Interview with Richard Moten
Philadelphia Dance Projects
LOCAL DANCE HISTORY PROJECT
Interview with Wayne David by Terry Fox, October 26, 2016
At UArts, 320 South Broad Street, Philadelphia PA 19102
TERRY FOX: This is Terry Fox, Philadelphia Dance Projects, and we are recording Wayne David today, on October 26,2016
So let’s begin with talking about you. Where were you born?
WAYNE DAVID: I’m originally from Washington, D.C. I was born in 1960. I was a part of the Jones and Haywood Ballet School, there, which was actually the first American, African American school for ballet. [Founded in 1941 by Doris W. Jones and Claire Haywood]
I started dancing by taking classes around 1968. I was there until ’79. I performed in a lot of musical theatres. I also worked with Debbie Allen, and also studied ballet the entire time. I came to Philadelphia in 1979 to attend the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, which is now University of the Arts.
TF: You came here to go to school and study, but who did you study with here?
WD: At the university that was, I mean, Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, Andrew Papp, Barbara Sandonato, LaVaughn Robinson and a lot of the dancemakers from the early ’80s.
TF: Did you then perform professionally when you graduated, or what did you do?
WD: Yes. I was very fortunate to meet Faye Snow, and so right after graduation I got a job here at the University of the Arts. She was able to help me get the job here.
TF: Was Faye teaching then here as well?
WD: Yes, she was one of the faculty members here at University of the Arts. I also danced with South Street Dance Company.
WD: I danced part-time sometimes with Group Motion, but my main dancing in concert dance was with Faye Snow’s Juba Contemporary Dance Theatre.
TF: Let’s just jump ahead, before we return to Faye Snow and Juba.
What are you doing today?
WD: Today, it’s so strange, because one of my aims has always been to be involved with art for social change, and so since I’ve been in Philadelphia that’s been my mission, working with students that come from different backgrounds and challenging backgrounds. I still do my community work, and I volunteer throughout the community. At the present time I’m a full-time professor, associate professor, here at the University of the Arts. I’ve been at the University of the Arts full-time for the past 23 years, and I’ve been part time for the past seven years.
TF: Wonderful. Describe your community. Where do you carry out this mission ?
WD: In South Philly I was the resident manager and resident choreographer for Point Breeze Performing Art Center. It has folded recently, but when it was open it had a lot of students. I worked with them, to make sure they would go to college, and I still stay in touch with them. And it’s really the third generation of students from Point Breeze that I’m still working with.
TF: Impressive. So let’s turn to Faye Snow. How did you first hear about Juba Contemporary Dance Theatre?
WD: I remember in my junior year in 1981, Faye Snow was my Horton teacher here at the College of Performing Arts. And, I got on the elevator, and it was during a time when Jheri curls were in style. Do you remember the Jheri curl that ? [Laughter] Well, I had a Jheri curl, and Faye Snow said, “Boy, you have some curly hair.” And I went, “Yes, it’s straight out of the box.” And we fell down laughing.
Some of my peers during that time were already dancing with Juba Contemporary, so I heard a lot from the dance community about it. She asked me to come and audition for her company in 1981.
TF: Who were your peers who that were dancing at that time?
WD: During that time it was Kathy Smith, who is now the head of the Modern Dance Department at Duke Ellington Performing Arts [Washington, DC] There was Clyde Thomas. Clyde, and Michael Hayes were already in the group. During that time Tommy Halston was in the group, also, Robert Garland. Tommy and Robert Garland traveled back and forth [from New York]. And you know Robert Garland. He’s the Artistic Director at Dance Theatre of Harlem.
He’s a Philadelphian. Also, Kim Bears-Bailey was involved with Juba. I’m trying to remember that first company, because when I talk about Juba, I was the third generation of dancers from Juba.
The first generation was Kevin Brown, Buster, who I cannot remember, his last name escapes me, and Paulette Poole.
TF: She danced with Joan Kerr.
WD: She’s somebody who’s been tied with Faye Snow really since the beginning.
WD: That first generation also included Gary DeLoatch.
When I break it down, I know that Gary DeLoatch, and Paulette Poole, Kevin Brown, they were part of the first generation, because I did a lot of research with them about the company and that’s what I was able to find out. The second generation of dancers were Tommy Halston, Robert Garland, Paulette Poole, (I’ve already said her). Okay, I came here in the third generation. The third generation was Kim Bears, Kathy Smith, also Shawn Lamere-Williams, Felicia Brody, Tricia Morris, Antoinette Cohen, and a list of other dancers. They made a big connection to dancers through the University and also through the community.
