUDELCO and vote, please click the post's title.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Patrice Evans' Negropedia book to be released Oct 4th

To learn more, please click the post's title.

Red Harlem Readers: Ann Wright speaks Sunday (9/25)

Help Yayoi Twitition Oprah!

Yayoi Winfrey

Please help Yayoi Winfrey, our first Trailblazer Award Winner, get her famous cousin to help produce her movie Watermellon Sushi. Click the post's title to learn more and to sign the Twitition.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Notes To A Young Director: The different stages of new play development

We have just had a most wonderful experience with a new script reading here in Nashville. Carolyn German, who heads up the Metro Parks Theatre Department, had decided that her department would sponsor a year long new play reading series and the African American Playwrights Exchange was given the opportunity to kick that series off with a reading of BILLIE'S BLUES, Hershell Norwood's new play about Billie Holiday. That reading has lead to other offers, so we are now planning a "workshop" for Black History Month.

One of the joys of this past project was getting to work with an amazing young artist named Courtney McClellan. This was Courtney's first directing experience outside of college. When I suggested that our next venture be a "workshop production" she asked me to define the different stages of new play development. I am sharing my notes with her below in case others may find them of value - or for any feedback or critique on any glaring oversights I may have made in my observations.



Here are the predictable phases of a new play development


1. Table read - this is generally at someone's home, around a table with scripts, for the benefit of the playwright and the actors, but no audience.
2. Table read level 2 - same as above but with one or two outsiders.
3. Living room read - the actors are set apart and there is an "audience" of close supporters of the project who will give the thumbs up if the script is ready for a more public audience.
4. Invited read - held in a public space for an invited audience of potential backers and artistic team members
5. Public read - for public audience, actors sitting with scripts. Full narration, no blocking
6. Staged reading - for public, with blocking, minimal narration - what we had at the Looby

Readings are usually free to the public, though often donations are requested. The ONLY reason we didn't ask for donations at The Looby was because we had the use of the theatre for free. Asking for donations would have caused a problem with Metro. Randi Michaels & Ted Swindley could have easily charged for their reading of GUESS WHO'S COMING TO SEDER, which was seen by over 300 people, all of whom I think would have paid $5.00 or even $10.00 to see that reading.

PHASE 2 - Workshopping

Actors off book, basic blocking, some narration, minimal lights, sets and props, suggestive costuming. The idea at this point is that the script has been through a pretty thorough development process and all cuts and tweeks have been made. Now we want to release the script to the actors so we can see the physical dynamics at work in their characters and in the relationships.

With workshops, you usually start charging a small amount, especially since you are normally working in a theatre space and have to pay some rent. The rest of the funds usually go to reimburse folks for their small expenses.

PHASE 3 - Showcases

Showcases are important because they allow you to "produce" the script with out calling it a "production"

Oddly enough, getting your script "Produced" can be death for the script because many producers will not touch a script that has been previously produced. Which makes no sense to me, except that often the first "producers" do sign a contract with the playwright which gives them entitlements with regards to future productions. But you would think that having had a play produced would be an asset, when in fact it can be a detriment.

So in New York, scripts often have multiple "showcases."

NELLIE, the Bernice Lee musical for which I was composer and co-lyricist, had 2 Equity showcases - an Off Off Broadway Equity showcase in 1997 and an Off Broadway Equity showcase (at The Lambs Theatre on Times Square) in 1999.

Using Equity guidelines as, well, a guideline - Equity showcases have a cap on the budget which is set by Equity. When we did the Off Broadway showcase of NELLIE in 99, that cap was $17,000.00 of which I put up half, which is one reason I ain't got no money today.

Sadly, actors are not really compensated for showcases beyond car fare, but money goes into costumes and sets. With NELLIE we spent a nice chunk on getting the music arranged by a young fellow who had studied with Sondheim. Unfortunately he made all of my music sound like Sondheim, which was all wrong because my "muse" for that score was Kurt Weill. But at least it wasn't a production, just a showcase, so those arrangements are not set in stone.

