In continuation of relationships that began many years ago, The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) has announced that it will be distributing $2.6 Million from 2021 through 2024 to sixty member companies. IABD is able to do this in part through grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation in further support of the Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative | Managing Organizational Vitality and Endurance (COHI | MOVE).

For many black dance artists, administrators, dance companies, educators, and scholars IABD is considered to be the MECCA for anyone interested in black dance artistry, dance issues, and dance productions. The IABD was launched 1988 by Founder/Executive Artistic Director Joan Myers Brown and the Philadanco! staff after receiving an artistic grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Since that time IABD has worked to preserve and promote dance by people of African ancestry or origin. It has also “assisted and increased opportunities for artists in advocacy, audience development, education, funding, networking, performance, philosophical dialogue, and touring. IABD serves a diverse, national and international membership of agents and managers, dance companies and studios, educators and educational institutions, individual artists, researchers, and supporters of the Dance field (Michelle Tabnick Press Release).”

LA’s dance artist, educator and activist, Lula Washington, is a founding member of IABD and one of five black women Artistic Directors who, since its inception, have committed their company resources, and their time and energy, without pay, to keep the annual gatherings going. That first gathering was in 1988 and Lula Washington has hosted IABD conferences another four times, the last one happening here in LA in 2018.  Both Lula Washington and her dancer/choreographer daughter Tamica Washington-Miller are currently on the IABD Board.

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) was founded in 1980 by husband and wife team Lula and Erwin Washington. It is difficult to say how much influence this company has had, not only in the national and international dance arena, but on the lives of members of the black community in Los Angeles. No one has worked harder to train, educate and promote black dance artists and young inner city kids who simply want a chance to take a dance class, than the Lula Washington Dance Theatre. The company maintains a Youth Dance Ensemble, provides Master Classes taught by company members and other renowned dance artists, and offers an annual 8-week Summer Dance Camp for children and young adults. While on tour, the company works with presenters to promote community engagement through master classes, workshops, seminars, public forums, special projects, and more. In LA, one of those presenters is The Music Center who runs The Music Center on Tour, a program which books this and other companies for performances at K-12 schools in the Greater Los Angeles Area and throughout Southern California.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre performs the world premiere of "To Lula with Love/Warrior" by Christopher Huggins, featuring Lula Washington (pictured) at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on January 30, 2020 - Photo by Kevin Parry

Lula Washington Dance Theatre performs the world premiere of “To Lula with Love/Warrior” by Christopher Huggins, featuring Lula Washington (pictured) at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on January 30, 2020 – Photo by Kevin Parry

This current Ford Foundation grant, which is also part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funding, is in addition to the earlier grant received by LWDT in January 2021. Ford Foundation funding will permit distribution of $100,000 towards the continuation of support to each of IABD’s founding member companies: Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (Denver, CO); Dallas Black Dance Theatre (Dallas, TX); Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (Dayton, OH); Lula Washington Dance Theatre (Los Angeles, CA); and PHILADANCO! The Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadelphia, PA).

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance - Scott Robbins, Geek With A Lens Collage Dance Collective - Scott Robbins, Geek With A Lens Dallas Black Dance Theatre-Scott Robbins, Geek With A Lens (1) Dayton Contemporary Dance Company- Scott Robbins, Geek With A Lens (1) Elisa Monte Dance - Scott Robbins, Geek With A Lens Philadanco! The Philadelphia Dance Company- Scott Robbins, Geek With A Lens3
Philadanco, The Philadelphia Dance Company - Photo by Scott Robbins, Geek With A Lens

In January of this year, Los Angeles Times writer Makeda Easter wrote a wonderful article about the Lula Washington Dance Company receiving a $970,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It was funding that came at a time when all dance companies across the globe were suffering closures and cancellations due to the Covid pandemic.  The Mellon Foundation grant was the second-largest grant in the company’s 40-year history, the first being a $1.3 million grant received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in response to the company’s building being destroyed by the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

I was not familiar with the IABD, so I reached out to the Lula Washington Dance Theatre to find out what this grant meant to them and how the IABD has aided them throughout the years. Erwin Washington provided me with a short background information but let Lula Washington and Tamica Washington-Miller answer my questions.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre performs the world premiere of "To Lula with Love/Warrior" by Christopher Huggins at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on January 30, 2020 - Photo by Kevin Parry

Lula Washington Dance Theatre performs the world premiere of “To Lula with Love/Warrior” by Christopher Huggins at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on January 30, 2020 – Photo by Kevin Parry

What does The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) represent for you, your company and black dance everywhere? 

