Using a Universal Language

Camille Brown’s linguistic play uses words and movement.


Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Cal Performances

There’s a language peculiar to the schoolyard and the playground, a secret repertoire of rituals passed from one generation of kids to the next without adults ever knowing. No parents ever sat their daughters down to explain how to clap properly to “Miss Suzie Had a Steamboat” or tried to count out how many doctors would it take when Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss her fella but accidentally kissed a snake. Yet kids, in playgrounds across the country, all remember these same counting songs and jump rope rhymes.

Choreographer Camille A. Brown’s BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play draws on the universal language of childhood but also on the unique experiences faced by young black girls growing up to create a wholly original yet instantly familiar dance piece.

As part of her creative process, Brown interviewed high school students to ask what they imagined when they heard the phrase “black girl.” She was shocked to hear so many respond with negatives, even mocking the word games and body language they associated with black girls.

BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play reclaims those maligned gestures as a source of power, using African-American dance vernacular like social dancing, double dutch, steppin’, tap, ring shout, and even the “That’s the Way We Gigolo” chant to tell a story about growing up and finding an identity as a black woman. 

Every performance is followed by an open dialogue between audience and performers.


Friday, Dec. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 10, 3 p.m., $54 and up., Zellerbach Playhouse, 2430 Bancroft Ave., Berkeley,



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