Sunday, November 26, 2017


Female Athletes Honored at
38th Annual Salute to Women in Sports
On October 18, I walked into the swankiness that is Cipriani Wall Street with a list of Olympic women athletes to interview as they walked down the red carpet of the 38th Annual Salute to Women in Sports.  I ended up interviewing almost none of them, but what happened that night was even better than I expected.

Let me back up for a minute.  About a month prior to the event, a woman from an online female bike forum had tipped me off to The Women's Sports Foundation (WSF).  Their mission?  To create leaders by ensuring all girls access to sports.  When I found out that WSF would be dedicating  a whole night to honoring the top women athletes, I knew that I had to be there to cover the event for Creative Times.

When I learned that my request for a press pass to the event had been granted, I was excited beyond belief.  As someone who started watching the Olympics at the age of 6, and who champions female athletes throughout the year on my blog, on Facebook, and in live conversations with strangers and friends, I could not believe that I now had a chance to meet some of the most accomplished women athletes in person.  

After arriving at Cipriani, I was ushered to my spot where I would be interviewing the athletes who came down the carpet.  I came prepared with two questions:  "What advice do you have for girls or teens who want to get into sports but feel intimidated?" and "Who or what inspires you to keep going when the going gets tough?"

I first spoke with Charmaine Reid, a Canadian badminton player who is an Olympian, two-time World Champion, and three-time Pan American Games medalist.   As well, she is a  television commentator, ambassador, and motivational speaker.  Through her self-created program, S'Cool, Charmaine and sister Olympian Nicole Grethere conduct in-school badminton demonstrations and workshops to "inspire children to be active, to set goals, and to live their dreams and pursue a healthy lifestyle."  She estimates that she has reached 100,000 children through her work.

When I asked Charmaine about who inspires her, she spoke at length about WSF Founder Billie Jean King.  In her own work with children, it is Charmaine's intent to pass along Billie's message to get back up after you fail and continue to believe in yourself.

Next, I spoke with Suad Galow, a heroine who has coached the Somali Women's basketball team of young women, helped them to face threats of violence, and reclaim their spot on the international sports scene.  Her work is the subject of the upcoming documentary Rajada Dalka/Nation's Hope.

Suad's advice to girls or teens who want to get involved with sports: "Don't be intimidated.  Sports give you experience in teamwork and the opportunity to get to know other females.  Sports help you go get stronger, be creative, and help others." 

I then spoke with Laurie Hernandez, who was one of the Final Five on the gold medal-winning women's gymnastics team of the 2016 Olympics.  Her words of wisdom to young females wanting to get involved in athletics: "Block out what other people say and do what makes you happy."  When not training, Laurie leads gymnastics clinics for children. 

Next, I chatted with Alana Nichols, a Paralympic basketball player and Alpine skier, who had this to say to young females wanting to get involved in sports: "Take the first step. Go to the gym, take the class. The first steps will lead to the next steps." And Alana's thoughts about perservering when the going gets tough? "Make it about something bigger than yourself."  Alana does just that by giving motivational talks to young people and adults, including this TED talk, and by sharing images of her athleticism through her blog.

I felt incredibly inspired by each of the women I talked to - Charmaine, Suad, Laurie, and Alana, and also by some of the women I saw but did not get to interview, including Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American fencer who is the first Muslim American woman ito wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez
What I admired by each of the women I talked to was not only her incredible accomplishments as an athlete, but how she had found a way to give back by inspiring, educating, and supporting children to stay active and go for their big dreams as well. 

Alana Nichols
Suad Galow
Charmaine Reid

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Lucy, at 17 Months, on the Monkey Bars

My friend Aynsley sent me this photo of her 17-month-old daughter, Lucy, on the monkey bars.  I asked Aynsley to share a bit about her philosophy on supporting her girls to stay physically active. Here's what she said

"My girls are 5 1/2 and 17 months. I feel very strongly about exposing them to a variety of sports and dance in the hopes of instilling a lifelong love of movement. Whatever it is, I want them to know there is some way to move their body that brings them joy.  

