The Washington Park Bandshell was filled with music and movement recently as Signature Dance Company performed routines for nearly two hours to communicate the social issues they find most troubling in their lives. Judging by the applause of parents and community members during the company finale, the message was well received.
Signature’s Safe Summer Show addressed social issues such as racism, bullying, prostitution and self-image. Signature has encouraged the girls and women of Milwaukee’s central city to express their creativity and faith through dance for more than a decade.
Co-founder and artistic director Tecia Sellers explained that the company and its dancers use these performances to showcase their talents and start a discussion.
“We were trying to communicate that all these things are happening, but we don’t need to feel hopeless,” Sellers said. “We don’t have to submit to bad things. We need to be brave enough to help those who need us and not just live with all these negative social issues happening in our community.”
Performers said they enjoyed being on stage and communicating their thoughts on issues they face in their daily lives.
“I like the feeling of being on stage. It’s a great way for me to express myself and get a message across,” said Miah Haynes, a dancer in the show’s self-image number.
In about 10 numbers, dancers expressed these issues through music, movement and creative use of props. For example, in Haynes’ performance, she and a half-dozen other teen dancers incorporated magazines, waving them around in long, large movements or taking a long pause as if to examine them and compare themselves to the girls pictured on the pages.
One of the show’s most crowd-pleasing numbers addressed racism in America and was set to “Glory” by Common and John Legend.
As a self-titled “Christian dance company,” the theme of faith is popular in most Signature shows, and was the inspiration for several numbers in the summer show.
“Signature teaches dance movement and technique, but we also work on practices for life,” said choreographer Jade Robertson. “We have a Christian background, which means we also teach young girls how to live a holy, safe and positive life.”
The show concluded with a passionate performance by one of the company’s adult groups to “Withholding Nothing” by William McDowell. The lyrics “King Jesus, my savior forever, I give you all of me — withholding nothing” blared from bandshell speakers and audience members rose from their seats to show their enthusiasm.
Sellers said that while she hopes people enjoyed watching the dancing, she would like them to take away something more. “I hope they feel like there’s hope and that they have a part to play. So when they see these things happen around them they think, ‘Oh, how can I help change things?’”