You definitely charge for a showcase - I think our tickets were $15.00 or $20.00 and we sold pretty well, but we still lost money - which in a way I recouped as a loss on my taxes, because the NYC showcase is actually set up as a business and you can take a loss.

Similar to "showcases" are "festival" productions. Festivals offer pretty much the same safety net to the playwright and collaborators in that they do not count as actual "productions" - they are really special showcases where a number of plays are mounted and publicized together with the "validation" of having been accepted into the festival. Playwrights and their collaborators bear the expense of mounting the play and sometimes even the cost of publicizing as well.

By the time BILLIE'S BLUES got to us, it had been through several readings and two "festival" productions, so we were ready to at least get the actors on their feet. Knowing what we do now about our audience's reaction to the script and the cast, another reading would be a waste of time, which is why we need these guys off book, blocked and costumed. I'm thinking that we need to get with Sabine and turn that room INTO Mama's Jam with some embellishments, which is what I want to discuss with you as soon as Sabine confirms our date. Even if we just put up photos of Billie and other famous jazz musicians on the wall ( it is an art gallery, after all)

If our "workshop" were to lead to anything further, I would still position that as a "showcase" so as not to hurt Hershell's chances at a future production by a better financed producer. However, Perlie has put me in contact with a producer in Newport News, Va. who might actually be interested in bringing our cast up there. If that were to happen, then obviously we would find ourselves in "production" mode.

Hope this helps to clarify the different stages of developing a script for it's actual life in the American theatre.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ebony Repertory Theatre presents “Back to The Future: In Search of a New Black Theatre Aesthetic” 10/14-16 (LA)

Ebony Repertory Theatre
“Back to The Future: In Search of a New Black Theatre Aesthetic”
A 3-day theatre symposium
October 14-16, 2011
Featuring the Writings of
Henry Miller, Ph.D.

Ebony Repertory Theatre (“ERT”) invites the public to join them for an in-depth 3-day Theatre Symposium of play readings and panel discussions from October 14 to 16, 2011, featuring actors, directors, producers, union representatives, casting directors, designers, and scholars, as they examine the historical and contemporary theatre landscape. The work of Dr. Henry Miller, author of the new “milestone” book, Theorizing Black Theatre: Art vs. Protest in Critical Writings, 1898-1965, will be the focus of our symposium, with the goal of determining “Where do we go from here?” Throughout the weekend, all of the events presented are designed to include discussion with the panelists and the symposium attendees. Additionally, panels one through three will also include the reading of scenes from some of Dr. Miller’s plays: That Word, 3 Scenes Before A Door, Perfectly Black: Seductions In An Alternate Cosmos Of Negritude, Grandma’s Hands, and Eulalie Spence’s Harlem Renaissance play, Undertow (1929).

Although the tickets are free, reservations are required. To learn more and to make reservations, please click the post's title.

Yayoi Winfrey wins first AAPEX Trailblazer Award


for her genius use of social media and the possibilities of the Internet to bring attention to her work as a playwright, screenwriter and filmmaker. Her indefatigable proactive approach to her writing/professional career is what all of us should strive for and is the inspiration for this award. Congratulations, Yayoi!

Check her out at to learn more about her and her movie Watermelon Sushi and the book it's based on: Watermelon Sushi: The Story of A Black Girl and her Japanese Mother.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Crowdsourcing AAPEX productions: Will DC Copeland's Harlem "dancical" be the first of many?

Thanks to the Internet, "crowdsourcing" for funding artistic ventures has become the rage. Or not. AAPEX is about to find out with our first attempt at raising money for a reading of DC Copeland's "Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance" which you can learn more about by clicking the post's title. The 60-day campaign through IndieGoGo is down to 42-days as of this post and we still haven't raised a dime. Something tells us we must be doing something wrong although we're trying to do everything right via the suggestions IndieGoGo urges us to use if we want a successful campaign. If you have any ideas or would care to share your experiences with IndieGoGo or others like it such as Kickstarter and RocketHub, please do so through our comments section below or directly to me by clicking here.