My older daughter is obsessed with the monkey bars, which has been a wonderful learning tool. Any time she says something is hard - a puzzle, for example -  we can remind her how she began on the monkey bars: not being able to even hold on for a long time, let alone move across them. And how her persistence and hard work have gotten her farther.

The back story on the photo of Lucy is that my little one always wanted to do what her older sister is doing! So as Eliza does the monkey bars, Lucy wants to hang, too. Lucy is adventurous with her body and already finds joy in physical activities like climbing, dancing and swimming."

Saturday, October 14, 2017


I'm digging Adam J. Kurtz' new book, and here's three reasons why:  

First of all, it's extremely lightweight and  portable portable at about 6" x 4".  I love being able to throw a book into my purse of tote bag and whisk it out for some quick inspiration.

Second, it's divided into color-coded segments with titles like How to Stay Sane When You Work from Home; What to do When you Fail; How to Keep Going; and How to Get Over Comparing Yourself to Other Creatives.

Third, Adam speaks as one creative person to another in a compassionate but never condescending voice.  His advice -  simple, direct, and humorous - allows room for your own mind to work and apply his ideas to your life.

For more information about Adam's books and other products, check out his website.

Friday, October 13, 2017


Simone Biles won Sportswoman of the Year in 2014

Each year, Olympic, Paralympic, champion and elite athletes gather for the Annual Salute to Women in Sports in New York City. Hundreds of people come to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of women in sport.  

This year, the ceremony will be on Wednesday, October the 18th, at Cipriani Wall Street.  You can register HERE to register watch the livestream version of the event.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017


Stacia in her Studio.  Photo Credit: Vern Evans 

Sketch of Prince by Stacia Lang 

When Stacia Lang was a young girl, she loved all things having to do with wild animals - magazines, television shows, you name it. In fact, she dreamed of becoming an ornithologist - an expert on birds. She also loved costumes and wished to study fashion and costume design.  That wish came true in a path which included study at FIT, a job at the NYC Ballet transforming ballerinas into swans, and eventually the honor of becoming Prince's costume designer at Paisley Park.  From there, she moved on to building costumes for film and theater, and designing outfits for performers ranging from Billy Idol to Dolly Parton.

Stacia's early love of exotic birds eventually came full circle when she began to take on jobs which allowed her to incorporate feathers in her designs - projects such as couture commissions and bird sculptures. She even bought her own bird - Chester, a chestnut-eared arcari.

What's notable about Stacia's journey is how she has taken her two main loves - design and birds - and woven them together to create a life in which she is doing work that inspires both herself and others.

Q and A with Stacia

Q:  Can you describe the work that you do in your studio? And what are some of the steps or stages of a typical project from inception to completion?

A: My private studio and what I do there is much different from the movie studios I work at, and what I do there. Sometimes I feel I have two creative lives. When I am hired to build specialty costumes on a film at Sony, Paramount or Warner Brothers, I actually work on the studio lot and become immersed in the world and the story line of the film. In contrast, when I work in my own studio, doing my own projects, I look to my personal vision as an artist, designer, and maker. Each scenario has its challenges and rewards. I sincerely love working in both capacities, but when a person has the ability to express herself and her vision on her own terms, there really is no better feeling in the world. 

The projects I do in my studio range from doll making to avian sculpture, and feather work has dominated the main studio now for 2 years. Using both real feathers and textile feathers, I create cloaks, capes, jackets, and headdresses. I've created an avian theme in honor of my admiration for birds and their colorful plumage! 

Q:  What is a project you are working on right now?  Is there an overarching theme or focus to your work right now?

A:  Right now, I'm working on building spacesuits for a new film. My role on this film and others has been that of Key Specialty Costumer. That usually means that I am the first to be hired by the costume designer and supervisor, and I help to develop the department, finding the crew and equipment that it will take to build the specialty costumes. In the case of spacesuits, I usually pattern and develop the base suit in our workroom, and work in conjunction with  special effects companies who machine the hardware and mechanical parts of the suits, including the helmets.  Those parts come into our department needing integration into our suits. To make sculpted and molded parts work on the human body is one aspect of the specialty costume builder's job. Spacesuits that I have been heavily involved with are the 2009 Star Trek, Interstellar, and the upcoming Passengers starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. All of these suits had their own unique challenges, and all, I feel, hit the mark and achieved their aesthetic and technical goals. [Ed. note: Passengers has since come out in theatres.]

