In this presidential election of super PAC influence and alleged voter disenfranchisement, it is not too far-fetched to question how democratic America’s political system really is. And not through T.V. pundits bloviating or academics splitting hairs. But through the performing arts. More specifically, through dance.
With the purpose of engaging the community in exploring the role of civic participation in an electoral process and the challenges in keeping a democracy alive and vibrant, the Brooklyn-based Urban Bush Women (UBW) return to South Florida for a special event, a free performance on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center (SMDCAC), of their project Are We Democracy?
The evening caps a week-long residency held at the Kendall Campus of Miami Dade College (MDC), which joined forces with SMDCAC to present Are We Democracy?, labeled a unique experience for students and members of the South Miami-Dade area alike. “Urban Bush Women have actually been to Miami a number of times, including in our very first season, back in 1991,” says Kathryn García, Executive Director of MDC Live Arts, the MDC Cultural Affairs Department initiative formerly known as Cultura del Lobo. “We have a long history here at the college with them, but this is the first time that we are bringing the company purely for a residency experience,” continues García who, just like SMDCAC’s managing director Eric Fliss was interested in presenting Are We Democracy? They decided to collaborate and make it happen together.
“What I love about the project is that this is not Romney versus Obama; it’s about civic participation and exploring what our democracy means,” says García. “It’s an opportunity for students and the community to creatively examine these issues.”
Although Urban Bush Women began in 1984 as a means of telling stories of disenfranchised people through dance, with a special emphasis on women and the African American community, it welcomes, and aspires, to reach everyone. Its founder, choreographer Jawole Willa JoZollar, will be present with the group that comes to South Florida. The collaborative project between UBW and MDC students and members of the South Miami-Dade community will then be presented to the public with the artistic evening to be held at the South Dade Center.
“We have sort of two arms of what we do,” says Maria Bauman, Director of Education and Community Engagement for UBW. “One of them is the touring and performing work, where the professional dance company creates work that’s the award-winning, traditional, fine arts performance. But the other aspect includes education and community engagement.”
And that, she adds, is where residences like the one in Miami, Are We Democracy?, come in. Dance, other artistic genres, and dialogue-facilitation skills are used as a means of exploring subjects of importance to a community in this project first developed in 2004.
“With the presidential election process and so much in the U.S. based on a debate model, it’s interesting that we use a dialogue model,” Bauman, with UBW since 2002 and who grew up in Jacksonville, explains. “It’s completely non-partisan, not about candidates, but really about our vision of what it means to be here and in community, which I think is the whole goal of the democratic process.”
In that process, subjects such as “why people vote or don’t vote,” “who votes,” “how we vote,” plus aspects of special significance to UBW like civil rights and women’s suffrage, are analyzed through creative labs, if you will. “We’ve got movement classes. We have teach-ins based on how our government works, and what the branches of government are. What have our personal experiences been? We use the story-circle concept that the Junebug theater company [Junebug Productions, in New Orleans] created in order to generate participants’ personal stories,” Bauman adds. “So it really is a mix of macro and micro. What would our recipe for success be if we were the founding mothers and fathers?”
Miami Dade College’s MDC Live Arts and South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center present “Are We Democracy? with the final performance open free to the public on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 8:00 p.m.; 10950 SW 211 Street, Cutler Bay. To reserve tickets: 786-573-5300, or here. – By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie, artburstmiami.com