LEWISTON — The audience at the Great Falls Forum on Friday witnessed a vivid and effective demonstration of the power of dance in addressing issues of social justice and community involvement.

Two representatives of Urban Bush Women, an acclaimed modern dance company, took turns speaking at the podium while the other simultaneously interpreted the organization’s message in dance on the stage.

Keisha Turner and Kendra Ross explained the UBW mission and methods, which includes a two-week residency with the Bates College Dance Department by UBW.

“It’s the community engagement work that sets us apart,” Turner told the audience at Lewiston Public Library’s Callahan Hall.

She said UBW’s founder, choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, embarked on an effort of community building through dance and the arts in 1984. The Brooklyn-based organization now draws on talents of many artists to present workshops and dance concerts throughout the country.

Ross explained that UBW strives to collect and interpret “untold and undertold stories of the African diaspora.” She emphasized UBW’s goal is to act as “a catalyst for social change.”

As the noon program reached its midpoint, Turner and Ross had presented a traditional lecture, punctuated by a couple of video clips of some UBW dance pieces. Then, as Ross continued the verbal presentation, Turner stepped onto the stage and began a modern dance accompaniment to Ross’ spoken message. In a few minutes, Ross and Turner swapped places at the microphone and on stage.

There was no music, only the rhythms of voice and body merging. It was a powerful demonstration of the UBW concept of teaching and learning through dance.

The presenters outlined several elements of their workshop facilitation methodology.

“Movement as a metaphor” was a key point, as well as “acknowledgment of the intelligence of the body.”

Turner noted that learning is usually thought of as happening from the neck up, but she pointed out that “we had bodies before books,” adding that “movement is the great equalizer.”

The microphone and movement collaboration between Ross and Turner continued with Ross’s verbal explanation that UBW members “use ideas and express them through the body,” as the movements of Turner on stage echoed the points of the lecture.

Turner told the audience that workshops conducted by UBW often have great intensity because of participants’ experiences with race, with diverse backgrounds, and often in their personal paths from very different lives in Africa.

UBW has established a strong community-building relationship with New Orleans due to the challenges encountered by that city’s residents following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the presenters said. Since its formation by Zollar almost 30 years ago, UBW has operated from a “woman-centered perspective,” but it welcomes participation by men.

Turner said UBW is a program “for everybody.” There are 26 network facilities spreading the organization’s message in cities nationwide.

The two-week residency at Bates College includes development of a dance performance, which will be staged later this month. A program by the UBW team also will be presented soon at the Tree Street Youth Center in Lewiston.

On Nov. 22, local Cheryl Hamilton will present “From L/A to Africa: Exploring Refugee Resettlement in Reverse” at the Great Falls Forum. 

The forum is co-sponsored by Bates College, Lewiston Public Library and the Sun Journal.

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