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Rod Audrian Rodgers
Born: December 4, 1938
Occupation: choreographer, dancer
Rod Rodgers was born into a family of professional dancers; his parents performed across the United States in the circuit of night clubs and resorts which catered exclusively to blacks. In the early 1960s, Rodgers began his career as a dancer by working in similar clubs.

In 1962 Rodgers moved to New York City and began studying dance with Hanya Holm, Mary Anthony, and Erick Hawkins. He was a member of such dance groups as Dancer's Theatre Company, the Erick Hawkins Modern Dance Company, and the National Dance Teachers Guild. A year later, Rodgers founded the Rod Rodgers Dance Company and the ensemble performed repertory created by Rodgers as well as guest choreographers. The company, which featured seven to 20 dancers, focused on modern dance techniques in order to show that black dancers did not have to limit their modes of expression to traditional African, ethnic, or historically African-American styles.

During the mid-1960s Rodgers choreographed and presented concert dance programs to children in poor neighborhoods in New York City through the Head Start Program. He became director of the dance project of New York City's Mobilization for Youth in 1965 and in the same year was awarded a John Hay Whitney Fellowship which gave him the financial security to work as a full-time dancer and choreographer. During this decade he was also one of the founders of the Association of Black Choreographers.

Rodgers' best-known works, most of which were created in the late 1960s and early 1970s, feature a range of choreographic styles, with an emphasis on abstraction and occasional use of narrative elements. Pieces such as "Percussion Suite" (1966) include dancers wearing or carrying percussion instruments, a technique that has become a trademark of Rodgers' choreography. Other works which were created in the late 1960s include "Tangents," which drew upon African traditions of ritual dance; "Now! Nigga ... ," which depicted a moment of violent resistance in an urban ghetto; and "Dances in Projected Space," which consisted of movements accompanied by a slide presentation of abstract art. Rodgers' 1968 tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "King ... the Dream" premiered the week after King was assassinated.

In the 1980s and early '90s, the Rod Rodgers Dance Company taught classes and workshops in the company's studio on the Lower East Side. The group has been particularly active in bringing dance programs into public schools, colleges, and community organizations. During the 1990s, the company presented works honoring African-American artists and leaders such as Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Mary McCleod Bethune, as well as more abstract pieces, such as "Rhythmdances," which featured dancers playing hand-held percussion instruments. Rodgers has expanded the audience for modern dance by showing that abstract movement and African-American dance traditions can be used to express social commentary on the urban black experience.

-- Zita Allen

Chatman, Priscilla. "Making Dance--A Man Sized Job--A Black Dance Artist and His Work." THE BLACK AMERICAN (October 28, 1976).
Rodgers, Rod. "For the Celebration of Our Blackness." DANCE SCOPE (Spring 1967): 610.
"Rod Rodgers Troupe Offers a New Dance." NEW YORK TIMES, December 14, 1970, p. 56: 4.

Source Citation: "Rod Audrian Rodgers." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.