There never is enough money to go around for playwrights to mount their works.These newfangled crowdsourcing options afford artists of all stripes for the first time an easy, simple-to-use opportunity to be proactive with their careers. Only time will tell if it works for us. 42-days left and counting.

Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX Dramaturg

Ella Joyce's A ROSE AMONG THORNS opens 9/21-24 (Washington, DC)

To buy tickets, please click post's title.

Esther Armah's play SAVIOUR? opens at the Dwyer Cultural Center Oct. 7th - 30th (Harlem)

Please click image to enlarge.

Hello from Passion, I hope fall is treating you well!

You are invited to Esther Armah's play SAVIOUR?

I'm directing it at the Dwyer Cultural Center Oct. 7th - 30th.

You won't believe who saves who!

Starring Michael Green and Jimmy Aquino.

I look forward to seeing you there.

For more information, please click the post's title.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Me and My Old Voice: A short film by Peter Neff

Be sure to call 615-915-0891 or email for tickets to Monday's reading of Hershell Norwood's Billie's Blues in Nashville. For audiences 18 and over due to mature content.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hershell Norwood's BILLIE'S BLUES opens Monday 9/19 (Nashville)

Please click images to enlarge.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Towne Street Theatre call for plays (11/1 Deadline)


Towne Street Theatre, LA's Premiere African American Theatre Company, is accepting submissions for its 5th Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival. The festival will take place during Black History Month, February 2012, at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood. The festival's theme is The Black Experience: Part 2 - LOVE.

The submission deadline is November 1, 2011.

Towne Street is seeking plays that explore love in all its incarnations and manifestations. All genres are welcome, comedy, drama, satire, etc. Plays can be contemporary, historical, or futuristic, with color blind and/ or multi-racial casts. Playwrights of all ethnicities and ages are encouraged to submit their work.

Rules And Guidelines

There is no processing fee but please do not submit more than one play. Please make sure your play is only TEN MINUTES in length and submit totstsubmit@yahoo. com. There will be prizes for first, second, and third place audience favorites. For more information about Towne Street's 5th Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival, visit www.townestreet. org or email info@townestreet. org.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Will Power's FLOW opening Thursday, September 15th at eta (Chicago)

eta's 41ST SEASON
AT 773-288-8776.

eta Creative Arts Foundation
7558 So. South Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60619-2644
773 / 752-3955

Please click post's title to visit eta website.

Pitch Central: where playwrights meet producers

PitchCentral is a trading floor for theatre. The platform provides the opportunity for producers, theatre companies and writers to pitch new or previously produced work to new markets. The company is also creating cross territory venue and festival directories and service guides to provide members with all the information they need to maximize the ROI on their cultural investment. The service is free to playwrights. To learn more, please click the post's title.

Fine Artistree Productions looking for directors (England)

Rosalyn Wright

Are you a theatre director with a passion for new plays? Does the idea of Pop Up theatre in London appeal to you?

Our company is on the lookout for hot new directing talent who can bring new plays from page to performance. We'd like to talk to you if you are interested in the process of showcasing new talent and enabling emerging artists find their audience.

To learn more, please click the post's title.

Owa wins NAACP Theatrical Playwrights Award

Please click image to enlarge.

Congratulations, Owa! It's good to see that our favorite iconoclast, button-pushing, gadfly is finally getting recognized for his work. Well deserved and more power to you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

AAPEX makes history on Monday, September 19th with Hershell Norwood's BILLIE'S BLUES

Dear Folks

AAPEX is set to make a little history on Monday, September 19, when we kick off the Metro Nashville Parks Theatre Deaprtment's NEW PLAY READING SERIES, a year long series conceived by Parks administrator Carolyn German, to promote playwrighting in Nashville. Based on the research I have done, it looks like this will be the first Metro sponsored new play reading series in the country.

