Helanius J. Wilkins: Dance Chose Me

Since moving to Washington, DC, Louisiana native Helanius J. Wilkins has had the good fortune to do what he loves for a living – dance. In addition to founding all-male contemporary dance company Edgeworks Dance Theater, he has taught dance classes at Joy of Motion, the American Dance Institute and The Washington Ballet.

Edgeworks Dance Theater

photo credit: Tim Coburn

“Dance chose me,” he said. “I feel like it’s a calling and I was able to recognize that at an early age.” Helanius shared a memory from his childhood of him watching Alvin Ailey on PBS. Upon seeing Ailey dance, he thought “that’s me” and his journey started from that point on.

Since founding Edgeworks Dance Theater nearly a decade ago, Helanius has developed a unique style of contemporary dance. It is a style that is athletic, about real people and one that often reconnects the past and the present. There is dance for entertainment, dance for movement’s sake and then there is dance that communicates. Helanius believes his style speaks to people and goes beyond the physical. It challenges viewers to think and reflect about the issues being presented.

Creative Process

According to Helanius, two things lie at the base of his creative process – community engagement and diverse perspectives. He conducts dance workshops, open rehearsals and discussion groups to give viewers an opportunity to be part of the process. These sessions also provide Helanius the chance to hear different viewpoints on the themes he explores in his work.

My goal is not to create work that reflects my own personal viewpoints, he said. Instead, the objective is to portray an honest account of complex social issues such as race, gender, class and sexuality. “It’s an ongoing process of better understanding how we as a society move beyond simply tolerating.”

Inspiration

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources, but it is the desire to shatter stereotypes that keeps the creative process going. “I’m trying to create something honest and real. Often times those things are socially-inspired and politically relevant,” he said. “I’m interested in our world and how I can contribute to a greater dialogue leading to greater understanding, progress, change.”

Helanius not only challenges stereotypes through his movement, but also through the members of his company. Edgeworks Dance Theater is a predominantly African-American all-male dance company in an industry dominated by females. One of his company members, Mervin Primeaux, is a deaf dancer which Helanius notes is uncommon among mainstream dance companies.

Up next for Edgeworks Dance Theater is a debut in Louisiana. The company will tour to his hometown, Lafayette, for a performance residency Wednesday, October 27th through Sunday, October 31st. They will also have a free performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on Thursday, November 18th at 6pm. The company continues to work on their upcoming production Trigger, which will premiere February 2011 at Dance Place. Trigger is part of a trilogy of works that explores the legacy of black men in dance and society. For more information about Trigger and Edgeworks Dance Theater, visit www.hjwedgeworks.org.

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danceDC Weekend Event Guide 9/18-9/19

Dance/MetroDC hosted its Fall Season All Dance Kick-Off Party at the Skybar of the Beacon Hotel on Wednesday, September 15th. I was in attendance to enjoy the roof top views and also to watch members of Urban Artistry break it down. At the party, I was thrilled to meet Helanius J. Wilkins, Artistic Director of Edgeworks Dance Theater. His all male contemporary dance company will be performing this weekend at the American Dance Institute. I’m hoping to make it to their 3pm performance on Sunday as I’ll be taking in the sites and sounds of the H Street Festival on Saturday. Hope your weekend is full of dancing!

Saturday, September 18th

Sunday, September 19th

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