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Black Dance Stories: By the Artists, for the People

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In addition to keeping the archive on YouTube, she hopes to find a Black-led institution to house it in a more official capacity. She is also dreaming up the show’s next chapter (still in a planning phase): an in-person version, with guests from the online series moving together onstage.

“No more talking,” she said. “Let’s dance! We miss it.”

A curator, performer, dance historian and writer, Warren — known affectionately to many as Mama Charmaine — began envisioning Black Dance Stories in the early days of the pandemic, when so many in the dance world were stuck at home with no work, their usual routines and social circles fractured. The murder of George Floyd, she said, heightened her desire to bring Black dance artists together to share their stories.

“When George Floyd was murdered, I was so empty,” she said. “My heart was hurt. And that’s when I felt even more of an urge to do something for our community.” As depleting as that moment was, she added, “I also wanted to find some kind of a salve, and that salve is community.”

The show’s clear but open-ended structure allows for both solo storytelling and intimate dialogue. Most episodes pair two guests, each of whom is invited to speak, to tell any story, for 20 minutes; in between, they overlap in conversation. They might already be well-acquainted or, as with Battle and Pittman, just getting to know each other. The pairings, Warren said, were based primarily on when guests were available, which led to some surprising matches.

“Introducing people is so much a part of her spirit,” said Battle, who has known Warren for over a decade, “this notion that, ‘Oh, you two need to know each other,’ and then stepping back to give space for whatever needs to come out of that.”

“It only works because of her,” Pittman said, reflecting on the uncertain moments when guests are dropped into conversation. “She has an incredibly supportive way of being that lends itself so well to a show like this. It’s fueled by her excitement about the people.”


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