The Legacy of Elroy Josephz

This a piece of writing I have had ‘on file’:

The symposium of the British dance and the African Diasporas project took place on Friday the 26th of October, at the Slavery museum in Liverpool. One of the highlights of the day was the chat show hosted by dance historian Ramsay Burt. The guests were Sue Lancaster and Steve Mulrooney, custodians of Elroy Josephz’ archive.  They spoke about their relationship with Elroy Josephz.

Elroy Josephz moved to England from Jamaica in the 1950s. He trained in Ballet and Caribbean dance forms and was a member of Les Ballets Negres  – the first black British company whose multicultural and at times inter-racial cast performed a fusion of ballet, jazz and African and Caribbean dance forms to critical acclaim.  After Les Ballets Negres ended due to a lack of funding, Josephs worked in London and started Dance Company 7, which he left in the able hands of Carl Campbell when he moved to Liverpool to teach.  Lancaster and Mulrooney now well know dance practitioners who continue to work in the Liverpool area were teenagers when they meet Josephz. They say he changed their lives. This was the 1980s a time of race riots and social change. His love for dance and the community, shaped and gave direction to their energies. Mulrooney at the time was a break-dancer; part of the Eastwood Rockers and Lancaster was attending a conventional dance school but rather bored, not knowing where it would take her.

Lancaster and Mulrooney used to watch Josephz teaching his jazz dance class through the glass walls of a posh building at the teacher training college. He caught them one day learning his technique from the outside. He invited them in. When they said they could not pay, he offered them free classes. They ended up dancing in his company. Mulrooney recalled Jospehz having all the men sewing their own costumes and rehearsing them to perfection… and exhaustion. By the time Sue Lancaster was 21 she and Steve Mulrooney was running a youth training scheme, teaching, dancing in a company and following the Josephz ethos of giving back to the community.

Elroy Jospehz had a varied career – appearing in several films, Dr Who, the West Side Story, Spanish dance performances in Madrid whilst taking time out to study Race relations at Masters level and develop a jazz dance curriculum. Besides performing in the first unfunded black-led dance company in Britain, he was a pioneer in using the dance as a tool for social change. For me his story gave me further insight into what a career in dance can give the practitioner. Because dance is  at the confluence of various social practices it teaches us what human connection is about.

A number of students present expressed an anger or loss for not having heard the story of Josephz before now and felt hearing his story filled a hole in British dance history. What does hearing a dancer’s biography do for you?

For more information on the project see:

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