Saturday, February 16, 2008


Savage Dance Class
Oakland School for the Arts, Oakland, California

I'm ashamed to admit I know precious little about dance. Like most folks I've enjoyed musicals like Chicago, All That Jazz, some hip-hop dance and ballet on the TV. But even if I'm aware that dance is an important and meaningful art form, I've never really taken the time to appreciate its joys and complexities.

But I was blown away this afternoon when I visited Oakland School for the Arts - a college preparatory arts high school founded in 2000 - to watch my goddaughter’s dance class in action.

Dance teacher Reginald Ray-Savage is a renowned choreographer, and these students are fortunate to benefit from his inspirational guidance. Since founding his Savage Dance Company in 1992 he has choreographed over 100 works inspired mainly by the music of jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck. Only the week before my visit Savage received rave reviews for his presentation Ritus at the San Francisco Black Choreographers Festival.

Savage is a demanding and inspiring teacher. His studio is decorated with graffiti urging, “There is no justice!”, “Stop Complaining!”, and “Shut Up!” His blend of ballet, Dunham technique, and contemporary dance give his works a fresh feel which he communicates to the students at OSA. As Savage puts it, this is way beyond jazz dance, rather it’s modern dance set to jazz music.

As I watched, his protégées swept across the floor with an astonishing grace and energy, and their interaction with jazz rhythms communicated instinctive and sophisticated urban statements. If their teacher insists they learn the rules of dance before they can break them, they do so with a ferocious intelligence which will stand them in good stead not only as artists and performers, but more importantly as human beings.

Watch: African Flower, Savage Dance Company:

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