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Dance with me: Tsehaya D. Smith. Photo by Joe Putrock.

Dancing Across Borders

With help from choreographer Tsehaya D. Smith and an artist’s Special Opportunity Stipend grant from The Arts Center of the Capital Region of Troy, several young members of Smith’s company, ArtPartners/Tsehaya and Co. Inc., representing the Arbor Hill and West Hill communities, will have the opportunity to experience multicultural dance and music firsthand.

Smith, an artist-in-residence at the College of Saint Rose, and an advocate for cultural and artistic opportunities for young people, is working on a new dance-exchange program with Northamptonshire, an Afro-Caribbean community in England. The project happens in three stages, the first of which took place last April. The first stage began when Smith set up the program and traveled to Afro-Caribbean communities in Barcelona, Spain and Edinburgh, Scotland, in addition to Northamptonshire, to observe and experience their cultures. “[I wanted] to see if some of the dance situations, issues and youth development concerns are the same as in our community,” she said. “[I wondered] are they using the arts to tap into opportunities to help the youth issues?” Smith met with 16 youth organizations in Northamptonshire that did not have after-school programs. “They were interested in modeling some programs [after those] that I’ve created here in Albany, New York,” she said.

Smith was met with such enthusiasm that she received a Participate Grant in England (part of the queen’s Jubilee Celebration), which is allowing her to return to England this August for the second stage of the project. “I will be teaching children in the community dances that we do here that explore some common issues of youth today,” Smith said. “When I come back, I will then work with my students here and share with them what I explored and discovered there.”

The culmination of stage two will be a piece entitled Who Am I?, for which Smith will teach her students—whom she lovingly refers to as “my girls”—dances that she learned from dancers in Northamptonshire. Her company will combine the new pieces with ones that they have already worked on to create a work that exhibits the interchange of dances and ideas.

Smith and the young members of her company are currently fund-raising so they can make stage three of the project a reality. During stage three, which will take place over the next couple of years, selected members of ArtPartners/Tsehaya and Co. will travel to Northamptonshire where they will take classes and teach Smith’s choreography. In particular, Smith said, she and the girls look forward to celebrating England’s black history month in October. In February 2003, several of the dancers from Northamptonshire who have worked with Smith will come to dance in Albany. “We will create a global partnership,” said Smith, who is delighted that her students have started communicating with the Northamptonshire dancers over the Internet.

“We have a computer center that’s been given to us by 100 Black Men,” said Smith. “[The girls] are making up their fliers, their programs. We’ve become our own little production. It’s very exciting for them. Some of these girls have never been to New York City, but they have the opportunity to go abroad. . . . I hope that the Albany community will really embrace and congratulate the way that these youth are able to reach out and explore.”

For more information, or to help with the dance exchange, call ArtPartners/Tsehaya and Co. Inc. at 432-9965 or go to www.dancewith

—Ben Sher

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