There are several names that rattle off the tops of peoples heads when famous dance companies are mentioned across the country. Alvin Ailey, Alonzo King, American Ballet Theatre and so many more. However, because of stiff competition, most dancers may not ever realize their dream of dancing for these prestigious companies. Thanks to inspiring people like Gamal Brown, aspiring dancers can still live their dream through companies just like his in their communities. The name of his company is called Onyx Productions of Columbus Ohio. Instead of the brow-beating strict discipline like most of his east-coast mentors, Brown takes on a more available and nurturing role when it comes to teaching his students. But don’t let any of that fool you because he can be just as tough and critical as any New York performance arts instructor.
Besides my fascination with music, dance comes in at a close 2nd as I am a die hard fan of the late great James Brown, Michael Jackson, and The Temptations. I’m also a fan of newer artists such as Usher Raymond, Chris Brown and Janelle Monae. My transparency will also have me to admit that Fame, All That Jazz, and A Chorus Line were some of my favorite movies. I say Admit because in the Hip Hop world, sometimes “sophisticated culture” is frowned upon and I wanted Gamal to shed a little bit of light on what it truly means to be a part of the dance culture.
OTT: Ok Gamal so give us a little bit of your background.
GB: Well I was born and raised right here in Columbus. I studied in Ballet Met for a number of years. After I had graduated high school, I went on to Dayton Ohio where I attended Wright State University. While I was there, I attended the Jeraldyne School of Dance. I worked out with a few other dance companies and then received an opportunity to go to Africa and study with the ballet masters in Senegal. It was really amazing , And I must say, anyone that visits the motherland, it is a life changing experience.
OTT: How do you balance teaching what you know, while still developing as an artist?
GB: Hahaha there are long days and even longer nights…but that’s just it. You never stop being a student in this culture but make no mistake about it; you have to want to be here. You have to want to learn. People have their misconception on what dance truly is until they encounter a master at this craft. That separates the real from the fake, real quick. My undergrad is in business economics so when I view an opportunity from a high level, I have to make sure it’s worth my time and investment, and this is also what I try to get my students to understand. Mastery takes time, and you have to be willing to put in the work.
OTT: I’m an extreme advocate for saving the lives of urban young males in America. Being that their manhood is tested on every level, a number of them may view the cultured arts as soft or become downright homophobic of the art of dance. How can we get them to view this in a different way?
GB: Oh yeah…but just think about it Layne, you’re in this field where you’re always in tights. You’re in this field where the assumption is that you’re doing these effeminate movements, but the reality is..the strength and training that it takes to do what we do are second to none. If you’re partnering with someone and she weighs 145 pounds solid…there is nothing feminine about that. That takes a strong man. Are there a number of gay menin this particular culture? Yes, but that’s true in any culture. But I’ll have a straight person look at it like this, what other place can you find some of those most gorgeous women, bodies stacked and you get to engage in the most sensual, intimate movements for a living? It seems like that’s where I’d want to be hahaha.
But before you ask the next question, let me say this, it takes a certain level of mental strength to do ballet and modern dance. People will always criticize, accuse you or try to judge you and put you in this box. We come from this masculine community where you either play football, basketball, baseball or run track. It’s time for us to view the arts as something more than this effeminate culture to where you have to be a woman or gay. The arts are for everyone.
OTT: Since Social Media is at the forefront of gaining an audience, how to you think it has effected the presentation of dance?
GB: Wow now that was a great question! You’re a great writer I can tell, but to answer your question, we’re in a microwave generation. People want to be on stage right now. Aspiring dancers want the followers and acknowledgment now. I don’t think they realize the steps it takes to become a professional dancer. Don’t get me wrong, when I look at certain videos I see great movements but no training. I don’t even give a pass to these Hip Hop freestyle dancers either, because I’m thinking about the next generation behind them is going to be injured often because they have not been taught how to properly train. What are you teaching them? This is why it’s stressful to teach dancers, because it’s hard to get them to unlearn what they’ve been doing all along. It’s hard to watch people molesting the movements of the art to where professionals like myself will say “I need you to stand in acudapie’ and hold that position” but they don’t understand that language. And each level you go to, you have masters that will hold you accountable for not mastering your craft. The craft has to be honored if we’re going to be craftsmen.
OTT: Last question. What can people expect when coming to an Onyx production?
GB: It’s nurturing, It’s fun. We tells stories of love, pain, and protest. I’m happy to see more men in my productions. It’s a movement. My next production is March 18, it’s entitled Roho which is swahili for spirit. It’s a snapshot of my life presented in 8 pieces. I was working for another company and found out that my voice was being muffled so instead of sustaining that relationship I made the decision to form my own mission. My mission is social justice advocacy. I have to tell the story according to the way I see it. I encourage you and anyone on this post to check it out. You will walk away with an experience.
Please visit Onyx Productions at:
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