Q: What does a day in the studio look like for you?  How do you start your day, and is what does the flow, rhythm or routine look like?

A:  A day in my own studio starts with me feeding my birds. What a pleasure it is to interact with my sweet studio companions. They are really the heart of the studio. I have a pair of red-legged honey creepers, a pair of blue dacnis, and my personal snuggle bunny,Chester, who is a chestnut-eared aracari. He is in the Toucan family, and he's my companion pet. Not really that different from a puppy dog in that he loves to play, interact, cuddle, and eat treats. He loves going on expeditions throughout the studio, foraging in cabinets, drawers, and in the fridge! I also draw him a bath every day. 

After getting the birds situated for the day, I begin in the studio. Depending on the project, I either have had several people helping me in the studio, or I'm just working by myself. Either way, I love it. Actually, I love variety. I don't like the same thing day and night. I think that's why I've been able to cross over from costuming to my own art continually. The variety fuels my interest and creativity. I have been trying to find what hours work best for me in the studio. I feel that naturally I like to start in the afternoon and work around the clock deep into the wee hours of the morning. It just works out that way. But I have been trying to train myself to start early in the morning. When I have others with me, of course I have to have more regular, regimented hours to keep things regulated. but when I'm by myself, all bets are off. 

Q: What do you do to blow off steam, to have fun?

A: To relax and unwind from a tough project, my go-to activity is scouring antiquarian bookshops. I LOVE old books. I have collected a great library of books with subjects ranging from puppetry to dolls, fashion to Burlesque, and art to craft techniques and masks. My books on feathers and birds are in a cabinet all their own. In this area, I keep all of my tear sheets catalogued and in binders with titles like "Bird Species," "Plumassiers and Suppliers," or "Feathered Garments."  My sketches are in flat glass-topped insect boxes, at the ready. 

Q:  Who do you enjoy spending time with?  Are your friendships mostly with other creatives, or are they with folks across different industries?

A: Most of my friends are creative in their own way. I thrive on the interaction between myself and other artists; that's where magical things happen! It's lovely to be alone in my studio. But certainly, with interaction comes the dynamism of unexpected alchemy. I really even consider my books to be my collaborators. A lot happens for me when I open one of my beloved books. 

Q: Looking back, where do you see the roots of what you do now in your childhood years?  If there were people back there who encouraged or nurtured your creativity, how did they go about doing that?

A:  I consider my childhood to be idyllic. My parents were and are still musicians and I remember crawling around among amplifiers, instruments and microphone stands. I listened to their rehearsals while drawing and dreaming. Very early on, I started to draw my own fashion designs, practicing my signature and collecting fashion magazines and books on Hollywood costume design. My parents encouraged this in me and helped me along. I don't quite know why I didn't become a musician. Believe me, I took piano and flute lessons, and Dad tried to teach me the guitar. These things just didn't stick; I was more attracted to the visual arts, and I later left for NYC and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Something very important about my childhood was my love of animals and nature, but especially birds. I remember plucking a duck egg out of a hollow in a tree as a child and bringing it home. My Dad was so mad. But he made an incubator and we eventually raised even more ducks (albeit these eggs came from a hatchery).

Other people who encouraged me besides my parents were my school teachers.  There were two in particular - my 9th grade French teacher, and my high school art teacher. Encouragement is so vital for a young person. To this day, I'm so grateful to have had marvelous mentors to guide me early on.

Q: When did you decide to make a living from your craft, and what factored into that decision?

A: It never occurred to me that I couldn't make a living from my art. Certainly, you could categorize what I do as "applied art". Many of the facets of my creativity land squarely in the commercial realm. So this lifts the burden of having to make money from "fine art". But honestly, I don't like categories. I try to see life as some indigenous peoples do, who integrate art into the simplest of everyday objects and activities. 

