Shamell Bell leads street dance activism workshop

A group rehearses their choreography before performing in front of the crowd at the Sept. 20, 2017 Street Dance Activism event. (Holly Bernstein/DD)

A packed crowd filled the A.E. England building on Arizona State University’s Downtown Campus Tuesday night as Black Lives Matter organizer and choreographer Shamell Bell led a lecture and dance workshop during her street dance activism event.

“So I use my talent, which is street dance activism, as a way to encourage others to use whatever talent they can for activism,” Bell said. “What do you wake up in the morning and ask yourself, ‘What have I done to change the world?’”

Bell said the three main takeaways from her lecture series are for people to figure out what their vision is, what talent they can use and if they are loving themselves in order to support someone else.

“My vision is to viciously attack the detrimental practices and policies that disadvantage the poor and people of color in housing, education and employment,” Bell said.

The idea for street dance activism first came to Bell when she was in an occupation in front of the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. 

“I was there for I believe 18 days and I just wanted to be alive in that space. We were disrupting. We were taking over the space, and I said, ‘Why don’t I teach a dance class?’” Bell said. “I saw that our energy just shifted and everyone was happy. When I was sitting there and realizing that we were all, you know cold, and a lot of us were sad, a lot of us kept seeing visions of black people dying, and I wanted us to be alive in that space.”

Ever since then Bell has been teaching dance at Black Lives Matter events, protests and rallies across the Los Angeles area.

Following the lecture, Bell taught a dance class to the crowd.

Street Dance Activism event attendees hold hands in a circle to ground and center themselves before Black Lives Matter organizer Shamell Bell teaches them to dance. Sept. 20, 2017. (Holly Bernstein/DD)

“(Dancing) is a metaphor for the things we need to be doing in the world,” Bell said. “Together we all create a choreography.”

Participant Auburn Perry said she came to the event because she was interested in street dance activism.

“At first there was some hesitation because when you’re in an open space, sometimes you feel intimidation, but once you set aside your differences, everything comes into place,” Perry said.

Erika Moore, a program coordinator for Projecting All Voices at ASU, also participated in the event. Projecting All Voices is an initiative with the goal of increasing diversity in the art programs in the Herberger Institute for Design and Arts. 

“The energy in this room is one of collaboration, one of unity, one of curiosity, one of support, one of love, one of pain, one of devotion, one of fun, one of spiritualism, one of black activism,” Moore said. “There’s so many names that can describe what’s happening in the room right now, and it’s reflective of what’s happening in our nation today.”

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