So, in working with Faye, because she was a master Horton teacher, it was my very first time actually studying codified modern technique when I came to Philadelphia. In Washington, D.C., it was just mainly ballet, and it was mainly just jazz and creative modern dance, as we would call that. She was the very first teacher that I met that actually taught codified technique. Of course, in college I studied Graham, and other modern techniques.
But she was my very first master teacher that actually worked with people like Jimmy Truitte. She got the Horton really first-hand, because you know, of course, Jimmy danced with Lester Horton Dance Company.
TF: Did she study with Joan Kerr, do you know?
WD: Yes, I kind of wrote down some of that history.
TF: Because I think she was that same generation.
WD: Yes, she was a part of it, exactly. Yeah, I wrote down that Faye Snow, developed the concept of Juba Contemporary Theatre. It was a combination of years of training, education. “Her training began at the age of four under the tutelage Mary Cuyjet and Sydney King. Faye Snow continued to develop her skills, through intensive training, and study with Joan Kerr. Faye performed with such notable companies as Joan Kerr Dancers, George Washington University, Coppertone Review, Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance, an opera production of Aida, and also the company [Philadelphia Civic Opera]. Her academic artistic talents attest to her abounding energy. She received her Master’s degree in dance concentration from George Washington University, and a B.A. for science degree from West Chester in Health and Physical Education. Faye was a distinguished and accomplished choreographer. And most of her work was very well applauded.
TF: I think so. We at the Painted Bride Arts Center loved it. We always tried to show it at the Bride and have her there as a regular. I think she was underappreciated, actually.
WD: Yes, this has been the most difficult thing, especially in doing research. When I looked through the dance history here, Faye’s name, it’s not included. It’s heartbreaking.
So, I had to really do a lot of deep research in going through programs and everything, to be able to speak about it, because even when I looked up the history of Marion Cuyjet, and they list all of the other dance artists, and they left Faye Snow’s name off. She was like there along with Judith Jamison, Arthur Hall, Joan Myers Brown, Elmer Barr, Donald Law, Delores Brown, and more, and she was in the school, also.
TF: Right, and more importantly, she really had a company, full company.
TF: And with many choreographies, not just a renowned teacher, or a respected teacher.
WD: Exactly. So, she was left off the history. That’s why I’m so happy that we’re able to do this, able to be able to speak on behalf of Faye Snow.
TF: Why do you think that happened? Can we speculate around the political and social, artistic-social climate of that time?
WD: Faye Snow was independent. She was an independent woman. When she had a dance company, she asked for some funding, but during that time as now, it’s so much paperwork, there’s so much you have to report, and administrative things to do. So, during Juba, most of the time she was paying for Juba herself. She got a couple of grants, but mostly it all came out of her pocket. Well, all of it came out of her pocket.
TF: So, funding was one of the difficulties.
WD: Exactly. She was very independent. She paid for everything from her salary. Also, when I was doing the research, I found that it all started back when Faye Snow went to West Philadelphia High School, to head the dance program there. That’s where she met Gary DeLoatch. A lot of famous dancers that went on to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, worked through her physical education program, and then also they became dancers. It was after class and during the school curriculum. So that’s what made her get her degree in Dance. From there she was head of the dance department at the Franklin Learning Center, where they had dance majors. That was during the period when performing arts high schools became very popular. It was that trend.
TF: Was it a magnet school ?
WD: It was a magnet school, and private performing arts school. CAPA [a high school for Creative and Performing Arts] is public. She was at West Philly [High School] I think for maybe about ten or fifteen years, and she was at the Franklin Learning Center for maybe over 25 years, for a very long time, and that was her connection in bringing those young dancers into college. Faye was a firm believer of higher education. She always encouraged her dancers to go to college and to be able to do more than one thing, okay, because with the arts it is hard sometimes to pay the bills. She says it’s important. You have to be able to pay the bills. You have to be able to live. So she promoted that a lot. She has a connection with the University of the Arts, as she was the Horton teacher here. She choreographed hundreds of ballets on students. She made a connection here to the University that will live on forever amongst the students, and also dancemakers.
TF: Are some of those works recorded here?
WD: Yes, a lot of them, I have a lot of her works that are recorded. I would say her most famous ballet, which you probably know, would be Black Angels. She started Black Angels as a project while she was in graduate school.
TF: I remember He Ain’t Heavy.
WD: Yes, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, which was a staple for her in training dancers. The original cast was Tommy Halston and Clyde Michael Hayes. Yes, that was the original cast. And I clearly remember when I got into the company that it was my very first time being paid for dance – to receive a performance fee and also to receive a rehearsal fee. It was my first time, because Faye still had a niche in training men.
She was very good in training men, and men that started dance late. For most women, dancing began at an earlier age, you know, five or six. Because Faye Snow is the type of artist, let’s state, who accepts people for who they are, at that moment. There was no judging, there was no color bar. Juba was multiracial.
