Shola Roberts Empowers Black Dancers Through Dance Grenada Festival
According to data from Zippia, Black professional dancers are both underrepresented and underpaid in their profession.
Black dancers make up approximately 7% of the dancer workforce while also being the lowest-paid demographic, making an average of $49,011 yearly. In recent years, much of the focus of diversity in the discipline of dance has been on ballet, but other disciplines fall under the dance umbrella.
According to Essence, Arizona State University assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, Shola K. Roberts, launched Dance Grenada in 2020. That same year, she also created Dance Grenada Festival, held in Grenada, West Indies. The inspiration for Dance Grenada arose from Roberts’ personal experiences in the dance job market after her graduation from Howard University in 2009.
“Eventually, I was being called to be a part of this showcase and to travel here and do this work and create, et cetera. And so that was really my journey,” she told Essence. “I was a freelance dancer and teaching artist, going into the schools and cultivating my pedagogical practice. I got to a point where I was good in my career, but I started to ask myself, ‘How do I empower learners to find their voice through movement while creating a living for themselves?”
Dance Grenada Festival invites Caribbean and other international artists to participate in workshops, performances, and panel discussions. Roberts described the festival as a hub for innovation in dance, scholarship, and entrepreneurship that gives Black dancers, an underrepresented demographic, critical tools to continue and sustain their careers in dance.
This year’s festival took place Oct. 20-23 and had an all-time high attendance. Roberts also noted that the financial compensation for the visiting artists has increased.
“Dance Grenada is my blessing,” Robert said. “Being able to bring all the individuals together to share this thing that we love so much on the island that I love so much is something that is very important for me. We have these short-term moments when we’re on the stage, but how do we sustain the careers of our dancers? How do we sustain livelihood? I want to stress the importance of honoring and valuing our dancers and supporting them because that’s really what it’s about.”