Pew Fellow of the Week: An Interview with Dancer and Choreographer Dinita Clark

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2019 Pew Fellow Dinita Clark. Photo by Marcus Branch.  

Our “Pew Fellow of the Week” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.  

Dancer, choreographer, and educator Dinita Clark (2019) spoke to us about her lifelong interest in dance, the current issues she is addressing in her work, and what makes Philadelphia’s dance community distinctive.  

Also known as “Queen Dinita,” Clark is the co-founder and co-choreographer of Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company with her partner, Kyle Clark. She teaches at the University of the Arts and Drexel University, and she has performed professionally as a principal dancer with Rennie Harris Puremovement and Illstyle & Peace Productions. She is also a co-founder of Funky Sole Fundamentals—a dance workshop series dedicated to the preservation of hip-hop, house, and funk dance styles—which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2021 with a series of guest-led summer workshops. 

 

Dinita Clark Q&A Block 1

Dinita Clark Q&A Block 2

What images or things keep you company in the space where you work? 

For the past few months my living room has become my workspace for all things dance-related, including teaching, choreographing, rehearsing, and freestyling. Needless to say, I am accompanied by images of a few pairs of sneakers, my laptop, a light ring, a notebook, charger cords for all of my devices, and of course a spacious floor. Every now and then, there are darting images of my children running down the steps to go to the kitchen for something to drink during small school breaks. Last but not least, I am accompanied by the images of all of my students, who are consistent at pushing beyond their comfort zone by being present in class via Zoom with me in my living room.   

 

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Dinita Clark’s living room and sneakers. 

 

What was the first work of art that really mattered to you? Did it influence your approach to your work? 

There were plenty of pieces that really mattered to me as I look back and think about my artistic journey. As a dancing professional, I was blessed to have been a lead dancer in Rennie Harris Puremovement from 2007 to 2014, and all of the work really mattered. One of the works that really challenged me as a performing artist was performing in Something to do with Love Volume 1, choreographed by [1996 Pew Fellow] Dr. Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris. This piece was a 22- minute, four-part love suite for which I remained on the stage for its entirety, only having one exit for a 32-count breather.  

This piece was the longest piece that I had ever performed as the main character the storyline was enveloped around. I had to dig deep to establish my character and sustain a transitioning storyline with different movement qualities and style, as each section presented a different dance form, including hip-hop social, house, waacking, popping, rocking, and locking, with room for freestyle as well. Throughout this process, I had to embody various emotions to make the storyline honest, compelling, and complete. I learned how to be vulnerable by trusting my instincts and honing the essence of my character from a sincere place, which required leaving it all on the dance floor. I am grateful for this experience and process, because as a dancer and choreographer, I can speak from a place of experience in my work when translating what a role for a piece requires in regard to developing stamina, execution, and character. Being a part of Rennie Harris Puremovement inspired and helped me envision how to present hip-hop and street dance choreography for the stage.  

 

Why do you choose to work and live in Philadelphia? In your experience, what makes this arts scene distinctive? 

As a Philadelphia native, I choose to work here because it has made me who I am as a person and artist. Before teaching as a college educator for ten years, I also taught at dance studios, after-school programs, and special needs programs for over ten years to inspire, encourage, and share my love for dance with children who have the same zeal and love for dance as I had growing up. I am choosing to give back to the city that has given me so much culture and inspiration. This city is not for the faint at heart, and there are no easy props given in any field here. Nonetheless, Philly is filled with so many talented, hard-working artist’ within and outside of the field of dance. I’ve met singers, rappers, poets, DJs, and dancers with so much passion and drive here who are making a way for themselves and their art to thrive. Amongst all of these scenes, I am especially grateful for the house dance club scene here in Philly that has been thriving since my emergence within it in 2002. Parties like the Sundae Party by DJ Lee Jones continue to keep the house dance music and culture alive for all artists and people of all ages to engage in a distinctive scene to experience some of Philly’s underground richness.  

Dinita Clark Q&A Block 3

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