Dance on Broadway
The set for last year's ceremony. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy The Tony Awards

The biggest weekend in Broadway is finally upon us: The Tony Awards are this Sunday (airing at 8 pm EST on CBS). While other media outlets might be busy forecasting winners, we're speculating about the dancing we might get to see during the broadcast.

Needless to say, we have a few ideas.

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Dance on Broadway
Brown's Once on This Island. PC Joan Marcus

As one of the most celebrated concert dance choreographers working today, a Broadway musical felt like a natural next step for Camille A. Brown. She'd already dabbled in choreography for musical theater and plays. Plus, she tells rich, vivid stories in her concert work about the struggles and triumphs of being a black woman in America today. So when we found out she would be choreographing the Broadway revival of Once on This Island, we were understandably excited. And she didn't disappoint.

But when the 2018 Tony Award nominations were announced last month, Brown wasn't on the list for Best Choreography. Four white men snagged the five nominations (Christopher Gattelli for My Fair Lady and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical, Steven Hoggett for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two, Casey Nicholaw for Mean Girls and Justin Peck for Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel.) Most of the choreographers overall this season were white men, as is usually the case.

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Dance on Broadway
Dancers in rehearsal for Once On This Island; PC Joan Marcus. Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown

"Should I watch it to get a sense of what happened, or should I go with my own vision and understanding of the culture?" That's what choreographer Camille A. Brown was wondering in June, when she started work on the Broadway revival of the Antilles-themed musical Once on This Island.

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Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.

An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.

"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."

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Dance on Broadway
Once on This Island, choreographed by Camille A. Brown. PC Joan Marcus

Camille A. Brown is part of an elite coterie: black women who have choreographed for the Broadway stage. Once on This Island won't be the first time she's listed as choreographer—she provided the moves for the 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, following in the footsteps of Dianne McIntyre and Hope Clarke, who've also added dancing to Broadway straight plays.

But she's still making history of a kind: Full-scale commercial Broadway musicals choreographed by female African Americans are rarities. Clarke did Caroline, or Change in 2004 and Jelly's Last Jam in 1992, and in 1988, Debbie Allen took on Carrie.

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Dancers Trending
The Spongebob Musical, PC Joan Marcus

The closing months of the 2016–17 season brought a glut of extraordinary music and dance to Broadway's stages, and the superabundance has left 2017–18 looking a bit anemic.

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