Q: What is your advice to other people who want to make a living from their craft? 

A: My advice to young people would be to fine tune your skills through classes, workshops and lectures. Go out to museums and absorb everything you can. Talk to the masters who you look up to. Identify your mentors and emulate their actions. And finally, recognize in yourself the unique vision you offer the world. 

Q:  What is your advice to anyone who wants to give expression to their creative ideas, regardless of whether or not it is a source of income for them?

A: Another bit of advice to those who want to give expression to their creative ideas is this: Don't wait until "the perfect time" because really, there is no "perfect time".  You're just psyching yourself out. When you see an opportunity, act on that opportunity. With the skills and know-how you have acquired through your classes and experience, you'll be ready for what opportunities come your way.

Q: What was something interesting or unexpected about your work as a costume designer for Prince?  What is something you learned about yourself while you were working for him?

A: With the passing of Prince, I have done so much thinking about my creative time spent with him at Paisley Park. I designed his stage costumes and everyday clothing in the early 90's. This was the first time I truly recognized myself as an artist, collaborating, in essence, with a partner. I learned that collaborating with a genius is exhilarating, challenging, and life-changing.

I learned that art is hard work and that sometimes you don't see the impact and imprint of your work for decades. So many people have come to me and told me their stories of being inspired through the work I did for him. How wonderful it's been to learn this. I'm so grateful, mostly grateful to Prince for giving me the opportunity to work along side him and observe his work ethic, his genius, and his magic.  Also, I can look back and see that a certain magic was created in our collaboration. I feel a deep gratitude for this. 

Q: What was it like to design costumes for Dolly Parton?

A: Dolly Parton is the sweetest, most gracious icon I have ever worked with. Just the nicest person, period. Such a pro. For her to be able to maintain that level of kindness and goodness of heart in the glaring light of fame truly astounds me. And what a business woman she is. Really, I learned a lot just through osmosis, through listening to, and watching her do business. She was my childhood idol, so to be able to design for her was a dream come true. This is another thing I would tell a young person starting out. Aim high in your pursuits. Dream big and go for your ultimate goals. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again".  This is how it worked with Dolly. When I was very young, fresh out of college, I had sent sketches to her, and she sent me the nicest "rejection" letter, saying that she was working with a designer, but that she was sure one day our paths would cross. And they did, years later. I pursued a design collaboration again, and this time she was interested in working together. It was such a rewarding adventure! A true example of tenacity, of not being afraid of failure.

Q: What would you like to see happen for yourself in the next few years?

A: In the coming years, I would like to create new avenues for my work. I'd like to take more chances and be bolder than ever. This is the only way to break through complacency. You can get pretty comfortable with your work and situation, and shaking things up is the only way to catapult yourself into a new orbit, a new realm. I'm excited about new challenges to come!

For more information about Stacia and her work, visit her website and facebook page

Saturday, September 23, 2017



Check out:  DJ Livia on FB


P.S. - Taylor and Kyndall are backup dancers for Janet Jackson.



Lucy's dad set up a hallway woodworking station where she could engage in her own projects. Currently, she is making a giant spoon.



I met Gwyneth while hanging out with friends at the Riverside Park Traveling Rings in NYC.  I helped Gwyn practice until she was able to go from the first to the second ring. Gwyneth, who will be 8 in a few weeks,  said "This is the first time I got to the second ring two times in a row!" Gwyneth, who takes videos of herself when she travels to different parts of the country, would like to create a blog for other young people which features these videos.  Go, Gwyn, go!

To learn more about the traveling rings, see this video.


She learned to ride a bicycle without training wheels at the age of 3 and kept going from there. Her goal is to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Saturday, September 09, 2017


Ayodele Solo and with Cast from Really Rosie

Close to two decades ago, I had the honor of seeing tap dancer and choreograhper Ayodele Casel perform in Savion Glover's dance troupe Not Your Ordinary Tappers (N.Y.O.T.).  I was so excited to see a female holding her own in the world of tap, and was elated to see a recent article about her in the New York Times.  There, I learned that she had performed her own one-woman show While I Have the Floor, and was in the midst of choreographing the musical Really Rosie for City Center.  In July, Ms.Casel won the prestigious Hoofer Award for her outstanding achievements in the world of tap.
After meeting Ayodele in person after a performance of Really Rosie, she was gracious enough to do a Q and A for Creative Times.  For more information about Ayodele, visit her website.

Q:  Really Rosie was a cast of young people.  What was your philosophy and/or approach to working with children and teens when it came to choreographing for them?

A:  I work with young people quite often throughout the year and am constantly amazed by their level of maturity and ability to process material that is complex and that even adults have a hard time grasping. The biggest consideration for this process was time. I knew they were capable of a high level of work. The challenge was giving them the right combination of complexity but easily digestible material so as not to overwhelm or overly complicate the City Center Encores! process.

Q:   What did you appreciate, respect, or admire about the young folks you worked with?

A:   I was inspired and floored by their professionalism, their enthusiasm, their talent, and the openness to try anything we threw at them. They had about 6 days to learn an entire production! That's incredible. They learned music, choreography, script, staging, made acting choices, everything in such a condensed amount of time and they brought their joy and work ethic to each and every rehearsal. We were all so impressed with every single one of them for bringing it the way they did. Our show was the only one of the New York City Center Encores-Off Center season to be off book by our designer run. I was and remain so proud of them and we all became very close in the process. I'm still so thrilled when I see their Instagram feeds filled with photos of their recent gatherings. I think it's a testament to Leigh Silverman's superpower ability to gather great souls and energy in a room. The cast and creative team all bonded very quickly!

I'm grateful to Michael Friedman for selecting Really Rosie to be a part of this season's Encores and to Leigh for including me. It was one of my greatest professional experiences to date.

Q:  Can you say a bit about your mantra "I am my ancestors' wildest dreams"?

A:  I love that mantra. It spoke to me immediately when I first read it.  I just try to live my life with the awareness that I am able to do my work as freely (literally and figuratively) as I can and with such vigor because of the work and sacrifice of those who came before me. It is a humbling way of moving through the world for me. I am deeply grateful for the path my ancestors have paved and my successes as an artist, as a human, are their victories as well. 

Q:   What are your thoughts about what it would take to get the respect and recognition due to women tap dancers and choreographers?

A:  I am so inspired by women. I have the greatest respect for how we work, think, nurture, motivate, create, and kick ass in so many arenas on a daily basis. I  saw Wonder Woman recently and so "warrior" also comes to mind. I think we need to keep creating work and taking up space everywhere. Demanding that we be seen and heard.

Q:  You've been tapping for a long time.  What has kept you staying with this art form?

A:  My love and deep respect for tap dancing. My search for understanding on how to dance with it gracefully and accept the challenges head on. I dance to voice the names of the women tap dancers who came before me.  Jeni LeGon, Lois Bright, Juanita Pitts, Louise Madison, Cora LaRedd, to name a few. I dance to expose audiences to the genius of the art form and it is my mission to always do so with the utmost integrity. And I dance because I love it, it's fun and it provides me with an incredible outlet for self expression.

Q:  What advice do you have for young or aspiring female tap dancers and choreographers?

A:  Do YOUR thing. Don't sell yourself short. Have integrity. Study. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Be a warrior. A champion in the ring. All of that. AND be authentic. Authenticity rocks.

Q:  What would you like for yourself both personally and professionally in the next year?

A:  I would love to continue to collaborate with artists and art venues that I respect and admire. It was a dream to work with Leigh Silverman, Michael Mayer, Jeanine Tesori in the past year. I look forward to sharing my one-woman show While I Have The Floor in NYC in the next coming year. I am looking forward to touring with my incredibly talented friends in a different show, teaching young people, vacationing and also, I'd really love a Tesla Model X! Ha ha!

Sunday, September 03, 2017


One of my favorite animated videos of all time!  For more Questlove stories about Prince, read Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove.


For more interviews with amazing artists, please check out Blank on Blank Animated Interviews.


