By Walter Rutledge
The New York Dance and Performance Awards also known as The Bessies will honor Philadelphia dance matriarch Joan Myers Brown with the 2019 Bessie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance. “[Brown’s] work has inspired dancers and educated audiences in ways that have enriched and strengthened dance in our country and we look forward to celebrating [her] accomplishments,” said Lucy Sexton, executive director of the New York Dance and Performance Awards. The award will be presented at the 35th annual Bessie Awards ceremony on Monday, October 14, at 7:30pm, at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, New York.
Brown founded The Philadelphia School of Dance Arts in 1960, during an era when dance in Philadelphia (and around the country) was still blatantly segregated by race. The success of the predominantly African- American dance school lead Brown to develop a professional performance outlet for her most talented students; and in 1970 Brown debuted The Philadelphia Dance Company aka Philadanco. Now as the school and company prepare for their 60th and 50th anniversaries respectively octogenarian Brown remains the driving force; often spending 12 or more hours a day tending to both.
Her life-long commitment to provide a professional arts environment for Philadelphia’s underserved African- American citizenry has been hard fought and ongoing. Despite success and notoriety Brown remains a staunch and outspoken crusader for greater financial support, community visibility and advocacy for artists/organizations of color. In 1991 she established the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD), a 2000 Bessie Award winner. The organization preserves and promotes dance by people of African ancestry or origin; and assists and increases opportunities for artists in audience development, education, funding, networking, performance, philosophical dialogue, and touring. The annual conference, which rotates location year to year, has become a “must- attend” dance event.
Her accomplishments have been acknowledged in countless ways. These include honorary doctorates from University of the Arts, Ursinus College, and the University of Pennsylvania; Brown is also a member of the dance faculty at Howard University. She is a recipient of a Master of African American Choreography medal from the Kennedy Center, the Dance USA’s Honor Award and the Dance Women: Living Legends Award,” a tribute to five African-American women, who founded distinguished modern dance companies with deep roots in black communities around the country.
In 2012 President Barack Obama presented Brown with National Medal of Arts at the White House. President Obama cited her for carving out “an artistic haven for African American dancers and choreographers to innovate, create, and share their unique visions with the national and global dance communities.” Author and scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild documented Brown’s contributions and legacy in her 2011 book Joan Myers Brown & the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina: A Bio-history of American Performance.
Tickets for the 2019 New York Dance and Performance Awards, October 14, 7:30pm, New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, are available online at https://tickets.nyu.edu/10398.
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