Broadway choreographer Camille A. Brown is having a December to remember. Once On This Island, the Broadway revival she choreographed, opened at the beginning of the month, and the dance company she founded debuted its new work at The Kennedy Center around the same time.
The award-winning Brown previously choreographed A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, in addition to a number of regional and off-Broadway productions, and her work has been commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco!, and Urban Bush Women.
Brown spoke exclusively with Black Enterprise about what it’s like to do what she does.
What is it like to be a Broadway choreographer?
It is one of the most thrilling experiences ever! It’s all very new, so I am trying to soak up as much as I can and really savor the moment. I’ve always wanted to choreograph for theater, particularly Broadway, and now my dreams are coming true.
Did you always know you wanted to work in the field of dance?
Yes! I knew I wanted to be a dancer, but I didn’t know if it was something I could do as a career. It wasn’t until I went to high school (Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts) and The Ailey School that I realized it was something for which I could strive. I was around professional dancers that were traveling and performing and getting paid for it.
What about working in theater?
My mother introduced me to the world of theater through her love of musicals, though I didn’t necessarily want to be on Broadway. I was more so fascinated with how the shows were made: Who did the choreography? Who was the composer? I wanted to be behind the scenes. Even though I had this great love for musical theater, I didn’t know if it would be possible to be a choreographer because the landscape of theater choreographers was, and still is, predominantly white men. It wasn’t until I started doing my own research that I realized it was a possibility and could even be a reality. Katherine Dunham, Dianne McIntyre, Marlies Yearby, Debbie Allen, Hope Clarke, Mabel Robinson, and Paula Moss—these women made me believe.
What kind of formal training did you pursue to make your dreams come true?
I took everything from business management classes to modern, jazz, hip hop, tap, ballet, and African. I also run my own company (Camille A. Brown & Dancers). It was important for me to know as much as I could. When I was in high school, I took extra dance classes. When I was in college, I took private ballet classes. I had my obstacles, but my mother taught me never to give up and always fight for my dreams. I made a way for myself.
Aside from training, what do you need to be successful in this industry?
You need to have a business mind. I am a choreographer, but I’m also running a business. Being a good leader is at the top of my priorities. Some of my dancers are pursuing their own choreographic endeavors, so it’s important for me to be the best example I can be. Patience is key. It’s not about instant success. Every triumph, mistake, and failure leads you toward achieving your goals and always makes you stronger. This business is also about cultivating relationships. It may take some time for people to get to know you and your work. It may not happen overnight, but you have to believe that it will happen.
How did the opportunity of Once On This Island come about?
I got a message from a dancer who was familiar with my work and recommended me. I connected with director Michael Arden and the writers to talk about the show and the kind of work I do. The rest is herstory!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?
Have patience and be willing to do it all. I have a team now, but there was a time when I was doing everything: dancing, choreographing, booking rehearsals, and writing grants. The road may be long. Take a deep breath. Believe. Take risks. Lift other people up as you climb. And, keep growing—always!
Watch highlights of her work for Once On This Island: