‘For us, by us’: The Long Beach Black Dance Festival aims to empower

What was originally planned as an outdoor festival called CRay Fest, complete with local performing artists, carnival-style games and interactive activities, has, since the pandemic and anti-police brutality protests, taken a different direction as organizers felt compelled to use dance as a tool to uplift.

“The CRayProject decided to shift gears and become completely involved in the fight for equality and equity for the Black community,” said Executive Creative Director, Chatiera “Cookie” Ray. “We wanted to do something for us, by us, that can bring about some healing, fun, and change through the arts for our Black community.”

So CRay Fest has become The Long Beach Black Dance Festival.

Courtesy Facebook/The CRay Project

Organizers put out a call for choreographers and dance companies of color to participate in the weeklong event, Aug. 9-16, with some paid opportunities. The deadline to submit is July 20. The festival will also consist of artist interviews, dance classes and performances, panel discussions, concerts and more, all through Zoom.

“Our main goal in putting this festival together is for the community to ‘dance’ together,” Ray said. “Dance is also a universal language and can also break barriers amongst people. It is a form of storytelling, education and fitness.”

The CRayProject was founded in 2015 as a Black empowerment movement to raise awareness while building community through the arts, most notably dance, but other disciplines including music and film.

A couple of The CRayProject’s recent endeavors include organizing a Tip & Sip Heels dance workshop at The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and Looking Upon Venus/Black Phoenix dance concert through The Studio Collaborative at Long Beach Playhouse, exploring the beauty, strength and resilience of Black men and women.

Ray also organized A Juneteenth Weekend, which included a motorcade on June 19, a scavenger hunt to support Black-owned businesses, as well as a Sunday Dinner Challenge, encouraging the celebration of a Black family tradition.

IN PICTURES: Juneteenth motorcade rolls through Bixby Park, ends at Cherry Beach

The main organizers of the festival are Ray, Assistant Creative Director LaRonica “Ronnie” Southerland and Community Outreach and Planning Coordinator TiYuana “Ty” Morehead. They encourage everyone to register so that by the start of the festival they’ll receive the Zoom password.

“We want the community to feel empowered to create or to do something during these times,” Ray said. “We also want our Black audience to feel comfortable, prideful, and fulfilled in our culture and be proud.”

You can learn more about The CRayProject at crayproject.org. The Long Beach Black Dance Festival will take place Aug. 9 – 16 through Zoom. For more information, to register, or submit to the open call for choreographers and dance companies of color (deadline is July 20), click here

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.
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