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Def Dance brings it this spring

Charmaine Patricia Warren | 5/15/2014, 4:34 p.m.

At 20 years old, Def Dance Jam Workshop (DDJW), under founder and director Aziza, will present their spring season (May 16-18) at MIST Harlem and Theater Arts Center/The Smith. For this season, titled “Duets, Do It’s, Do Etc. … Artivisim: A Dance Concert of Social Awareness,” Aziza “transitions the leadership to the community with members choreographing their own duets,” notes the press release. Additionally, the workshop is now named “DDJ Community.”

At its beginning, DDJW was made up of artists with and without different abilities, and it has grown to include a mixed-ability, intergenerational performing community. Aziza brings a lifetime of experience to her work with DDJW and their work with the community. As a longtime Harlem resident and community activist, she has worked or performed with Dianne McIntyre’s Sound In Motion, Chuck Davis and Carmen DeLavallade. She has danced on Broadway and choreographed off-Broadway productions. She is also the founder and executive director of the Black Choreographers Project, which serves members of the dance community of color who are 50 years and older, and she is ordained as an interfaith minister.

These are just some of her many accomplishments that feed her devotion to DDJW since 1994. In an interview with the AmNews, Aziza shared some thoughts about the upcoming season.

AmNews: What does this 20-year anniversary mean personally and community-wide to the organization?

Aziza: Funding in the arts continues to decrease, and running a nonprofit in the arts is very challenging. To still be up and able to provide programs for 20 years is a great milestone for us, [especially] when I have seen so many nonprofits that were up and running before me, or the same time as me, closed due to lack of funding.

For the community, the fact that we have so many new families that join us every year, and generations of families that continue as active participants, speaks to the need of the services we offer. We are the only program in the Harlem community that provides programs and pre-professional and professional training in the performing arts for youth and adults with and without “different abilities.”

Can you recall when DDJW was just an idea?

I retired as a performer in the summer of 1993. The following week, I received funding from a donor to start whatever program I wanted. They requested I send them a proposal that day. Within one hour of sitting to form my ideas … God poured the ministry of Def Dance Jam Workshop in my heart. I can’t really say the idea was mine; it flowed so easily as I wrote every detail … on paper. [There were some] tasks that I did not have the skill level for at the time … but God was clear with the charge, and I was obedient.

What is most memorable from that time?

The challenges, but also how quickly the program came together. It felt right, so it gave me the confidence to take huge leaps of faith. Also, in the first week, the [issues between the] five hearing girls and five deaf girls, who did not want to speak to each other, let alone dance with each other, soon melted away, and they bonded into a family. The parents took longer to come around then. I had to prove myself, picking the students up from school, doing their homework with them on the bus, feeding them dinner and taking them home some evenings—I would hit all five boroughs just dropping students home. It was hard, memorable but magical.