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Philadelphia dancer/choreographer Rennie Harris will kick off Black History Month 12:15 p.m. today with a brown bag lecture on “Traditions of Hip-Hop in the Making of Facing Mekka” in Williams Center for the Arts room 108.

Free and open to the public, the talk is sponsored by the American Studies department, Office of Intercultural Developmenta, and Williams Center for the Arts. Lunch will be provided.

Harris will discuss hip-hop and cultural dance theory. He will return to Lafayette March 25-26 to premiere Facing Mekka, his new full-evening dance work, which includes hip-hop performance, photomontage, videography, original music, and text.

Harris is acclaimed for Rome & Jewels, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Broadway’s West Side Story. “Rome & Jewels will put black Philadelphia on the international arts map,” writes Elizabeth Zimmer in a review for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Not a ballet in any conventional sense, Rome & Jewels nevertheless exploits grand gestures as much as proliferating dance versions of the story doHarris has built a wedge that will open the doors of America’s art centers, displaying hip-hop as clear cultural expression, compelling to all races and generations.”

Harris grew up in the inner city of North Philadelphia. He started dancing at eight years old by emulating dance moves from the TV program “Soul Train.” He was 14 when the Smithsonian Institution included him in a folk dance program. Harris began dancing professionally at 15 and touring at 19. The year he formed his current company, he also created Endangered Species, a solo work. Harris teaches at colleges, universities and dance companies in the U.S. and abroad.

The artist explained his philosophy of dance to the Richmond-Times Dispatch: “I aim for dance that puts people in a different space. You can’t solve all the problems [in society], but you can recognize them and move on. African dance is about celebration. You go through the struggle and then celebrate. I don’t know anybody who has ever danced and not been happy. The spirit of hip-hop is the spirit of celebration.”

Lafayette’s annual celebration of Black History Month will include a full calendar of concerts, lectures, interactive workshops, cultural presentations, and other events, as notable artists and scholars join the campus community in honoring the diversity, unity, and history that is the African American experience.

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