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Choreographer Veronëque Ignace using Dance to Fight Racism Featured

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When our forefathers were forcibly sold out of Africa across the 

Atlantic Ocean into foreign lands including Haiti, they were officially robbed from their own native language. During the great Haitian revolution, one of the most striking cultural forms which helped our heroes to succeed and survive with one another was music and dance. Music as a universal language could communicate across the language barrier that divided different enslaved Africans in different part of the world. All slaves could take part in music and dancing so it provided a tool for survival. Dances had particular meanings and could convey specific ideas. Music and dance were often used and can be traced back to the ships, through the long voyages across the oceans themselves. The slaves were forced to dance on the ships as a form of exercise. Many took advantage of this to bond and communicate with their shipmates by dancing steps remembered from their past in Africa. This was to continue in the Americas in dances, religious ceremonies and other musical forms that used cultural traditions from Africa. Many of you who may have studied the Haitian Revolution,  probably ar farmiliar  with the “Bwa kayiman” ceremony of 1791. It was the starting point of what to become the greatest revolution of all time. It was with a similar type of idea that Veroneque Ignace started her dance journey way back in College.

HB had the opportunity to chat with her and she walked us through her jouney.

HB- Can you talk about the early days of the group? How did you guys start out and how has your team grown?

Kriyol Dance! Collective began as an experimental project at Williams College in 2013 when I was completing my undergraduate studies. At the time, I was looking at ways to use creativity/creative outlets to combat the stressors and challenges that structural racism present at a predominately white institution. Since I was already dancing with a company, Kusika, I had the support of my peers and the Dance Department Chair Sandra L. Burton to pursue that work. By the time I graduated in 2015, I won a fellowship that help me continue my research and movement work post-college.
Since it’s official debut in 2016 in Brooklyn, NY, we’ve identified ourselves as a collective of artist-leaders working together, on one platform, to advocate for the unapologetic voices of Black arts through collaborative and unified work and intervention. KDC uses art - dance, music, and spoken word - as a tool for commentary creating original work focused on the preservation of Black diasporic culture and Haitian culture. KDC exists as a platform to promote community collaboration and wellness.
The group has presented at various universities, local Brooklyn institutions, and private events. KDC, has now supported 4 major projects featuring community-based research, workshops, drum intensives, public performances, visual arts exhibitions, and spoken word cyphers. We have also expanded our partnerships to include spaces like Haiti Cultural Exchange, The Wyckoff House, Weeksville Heritage Center, StoryCorps, and Parkside Plaza; as well as artists like Wanito, Strings n Skins, and Anie Alerte.

Where are you based?
VI- Brooklyn, NY

HB- How many of you are part of the group?
VI- We are 17 total. We have 6 dancers, 7 percussionists, 1 spoken word artist, 1 videographer/photographer, 1 digital art creator, and 1 communications and outreach coordinator. But of course, we have a handful of reliable collaborators who always answer the call when we need them.

HB- How did you fall in love with dancing?
VI- I can’t remember a time where I was not dancing. This has truly always been an essential part of my existence. My mother was a dancer. She studied as a young girl with Lavinia Williams in Haiti and was close friends with Jean Leon Destine’s family. To be honest I never actually learned what that meant until I was in college being introduced to other students of theirs who had continued working as professional dancers. The more I learned the more I could attempt to explain the role dance plays in my life, my community, and this universe.

HB- What did you have to develop in order to be a good dancer?
VI- Patience. I think outside of all the training and all the hours of sweat, the most important this is a supreme level of patience. That is what gets applied when you begin to doubt your talent or what you know. It is also what you need to handle the reality that as a working dancer you are also a business person. Patience is what you need to be kind to yourself and to advocate for your worth.

HB- What made you guys decide to practice different styles rather than concentrating on one style?
VI- This was a very natural choice for us. KDC is made up of dancer and artists who are trained in various forms of dance - Contemporary, Ballet, Jazz, West African Dance, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Dancehall, Afrobeats, and of course Haitian Folklore & Traditional. We use what makes sense to communicate meaning and message through our work; and we do that with a lot of care. It’s not just about mixing dance styles for the sake of creating any sort of fusion.

HB- How do you deal with staying in shape?
VI- I think everyone in KDC has their own way of approaching this. But, I was always an athlete. I played volleyball seriously all throughout high school and that included playing on Club teams. For me, staying in shape means strength training and conditioning, as well as a whole lot of dancing. I could really do more stretching in my life, because I certainly am not as flexible as I once was. But, again, this is where that patience comes in. I’m working on it.

HB- Having a big social media presence has become a thing for dancers and choreographers. How do you navigate that?

Relying on social media as a tool to market yourself is such a difficult thing. I don’t ever feel like I’m representing myself the way I should and I think part of that is because social media can only measure you using number of likes and engagement. Inherently, that means what you create and who you are has to be tailored to who is watching. My work has not really ever been about that because most of what I want to be saying with my art is about going against the current oppressive status quo. That is often not mainstream. In addition, abstract and nuanced work is not always Instagram friendly, for example. I end up having to focus more on keeping my social media pointed and visually appealing rather than focusing on how many people I can get to hit like. Everything else will fall where it will.



HB- What would you say has been the biggest turning point for the group so far?
VI- The biggest turning point for us happening in 2018. This was the first time we ever received grant funding to support our community programs. We got just over $1800 from Citizens Committee for New York City and I felt invincible. In the grand scheme of things, this was not a lot of money to pull off our vision for that summer but we made it work. This experience propelled us forward and we got much better at grant writing and funding methodology since.
What are some of the biggest challenges of being part of a dance group? And what are some of the triumphs?
I get the sense that KDC is unique because each artist working within this group is also their own independent creating artist. As a result, one of our biggest challenges is finding the time and space to really perfect all of the movement styles we lean on, while also creating new work. We can’t do it all and so during our active seasons it always feels like something has fallen short. Either we finished a project but also feel like we have more training to do, or we train really hard and create almost nothing. The latter makes it difficult for us to accommodate money-generating gigs since we feel unprepared.
In that same breath though, one of the triumphs of being in a group like this is both the drive we have to work hard together and the consistent level of creativity we are able to maintain. We love each other and so we work through the kinks no matter what, and it helps that we are always coming up with new ideas!

HB- How has social media helped your journey?
VI- Social media has certainly helped to provide entry points for people who are just learning about what we do. We often get inquiries or performance requests from Instagram and Facebook. In addition, the work that Marie Antoine, our communications and outreach coordinator, does to streamline our messaging and visual presence helps folks know that we are a real functioning business. Social media is a way for people to validate that part as well.

HB- How have music inspired your choreography? Are there any favorites bands you guys look to for inspiration or for tracks?
Kriyol Dance! Collective is deeply sustained by its connection to Haiti’s drum and dance traditions and the people who have helped support it here in Brooklyn and abroad. In our work, we seek to show people that music and dance are one in the same – they share the same power to bring communities together, to hold traditions, and to teach lessons. Still, in our experience, there is work to be done around using cultural art as a tool for change-making, rather than focusing on preservation alone. This is the reason why we try to include our drummers in every piece of choreography and every section of the creative process.
Our drummers have also worked with important Haitian bands - Tokay, Racine Mapou de Azor, Wawa & Rasin Kanga, Rev, etc. - so they bring that knowledge too.
But in our dance classes where we teach social dance and street styles, we listen and are inspired by what is popular at that moment.

HB- What if someone wants to join your group, what do they have to do?
I am very serious about community voice and community participation. As far as I am concerned, there is space for everyone in KDC and in our network. It’s all just a matter of intention. When creating choreographic work for public programs, I often put out an open call for anyone who is interested. Either way, contacting us to start the conversation helps!

What do you hope for viewers to take away from your choreography?
VI- My goal in creating choreography is to take my audience on my personal journey. They should feel what I feel, taste what I taste, smell what I smell, and think along with me.

HB- If someone wants to follow your group, where do they go?
VI- We can be found on Facebook @kriyoldance, and on Instagram @_kriyoldance_ But our website has everything you need: ​www.kriyolcollective.com

HB- Anything else you want to share with us?
VI- I want to thank you for this opportunity. I am always happy to talk about our work and meet new people!

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