I was excited to see Really Rosie at City Center for multiple reasons:  First, I was familiar in a general way with the musical because a group of my friends had been in a production of Really Rosie when I was in middle school.  Second, it was based on a book by the late, great author and illustrator Maurice Sendak (of "Where the Wild Things Are" fame) and lyrics by the famed singer/songwriter Carol King. Third, the show was choreographed by Ayodele Casele,  a tap dancer who I had seen perform on several occasions with Savion Glover 20 years ago.  Fourth, the show was comprised of a cast of young people, except for Ayodele, who made a brief appearance, and also for the adults who made up the live orchestral accompaniment and background adult voices of the children's parents.

Typical of Sendak's works in general, the themes in the songs and dialogue were often macabre in nature, focusing on death, bodily harm, or the threat of these things.  While the production was clearly aimed at a young audience, the subject matter seemed more appropriate for adults.

There was a touching post-finale piece where the cast came out holding a banner with Sendak's name and dates of of birth and death on it.  They played an excerpt of a recorded interview with Sendak, where he shared his thoughts, including this one, about children and childhood:

I've always been interested in how children maneuver and decide how to live. It’s hard. I’ve always had a deep respect for children and how they solve complex problems by themselves. I think [they do this] through shrewdness, fantasy and just plain strength; they want to survive. They want to survive. 

Friday, September 01, 2017


I swung by the store Books are Magic tonight and found this gem called My Rad Life: A Journal.
Created by Kate Schwartz and Miriam Klein Stahl, the same two women who created Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide, this journal contains inspiring black and white sketches of famous women coupled with quotations.  There are also prompts with lined and blank pages for readers to write their responses.

A sketch of writer, feminist and civil rights activist  Audre Lorde is  accompanied by her quotation "When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important wthether I am afraid."

A page about J.K. Rowling shares this message and prompt: " J.K. Rowling was rejected by more than 10 publishers before she found someone to publish her first book, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone.  Imagine if she'd given up? Write about a time when you wanted to give up on something, and kept trying."


Dads play an important role in helping their daughters build confidence in their own physical strength. Here, in Carroll Park, in Brooklyn, New York, Ian helps his 4-year-old daughter Orli learn to skate on the playground.

* This photo is one of a series of posts that I am dedicating to strong girls and women

Friday, August 25, 2017


I am a big fan of the Go for Your Dreams! genre of movies, especially if they feature female athletes. It is greatly inspiring to see female teens, young adults, and women take on big physical challenges in the face of sexism and racism.

Here are six of my faves (descriptions taken from the Internet).  Take a peak at each!

1. Bend It Like Beckham
"Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), the daughter of a strict Indian couple (Anupam Kher, Shaheen Khan) in London, is not permitted to play organized soccer, even though she is 18. When Jess is playing for fun one day, her impressive skills are seen by Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley), who then convinces Jess to play for her semi-pro team. Jess uses elaborate excuses to hide her matches from her family while also dealing with her romantic feelings for her coach, Joe."

2. How She Move 
"Raya (Rutina Wesley), a gifted student and dancer at an elite academy, must return home and attend public school after her sister's drug-related death. She has a bitter rivalry with Michelle (Tré Armstrong),in which the two try to see which is the better dancer. Raya convinces Bishop to let her join his all-male dance troupe as they prepare for an upcoming competition."

3. Salute the Women of Team USA
"Little Mix’s 'Salute' is being used in a promo for team USA Olympics! This features some of the best female athletes in the world like Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin, Allyson Felix, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and the USWNT Soccer Team!"

"A short film on BMX Olympian - Shanaze Reade. Her life in her own words and her journey to both Beijing and London Olympics."

"Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder) is the only girl among her parents' four children. Her brothers and father (Dermot Mulroney) eat, breathe and sleep soccer, and practice the sport every day. When her beloved older brother, Johnny, is killed in a tragic accident, Gracie attempts to come to terms with her grief by petitioning the school board to let her take Johnny's place on the boys varsity soccer team."

"Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) lives in small-town Texas and yearns to break free of her mother's (Marcia Gay Harden) world of beauty pageants and conformity. She sees her chance when she meets the Hurl Scouts, a roller-derby team; she tries out for the team and wins a slot, lying to her parents about her new hobby. Bliss finds friendship and freedom with her teammates, but a conflict between a championship game and the Bluebonnet beauty pageant threatens to spill her secret."

Monday, August 14, 2017


Inspired by the just-completed 13th Annual Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival here in New York, I am re-printing my piece about the LOHHF culminating event - the showcase - from 2012.  For more information anout the festival, please visit their website and consider donating to this fantastic tradition.


For two nights in a row, the audience sprang to its feet to cheer, yell and stomp in a standing ovation for "Paying Homage," a hip-hop piece choreographed by Akira Armstrong for the dance group Pretty Big.  People were psyched out of their minds to see this tribute to female MCs from the last two decades, a list which included Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, Da Brat, and Queen Latifah. The mood of the piece was joyous and celebratory, but also proud; never over-smiley, the dancers wore facial expressions that read "We are the real deal and we take ourselves seriously."

"Paying Homage" was one of many outstanding dance numbers presented in the 8th Annual Ladies of Hip- Hop Festival, an event brought to New York by Michele Byrd-McPhee.  Women came from all corners of both the U.S. and the globe to compete in a Ladies Battle, participate in two days of dance workshops, and dance in two consecutive nights of performances.  A full agenda for sure, and reflective of the many dance forms that fall under the umbrella of hip-hop, including waacking, krumping, dancehall, popping, house, and flexing.

Ms. Byrd-McPhee gave form to the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival out of an awareness of "the narrow opportunities for women in Hip-Hop" and a desire to create "a safe space, a neutral zone where the art does not get lost or stifled because of complexities of male/female relationships. Spaces were it is okay to be women as you define it, not as defined by others. " (Source: LOHHF website.)

Everything about the two nights of performances showed that creating a space in hip-hop where women can define themselves has enormous payoff.

First, there was the overall spirit/mood/vibe of the performance nights.  The host, Shernita Sofly, put the audience at ease with her hugely funny and off-beat humor, and ability to connect with what the audience was doing and feeling in the moment.  By cutting loose and having fun, she set things up so the audience could do the same.

Then, there was the awesome diversity of how the women presented themselves - playful, raw, rough, angry, sensual, sexual, graceful, defiant, athletic.  Yet all of this never seemed forced or externally imposed; every feeling and image conveyed seemed to come from within.  The dancers fully inhabited their bodies, quite a departure from the way much of dance for females is structured so that we are treated as the vessels for someone else's vision or are put out there just to please or pacify a crowd rather than to challenge the audience emotionally or intellectually.

You could see from the backstage and off-stage interactions between the dancers as well as the interplay between audience and performers that all of this was a team effort; everything in the festival was about women backing other women.  Also: whenever Michele, the LOHHF Founder and Director got up to speak, she made sure to credit all the other women who supported her and were part of her team.  She made it clear that it took a village to raise a festival.

Women from the audience (including other dancers) cheered fiercely and joyfully for women onstage.  Choreographers designed pieces so that dancers visibly pulled for each other while performing.  A great example of that was "Gracefully Strong," choreographed by Valerie Chartier for the krumping crew Buck Swans.  While each krumper stepped forward for her solo, the others would surround her and emotionally and physically validate what she was expressing through her body. The effect was gripping.

In sum, a clearly-defined space for females in hip hop to lead other females and be led by other females looked good on everyone involved - both performers and the audience.  Right there in the theater, I could feel the effects of racism and sexism melt under the intelligence, leadership, and serious artistry of a mighty army of women.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Almost two decades ago, I saw tap dancer/choreographer Ayodele Casel perform in Savion Glover's dance troupe Not Your Ordinary Tappers. (N.Y.O.T.)  I was so excited to see a big article about Ayodele in a recent issue of The New York Times, and learned that she had recently performed a one woman show called "While I Have the Floor."  Here is an excerpt from that show, where she shares what it's like to be a woman and a person of color in the world of tap.

Stay tuned for my interview with Ms. Casel!