Minneapolis dance company promotes healing, self-love

Published 7:02 am Saturday, March 9, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — Twenty minutes before the other dancers entered the healing space, Deja Stowers lit a stick of incense and walked the proximity of the studio, sending wisps of sweet-smelling smoke curling toward the ceiling.

Every Sunday afternoon, Stowers leads a dance class unlike those taught in traditional studios. In these classes there are no mirrors on the walls, no choreographed songs or dance moves to memorize.

It’s also not the end of the world if dancers trickle in fifteen minutes late.

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Incorporating four components into their practice: dance, discussion, writing and American Sign Language, dance company BLAQ works to give black women a space where they can be free of the stereotypes and discrimination they experience in daily life and heal through the unfiltered expression of dance, Minnesota Daily reported.

“I founded BLAQ because I didn’t feel like the dance community was reflective of my approach to dance and performance,” Stowers said.

Having faced racial discrimination and body-shaming in the past, Stowers wanted to change the narrative moving forward.

Instead of focusing practices on the “ultimate end-goal” of a recital, the six-person group emphasizes the work and significance of dance for the dancers themselves. BLAQ uses the term “observance” instead of “performance.”

“It’s not for the viewers, it’s really for the experience of the people that are in it,” Stowers said. “We create art for the artists that are in the piece … and hopefully that will bring the observers to witness something raw and real instead of something that is rehearsed.”

Alicia Jameel, a member of BLAQ, said that as a black woman she constantly feels she must perform in her daily life.

In taking away the performative aspect of dance, BLAQ gives more power to the dancers to be themselves.

“If I’m going to be able to use my body to share a story, I don’t want to allow other people to have opinions on (it),” Jameel said. “I get to control what my body is going to be telling. And although I don’t get to choose how my body is going to be perceived, I do get to determine what I want to share.”

The six women work to make the company as accessible as possible, integrating sign language into their choreography, group conversations, events and workshops.

At their “ASL Brunch,” members will speak only in American Sign Language over a meal.