Signal Tree Preview: The Black Card Project: Movement Based Examination of Black Authenticity
by Josy Jones
Good morning children and welcome to “Booker-T Malcolm Luther Parks Academy of Absolute Blackness.” I know, I giggled too. This fictional institution of higher learning is from the dance theatre piece “The Black Card Project,” the brainchild of dancer and choreographer Dominic Moore-Dunson in collaboration with fellow dancer, Kevin Parker. Although comedy is his tool, this Akron native’s intention is far more complicated than an easy-going comedy.
“The Black Card Project” is the story of a young Black kid named Artie whose mother sends him to Booker-T Malcolm Luther Parks Academy of Absolute Blackness to connect to his cultural identity. There, Artie has an entire school day to get all of the pieces of the puzzle that complete his Black Card. He takes classes like “How to Dance on Beat” and “Thuggin’ 101” in order to accomplish this goal. Dominic describes it as taking Saturday morning cartoons, like “Fat Albert,” 90s Black sitcoms, like “Family Matters” and Minstrel shows, throwing them in a blender and pouring them out. From this, you have “The Black Card Project,” a project designed to challenge the definition of Blackness and widen the scope of its meaning.
The term “Black Card,” according to Dominic’s elegant definition, is “an African American metaphor for one’s Black identity, authenticity and belonging.” In use, many African Americans use it with one another and will take away a person’s imaginary Black Card for doing things that they perceive to be less Black. In Dominic’s case, this offense came young. Many of his friends wanted to be great athletes, like LeBron. Dominic, however, wanted to dance in Paris or play professional soccer in England and was quickly told by his childhood friends that those things “ain’t Black.”
The seeds of the Black Card Project were planted. In the meantime, Dominic spent his time continuing to do the things he loved in the shadows and picking up track [a “Black” sport] to regain his points with his community. In later years, he was able to begin working for the Inlet Dance Theatre out of Cleveland and has since been the recipient of local, national and international fellowships for his work. Meanwhile, many individuals he knew from his childhood were taking a less prosperous path, including prison in some cases and death in others. He felt like he needed to do something.
Dominic received the National Arts Strategies Creative Community Fellowship (NASCCF), a program designed to provide artists with the tools needed to support their project ideas. It was here that he realized that there was a show in his head and “The Black Card Project” was born. Thanks to Inlet Dance Theatre receiving Knight Arts Challenge funds, he was able to start working on bringing it to life. In collaboration with Kevin Parker, another artist from Inlet, Dominic was able to start the project by going into schools to do movement workshops to create portions of the show with community input. Students were able to inform costume decisions and content and Kevin and Dominic added it to the show.
“I’m not making this show for other dancers,” Dominic admits about the importance of involving others in the process. Currently, the project is in partnership with the Goodyear Black Network to develop more portions.
The goal? To use this dance theatre piece to create a dialogue and widen the narrow scope of what Black people can be. For Dominic and a lot of people he grew up with, if you were Black you could be a basketball player, rapper or a thug, the readily available images of Black success. He wants to make sustainable, measurable change for Black people to see past those three options into a world of endless possibility. The creation of the dance is only Phase 1 of 3 to complete his vision. Phase 2 allows the project to tour schools, leads to movement workshops and discussions with students about identity, travels to businesses where there are Black people in fields other than the three options above and eventually ends with some of those kids having internship or apprenticeship opportunities. Phase 3 takes this model to a national scale.
“The Black Card Project’s” Kevin Parker and Dominic Moore-Dunson will be showing a 15- minute snippet at Signal Tree Fest on Aug. 11 at 1:30 pm. The piece will premiere in its entirety on September 14 and 15 at Firestone High School. To find out more about the Black Card Project and to follow its progress, please visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/blackcardproject/ or the Inlet Dance Theatre at InletDance.org.
Josy Jones’ hobbies include rubberducks, spoonfuls of peanut butter, struggling to keep a neutral expression and caffeine.
(Featured headshot courtesy of Inlet Dance Theatre)