TF: I think that’s a Horton legacy.
WD: Yes, exactly. It was multiracial, and she was able to work with some students and males from difficult backgrounds. I personally got involved with Faye on the personal level because in my junior year I didn’t have a place to live, and she invited me to live in her home. Yes, and she opened her home up to a lot of dancers, okay? Paid for everything. She’d make sure you went to school, make sure you got up in time, make sure that you had everything you needed. So after living with Faye, since the end of 1981, yes, for over three decades, she has been my main mentor in working with the community and in teaching dance all over the place. I wanted to be like Faye Snow for a long time, because I was just amazed at this independent woman. (although I came from a background of independent women during my Jones and Haywood study). They were all very independent women in moving forward in the world of dance.
TF: Oh, such a wonderful story! What a beautiful story.
WD: I know, and she also worked with, do you remember Skeets, was his nickname?
WD: She did collaborations with him also, and Faye also allowed dancers to choreograph for her company.
TF: What was Skeets’ full name?
WD: Okay, Elmer Ball.
TF: No wonder he went by “Skeets.”
WD: Exactly, exactly. I looked it up. One piece that I do remember that’s come back in my brain was Atlanta Children. It was during the time when a lot of children had gone missing in Atlanta. She did a lot of political pieces.
TF: I remember that.
WD: Atlanta Children, For All We Know, but also she had fun pieces like Car Wash.
WD: She was able to use secular music and R&B music, and she was able to dig into the soul, into the heart of people.
TF: Let’s talk a little bit more about that choreography. How do you describe it ? Would you say it was all Horton? I think she had her own signature.
WD: She had her own signature. It was Horton. It was ballet. She was able to modernize steps. She was able to take a lot of the syllabi steps as using the Horton technique, and giving it more coloring, you know? And, that’s what, Horton technique was designed to make strong dancers and not specialized dancers, not just a jazz dancer, or ballet.
TF: Yes, I think that’s right.
WD: So, it was the means to be able expand the dancer in movement. She used codified technique, and also with her vision, and I think a lot comes from the training under Joan Kerr, like her professionalism in working in the dance world. It also was very important for her to be involved with her sororities. She brings a lot of her history to her work. I kind of laugh and chuckle, because when I was digging through her stuff, I had no idea that Faye Snow used to be in beauty pageants. Okay?
TF: Well, she was very pretty.
WD: And so she brought a lot to her history, her life, her love for dance, her love for giving into community, but she was also very serious about political issues, and issues with the world. She was able to choreograph about these things. She would have a lot to choreograph.
TF: This is so true.
WD: She’d definitely know what’s going on in the world. When I think about some of the fond memories, first of all, in knowing you. I remember performing at The Painted Bride, in a storefront window [first South Street address], and I always thought dance had to be had to be presented in main theatres, coming from that background. It was my first time being part of something, a collaboration, working with Faye. When we went to The Painted Bride and I’m like, “Where’s the theatre?” She said, “This is the theatre.” And I never will never forget that moment, okay! It was wonderful. Back then it was a storefront art gallery. And she loved The Painted Bride. I remember chatting with Faye Snow when they put the mosaics on the front wall [a later art center on Vine Street with mural created by Isaiah Zagar]. We went down there in the middle of the night, (Clyde Michael Hayes also lived with us) and looked at it, and it was just spectacular. So those are one of the fond memories I have of Faye Snow. She has a spirit and an energy that she was able to open up with anybody.
TF: The audiences felt that, too. They responded to it. What about one piece that you performed in that you really liked, or what was it about?
WD: For All We Know, which was danced by Robert Garland, who Faye Snow taught, and he also danced in her The Demagogue, which was a male solo (with fabulous extension for she was able to get guys to do things with their body that only Mr. Ailey was able to do). So I worked very hard, and I finally in my senior year was able to do that solo. I remember doing that solo in her home season and also in an art festival that was at the Independence Hall Mall.
TF: Would that be around ’76 then?
WD: Yes, maybe. And one of the best things about it, LaVaughn Robinson, the great LaVaughn Robinson, said, “Man, I didn’t know you had chops like that.” Faye also used to collaborate with German Wilson. That was one of her earliest phases after doing some research.
TF: In theater ?
WD: Yes, in theater with German Wilson. He also gave me a compliment. Also probably from Atlanta Children, because I was able to play the cornball. Because, I love laughing, you know. I believe you should laugh your entire life. And so I was able to show my comic side of me. Today, some of her successors are still doing Black Angels. I’ll watch over Faye Snow’s thing.
TF: Did Eleone Dance Theatre do that?
