Music pounds from the loudspeakers. Bodies writhe, heads pull back, arms contort into various shapes. Figures hit the concrete, their legs spinning around. These dances range from hip-hop to Krump. The John F. Kennedy Memorial rises above the crowd, bearing down on the signs, shouts, and voices.
A midday Black Lives Matter protest, organized last Sunday by the Dallas dance community, had assembled to express their emotions in speeches, poems, and dances. A crowd of over 300 formed a ring around the dancers, who took turns highlighting their moves. A dance mat, attached to the cement, acted as the dance floor. In between the songs, speakers voiced their pain and frustration.
Quinton Winston, one of the principal organizers, spoke about his views on the police department. “I don’t hate cops. I want to be a cop,” he shouted. “I hate a system that defends bad cops.” Another protester encouraged attendees to register to vote; in response, Quinton directed them to his wife who could check to see if people were already registered.
The dance protest stands out among the other Dallas demonstrations because of the way dance origins are connected to Black culture. Over the decades, from the Civil Rights movement to the Black Lives Matter movement, little progress has been made. “We’re going in circles. We need to educate ourselves,” Winston said. He listed five elements of Hip-Hop: Graffiti, b-boying, also known as breakdancing, DJing, MCing, and knowledge. Specifically, he wanted dancers to focus on the history of dance and the ways it is rooted in Black culture. One woman’s sign read “Love our people like you love our culture,” prompting a discussion on the origins of tap and breakdance.
A speaker brought focus to Master Juba, a man known as the “father of tap dance.” The term ‘to break,’ meaning “to get hype, to get excited,” is the origin of breakdancing. “White people were appalled to see black people dance in abandonment,” he shouted. “They had done everything they could to suppress a people but they still danced.” A cry rang out across the square.
The sun shone in the cloudless blue sky. The Old Red bell chimed. Temperatures reached the mid-90s. Sweat tumbled from attendees as organizers walked around, handing out water and Gatorade. On a nearby sidewalk, a snack stand provided free relief to overheated protesters.
One man chose an apt metaphor for his speech, leading to one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the event. “It’s okay for you to be wrong, but what matters is you taking the next step to correct your behavior,” he said, discussing the actions one can take to eliminate racism within oneself. “It’s like brushing your teeth. You don’t just do it once; otherwise, your breath will stink and your teeth will rot. It’s a daily thing.”
Other protesters emphasized actions that individuals can take to do more, rather than only attending a protest. A spokesperson for the Mahali Party emphasized the ways both political parties have failed Black people. Another man called on the people to hold businesses, both small and large, accountable.
“These businesses are here to serve us, the people, the consumers,” he said. Asia Cox, a student at Booker T. Washington High School, recited a poem she wrote. Kate Walker, director of the Dance Conservatory at Booker T. Washington, addressed the crowd after the poem. “We, as dancers, inherently understand how powerful it is to have many bodies in one space at one time, portraying a message. Everything we do is a movement, and when it is again time for a large cultural shift, we call it a movement.”
Cheers and claps erupted from the crowd.
The protest remained peaceful, although a few motorcyclists attempted to drown out Walker’s speech by revving their engines while passing. In response, Quinton took the mic again to urge the audience to ignore those who try to bring them down. “If we’re going to get some stuff done we need to put some blindfolders on.
As the sun began its slow descent towards the surrounding buildings, all the dancers congregated on concrete. Playing Ultralight Beam, dancers of all ages and ethnicities contorted their body to the music, creating their own dances. “When words fail, this is how we speak!” Quinton shouted over the loudspeaker. Shoulders shook, arms lifted and fell, bodies twisted in various directions. Each dancer moved in a unique fashion, allowing the rhythm of the music to take control of their bodies. The protesters watched on, signs raised, the entire square bustling with movement. A cry emerged from the lips of the crowd and lifted into the blue sky beyond.
After the collective dance, one woman took the microphone. “I’m here, dancing for a cause, and I can’t breathe.”