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Baba Chuck Davis: Forceful Generosity, Divine Artistry

By Thomas F. DeFrantz | @tbirdinflight | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Sunday, May 21, 2017.

A man who would bring forward the possibilities of the group, always in connection to the ancestors. Baba Chuck Davis transitioned May 14, 2017 at the end of 80 glorious years.

Davis believed in the African dance forms that he learned in New York in Washington DC and New York in the 1960s. He extended those dances in his own method, and throughout his career traveled to the continent to study, admire, and create music and dance.  His work with the DanceAfrica festival set a standard for embedding neo-African music and dance forms in contemporary curatorial traditions.  This move continues to be incredibly important: Davis helped us all understand how to support African dance companies in useful ways across many years.  

Davis started the DanceAfrica movement in 1977, before conversations about “multiculturalism” had settled.  Davis had no time for any sideward thinking; his festival included classes, workshops, and an essential bazaar of material culture and food that surrounded the dancing. His innovations allowed African dance in the United States to be aligned with its relationships in community.  Under his guidance, we assembled to witness dance and to dance ourselves, and to eat and drink and play together, looking fine in our newly-acquired fashions and accessories.  Davis cast African dance as part of a social constellation of wellness for Africans in diaspora and their admirers.

Davis had his own company for many years - the Chuck Davis Dance Company - but later removed himself from the title of the group, to found the African American Dance Ensemble in Durham, NC. The shift spoke again to his generosity.  The company would be for its practice; not for the glory of an individual, charismatic leader.  Forceful generosity. So many astonishing artists have worked with the AADE over the years, and continue to share a gift of dance.

Baba Chuck made space for all of us interested in the dances of the African diaspora, and for all of us committed to making art about and for Black people.  His generosity demanded of us the attention that we all surely owe each other.  In person, he insisted on an abiding respect from each of us to another, whether we thought ourselves dancers or not.  His manner always put dance in conversation with life, and the expanding consciousness of a cosmic, vibrating-out-of-time African-derived humanity.  

Baba Chuck loved all of us in motion: ballet dancers, krumpers, tap dancers, modern dancers, neo-African dancers.  He has transitioned, but not left us at all; his example of a life in intentional, elegant motion compels us all to take care of each other; to pay attention to the dances of the elders and the ancestors; and to dance, always,  with the joy of human discovery.

Now that Baba Chuck has joined the ancestors, they shimmy and shift, enlarged and ever more lively to have such a dancing spirit among them. AXE! we shout, in tribute to the energy transformed.  AXE and Thank You, Baba Chuck, for all that you did and all that you have inspired!


Thomas F. DeFrantz is Professor of African and African American Studies, Dance, and Theater Studies at Duke University. He is a dancer, a choreographer, and the author of Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey's Embodiment of African American Culture and the co-editor of Black Performance Theory.

Obituary: Baba Chuck Davis - Master Choreographer of African Dance

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