LULA:  IABD is a major dance force that represents the interests and concerns of African American dance companies. It does this nationally, while also connecting us with our international dance families. We were all suffering from the same unsupportive economic systems in our cities, counties, and countries! We had little to no funding, and we were all constantly being devalued in the field of dance and by funders and even our local elected leaders.

Joan Myers Brown, of Philadanco, brought our  African American Dance companies together and gave us a voice by establishing what has now become the IABD organization! Joan Myers Brown who actually is our Fannie Lou Hamer- saw a need. Joan was sick and tired of constantly not being funded and being devalued by corporations and foundations.

We all needed funding, administrative support, Booking managers, staffing and performance opportunities! So, our concept became do it ourselves! We learned from each other and we helped each other. We were determined to raise up the field of black dance. We didn’t care if we had to do it by any means necessary!

Tamica:  IABD represents Community, Extended Family, Resources, Access, Information, and Education. It is a network and a safety net in times of need.

It is a place that recognizes and accepts me and my work in celebration of my African heritage. It says yes, the work I am doing is relevant and important. It supports me in learning about the field and informs me of opportunities.

IABD is multigenerational which is unique and allows us to celebrate our elders, pioneers and trailblazers while preparing and inspiring the next generation of dance artists, leaders, “artivists” and professionals. IABD is a home. Our community is International. It is dynamic and broad in style and genre. We learn from each other and share resources. IABD is an important Dance Service organization for people of African descent.

IABD has led the way in working with foundations to understand the unique challenges dance organizations lead by people of African heritage have had to face against systemic racism in spaces/places, in funding, in grant applications, appropriation, and more. IABD has been able to educate Predominately White Institutions and Ballet companies on the harm and trauma that is created by systemic racism and micro-aggressions during training and in casting. IABD has opened the door to these conversations that may never have seen the light of day had it not been for the organization.

Tamica Washington-Miller - Photo courtesy of LWDT

Tamica Washington-Miller – Photo courtesy of LWDT

How have you utilized IABD over the years?

Lula:  Over the years IABD has become a strong advocate for the importance of African American dance companies. As a founding member, my personal mission and goal has been to help aide IABD in this process-

I have done this by helping IABD to become an official nonprofit dance organization. I have helped and continue to help IABD with representation on the west coast. Lula WASHINGTON Dance Theatre has hosted four IABD conferences in Los Angeles. The last conference we hosted was in 2018. This was, as always, a major success. It was the last Conference that showcased Mr. Donald McKayle’s work before he passed.

IABD has created a network of resources among us and allowed for the training of younger and next generation leaders within the organization. IABD is helping our next generation to grow and develop!

During Covid, IABD was essential in maintaining a connection within the African American dance community. IABD has also helped all of the founding companies as well as our general membership to stay visible through its virtual programs. IABD was the first to help all of the companies, dancers, stage managers, and dance staff, etc., with immediate funds to help them keep going during COVID. IABD is still supporting the field with funds through its lobbying efforts and through its concepts that we are stronger together.

Tamica:  IABD takes care of its people. I have peers “dance siblings”, and within IABD, folks that I can rely on for a multitude of things: help with anything protocols, contracts, grant applications, posting job opportunities, finding a grant for a particular project, collaboration, (in performance and presenting), archiving our Histories, a way to celebrate each other’s success, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen and spiritual, mental, emotional support.

IABD has lifted me up and encouraged me as a performer, supported and given me opportunities as a choreographer, teacher and thinker, and they helped to nurture my overall leadership development on an international platform. IABD creates opportunities and intentionally provides access to information and education.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in THERE IS ALWAYS TOMORROW by Tamica Washington-Miller - Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in THERE IS ALWAYS TOMORROW by Tamica Washington-Miller – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres.

How will this grant that is spread out over three years help you continue creating work and/or maintaining the company?

Tamica:  This historic grant award is meant to be transformative for LWDT as we plan and prepare for our future. We are using the funds to fortify our infrastructure and capacity to continue the work we do and expand as we grow.

It enables us to put dancers on as employees which has been our dream since the beginning. It allows us to hire critical staff and make significant upgrades to the physical building, (improve WIFI, fix the roof, and other brick and mortar fixes that affect physical longevity of the space.

However, AB5 is a thorn in the side, (the neck and the back), of MANY arts organizations in Los Angeles.  It is probably more detrimental to the Los Angeles Arts Sector than COVID ever will be. This bill dropped just before COVID and put many in a deep hole then COVID came and added water…

As happy and blessed as we are to get this opportunity, it will not fix everything.
There is so much still to do in order to be able to survive AB5. We are not alone in this. My concern is that COVID will upstage the deeper issues that AB5 has on organizations lead by people of color and smaller White organizations. We are all between a boulder and a mountain, (not a little rock and a hard place). While COVID has uncovered inequities in the field but AB5 exacerbates it.