WD: No, Antoinette Cohen. We can talk about her successors later. She centerpieces, and she toured from the Franklin Learning Center when it was able to start having intensive training in Horton. She had a lot of successors that still do Black Angels, and still model her directions in doing choreography.
TF: Okay. It would be great even if we had a student piece of that, if there’s some videos.
WD: I have videos.
TF: Let’s include them in this archive.
WD: And I bought the machine that can covert VHS into DVD’s
TF: We can do that for you as well. We can make a DVD and we can have it made in mp4, too.
WD: Okay, thank you. As I go through Faye Snow’s repertoire, because there’s a lot of repertoire, I want to be able to preserve it. It has a, they say a shelf life of ten or twenty years, but I have the machine upstairs so I would definitely, would be able to take something out of it.
TF: We need to put that with this, and the other materials you would have that we can even scan and you can keep the originals. This can be a digital collection with printed programs, and other things like photos.
WD: When I was researching for Faye Snow, I noticed that Faye Snow taught at every institution there was in Philadelphia. Faye Snow was also on faculty at Howard University. I remember when I was young, she would travel back and forth. Also, as the head of dance at Community College, which she got me a job there and I was the head of jazz dance. Because first I wanted to be a ballet dancer, and Faye Snow said, “You’re not going to be a ballet dancer. Okay,” she said, “Come to modern.”
But, I got my job here from Faye because I was a fast mover. It was Susan Glazer,[Former Director UArts School of Dance] who said, “Get Wayne to do it.” Faye always promoted us to move forward in our career. But when I looked, Faye Snow had taught everywhere, yet she had always been humble.
TF: She’s had an incredible influence then in the community.
WD: Exactly, in dance. That’s why I was so excited to finally be able to speak about Faye Snow.
TF: Which reminds me, what were the other groups during that period that you felt were either in competition, or similar? Obviously Philadanco was coming along.
WD: Okay, okay.
TF: Maybe further afield. What were the groups?
WD: At that time there was DanceFusion, who is still in existence to this day. Of course, Danco. There was ZeroMoving Dance Company. There was still Arthur Hall Afro American Ensemble; Waves was during that time with [Shimon Braun] and also the Power 99 Dancers. And of course, Group Motion was also on South Street. One thing that was different about Faye than most of the dance companies, she allowed you to dance for other companies as long as it didn’t affect her schedule. So, I was dancing with South Street Dance Co. and Juba at the same time. In my research, those are mainly the companies I was able to find.
WD: Another memory that, I have, is a picture of Faye Snow, at the time of Juba’s 10th Anniversary. We had our name in the crown lights on the PECO Building.
TF: We talked about German Wilson and Arthur Hall, and were there other musicians and artists that she collaborated with, or not so much? Just danced with him?
WD: No, not so much, she just danced with Hall. Definitely Elmer Ball, Skeets. One famous piece was Unforgettable. It was about a bride on her way to a wedding. It was a very fun piece. She also collaborated with, like we said, German Wilson.
TF: Anything particular that you recall like lights or sets, or costumes, or anybody?
WD: Elmer Ball was also a costume designer. He made most of the costumes for Juba. Yes, and also helped with some of the set designs for Juba, as did German Wilson. That was the early relationship, because he came to Philadelphia in the ’70s. So anything that needed to be built, he would do it. Any acting, any coaching that we need doing the ballet, German Wilson was also able to do that. You know, she did many collaborations here at the University of the Arts. She did a collaboration with Andrew Papp on a ballet. She worked with John Lewis, who’s still a very famous musician here in Philadelphia. Okay, she did a lot—
WD: John Lewis, who’s still, he an accompanist here. She collaborated with the Visual Art Department here at the University of the Arts. She did a lot of pieces that used sculptures. So, you know, she was able to expand her work, because we have so many departments here.
TF: Adventurous, too, it sounds like.
WD: Yes, very adventurous.
TF: What were some of the spaces besides the storefront gallery and the later locales of The Painted Bride? You talked about the festival in ’76 at the Mall.
WD: Yes, yes, the festival at the mall.
TF: Were there other spaces that you performed in ?
WD: I also remember, we always had a series, we used to be at the Annenberg Center, at Penn.
TF: At the Harold Prince?
WD: At the Harold Prince Theatre, yes. We did performance at the Mandell Theatre at Drexel University. We traveled to New York, also, to work at NYU in a show, because whenever she had a dance concert when she was at a college, she always would do a lecture-dem about Horton. She traveled regionally across all of Pennsylvania, and I didn’t even know there was a place like Erie, Pennsylvania. I had no idea it would take almost a day.
