Arts & Culture

Camille Brown’s vision of black girlhood – with joy and movement

Camille A. Brown brings “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,” to Stewart Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Camille A. Brown brings “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,” to Stewart Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Do all youth deserve a childhood?

Choreographer/dancer Camille A. Brown tackles that question – and answers with a resounding yes – in “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,” which she brings to Stewart Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 25.

The piece is her response to what she sees as a narrative that too often portrays black girls and boys as adults, not the children they are.

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“It’s a reminder that black girls are just that,” she says.

And it’s drawn from her own childhood memories of growing up in Queens, playing the jump-rope game, double-dutch, which serves as a starting point for her dance work.

“This is about what I remember, my childhood memories,” she said. “It’s important for me to stay honest and to tell the stories I know. ...

“The stuff we’re talking about is friendship, childhood, comradery. It’s just through a black girl lens. It’s about lifting up a lens that doesn’t get lifted up enough.”

The show also is a collaboration with her dancers and musicians Scott Patterson and electric bassist Tracy Wormworth, who provided the original music and who will appear on stage.

“We’re just jamming,” Brown went on. “There are some steps that will look like tap or tap steps.

“When people see ‘linguistic,’ they think text. It can mean the language of the body too – gesture, play, riffing off each other.”

Her staging includes multi-level platforms for her sneaker-clad dancers, along with a chalkboard mural that serves as a backdrop. To create the mural’s multi-colored doodling, Brown asked her company to help her. “I decided to put what we thought of when we heard the word ‘black girl.’

The piece opens with clapping – the rhythm of any playground. It includes sing-song counting, off-balance moves, little snippets of self-assertion, partner play, motions defining the self, African-American dance history from steppin’ to Juba to ring shout.

“This is a technique too,” she says. “The challenges are going against what we’re conditioned to think, that ballet and modern are higher than social dance and hip-hop and tap.”

‘‘Black Girl,’ ” she says “is not a political piece. What makes it political is the title and how people approach it. I’m living in the world and I’m a part of this world. I believe change begins with the individual. And it’s important for me to make honest choices as I create work. The identity aspect is about being human – strength, joy, sadness.”

What she hopes to convey, Brown said, is “who we were before the world defined us. What was our identity? How does that identity continue to live within us?”

Brown, whose credits include the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Urban Bush Women, says all her work centers on the idea of storytelling. She is clearly interested in musical rhythms, as well as ties to contemporary culture and her African-American past. In addition to jump-roping as a child, she played the clarinet.

About her recent work, she said, “It’s something that people can see themselves in.”

Anybody, that is, who gets to play as a child.


What: “Black Girl: Linguistic Play”

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25

Where: Talley Student Union, Stewart Theatre, N.C. State University.

Cost: $25-30 for the general public, $6.25 for NCSU students. A free, pre-show discussion will be held in Room 3222 in the student union at 7 p.m., with Andrea E. Woods Valdés, professor of dance at Duke University, formerly with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and an investigator of dance as contemporary folklore.

Tickets: 919-515-1100 or