We are particularly grateful to AAPEX member Peter Lawson Jones of Cleveland for his support of this project.

See details and flyer below.


In an evening which brings together Nashville's film and theatre communities in one exciting event, The African American Playwrights' Exchange in partnership with the Metro Nashville Parks Theatre Department's NEW PLAY READING SERIES and Film Nashville invite you to join us on Monday, September 19, 7 pm at The Z. Alexander Looby Theatre, 2301 Rosa Parks Blvd for AN EVENING WITH BILLIE HOLIDAY.

The evening will be hosted by Helen "Olaketi" Shute-Pettaway, one of the six artists honored in this year's FIRST NIGHT ceremonies for her outstanding contribution to Nashville Theatre over the past 25 years.

Partnering with FILM NASHVILLE, the evening will kick off with a screening of the 2003 documentary ME & MY OLD VOICE: BILLIE HOLIDAY IN HER OWN WORDS by Nashville film maker Peter Neff.

Special Guest Artist PERLIE DUNN will follow with her rendition of STRANGE FRUIT, the Billie Holiday signature song which was recognized by Time Magazine in 1999 as the most important song of the 20th Century.

Then our audience will get in on the ground floor of an exciting new award winning play about the life of "Lady Day" when Courtney McClellan directs a cast of Nashville's finest actors in a staged reading of BILLIE'S BLUES by Oregon playwright Hershelll Norwood.
Narrated by the enchanting Elan Crawford, the cast features Vilia Steele as Bille Holiday and includes Dr. Dara Talibah, Jonah Kraut, Max Desir, Dominique Howse and Julie Ness. Jonah Kraut pulls double duty as musical director. Due to language and some of Billlie's personal issues, the reading is recommended for mature audiences.

AN EVNING WITH BILLIE HOLIDAY is honored to inaugurate the Metro Parks Theatre Debarment's New Play Reading Series. a unique and innovative project conceived by Parks Artistic Director Carolyn German to showcase our city's outstanding acting and playwrighting community.

Attached is our flyer for the event thanking our sponsors for their support. Please show YOUR support by passing this flyer on to others!

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

Please click image to enlarge.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Flip Side to BILLIE'S BLUES by Hershell Norwood

The Flip Side

In 1939, Billie Holiday cut a record.

It was a record whose significance we may only, just now, be able to put into proper historical perspective. It heralded the beginning of revolution on more than one front.

On one side was STRANGE FRUIT written by a Jewish activist named Abel Meeropol, who was "better known as" Lewis Allen. STRANGE FRUIT would quickly become Holiday's signature song, the song with which she closed many of her shows (when she was allowed to sing it). The song after which there was never an encore. The song which was recognized as the Best Song of the Century by Time Magazine in 1999.

On the flip side was FINE AND MELLOW, written by Billie Holiday.

STRANGE FRUIT made Billie Holiday famous at the time. If she walked into a room today and sang the song I'm sure she would become as much a sensation in our time as she was in her own, because there is no other song like STRANGE FRUIT and, I'm sure, no musical experience that would equal her performance of this particular song.

Enter Barney Josephson, a Jewish shoe salesman from Trenton, New Jersey and a great champion of Jazz and African American musicians. In 1938, Josephson opened the first integrated night club in the United States - CAFE SOCIETY: THE WRONG PLACE FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE, where Billie Holiday began singing STRANGE FRUIT.

The world wanted Billie to record STRANGE FRUIT, but Columbia, who held her contract, was afraid of the song and refused to record it. John Hammond, who was her agent at Columbia, didn't think the song was for her, but he grew to see things differently, though he always felt that in some ways STRANGE FRUIT did damage to Holiday's career.

Enter Milton Gabler, a Harlem born Jewish fellow with a great love of jazz, who founded his own recording company on 42nd St - Commodore Records. Gabler became the champion of the song and of Holiday when he offered to record STRANGE FRUIT in 1939. Columbia agreed to release Holiday from her contract obligations so that the recording could be made.

