In the Beginning
Urban Souls Dance Company (USDC) grew from a solo performed by founding artistic director Harrison Guy at the city-wide dance festival Dance Houston on July 30, 2004. The solo, titled “Makes Me Wanna Holler”, won him that year’s Dance Houston Award. Guy initially conceived the idea of the company while he was training in New York City at the Alvin Ailey School. He was inspired to return to Texas in hopes of one day being a part of something as great as what he had experienced in New York. He joined Exclamation Dance Company in Houston, TX, as one of the founding members under the direction of Kenneth Epting. After dancing with Exclamation for 5 years Harrison decided to explore his potential for leadership and choreography and began teaching a free modern dance class on Sundays at Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex. The class grew to include a pool of talented and passionate dancers that he eventually named Urban Souls Dance Company.
In 2004, Harrison Guy met Walter Hull, who supervised youth development programs and managed a performing arts conservatory that he created in collaboration with the City of Lafayette, LA, and local arts presenting organization Performing Arts Society of Acadiana (PASA). Hull had invited Guy to conduct a master class and set choreography for an upcoming performance. The two men complemented one another’s passion for creating art access in under-served communities. Both had envisioned developing social commentary through dance in conjunction with using dance as a tool to provide self-awareness, in particular for under-served youth. In early 2005 Hull, instantly attracted to the idea of cultivating USDC, made the decision to move to Houston and help Guy build his dream of a dance company. USDC returned to Dance Houston in summer 2005 with a riveting duet entitled “The N Word”. Although the performance received the Best Artistic Achievement Award from Dance Houston, the company also encountered criticism for its decision to display the word “Nigger” in bold red letters as the backdrop. This duet, performed by Guy and Hull marked USDC as a company that created socially conscious and sometimes controversial works.
Dare to be Different
Having establishing a reputation for presenting daring works, USDC created another contentious piece, “Scarlet Situation” (2006), which tackled the topic of HIV/AIDS in the African American community. Many audience members and other dance organizations in Houston praised USDC for taking the responsibility of talking about a topic that is often swept under the rug in our community. From 2005 to 2008, Guy and Hull conducted extensive research on the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The resulting piece, “Across the Waters” (2008) aimed to educate the audience on a topic that affected the very core humanity with over 70% of Rwanda population slaughtered. After the premiere performance of “Across the Waters” at Dance Houston, a Rwandese couple, coincidentally in the audience that evening, thanked us for telling their story in Houston. USDC performed “Across the Waters” at The Dance/USA national showcase in 2009 as one of ten invited dance companies.
The Company Expands
Also in 2009, the company established a Board of Directors and launched their first season, self-producing three full-length performances. In April 2010, USDC obtained 501 c 3 non-profit organizational status. USDC has since instituted an extensive outreach program, including USDC 2, which provides young artist performance experience and offers a mentoring program with USDC company members. The company has had the pleasure of working extensively with Travis Gatling, Associate Professor and Director of Choreography at Ohio University and Troy Powell, Artistic Director of Ailey II, NYC. USDC has traveled to Kigali, Rwanda twice to conduct artist development workshops with artists from Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. USDC has presented concerts at Hampton University in Hampton, VA, and The Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York. In 2013 the company will present its third annual gala, Dancing with the Houston Stars, which highlights the achievements of Houston notables who perform duets with the company members. This year the company will also initiate a youth dance company – The Urban Kids geared towards teaching social emotional intelligence through the art of dance.
A Global Arts Organization is Born
Rooted deeply in the community, USDC believes in always challenging views that separate us. We believe in thinking differently, taking the position that art transforms people, and people transform the world. We challenge divisive views through the creation and presentation of a spectrum of artistic works that promote diversity, love, and understanding. Employing the art of dance to advocate for the use of creativity to inspire and engage with all of society. USDC bridges the gap between life and art throughout both local and global communities.