THEN NOW NEXT at the Merriam Theater

The International Association of Blacks in Dance hosts a four-day festival for black dance companies from all over the U.S. for the 32nd year in a row.

Over 40 Black Dance Companies converge on Philadelphia for THEN NOW NEXT as the International Association of Blacks in Dance hosts a four-day festival for black dance companies from all over the U.S. for the 32nd year in a row.

Tiffany Rea-Fisher had a sense of trepidation when she took over as artistic director of New York’s Elisa Monte Dance company at the age of 34. She was a young black woman succeeding an older white woman, having little professional training compared to her peers. Everyone else had grown up a young, black dancer – skilled, schooled and disciplined in her field – many since they were old enough to walk. 

Ironically, it wasn’t until she was introduced to a nationwide group of black dancers that made her feel like she belonged, and could face the challenges brought before her and be the leader she wanted to be for her modest dance group in Harlem. 

“I was always really intimidated because it felt like such an insular, familial thing that the rest of us who were black dancers couldn’t get into,” said Rea-Fisher.

“[I felt] isolated and scared to join this group. And then the relief I felt and the acceptance I felt once I did join… Once a year, we can actually put hands on each other and just be excited to be together.”

This week, the International Association of Blacks in Dance hosts a four-day festival for 40 black dance companies from all over the U.S. at the Merriam Theater, for the 32nd year in a row. 


Dubbed “THEN NOW NEXT,” the IABD festival hosts decided to make Philadelphia the base of operations in commemoration of PHILADANCO!’s 50th anniversary, where it all began. 

The idea behind the conference is to offer audiences the chance to see black dance companies and understand the history and technique behind the talent. Some include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, PHILADANCO! and Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, A Dance Company, along with performances by longstanding companies from Collage Dance Collective, Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, Eleone Dance Theatre, Elisa Monte Dance and more. 

The mission of IABD is to “preserve and promote dance by people of African ancestry or origin and assist and increase opportunities for artists in advocacy, audience development, education, funding, networking, performance, philosophical dialogue, and touring.”


For Rea-Fisher, feelings about joining IABD changed for her because hers is not an all-black dance company. Rather, she accepts dancers from all races and backgrounds. 

“I never really believed in homogeny across the board. We’re very diverse,” she said. 

“We have black, white, Asian, Hispanic…For me, that’s part of our brand. I want New Yorkers to be able to see themselves on stage. I want little Asian, white, black and Hispanic kids to be able to see themselves represented and highlighted.”

During the conference, emerging, established and well-known black dance companies from all over convene in the City of Brotherly Love for a unique experience where they interact with fellow dance lovers and exchange ideas about style, art, and technique. 

Denise Saunders Thompson, President and CEO of IABD, said that the name “THEN NOW NEXT” refers to the early days of the organization – circa 1988/89, when these types of dance companies were just coming together and finding their footing. The “NOW,” she describes as: 

“What does the association look like? What is the work that it’s doing?”

And the “NEXT?”

“Who [is] the next generation [of] leaders? Who are the people who are going to take this organization onto the next 50 and 100 years? So, ‘THEN, NOW, NEXT.’”


Thompson said that Philly was chosen as the site for the festival because this year is PHILADANCO!’s 50th anniversary and it’s been a decade since they’ve held the conference here.

“There’s no better place to come back to than where it all started,” she said. 

“THEN NOW NEXT” takes place January 15 through 18 at Philly’s Merriam Theater. Click here for tickets.

Images: Scott Robbins.

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