This was the old days. It was a 78 speed vynal disk with just one cut on each side. So they needed something for the flip side.

Billie may be best known as a singer, but she's just as important as a songwriter, and Billie had a song and that song was FINE AND MELLOW.

FINE AND MELLOW was the complete antithesis of STRANGE FRUIT - one of those kind of scary co-dependant torch songs of the era that advocate that it is better to date a cad than to not date at all - but that's really fun to sing and play - and that audiences love. So FINE AND MELLOW went on the flip side of STRANGE FRUIT.

At first it didn't matter. For those of us who grew up with 45s, I'm sure you remember that you bought a song for the hit cut but that didn't mean you ever played the flip side - until one day, for whatever reason, you did listen to the unheard cut and asked your self - "WHY did I never listen to THAT song?"

Meanwhile, back at the recording studio, Milt Gabler did something extraordinary: He copyrighted FINE AND MELLOW. And he copywrighted it in Billie Holiday's name. If standard business practices had been followed, as the producer, he would normally have copywritten the song under his own name or the Commodore label. But Gabler was one of a handful of whose ethics and mission seem to have been rooted in the true spirit of the Constitution, and he, Josephson and Meeropol are outstanding examples of the Jewish contribution to American jazz and the road to integration and the unlearning of racism in our country.

Which makes history - because in the early phases of the recording industry, songwriters sold the songs (i.e. ownership/copyright) to the recording companies. As a general business practice, it would not have occurred to a songwriter to snag a copyright. So, by ipso or facto, Billie Holiday scored a hit with FINE AND MELLOW that represents a very avant garde moment in the history of the BUSINESS of songwriting. And this is how it happened:

Somewhere someone discovered FINE AND MELLOW in a way that somehow did not reflect the association with Billie Holiday and a recording was made by Decca featuring Alberta Hunter.

Eventually, of course, Holiday got wind of this and she stepped forward with her copyright. Billie got money for the Alberta Hunter recording.

But it wasn't just Billie Holiday who stepped forward - it was the people around her - Barney Josephson, Milton Gabler, John Hammond and countless others - her extended "professional entourage" if you will - establishing Holiday as a force whose talent, magnetism and contribution to our history extend far beyond the nightclub stage and the recording studio.

And the moral is - Listen to the flip side.

BILLIE'S BLUES - a new play about Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit and Fine & Mellow by Hershell Norwood. For a review copy of the script, contact:

Jaz Dorsey
The African American Playwrights Exchange
Nashville, Tennessee

For those who haven't heard Strange Fruit, here it is:

The Harlem Swing Dance Society will dance through the Harlem reading of D.C. Copeland's "Once Upon A Time in Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance."

Jihad Qasim & Barbara Jones
Photo by Louis Boone
Story by Eugene Melendez

Ballroom dancing was the center of activities in Harlem and the heart and soul of the Harlem Renaissance, from the mid 1920’s and up. The ballrooms of Harlem were (and should still be) the re-socialization place where people learned the customs and norms of decency and respect from their elders.

The men learned how to lead women masterfully, without sexual connotations… being compelled with discipline and good judgment. And the woman learned how to trust respectable guidance from a man… and follow gracefully.

In Harlem the art of ballroom dancing is experiencing a phenomenal revival, and two individuals, Barbara Jones and Jihad Qasim, are making their mark as guides in a movement for Harlem’s multiple dance legacies to be cultivated in Harlem for future generations.

Barbara Jones is Executive Officer of The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS), a new Harlem nonprofit organization whose mission is to:

  • Formalize and preserve Lindy Hop and Swing Dance culture in its Harlem home
  • Reintroduce the historic dance art of Lindy/Swing to the Harlem Community
  • Teach Harlem’s youth that Harlem’s cultural dance is revered the world over
  • Have Harlem’s famed dance of Lindy Hop return as a intergenerational activity

THSDS also aims to clarify that Swing dancing was originally called Lindy Hop, as in when Lindbergh flew or "hopped" across the Atlantic (legend has it that people started joyfully hopping around the Savoy ballroom). When the word finally reached downtown it was said that “they’re swinging uptown”. Thus the term “Lindy Hop” was in time nicknamed Swing dancing, and this phrase became more popular in years to come.

