Goodbye, Baba Chuck

On Sunday, the dance world lost a gentle giant: Dr. Charles R. Davis, known to most as "Baba Chuck," the man who bridged the world of African dance and drumming between Africa and America.

Davis, 80, died from complications due to cancer. As founder and artistic director of the African American Dance Ensemble (1983) and DanceAfrica (1977), he'd become everyone's mentor and teacher. He stood an impressive 6' 5'', and always had room for one more hug.


Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, he came to dance after taking classes at Howard University, studying with pioneers such as Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus and the 6' 6"-tall performer Geoffrey Holder, with whom he learned to embrace his height. Baba Chuck later danced with companies formed by Babatunde Olatunji, Eleo Pomare and Bernice Johnson, among others. In 1964, he saw the Sierra Leone National Dance Company perform at New York World's Fair, then in 1968 formed the Chuck Davis Dance Company.

Davis taught African Dance & Drumming classes at ADF

In 1977 when he took his company to Nigeria. This marked the beginning of years of travel and study, and the beginning of DanceAfrica at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Mikki Shepard, the original producer of DanceAfrica recalls, "Chuck Davis built a village. From the very beginning, DanceAfrica was never meant to be just a festival of dance, music, and vendors. For Chuck Davis it was always about building and nourishing community, exchanging ideas, building knowledge, and celebrating and passing on the cultural traditions of Africa and the African diaspora while creating new traditions. The heartbeat of Chuck Davis's village is dance and music."

Baba Chuck was an endearing, yet powerful force to everyone from his colleagues at the International Association of Blacks in Dance, to the very young dancers at BAM/Restoration. Denise Saunders Thompson, president and CEO of IABD remembers: "He helped lay the groundwork for IABD and made sure all benefited from what he had to give. At the close of every conference, he would bring us together in a circle, made us join hands, and repeat "Peace, love, respect ... for everybody!" A mantra that is repeated at every DanceAfrica performance."

For his decades of unwavering service, among many accolades, Baba Chuck received awards from Dance Magazine and The Bessies, plus an honorary doctorate from Medgar Evers College. He is cited as one of America's "Irreplaceable Dance Treasures" by the Dance Heritage Coalition, American Dance Festival dedicated its 2015 season to him, and in 2016, BAM established the "Chuck Davis Emerging Choreographer Fellowship."

Three years ago, Abdel R.Salaam was named Baba Chuck's successor to DanceAfrica. Salaam says, "Forty years ago, Chuck brought many of us together to demonstrate how important the practice of African dance and music are to the living intelligence of African-Americans. He truly believed that dance and music is cultural medicine that has a universal value."

True to form, dance and music remained his medicine until his last days. After one last visit with Baba Chuck, Saunders Thompson says, "We just listened to his stories. Though he was frail, he was lucid and jovial, talking about his next choreographic work, travels to DanceAfrica, his clothes, and even his false teeth. And when I kissed him on his cheeks, and held his face in my hands, his eyes said that everything was going to be all right. I was comforted by his faith."

Baba Chuck's legacy lives on in so many of us.

"Chuck Davis realized his big vision and leaves a unique legacy in dance. Unique because he leaves behind a village of people who don't just attend or perform in DanceAfrica, they own it," Shepard says.

"The love Chuck and I shared is like that of father and son," says Salaam. For DanceAfrica, now in its 40th year, he adds, "As I continue to build on his legacy and trace a path of my own, I will always be true to his vision."

The Conversation
The Creative Process
James Fosberg, courtesy Mason

Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.

Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.

Keep reading... Show less
Hive by Boston Conservatory student Alyssa Markowitz. Photo by Jim Coleman

The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Fox produced a live broadcast of Rent in January—but could an original musical be next? Photo by Kevin Estrada, Courtesy Fox

When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Courtesy Lee

Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.

The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by McCallum Theatre
Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Bruce Mars via Unsplash

Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.

Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body

It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).

But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Getty Images

I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!

—Andrea, New York, NY

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
From Dance of Urgency. © Ekvidi

When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.

The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.

Keep reading... Show less
News

Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.

The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.

As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Lorenzo Di Cristina/Unsplash

When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.

The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."

Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Quinn Wharton

What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.

So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance History
Still of Fonteyn from the 1972 film I Am a Dancer. Photo courtesy DM Archives

On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox