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‘Dance The Vote’ 2020 Series Puts Artistry In Service Of Voting Rights

Versa - Group Shot (1).jpg
George Simian
Versa Style, a Los Angeles-based dance company, is among the dancers and choreographers in the spotlight this fall as part of Dance the Vote’s series of commissioned video pieces.

Choreographer and performer Alicia Sunshine Gbaho peers into the camera as a commentator begins talking.

“They would go in the courthouse, try to register [to vote] … 95 questions or something like this. Just ridiculous, like, ‘Who was the governor of Mississippi in 1922?’ or something.”

Dance the Vote
Alicia Sunshine Gbaho is one of the performers featured in Dance the Vote’s first video, which premiered Wednesday.

Gbaho’s interpretative dance gathers force as the video, part of the first episode of Dance the Vote 2020, rolls on. The movement of her hands and arms and the expression on her face speak volumes, especially juxtaposed with the narrated history of voter suppression in 20th-century America.

“You couldn’t answer these questions. ... But also, if you came down to register to vote,” a voice continues, “just because you came down and had to sign your name, you were fired by the time you got home. So if you had a family, it all depended on the white guy’s cotton field.”

Gbaho is one of 20 choreographers commissioned to create a series of videos for this fall’s St. Louis-based initiative Dance the Vote, as co-founder Joan Lipkin explained to St. Louis on the Air.

That Uppity Theatre Company
Joan Lipkin is co-founder of Dance the Vote as well as producing artistic director for That Uppity Theatre Company.

Even as the COVID-19 crisis derailed many of Dance the Vote’s typical endeavors, Lipkin and her collaborators knew that artists remained “an essential part of the conversation.”

“We were going to do all of these things, and when the pandemic hit I said, ‘We can’t do any of these things, but we can commission people,’” Lipkin recalled.

Dance the Vote decided to center the contributions of artists of color, and the series of videos highlights the work of choreographers in St. Louis and beyond. In addition to voting, the pieces address climate change, immigration, Native American experience, disability, mass incarceration and Black Lives Matter.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Lipkin joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about how Dance the Vote is adapting its wide-ranging efforts at a pivotal time in U.S. history. The conversation included pretaped comments from choreographer Christopher Page-Sanders and local voter registration leader Sabrina Tyuse.

Related Event
What: 50 Days/50 States, a free virtual dance party in conjunction with Luna Stage and the Dance Cartel
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 15
Where: Virtual event

What: Movin’ and Groovin’, a virtual dance class led by Ashley L. Tate in partnership with the Missouri History Museum
When: 1 p.m. Sept. 26
Where: Virtual event

For more information on these efforts and more, see Dance the Vote’s event page. The commissioned videos are also available via Vimeo and YouTube. Joan Lipkin also recommends checking on the nonpartisan voting-related resources at vote411.org, and texting the word "Check" to 50409 to see if they are registered. There’s also an election protection hotline, 1-866-OUR VOTE.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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