REVIEW: Erica Rae Smith: Out of Many: I Dare You to Find Your Connection

Erica Rae Smith of Raediant Movement LLC
Out of Many: I Dare You to Find Your Connection
Millennium Stage
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, D.C.
October 5, 2018

By Carmel Morgan

Dancehall is both a popular genre of music in Jamaica that is a derivative of Reggae, and a social dance that emerged contemporaneously with the music. I had the pleasure of seeing a performance choreographed by founder and artistic director of Raediant Movement LLC, Erica “Rae” Smith, a 2018 Kennedy Center Local Dance Commissioning Project choreographer, that was all about the infectious dancehall vibe.

Smith’s Out of Many: I Dare You to Find Your Connection made experiencing dancehall for the first time both educational and fun. Prior to the performance’s start, colorful pop art by Robin Clare illustrating various dancehall moves (Butterfly, Tic Toc) dominated a screen behind the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, while from a booth to the side of the stage Selecta DJ Luda Unruly played loud, pumping tunes. In a series of intimate voiceovers, Smith, a West Philadelphia native, told of her discovery, in her late teens, of dancehall and her immediate connection to this Caribbean club dance, which was born in in the 1980s in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. She was so captivated that she said she simply “could not stop moving.” Smith also explained that dancehall DJs often cater to men, so female dancehall dancers and choreographers have to fight for respect and push to make their way to the forefront of this cultural phenomenon.

Smith has a B.F.A. in modern dance and trained in ballet, jazz, tap, and African dance, but “dancehall” is her passion. She has taken the lead in the D.C. area by offering dance workshops and events that celebrate the dancehall craze.

Smith used her modern dance background to arrange the dancers in a series versatile groupings. The movement, although not always in perfect synchrony, never lacked enthusiasm. Ten female dancers of diverse backgrounds and body types wore high tops or combat boots and costumes usually consisting of short shorts. They clearly took pride in expressing the music’s intoxicating rhythms and showing off their “assets.” The athletic and energetic dancehall style frequently demands that one’s butt be put into serious action, bouncing up and down and all around. While arms windmilled, high steps, perhaps inspired by African dance, as well as lots of sly, sexy glances, also occurred.  

For the finale, dancers waving Caribbean flags trotted into the crowd coaxing audience members to join them. The dancers demonstrated different moves, and willing folks from approximately ages six to sixty grinned widely as they abandoned their seats and gyrated, trying to follow along. The infectious smiles, catchy beats, and boisterous atmosphere completely won me over.

Dancehall is about unity, the DJ said. In the lively chaos that concluded the performance, Smith definitely brought people together. Furthermore, she pulled off converting a nightclub dance to the stage, introduced dancehall to a new and bigger audience, and, maybe most impressively, seemed to have left everyone in a happier place.

Photos courtesy John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Carmel Morgan began her dance training in Knoxville, Tenn., where she became a founding member of the Tennessee Childrens Dance Ensemble, the countrys only professional modern dance company using artists 8-17 years of age. While living in Memphis, Tenn., she danced with the modern dance collective Project: Motion and also performed with the modern dance improvisation troupe Breeding Ground. Carmel began working as a freelance dance critic for what is now CriticalDance.com in February 2007, and previously served on the board of the Dance Critics Association. She has been enjoying dance in the DC Metro area for more than a decade. When not writing about dance, Morgan works as an attorney for the U.S. government.