During the time when her company was going on, she also had responsibility of producing concerts at the Franklin Learning Center. So it was at the same time, so sometimes she would use some of that choreography. She would hire a dancer that knew the repertory to go there to set the pieces on students. Mostly she performed in all of Philadelphia, almost everywhere. Like I said, my fondest memory will always be The Painted Bride, because The Painted Bride always was a home for artists.
TF: Thanks, that’s great.
WD: It definitely was a home for artists.
TF: Where did you rehearse?
WD: CEC. Now we’re really talking about memories!
TF: Okay, that’s another home for artists.
WD: Yes. That was her second home for a second generation, and when I go there now I just break down and cry sometimes, because I remember of us having classes there. Faye had a dance program there of her own, along with a study inside the dance company. And I remember Elmer Ball, TJ, and Marion Cuyjet taught.
That’s the first time I was able to meet her
TF: Okay, so she would bring them in a guest artist teachers?
WD: Yes, she would bring them in to teach classes. Also, LaVaughn Robinson was teaching Tap. And knowing Faye, because she was so popular, gave me an introduction into the dance world, and made me feel safe because I was under Faye Snow’s wing.
TF: Did you take class there with her?
WD: Yes, I did. I took classes at CEC. And do you know, where the theatre is now is where the studio used to be. That’s also where the company rehearsed. So whenever I’m walking in that neighborhood it brings back a fond memory, because so many great artists passed through there. You know, one thing that, I don’t know if it was a downfall of Faye, and I had the same thing—money is not important. But money is important in the arts. She paid out of her own pocket for guest artist teachers.
TF: She didn’t have, a big donor or patron.
WD: Exactly, not a donor, not a donor base.
TF: Her followers, her audience, were not capable of that.
WD: No. And, she was a part of setting up the first scholarship for Marion Cuyjet, which was a scholarship designed for a woman of color that wanted to attend college.
TF: Where is that? Is that still going on? Is that here?
WD: Yes, that’s here. Actually, it’s being run by Joan [Myers Brown] It’s being administered through Philadanco, because Joan and Faye grew up together, so I’ve known Joan for a long time. Paulette Poole, and Dolores Brown, a lot of them still sit on the selection committee.
Faye also worked with the Sorority, like I said before, and choreographed the cotillions
WD: Yes, and also worked a set of scholarships for the AKA Sorority, for students that wanted to go to college. So, she taught me how important it is to be professional, but also to be able to participate in the community. And I can say that Antoinette Cohen, who is the artistic director of Danse4Nia yes, is a Horton-based. She’s following the same track like Faye Snow, BFA, and masters. She was one of the people that I do allow to do Snow repertory. Also, Tricia Morris, who has a community-based groups. But, Shawn Lamere was one of her students. She also worked with Shawn Lamere in help setting works. Because, all of us wanted to be like Faye. We all wanted to study Horton. But her most popular today and contemporary student was Anthony Burrell. He’s of the very last generation.
TF: And where is he now?
WD: Anthony Burrell was a graduate from the Franklin Learning Center. He also danced for Alvin Ailey. He also was Beyonce’s choreographer.
TF: Oh, my goodness!
WD: Yes, okay. He is major at this present time. He’s Mariah Carey’s choreographer and art designer. And I mean, Anthony’s done movies, He’s worked with Twyla Tharp, and others. So in today’s generation, Anthony really followed the path of being able to do more than one thing. He was a Juba member who got into Alvin Ailey.
And Anthony, whenever he would come home, he’d visit. He spoiled Faye, because Faye said, “This person’s driving us home.” Would pick her up out of her chair and lift her around. It’s a very close memory. So I would say, of today’s generation, that he was the last one that was able to be a Faye Snow baby.
TF: That’s so impressive.
WD: I’ll never forget. But Antoinette is still following the same philosophies, and Tricia Moore is still following the same philosophy for Faye.
TF: Who were the audiences?
WD: The audiences were college students. The audiences were the community. The audience was also parents. The audiences were Faye Snow lovers. You know, she was able to connect with a big audience because, like me, what she taught me, she had so many jobs, working at the university, and also working at High School of Performing Arts, and so many connections, and people from the first generation, that wanted to still be involved would bring their kids to the studio to study dance. So I would say it was a close community and the general public.
TF: What else haven’t we covered? We talked about some of the splinter groups, and you know, you said Danse4Nia, and what’s Shawn-Lamere’s group called?
WD: Eleone. You know Leon Evans.
WD: He taught Horton here. Leon went to the college for a couple of years.
TF: But Leon didn’t dance with her, did he?
WD: No, Leon didn’t study with her. No, he didn’t dance with her.
TF: But you would say they were still carrying on her legacies?
WD: Most definitely. Some of the memorable people that I was able to meet through Faye Snow, because Faye Snow was at times hands-on. She took Robert Garland, and Thomas Halston, hand-by-hand, to New York, to audition for Julliard. She was that type of person.
She also took me to the studio because of Gary DeLoatch, who was one of the main stars of Alvin Ailey, and I was able to meet Alvin Ailey. Those are the memories that I share with my students today, to this day. And of course, Judith Jamison. She danced with George Faison’s early company she used to tour with them during that era.
So I also made a connection with Debbie Allen, because Debbie Allen also was dancing with George Faison. She used to always take me to different workshops. And I remember her taking me to New York to see some of the earlier, last performances of the original Martha Graham Dance Company.
WD: Yes, Faye was funny. But Faye had a Datsun 280Z. She would fit seven people in that car, which, God bless her.
TF: That’s funny, because Richard told the same story about Joan Kerr packing everybody in her Morris Minor and going up to New York to see concerts in New York.
WD: Just go and travel. New York City, those are great memories. She would also have some of the successors. Felicia Brody, who would also do community work and work in dancing, and I would say Felicia is probably part of the last generation that actually still can dance. I mean still have that ability to be able to perform.
During the 80’s, regional companies were on the rise. There were a lot of companies, and expanding the field of their art and their creativity. So, the cost of the economy was much different, the cost of living was cheaper and all of that. When I came to Philadelphia, even before I met Faye, you know, I remember going to, is it Sybil?
TF: Sybil, Eva Gholson’s group.
WD: Eva Gholson’s group. I remember when I came to Philadelphia in 1979, I went to Temple, and the performing space didn’t have any seats. It was just stand up and look down. I was like this, “Oh my goodness! You’re going to do dance?” Of course, I got tired after two hours, okay.
TF: That’s no way to treat your audience.
TF: What other questions should I be asking? What would you like to address specifically? I mean, this idea of holding her in the light of dancers are here, she needs to be front and center as part of that, for sure.
WD: This notion of the whole philosophy of true mentorship that Faye embodied. Faye Snow was a mentor for so many. Quiet in the back really never wanted to be in the front. Sometimes we have to beg her to go out and say “thanks” and “hi” to the audience. Her leadership, her mentorship, her knowledge about education has gone on. And artists like me and some of the other artists, we’ve been able to pass that from generation to generation. Faye Snow was very humble in her work. So some in Philadelphia missed out n this past history.
TF: In the Philadelphia community there’s this divide; in some ways there’s a racial divide.
TF: Sometimes they cross, but sometimes they don’t, and I feel like that that, you know.
WD: Right. And Faye Snow is one of the very few artists I’ve really met that color didn’t matter.
TF: I know.
WD: It’s the human spirit. It’s the body moving. And I worked with some people where color did matter.
TF: No, absolutely.
WD: Right here in Philadelphia.
WD: Okay, but with her, it was the human spirit. If you wanted to work hard, that was fine. One of the things that she had on her syllabi was, “Be a sponge. Enjoy. Relax, and enjoy your growth.”
TF: That’s great; that’s a great syllabus.
WD: Right, right, because she also had a great sense of humor. And some of the major things about Faye Snow? Faye Snow as able to teach by speaking, and not necessarily by demonstrating. She was able to make the dancers think while they’re moving. But she was able to sit on the floor for an hour and a half, and then stand up and dévelopé, lift her leg up with no problem, in her stiletto heels if she had to. She was the very first teacher I’ve seen who did not change for dance. She said, “No, I’m not here to dance. I’m here to teach.”
TF: That’s very traditional in European schools.
WD: So, I would see her stand with her legs in a complete second ____ which every dancer who ever studied with Faye Snow will remember that she would just stand up and demonstrate it, and sit back down. Some of the fond memories, I talked to the students, because when Jimmy Truitte would come to Philadelphia to teach Philadanco, he would stay with Faye, and I would just sit there like a sponge. They would just laugh and play cards all night long, and tell different stories. You know, they were very close.
TF: He was great. I took classes with him, too.
WD: They were very close. I heard the stories about Joan Kerr and I laughed.
TF: He and Joan knew each other when they were in LA with Horton.
WD: I wish I had had the opportunity to study with Joan Kerr also, but Faye Snow would tell me about her dog, who would just sniff and walk, sniff everybody, and then walk away!
TF: It as a big German shepherd.
WD: Yes, a big German shepherd around the studio.
TF: That was in a later day.
WD: Yeah, but I really think that Faye’s special bond with males, her willingness to help and support dancers that were in need. She was able to reach out to men in the community from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may have had many struggles, who didn’t get along with their parents. Faye still was able to work out relationships within the households, to be able to bring them to stay with her. Okay. I think one of the biggest things for Faye is definitely, is working in these performing arts schools, working at CAPA and working at Franklin Learning Center.