Jihad Qasim is President of the non-profit organization Consolidated Block Association. Its principal fundraising arm is "The Committee to Preserve Ballroom Dancing.” Its mission is to appeal to the music industry and other corporate sponsors for resources to open venues and teach the ballroom arts to Harlem children and the masses. He jokingly quips “Learning to dance in private studios is too expensive for most of us…”

As a promoter of ballroom dance, Jihad is following the footsteps of his grandfather William (Willie) Teachy, who promoted ballroom dance before and during the Harlem Renaissance (and was also president of the famous 98th/99th Street Association). Jihad is proficient in the dance styles of Lindy Hop/Swing; Mambo, Son, Merengue and teaches these. Also noteworthy is "The Harlem Walk": This is a slow, suave drag-walk across the dance floor done to smooth R&B tunes reminiscent of the Doo Wop music of the '50s. This is one of Jihad’s specialties that he wants to revive.

Jihad also advocates that the benefits of ballroom dancing:

  • Bring people of all ages together for mutual intergenerational communication
  • Helps combat Youth violence and teaches life skills
  • Promotes good hygiene habits and a healthy/modest dress code
  • People learn to appreciate live music
  • Encourages our youth to keep the dance cultures alive
  • Good fun exercise, and helps fight obesity

Both Jihad and Barbara frequently work together to restore this respectable art form. Since Winter 2011 they, along with dedicated dance instructors, have made available Swing dance classes and workshops. These have been free or of modest cost in the Harlem area to encourage the ballroom arts. Recently they teamed up to present “A Harlem Week Swing Dance and More” during the 2011 Harlem Week celebration to reintroduce the glory of the famed ballrooms of Harlem and their dance influences.

Quite a number of community organizations have lovingly assisted with the cause of promoting and preserving Harlem's cultural dance art contributions - these include:

Wadleigh High School for the Performing Arts


New York City’s Mission Society

NYC Public Library: Hamilton Grange Branch

Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Community Center

New Song Community Corporation

Abyssinian Development Corporation

New Canaan Senior Center

Morris-Jumel Mansion

Harlem Arts Alliance

Harlem One Stop

The Harlem Children’s Zone

Keeping the art of Ballroom dancing alive and thriving in Harlem is both The Harlem Swing Dance Society's and The Committee to Preserve Ballroom Dancing's contribution to the much anticipated Second Renaissance of Harlem. Fall classes are to begin in early October, and later on in the month a Swing Dance Social welcoming all will be featured with an event at Morris - Jumel mansion.

For more information, Barbara and Jihad can be reached here and updates can be found at, Facebook under The Harlem Swing Dance Society and Twitter under “HarlemSwingBack.”

"Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance" is raising funds for the reading through IndieGoGo. You can learn more by clicking the post's title.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

An AAPEX Production: An Evening With Billie Holiday (Nashville)

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Monday, September 5, 2011

The Ruby Prize: Annual new play award to woman of color playwright (9/15 deadline)

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For more information, please click post's title to visit website.

Call for Actors Friday, Sept 9th (Harlem)

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Red Harlem Readers: Welcome to the 5th Season

September 11, Sunday at 4:00 - Free admission! Complimentary spiced tea!!

"Welcome to the 5th Season"
Acknowledging the painful memories of 9/11/2001 we celebrate the continuity of country and community with readings from favorite poets and original short stories by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson and others Read by: Michele Fulves, Cordis Heard, Sandra M. King and Lori Payne

Red Harlem Readers, Food for the Mind, Body and Soul
Indian Cafe, Broadway, between 107th and 108th Streets

Associates: Richard Gaffield, Anne Gefell, Jerry Hassett, Cordis Heard and Lori Payne
To participate as writer, director, actor, reader and/or arts administrator, please email us:
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