This weekend, six Yale student art groups will host an event titled “Body, Mind, and Soul: A Celebration of Black History” in the Underground Crescent Theater in Morse and Stiles Colleges. The show marks what may be the first celebratory performance of Black History Month in Yale’s history.
The showcase will feature dance groups Steppin’ Out and Rhythmic Blue, vocal ensembles Shades and the Yale Gospel Choir and spoken poetry groups WORD and TEETH. Members of Steppin’ Out — including co-presidents Amber Young ’21 and Jeremy Baron ’21 — came up with the original idea for the show.
“[Steppin’ Out’s] past performances with other cultural groups on campus such as Yale Jashan Bhangra, Sabrosura and DZANA served as the foundation to our desire to build our connections with other performance groups on campus,” Young said. “When we found that an annual showcase celebrating black history did not exist on Yale’s campus, we utilized this opportunity to come together with [the other ensembles] in order to produce what may be Yale’s first black history show.”
Baron noted that the pair is “excited to hopefully start this new tradition on Yale’s campus, celebrating black history not just in general, but especially here at Yale.”
The performances will take place in the order in which the groups were founded, beginning with the Yale Gospel Choir, which was founded in 1973. According to the group’s website, the Gospel Choir began under the guidance of Irene Jackson — a professor of both African American Studies and Music — and served as an adjunct organization to the Black Church at Yale. The a cappella ensemble Shades of Yale will follow. Shades seeks to musically portray the complexity of the black experience and educate audiences through enriching performances of music of the African Diaspora and attention to the history of its repertoire.
The vocal groups will be followed by the dance ensembles Rhythmic Blue and Steppin’ Out, which were founded in 1991 and 1997, respectively. Rhythmic Blue refers to itself as Yale’s first and only hip-hop and contemporary dance group while Steppin’ Out is the campus’ only team devoted to step, a style of dance that finds its roots in African dance practices.
WORD and TEETH, two spoken-word groups founded in the 2000s, will close the performance. WORD specializes in performance poetry, teaching poetry workshops in schools and competing in national competitions. TEETH, which competes in national poetry slams, seeks to promote appreciation for the slam poetry genre — a competitive art of performance poetry that emphasizes writing and delivery.
“I hope that this show becomes an annual event that showcases the diverse art and talent of these groups, but especially engages everyone with Yale’s long, diverse and complicated history so that we can better understand and appreciate the Yale we live in today,” Young said.
Groups will present sets of about 10 minutes each. These sets will include moments of inter-group collaboration — Young and Baron noted that Rhythmic Blue and Steppin’ Out will be dancing together for the first time.
An essential element of the performance’s structure is the integration of historical narrative. The entire showcase will begin and end with music Young said “enhanced and encouraged African-Americans, especially during the Civil Rights Movement.” Each group will also provide a description of its history and performance style.
The groups will perform their set on both Friday and Saturday, with two performances each night at 6 p.m. and at 9 p.m.
Rianna Turner | firstname.lastname@example.org