TF: Bringing maybe her artistic vision around this kind of political material, or humor, or certain kinds of expressions. It wasn’t in the
in that curriculum, or even in the work of other artists of the time.
WD: Because, mostly Alvin Ailey was dancing to secular, popular music. Faye Snow always said, “No, this is Juba.” She admired Alvin Ailey, but she’s bringing that magic touch of artists like Roberta Flack, where music had more in depth, and Donnie Hathaway. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother could be done today, because it’s what’s going on in the world right now.
TF: That may be right.
WD: With the different struggles with the relationships, okay.
TF: Timeless messages. With everyone.
WD: Faye and I talked a lot when I visited her in the nursing home, and I always ask her, I say, “What dance would you do today?” And she would laugh. She would say, “First I would do a dance about having a female president.” And I would laugh at Faye. She said, “And then from there,” because one of the things Faye Snow has always been involved in, black history and the story of African American history, she said that she never thought she would live long enough to see an African American president. “And now, hopefully,” she said “I’ll get ready to see a female president.”
Because she had always been involved in the empowerment of women, before it was even really a platform about that. Faye taught me to be very independent, and to be able—and all her dancers, that it might be a struggle but it’s worth the path, and to always be able to reach back and grab more than one, to be able to bring them forward.
TF: Let’s just take a look at some of the photos as points of conversation.
WD: This is Faye Snow teaching Horton here at the University of the Arts. Yes, and working some of the pieces. I was able to find some of these.
TF: This is her cotillion.
WD: Yes, cotillion, because Faye Snow also went to West Philly High School.
TF: Oh, that’s her.
WD: Yes. And Faye Snow was a winner. She always won the top seat.
TF: Oh, there she is in the beauty contest.
TF: Oh, Judimar Ballet, right.
WD: Yes. So, you know this stuff. I wasn’t here yet.
TF: Well, I just know of them.
TF: I certainly saw Arthur Hall, and I studied with Joan Kerr.
TF: I sort of bridge, a little, between these communities, and then later being a presenter helped.
WD: It’s a picture of Faye Snow teaching Horton at the Franklin Learning Center. A lot of male dancers came out of that program. And I found some of the old programs, Franklin Learning Center.
TF: We’ll take scan some of these pictures.
WD: Some of the magnificent pieces that she set during her time in choreography. This is a very famous one, and it was in a fire, because Faye Snow had a fire in her one of her first big houses and everything got damaged. But that was a very famous one of hers that she always used in studio. And one of her closest friends was Thea Hilsendager.
TF: Oh, Althea Hilsendager, okay.
WD: Yes, Althea Hilsendager. They were the Horton divas. They both were very close with Jimmy Truitte
TF: She also studied with Joan and was in her company.
WD: Faye Snow had a photo shoot in a cemetery with the Juba company.
Faye suffered from dementia. But when I showed Faye this picture last night, she went, “That’s John Jones.” He was a very good friend—yes.
TF: Was this is his actual gravesite? He was a Philly dancer.
WD: Yes. I didn’t know who John Jones was.
I had no idea. And so with dementia things from the past were coming back and forth with Faye Snow.
TF: She’s a contemporary of Joan Kerr.
WD: I think this is the most famous program of all, yes, that’s a show that Faye Snow herself actually danced in, doing Angels, and also her demonstrating the technique.
TF: Yes, that’s part of Horton’s Study “Deep Floor Vocabulary.”
WD: Yes, also want to save some pictures, because, to have one with her, Faye with a big smile, standing in front of the Ledger Building with Juba behind it.
TF: Okay. We should archive some of those.
WD: She touched so many people’s lives, and in learning how to collaborate with people, and learning how to be an open artist and a giving artist, and not all about the money, it’s something we should be mindful of today, because the cost of living’s very high, we have to stay a little stronger. It’s not about the money, but I have to be able to survive, and to be able to be comfortable.
But she’s opened her whole heart up to the dance world and the community. It really taught me how important it is to be humble, and things will come to you. Her students are lifetime students. It’s not like just taking a dance lesson and moving to the next teacher. Faye Snow was able to make emotional impression. She used to call us, and all had certain little nicknames.
It’s that human spirit of giving. I am a Faye Snow caretaker, and it’s just such an honor to be still involved with her life, because a lot of great artists in Philadelphia, others have suffered from dementia and everything, they kind of live their life alone. I keep Faye Snow very current.
TF: I see your posts on Facebook.
WD: Yes, very current. Everything, because she’s dear to my heart. And I also have a responsibility to the community. You know, to be able to have Faye Snow’s things still be valuable. I’m going to eventually put together a concert.
TF: Oh, that would be wonderful.
