There has been a lot of movement this season, Los Angeles has increased their push for social change and community building as residents face multiple disparities together. Public officials like Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas have been on the forefront promoting the power of unity among neighbors. There are many ways to express harmony in the city, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas saw a need for assistance at the Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT), where he presented $150,000 grant to create an outdoor dance class and performance space. This was designed with the youth at heart, giving a place for inner city children to get their bodies moving every Saturday morning.
Lula Washington Dance Theatre is an oasis, founded in 1980 by Lula Washington and her husband Erwin Washington. Their focus in opening this performance studio is to “provide a creative outlet for minority dance artists in the inner city.” Their story grew and the Lula Washington Dance Theatre is now world renown. The company has danced in over 150 cities in the US, Germany, Spain, Kosovo, Mexico, Canada, China, and Russia.
The seed of dance was planted while she was in college, she began to study and master modern dance. Washington wanted to pass that passion on and keep the desire of movement alive among the youth. During COVID-19, children have less encouragement to go outside due to the severity of an airborne virus meeting them out there. With this new outdoor performance space, children will be able to stretch, grow, and develop their artistic abilities in a socially distanced compound of LWDT.
The LWDT Company are known for their “unique, risk-taking, and experimental works” they also focus on merging African American Dance styles in with free self-expression of movement. LWDT has been providing low cost and free dance classes to neighborhood children through an afterschool program called “I Do Dance, Not Drugs!” since 1983. Washington always kept in mind that she came from humble beginnings and wanted her business to align with the core belief of giving everyone the resource to move and express themselves. LWDT has taught and worked with over 45,000 inner-city students.
With new guidelines on gathering in place, LWDT is looking to create a safe environment for creativity. Dance is not only good for the soul; it is good for the body. The youth need a place to start thinking how to move forward, even when there is a lot of uncertainty in the air.
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas shared his thoughts on the new edition to the performance theatre, “We cannot underestimate the power of the arts to not only connect us during these times, but also to heal ourselves and communities.”
He continued, “Equitable access to safe outdoor space and activities help communities express themselves and promote healthy activities when our individual and collective health is of utmost concern, as well as nurtures a sense of community. With the help of this grant, the Lula Washington Dance Theater can lead by example for finding innovative ways to continue safe programming during this pandemic.”
On Saturday, September 26, the community gathered to celebrate the growth at LWDT. Greeted with smiles and laughter from children dancing gave a sense of much needed hope—there will be better days. The Washington family talked about their turbulence through COVID-19, Lula shared words of encouragement and support, “Today, to have this wonderful stage because the belief and support of my Brother Thomas.” She continued, “Because of this stage, now we can do outdoor classes…we are coming back, so we want to say this is a joyous occasion.”
The rededication started with audience interaction, as the company dancers: Kozue Kasahara, Danny Gurrero, Ongelle Johnson, David Avrahim, Glen Rodgriguez, and Quron Clarks led a powerful chant and praise for new beginnings at LWDT. Hope filled the air as the audience clapped and stomped their feet. They raised their voice as a sense of release from everything that has been bleak in this season.
A subsector of the LWDT is the URITHI F.A.C.E. group. This youth group aligns with a mission of “Legacy Freedom and Change Every Day.” Urithi is a Swahili term that stands for legacy or inheritance. They presented Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with plants of Aloe vera, representing the new beginnings at the dance theatre.
Supporters of the event included Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, The Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, California Arts Council, Los Angeles Department of Arts and Culture, LWDT, Japanese American Community and Cultural Center, Great Leap, Inc. Artivist Entertainment, and Sustainable Little Tokyo. Join the movement from 9am-1pm, LWDT will offer “Free Community Moves” classes, they accept all seeds of appreciation and one can sign up for class by contacting [email protected] There was indescribable flow of true happiness in that space. LWDT will be looking into the future, with the same fulfilling passion to continue the movement.