The International Association of Blacks in Dance receives National Medal of Honor

By Jayla McNeill

The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD), of which the VCUarts Department of Dance + Choreography is a member organization, recently received the National Medal of Honor – the highest award given to individuals, groups or organizations for the arts in the U.S.

The IABD received the recognition for “​​expanding our Nation’s appreciation for the practice and preservation of dance from the African diaspora,” according to a release from the National Endowment of the Arts. “Through teaching, training and performance, the IABD promotes dance by people of African ancestry and origin, explores and exchanges art, spans cultures and generations and enriches the dance culture of America.”

VCUarts has been a member organization with the IABD since 2015 thanks to the efforts of E. Gaynell Sherrod, Ed.D., who serves on the organization’s board of directors and is a professor in the Department of Dance + Choreography at VCUarts

“Every day we validate our own work …. But to have it validated on that level, in the eyes of and in the perspective of the larger audience, is something we couldn’t have paid for,” said Sherrod. “To be recognized, spoken about, and presented to by one of the highest offices in the land. …I think that speaks for itself.”

The IABD is a service organization that aims to assist black dance companies, dancers and scholars that are adversely affected by systemic oppression by providing a myriad of valuable resources and opportunities to support their sustainable development, growth and success. 

“Our vision is for dance by people of African ancestry or origin to be validated, supported, respected and preserved in the consciousness and cultural institutions of all people. That’s the mission,” Sherrod said. 

Sherrod, who has been a member of the IABD since its inception, said it has been a “remarkable journey” watching the IABD grow from a “small grassroots organization to a more truly international, highly visible, very purposeful and functioning organization serving communities of dance founded by or led by Black and Brown people.”

“When I came to VCU, the first thing I did was say, ‘OK, we’re going to connect with IABD. We’re going to become a member organization. We’re going to send students and faculty as often as we can. … I thought it was very important that the students understand the significance of what Black and Brown companies, dancers, dance educators and their scholars are doing from VCU,” she added. 

As a member organization, VCUarts dance students and faculty get discount rates for the annual conference and festival, opportunities to perform, free promotion events and listing in the IABD directory. The annual conference provides attendees opportunities to network with peers, attend classes by high-profile dance instructors and participate in a multi-company audition for dance companies across the country. 

“You’ll be seen and taught by all of these master teachers and dancers …and you get to talk with them afterward,” said Sherrod. “It’s not just networking… it’s a net that works.” 

Lead image: Denise Saunders Thomspon, president and CEO of the IABD, accepting the National Medal of Arts from President Joe Biden. From National Endowment for the Arts. (Photo by Cheriss May)