WD: All about Faye Snow. Because a lot of people want to do concerts right now, but a life of, Faye Snow’s still here with us. It’s very emotional for us sometimes, because after many strokes, it’s hard for her to speak.
TF: How old is she?
WD: Faye Snow is 76. Although she’ll tell me she’s 49. So now when I buy birthday cakes, I put 49 on her last one. Faye cried.
TF: She never got to 50.
WD: She said that she’s 49 years old. But to be able to show, because the dance world—I know you already know this Terry—is changing. Okay, it’s a different respect for codified technique. It’s more intellectual dance. It’s more thinking and doing. And so I’m so happy that I’m still here to be a part of the ever-changing new world of dance, but I understand the importance and the advantage of studying codified technique, to be able to expand.
TF: It’ll come around. Don’t worry.
WD: Because all of this is not new.
TF: Just do anything, is the thing. Anything you do is dance. Well, yes and no.
WD: Okay, I’m a firm believer that it works in a circle.
TF: It’ll come back.
WD: Because, right, it’ll come back again.
TF: It’s still out there, though. You know what I mean?
WD: Oh, most definitely. Most definitely. The path has changed. Before, when Faye Snow studied you would go to high school, didn’t go to college, and then study and go to a dance company. Okay, but the path’s much different now. Companies are smaller.
But she gave that spirit and that energy that would last forever, and to be able to live your life not only as a good artist, but as a good human being, and to be so giving. Faye was a collector of everything, and the house is just pictures and statues of dancers, and all of that. I think I’ve become a packrat also. But I would like to be able to do a concert. I’m going to work with Donna Faye [Birchfield , Director of UArts Dance School] to be able to get a grant, and be able to present her work.
TF: That would be excellent..
WD: And I know JB [Joan Myers Brown] would help me, too, because sometimes when I get down, I will call JB and talk to her, and she will be, like, just push me through it. You know, definitely.
TF: Well, now that Joan is more secure, I think now that she is more successful, though at Philadanco it is always a challenge to keep going even now, they’re more established. I feel like she felt threatened, in some way, early on by all of these other groups. But now that she’s established, she can understand that there was room for more voices, and all of that.
WD: It’s so funny you said that, because that was one of Faye Snow’s big things, that there’s enough room for everybody to be able to express themselves, and you point that right back.
TF: I know that in the Philadelphia, you can have one of these, and one of these, and one of these, but you can’t have two or three of these, or four or five of these. There’s just not enough funding to go around. There’s just not room. I don’t know what that is about, because when you’re in New York, having lived and worked in New York in the dance community, that’s not the way. More is better.
WD: You’re not taking away from them.
TF: That’s right.
WD: And Faye would say, “This is what I’m doing.” She’d say, “It would be good for all to come together when we feel secure enough to collaborate, but it could be more than one.”
TF: Right. That’s right.
WD: The soil is all types of different dirt. Okay, that always brings up different types of flowers, and everything.
TF: Final comments? This has been so great to talk with you.
WD: Thank you. Thank you. I just think it’s wonderful that the Library at Temple is doing this. I wish now that Donna Faye is at the University here, and I have a different relationship, that I could be able to maybe present things here with Faye. We’ve been through transitions with administration and everything, but this is good. Faye was close with her family, but her mother and father had long been passed, but she did have cousins that she helped to go to college.
TF: We never have said, is Faye from Philadelphia?
WD: Yes, Faye is from Philadelphia. As I looked through the program, Faye’s mother was the public relationship officer of the dance company.
TF: It was a family affair.
WD: And lawyer, and dancer Germaine Ingram was very close with Faye.
She did her legal stuff and everything, but she also would take Faye Snow classes. So, I went through my research trying to find as much as I could, because now that we’ve been able to document it I can like, breathe again, because I feel as though I’m the third generation, I’ve been holding onto everything, and it’s tight as heck.
TF: I’m focusing more on early dance like ’mid 60s, ’70s, and into the mid ’80s. Just starting, and that’s where I’m starting out. And I’m looking at the first Horton-based companies and what was their legacy here?
WD: And, she started way before a lot of the other companies started.
Definitely an art maker, in every sense of the word. The word is used a lot now, making art—definitely an art maker is definitely a person who was doing things before they even had titles, okay. She showed us how to make costumes.
Coming to Philadelphia, I always say that my whole life has been in the hands of powerful women, and I’m very humble about that. I was able to connect with powerful women, who were able to promote and move me to the next level. Philadelphia has a lot of powerful women artists, definitely. I’m so happy that we’re able to do this. It means a lot, and I definitely would do more research if you needed help with it.
TF : Certainly I welcome your help.
WD Thank you, Terry. I really appreciate it.
TF: Thank you so much. It was so great talking with you.
[End of Interview]