OF TIMES BEFORE AND AHEAD:EOD and DANNI GEE
January 30, 2023
Salmon Rushdie mused, "Before there were books there were stories.....the beloved
tale becomes a part of the way in which we understand things and make judgments
and choices in our daily lives."
The story I'm about to tell unfolded in Philadelphia in 1990, 10 years after Jeff Bush
and I launched our weekly TV series, EYE ON DANCE (EOD).
In 1981 -- a time when computers, social media platforms, and cell phones did not
exist -- television was the most powerful communications medium. But with few
exceptions, dance was absent from the airwaves. After pitching my concept for a
topical interview series on dance, a TV executive summed-up the prevailing
disinterest by stating, "After you discuss sore feet and weight, what's left to talk
Despite the rebuke, we created weekly, televised dialogues centering dancers'
ideas, contributions and expectations. Think of it: At a time when many thought
dancers should "dance and not speak" EOD forged a space for under-
acknowledged culture bearers shaped by social, political, historical, and educational
EYE ON DANCE's success secured a Pew Foundation grant to explore the
Philadelphia dance community in 1990. A whirlwind week shooting Philadelphia city
streets, rehearsal studios, classrooms and performances drew us to the inimitable
Joan Myers Brown.
A woman with a mission, Brown founded Philadanco in 1970 and single-handedly
re-shaped the dance scene in Philadelphia. However, after grooming exquisite
dancers, Philadanco lost talent to the seductive Alvin Ailey Dance Company causing
Brown to acerbically quip: "Philadanco serves as a farm team for Alvin Ailey."
After the shoot, I kept re-visiting the Philadanco footage of Gene Hill Sagan's ballet
Sweet Agony. An intensely mysterious woman partnered by an equally striking
male dancer haunted me. Hands gripped in a fist, they pulled away from one
another, circling round, magnetically joined.
Watching them reminded me of a quote by Edward Villella when he spoke on EOD,
"I go to the ballet to watch a dancer's mind." And indeed, I was intrigued by what
she was thinking; what was her story, where did she come from, and where was
For 30 years, I never knew the answer to those questions, then, in 2021 when EOD
celebrated its 40th anniversary, we presented an EOD one-hour special composed
of clips from episodes airing between 1981-86.
The Dance Enthusiast hosted the debut zoom screening and in the chat box, I
spotted a note: "So happy to see Antonio Carlos Scott and me dancing Sweet
Agony. I was thrilled! Finally, the captivating woman I met in the rehearsal room
so many years ago materialized. In short order, I learned her name was Danni Gee
and after a few days, we set-up a zoom date.
A full-throated laugher, I asked Gee to tell me about herself. Without hesitation,
Gee plunged into a deep well of experiences not only as a dancer, but as a singer,
producer and finally dance curator.
Around age 7, Gee traveled to NYC with a church group to see The Wiz
choreographed by the stalwart George Faison and performed by an all-Black
cast. Enthralled, Gee imagined a performance career and "knowing you moved
Later, Gee’s budding talent got her into the performing arts high school in
Philadelphia. Classes in ballet and modern, primarily Graham and Horton
techniques, honed her skills. She seized upon the opportunity to excel in dance,
and after a few years, came to the attention of Joan Myers Brown (Aunt Joan).
Back in the 1980's and 1990’s, dance was less than a reliable career choice.
Dancers rarely got health insurance (to this day, few do) or a steady salary. Still,
costly classes, marathon rehearsals and performances consumed dancers' days and
After attending an Ailey performance, Gee knew “The House of Ailey” was her
future. At first, her dream was difficult to attain. A lead dancer at Philadanco, Gee
felt prepared; but even after two auditions, her goal remained out of reach.
Finally, in 1991, after Judith Jamison took the reigns, Gee got the call to come to
NYC. However, for Joan Myers Brown, that opportunity equaled loss. Excited as
Brown was to applaud Gee moving on, that happiness was edged in frustration.
Gee admitted, regardless of her preparation, the Ailey routine was thrilling but
utterly exhausting. The apex of her career arrived when she was scheduled to
dance the iconic Crychoreographed for Jamison by Alvin Ailey.
With the privilege of dancing Crycame the agony of a career-ending injury.
Despite the pain wracking her body, Gee performed Cry to an enthusiastic
audience. But that milestone was to be her last with the company. The date: New
Year's Eve 1996.
Forced endings are cruel, particularly for dancers. To this day, talking about the
loss of her dance career still makes Gee well up in tears. It was her identity, her
passion, and her one true love. "You have to turn yourself overnight into someone
else. You've been dealt a humbling hand by life. But you can make a supreme effort
to flip it, and make a magnificent and fulfilling life."
And that's exactly what Gee did touring with R&B artist Kathy Sledge of Sister
Sledge and later chartered her own musical career with an independent rock band,
Suga Bush. While re-inventing herself, Gee was offered a job curating dance for
NYC's Summerstage Festival (2006 - 2022), simultaneously running an artist-driven
interview series on Youtube.
What I spotted that day in Philadelphia was an individual who dove 100% into her
opportunities. That proved to be her secret weapon along with an intense desire to
always create community. After successfully presenting countless dance artists at
Summerstage, Gee catapulted to the position of Programming Director at the Joyce
Outgoing and uncommonly generous, Gee is admired by colleagues and loved by
family and friends. We will all be watching and cheering her on!
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY