When Nicholas Owens was a teenager, he knew his dance technique was top-notch. So he was excited to take his first trip to the annual International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) conference. He would be going with Iibada Dance Company, a children’s African and modern dance company in Indianapolis where he was taking classes.
“I was 13 or 14 years old, and I was like most students today who think that they’re at a certain level of dance,” says Owens, holding his left hand (palm-side down) above his head. In other words, he wasn’t short on confidence at the time.
But it was during a modern dance class at the conference, while working on Coccyx balances, when Owens remembers saying to himself: “Balance who? Balance what?”
Coccyx balance techniques are enough to make many dancers move to the back of the class, and it was a wakeup call for Owens, who says it taught him that he had a lot more work to do.
“(IABD) definitely taught me what I didn’t know,” says Owens, who is now a professional choreographer and the assistant artistic director at Iibada. “There were students our same age and younger (there) that were performing at levels that seemed professional. You could tell they understood body placement and etiquette, and it showed through their performances. … Not saying that what we were doing at Iibada back then wasn’t great, but it just really made us want to work even harder when we got back to Indy.”
Iibada’s students practice Coccyx balances.
More than 10 years later, Sabra Logan, Iibada’s founder and executive artistic director, is preparing to take another group of students on a similar journey to this year’s IABD conference and festival in Denver, Colorado.
However, to get the full IABD experience, Logan and Owens have put together a fund-raising show called Dance to Denver to be staged in just two short weeks (Jan. 9th) at Marian University Theatre.
The event will feature new pieces along with audience favorites by Iibada’s company and academy students, as well as performances by Kenyetta Dance Company and Epiphany Dance Collective. The money raised through this show will be used to help students pay for conference classes. (The conference costs just north of $1,300 per dancer, which includes travel, lodging, classes, workshops and performances.)
Known as the Mecca for Blacks in Dance, IABD’s four-day conference provides dancers of all ages and skill levels -- from students to professionals -- an opportunity to network with other dancers; take master classes taught by legendary choreographers and instructors; attend workshops on everything from dance etiquette and performance to how to audition; and to watch performances by some of the top companies in the world.
It’s an immeasurable experience.
“The first time I went, it was so overwhelming to see all of these kids from different parts of the world who were so focused and very determined to do whatever they needed to do to hone in on their craft,” says Logan.
As a dance professional, she attends each year to interact and learn from other dance directors and professionals, and to check out the skill levels and technique of youths in dance outside of Indiana.
This year will be the first in many that she’s taking students with her to conference. She says they should be excited and nervous.
Jasmine Carteris a student of Iibada Dance Company.
“This is a very big opportunity for them ... to see the opportunities available as a dancer and outside of being a dancer,” says Logan. “The conference exposes them to choreographers and the business side of dance, but it will also help them decide if dance is really what they want to do (as a profession) or if it’s just a hobby. Some of them may get to conference and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do this at all.’”
When you’re taking classes from some of the best dancers and choreographers in the business, watching the technique and skill levels of other dancers, and witnessing the artistry of companies like PHILADANCO!, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and Alvin Ailey, it can be overwhelming. But in a good way, according to Owens.
“At that conference, when I was 13 or 14, that was the turning point for me saying that (dance) is what I want to do,” says Owens, who has been to eight IABD conferences. “It made my passion for choreography expand. ...The way I was thinking was smaller, but it literally got big at the conference because I saw how you can really make a vision come to life – through costumes, lightning and movement.”
For dancers of color, Owens and Logan believe attending the annual conference is a must.
Nicholas Owens and Sabra Logan's fund-raiser called Dance to Denver will be held Jan. 9th at Marian University Theatre.
“It’s an awakening to know that there’s something beyond Indianapolis, there’s something beyond Indiana,” says Logan. “If you want to get more experience about your craft, you’re going to have to look beyond the state that you’re in. And the training goes beyond that as well.”
For Owens, the conference is important because it inspires and educates.
“It’s important because I think we sometimes get too comfortable in our own companies and in our own academies to where we kind of close ourselves off from what’s available,” he says. “In order for us to carry on the tradition of the African-American aesthetic, we have to put ourselves in those types of environments that continue to educate us on where certain movement came from and seeing other African-Americans perform and tell stories in the way that we tell stories.”
Iibada Dance Company performed at the 2015 edition of Art & Soul at the Indianapolis Artsgarden. Pictured is Iibada Founder and Executive Artistic Director, Sabra Logan, surrounded by students and Assistant Artistic Director, Nicholas Owens (back, right).
Dance to Denver
What: A fund-raiser for Iibada Dance Company, featuring new works and audience favorites from Iibada and special guests performances by Kenyetta Dance Company, and Epiphany Dance Collective. Money raised will be used to help send Iibada’s company members to Black Dance Rising, the 28th annual International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival.
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 9
Where: Marian University Theatre, 3200 Cold Spring Road.
Tickets: $15 adults, $10 children. Tickets can be purchased at Iibada’s studio, 609 E. 29th St. (inside Broadway United Methodist Church, on the third floor).
Info: (317) 250-7647, www.iibadadance.org