"I always tell them to look to the first balcony," said Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell. "Well, in Dallas they performed in a real theater, and there really was a first balcony to look up to."
Wilkins-Mitchell directs the overlapping Onondaga Dance Institute (ODI) and Kuumba Project Dancers, both based at the Community Folk Art Center. She took all ten Kuumba Project Dancers to this year's International Association of Blacks in Dance conference last month for the Youth Showcase, thanks to accelerated rehearsals and the inspired fund-raising of CFAC's managing director Carol Charles, who wasn't satisfied with "maybe next year." They got a standing ovation in Dallas and another one performing, fresh from that triumph, at CFAC's annual gala on February 2nd. Such exposure has translated to a "new posture, energy and work ethic" among the young dancers.
And next week, when the acclaimed Alvin Ailey II tour performs at Syracuse University and then visits SUNY Oswego, where Wilkins-Mitchell also teaches dance, the Kuumba dancers will welcome colleagues they know.
Akeem Cotton looks forward to seeing Troy Powell again. Powell is Ailey's associate artistic director and personally congratulated the 14-year-old Danforth School eighth-grader in Dallas after that standing ovation. Akeem Cotton has begun auditioning for summer internships that now seem within his reach. Dallas provided another kind of validation for Kuumba's only male dancer too. Last Saturday, still exhilarated, he enthused that he'd found "thousands of boys who dance!"
Part perception, part fact, the scarcity of young men dancing extends beyond local ballet classes. The Media Unit's Joe Corallo is one of two males training at Rae's Institute of Dance and Movement in Cicero, versus 130 girls. Annie Johnston of Johnston Irish Dance School has 10 boys and over 200 girls currently. Amy Markwardt's McDonald School of Irish Dance has two guys out of 150 dancers. One is Peter Bush, who travels to Belfast in the North of Ireland in late March for his third World Championship. Six young men danced in November's Oireachtas, the regional qualifying competition, and he might face as few as twenty at the Worlds. Young men who dance locally must often navigate complex hurdles and stereotypes.