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IABD History


1989 - 2nd International Conference of Black Dance Companies

THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACKS IN DANCE (IABD) has become the Mecca for Blacks in Dance such as administrators, artists, choreographers, dance companies, dance-related personnel, directors, educators, scholars, students, teachers, and those interested in artistry, black dance issues and performance presentations. The Association provides a network, formal newsletters, choreographers directory, published papers and is the raison d’être for the Annual Conference and Festival. The Association also responds to and initiates dialogue around issues that impact the Black Dance Community as well as the Dance community at large. IABD has developed national prominence and allowed the Black dance community to come together on issues important to them.

In 1988, Joan Myers Brown, Founder/Executive Artistic Director along with the Philadanco! staff launched the 1st International Conference on Black Dance Companies as a direct result of an artistic grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts that included assistance from University of the Arts, Entertainment Business Services, the Pennsylvania Arts Council, the City of Philadelphia and the Coalition of African American Cultural Organizations. Eighty professionals attended in Philadelphia, PA. Ms. Brown felt that a gathering of the Black dance community would serve not only her needs, but also needs of other Black dance professionals.


Inspired by the convening of the Conference and the possibility of an organization that served the needs of those committed to Black Dance, constituents of the 1990 Denver, CO Conference hosted by Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, presented a motion that called for a formalization of an Association. It was determined that each year the conference would rotate from one city to another with a host organization. In 1991, at the Dayton, OH Conference hosted by Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, the Unincorporated Association, The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) was formalized and an Emergency Fund was instituted for IABD artists and companies. During the Association’s first six years, 1988 – 1993, its Founding Organizational Members hosted the annual conference and festival.


The inaugural Executive Committee and Founding Organizational Members of the association included (listed in year of history of conference and festival presenting):


The Philadelphia
Dance Company,
1988 - 1989
  Cleo Parker
Robinson Dance
  Dayton Contemporary
Dance Company
  Lula Washington
Dance Theatre
  Dallas Black
Dance Theatre

Joan Myers Brown
Honorary Chair


Cleo Parker Robinson
Vice Chair

   Jeraldyne Blunden
(1940 - 1999)
   Lula Washington
Member at-Large

   Ann Williams
2nd Vice Chair



Today, the Conference and Festival has grown to include an average of 600 - 1,000 participants from across the world, Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and South America. The Conference and Festival has been held nationally and internationally in California, Canada, Colorado, New York City, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, D.C.



In 1993, the Association’s first Executive Director, Bonnie Bing, was appointed to carry forth the vision and daily administrative operations of the organization.1996, IABD established a national scholarship-training program for dancers, and offered a multi-company audition for dancers across the nation, the first of its kind. In January 1999, Dr. Sherrill Berryman Johnson, Professor of Dance at Howard University would become the Association’s next Chairperson/Executive Director, taking the organization to another level of national/international prominence and respect. IABD would operate its offices from The University for more than 10 years with support by the Howard University Department of Theatre Arts, the Dance Program and its students.


September 2000, with the presentation of the New York Dance and Performance Award,The Bessies, IABD was recognized as a new force in the dance community, for creating a collegial, spiritual space as its leadership created new ideals to advance its constituents. The Association was showcasing dance outside of the normal circles, and presenters were exposed to all types of Black Dance from all over the world, in one location.


In 2010, Denise Saunders Thompson was appointed the third Chairperson/Executive Director of the Association and obtained its non-profit 501(c)3 tax exempt status and recognition, 2011, a year later. And in 2017, the Board of Directors appointed Thompson as its first President and CEO,having received a half million-dollar grant awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish and develop the Association’s infrastructure and conduct an organizational health study of the Black dance sector’s dance companies. In 2018, the Association entered a milestone year with the 30th anniversary of the Annual International Conference and Festival of Blacks in Dance in Los Angeles, CA hosted by founding member, Lula Washington Dance Theatre.


The Association is committed not only to documenting and addressing Black aesthetics in dance; it educates younger generations about contributions of Black artists in dance. As one avenue for accomplishing these goals, the Association has established archives with the National Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Wilberforce, Ohio, the Afro-American Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University in Washington, D.C.


The Association and Conference were initially shaped by the presence of some of the most prominent companies and individuals in the Dance community (alphabetical order, last name):


The International Association of Blacks in Dance, Inc., has developed national prominence and allowed the Black dance community to come together on issues important to them. IABD’s very existence recognizes that if we, as Blacks in dance, do not endeavor to preserve and promote dance by people of African ancestry or origin then there is certainly no other group who should or will take on this responsibility.