March is Women’s History Month, and the Red Clay Dance Company will uplift women at its La Femme Dance Festival. The three-day biennial festival is a celebration of women in dance, bringing choreographic works created by Black women to the forefront. 

The festival will be from March 14-16, and will take place in three separate locations. On March 14, the festival will kick off on the Near North Side at The Arts Club of Chicago, with a VIP opening reception and fireside chat featuring choreographer Fatima Robinson.  

On March 15 at 12:00 p.m. Robinson will also lead a masterclass for experienced dancers, followed by a Q&A, at the Red Clay Dance Company’s Center for Excellence, located at 808 E 63rd St,.

The festival’s final event will take place on March 16 at 7:30 p.m. with two world premiere performances, and the Chicago premier of Portraits in Red, a dance composition choreographed by Kenyon-born artist Wanjiru Kamuyu, who is now based in Paris.

The two world premieres will be Unconditional Conditions, a piece choreographed by Vershawn Sanders-Ward; and Her Womb: Crucified, Conceived, Crescent, Congo…… The Gathering, choreographed by New Orleans native Michelle Gibson. 

Red Clay Dance Company was founded in 2008 by Vershawn Sanders-Ward, an award-winning choreographer, arts leader, scholar, and educator. She is a 51-year-old South Side native, and the CEO and founding artistic director of the company. Now in its 15th season, the Red Clay Dance Company is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Sanders-Ward.

“I definitely want there to be an understanding of the beauty that this art form brings to our lives,” Sanders-Ward told The TRiiBE. “There’s definitely messaging in all of the works around identity, Black joy, [and] struggle.”

Vershawn Sanders-Ward (centered), an award-winning choreographer and southside native poses with her dance members of Red Clay Dance Company.
CEO Vershawn Sanders-Ward (centered), an award-winning choreographer and South Side native poses with the members of Red Clay Dance Company. Photo provided by MReid Photography.

Besides the day-to-day responsibilities of running a company, part of that work for Sanders-Ward is art-ivism, or being an artist and activist. When asked what it means to be an artivist, she told The TRiiBE, “it’s an understanding of the gift and the responsibility to use whatever your artistic practice is to amplify inequities [and] injustices as a path towards changing those issues, and really building awareness.” 

La Femme Dance Festival, which first launched in 2013, is a way for Sanders-Ward to shed light on these pressing issues, as well as the work of other Black female choreographers. “I’m always a proponent of bringing and providing platforms that show the diversity, the breadth, and the depth of Black female choreographers,” she said.

Also featured in the festival is legendary dancer and Emmy-nominated choreographer Fatima Robinson. She has been a powerhouse in the commercial dance world for over 20 years, and has worked on many major projects. 

Some of Robinson’s work includes choreographing Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time” music video at the young age of 21, choreographing Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” music video, as well as being director of choreography for Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour.

Although Robinson was not available for comment, Sanders-Ward credits Robinson with being a trailblazer in the field.

“I wanted to hear from a veteran, hear from a legend, from someone that was working in the field when I knew there were many challenges and people were not necessarily wanting to open the door and take you seriously,” she told The TRiiBE.

While tickets to Robinson’s Masterclass on March 15 appeared to be sold out at the time of this story’s publishing, tickets for the fireside chat on March 14 and the performances at the Harris Theater on March 16 are still available here.

is a culture correspondent with The TRiiBE.