'U' students organize protest dance performance in tribute to George Floyd

Sunday, September 13, 2020 - 2:09pm

U-M students organize a Dance For Floyd performance on State Street Saturday afternoon.

U-M students organize a Dance For Floyd performance on State Street Saturday afternoon. Buy this photo
Becca Mahon/Daily

Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Brooke Taylor organized an improvisation dance performance Saturday in tribute to George Floyd, the Black man killed by a white police officer in May whose death sparked protests for the Black Lives Matter movement across the country. 

Taylor said the idea came to her after she interned at the International Association of Blacks in Dance this past summer. It took Taylor around a month to prepare for Saturday’s performance. 

“I felt like it was in my heart to really combine my art and activism, and I knew I wanted to plan another protest because this will be my second protest I’ve planned this year,” Taylor said. “I just wanted to include more performance art within it.”

The protest performance took place on the intersection between South State Street and North University Avenue. The first part of the performance included a group of dancers, a drummer and protestors walking in circles. The performers chanted ‘Black Lives Matter’ and recited the names of police brutality victims.

Business sophomore Eve Taylor, one of the dancers, said walking in a continuous circle signified unity. 

“The symbolism behind (walking in a circle) is unity within the Black body, so around the drum with us circling and collectively shouting the same thing, it was a moment to unify and get us all on the same energy and on the same core,” Eve Taylor said. 

After 10 minutes, the dancers stood in a circle improvising different dance movements to the beats of the drum. This next part lasted for eight minutes and 46 seconds, matching the length of time the officer, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee on Floyd’s neck. 

Brooke Taylor said including dance improvisation in the performance for a full eight minutes and 46 seconds was an intentional choice to highlight the length of this time.

“I haven’t really understood the concept of how long (Floyd) was really on the concrete with a knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds,” Brooke Taylor said. “I hope that when people see us dancing for so long, they’re like ‘Why are they dancing?’ and they figure out this is something bigger than just a silly dance, but really for the resemblance and honor of George Floyd and all the other lives that have been lost due to racial injustice.”

Brooke Taylor said she hoped the dance performance would provide a different perspective on the forms that protest can take.

“I really want people to understand that despite the small Black population at the University of Michigan, we’re still in pain, from not only George Floyd’s death but now Jacob Blake being shot seven times,” Brooke Taylor stated. “There’s still work to be done, there’s still progress that needs to be made, and doing this artistic protest is just another outlet and another outlook on protests because protests can be looked at in a negative way, so this is just another way to really bring light onto the issue.”

LSA senior Tiffany Harris, a performer, said the protest performance gave her an outlet to express herself.

“People who look like me don’t always have a voice, so dance is our way of communication,” Harris said.

Eve Taylor said body movements through dance helped her feel different emotions than she might feel though other mediums of expression. 

“I feel like a lot of emotions come through that don’t normally come out through people’s mouths, so I just thought it was a great opportunity to showcase the emotions behind the Black Lives Matter movement,” Taylor stated.

Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Reina Kitasato, an onlooker, also said she felt emotional during the performance.

“It was really powerful because it was shown through movement and their creativity and their bodies basically,” Kitasato said. 

“The energy that they were creating in this little area, it was really powerful, and their message really got across.”

Music, Theatre & Dance lecturer Tony Frazier helped Taylor organize the performance. She said she believed in the power of this form of communication. 

“Like everybody else, (I was) going through multiple stages of emotion, but also finding out how can I share through my body the things that I want to say and want to get across to people who don’t understand, who ignore it or who don’t believe that racism exists,” Frazier said. “But also feeling very powerful in the way that we know our identity and that we are a part of this land.”

After the performance, Brooke Taylor emphasized the importance of educating others to keep the spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“In order for us to make this progress as a community, one has to not be afraid to have these uncomfortable conversations with somebody who doesn’t look or think like you,” Taylor said. “Use your voice, use your art.”

Daily Staff Reporter Ann Yu can be reached at anncyu@umich.edu.