We will use this grant award to continue to build and grow the organization.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre performs "King" (excerpts from "The Movement") by Lula Washington, featuring Michael Tomlin, III, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on January 30, 2020 - Photo by Kevin Parry

Lula Washington Dance Theatre performs “King” (excerpts from “The Movement”) by Lula Washington, featuring Michael Tomlin, III, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on January 30, 2020 – Photo by Kevin Parry

How have you managed over the past year during the pandemic?

Lula:  I have managed the pandemic by still remaining creative and productive! The pandemic gave me an opportunity to look at other ways of keeping LWDT visible. Erwin, Tamica and I stayed on Zoom meetings every day in an attempt to learn about funding and to learn from other small businesses and from the IABD Dance community, and Dance USA, how others were doing! We were desperate! The world we knew as Dance was dead in its tracks. However, technology helped us to understand that this did not need to be the end. Technology was and still is very important to our new way of working.

Erwin and Tamica along with our Consultant Charmaine Jefferson, worked on grants and funding opportunities 24/7. I knew I had to keep our immediate dancers working on some level- So with the funds we had, Erwin myself and Tamica and our board decided to keep paying the dancers for rehearsals and virtual events. During the early Covid months I created a platform called “Say something.“ This platform became a voice for dancers and our company dance teachers to share their feelings and personal thoughts about everything that was going on. “Say something” became a healing opportunity for all of the company members to speak out against the murder of George Floyd.

During this time, we are asked by KCET to share a presentation. I created a new dance work using hip hop, modern ballet, jazz, tap and African movement to my inspired version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” I performed in this video. We did it on our parking lot. Tamica was the host for its airing on KCET and PBS So. Cal. Since then, LWDT has been fortunate to get funding from the IABD, NEA, CAC, Los Angeles department of cultural affairs, Parsons Foundation, Metro, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among others. We are working on funding 24/7.

We started out with dancers working one day a week. We have now increased our dancers form 1 day a week to 2 days a week for a total of 10 hours. We have resumed indoor dance classes and we added outdoor classes on the new outdoor stage we bought with a grant from former County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas. All of our dance company members teach classes. In June, we will be adding an additional day of classes and rehearsals. Before Covid, we were 5 days a week for rehearsals. We are slowly moving back.

We have also made a change because of AB 5. We used to have at least eight dancers, and sometimes many more. Now, because of AB 5, we officially have 4 dancers that are employees. This was the most difficult thing for us. We doubled what we paid for dancers and got them insurance and we are paying all the extra employee expenses. We did this with the help of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We were able to make a start at fully employing dancers, thanks to Mellon.

I also created a Covid 19 song for my students to keep them inspired!

Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of the company.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of the company.

Both Tamica and I have begun working on new work that we will video for either virtual and or present on the outside stage. Things are looking upwards a bit. We have planned a small summer dance camp-for all ages and the dance company will be working on a new work for us from Donald Byrd.

Upcoming summer outdoor programs include the “August Quarterly”, the summer dance camp showcases! We have in-person company dance classes on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s at 11 am. We have Ballet and Modern. Our youth program now is also Tuesday and Thursday’s from 5 pm children and 6-7:30 pm Youth and teens.

Tamica: We were blessed to receive SBA, PPP AND PPE grants that allowed us to continue to our company dancers working. Lula and I were able to continue to create and keep our company dancers working. We were able to begin “pod classes” earlier than most inside our studio because we own it. We were also blessed with funds to purchase an outdoor stage and canopy to provide free and low-cost classes and performances outside with masks and social distance.

As a member of the Board of Directors for IABD, a Board of Trustees for Dance/USA, and a Western Arts Alliance Conference committee member I am in spaces that allow me to see the growth and changes with thin the filed. I am proud of all of the work these institutions are doing to challenge systemic racism and inequities in the field. These communities have been a life line to staying grounded and focused and comforted that this too shall pass.


I would like to thank Lula and Erwin Washington, and Tamica Washington-Miller for taking time in their busy schedules to respond to my questions for this article.

The application and selection phase for the IABD COHI | MOVE 2021-2024 COLLECTIVE Cohort is slated to launch on April 26. Applications for the BUILD Cohort are set to follow later this summer. For more information about COHI | MOVE, visit HERE.

To visit the Lula Washington Dance Theatre website, click HERE.

To learn more about The International Association of Blacks in Dance, click HERE.

To learn more about The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, click HERE.

To learn more about the Ford Foundation, click HERE.

To read more about the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). click HERE.

By Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Lula Washington Dance Theatre – Photo by Scott Robbins, Geek With A Lens