Concert on ice explores toxic racial stereotypes


Rarely have any of us taken the opportunity to explore or understand the complexities of racial and cultural identity and how our history of toxic social conditioning has perpetuated stereotypes that have stigmatized or “branded” individuals who are of color and helped define our perceptions of self.

If any of us have had an opportunity to explore the constructs of racial and cultural identity, it has probably been in the classroom. Today, that classroom is being transformed into a more unique venue – the ice rink.

For two nights only – September 17 and 18 at 7:30 pm – “Being Branded,” a one-of-a-kind cultural education concert on ice, will take audiences on a journey to understand the stereotyping, or “branding,” that has occurred in our history and educate us on how to move beyond these barriers.

The concert will use the fusion of modern dance and ice skating as a way to perform powerful, poignant stories that highlight how toxic self-beliefs have played and continue to play a destructive role in our lives. A team of competitive, professional and amateur ice skaters of color will perform slow, steady, graceful modern and African-based dance movements, creating a performance on ice that depicts the struggles and survival of people of color.

“Being Branded” is like no other concert on ice. It’s made up of an entire team of performers who are of color. The skaters’ ancestries include East Indian, Puerto Rican and African American. Additionally, the project director and choreographer is African American.

Deneane Richburg, the project director and choreographer, is a Twin Cities native who has spent a great deal of time nurturing “Being Branded” and developing the concert into what it is today. Rohene Ward, also a Twin Cities native, is of Puerto Rican descent and is the 2004 Puerto Rican Senior National Champion, a six-time U.S. national competitor, and an international competitor.

Ami Parekh, of East Indian descent, is a former competitive skater who recently represented India at the World Championships. She brings the traditional Indian dress and form, known as Bharatanatyam, to the ice.

Hamidah Ahmad is a 1999 Intermediate Regional Champion, a Junior Nationals competitor, and a cast member of Disney on Ice: High School Musical and A Disneyland Adventure. Quinton Clemons, an African American, is a strikingly powerful aerial dancer who has also been a cast member of Disney on Ice: High School Musical.

“One reason the Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce is lending its support to this effort is because of the detailed way the subject of racial identity is performed by an entire cast of color,” says Lea Hargett, vice president of the Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce. “Also, the topic is presented as a learning tool for the audience.”

One of the many pieces performed is “Aunt Sara’s Escape,” which highlights the objectification and visual exploitation of Saartije Baartman, a South African Khoi Khoi, woman during the early 1800s. Another piece performed is “What Kind of Slave Are You?” which takes audiences on a journey through our oppressive history.

All of the pieces in this concert encourage adults and students to explore the process of identity formation and re-evaluate the sources of their core beliefs and perspectives. For instance, the piece titled “Aunt Sara’s Escape” allows audiences to witness our own self-destruction (as individuals and as a people) when we allow an oppressive society to subjugate us.

In addition to the two evening performances, a free daytime performance for high school students is taking place on September 17 from 9:30 am to noon at Ridder Ice Arena. Students from approximately six metro area high schools will attend the concert on ice and begin to explore the personal politics of race, identity and culture. Following the concert, students will be engaged in a post-concert discussion that will include the cast, helping students learn to identify toxic conditioning and stop its impact.

“The concert has the potential to lead adults and students on a very personal journey,” says Richburg. “It can serve to raise the level of racial awareness and make all involved more cognizant of the types of toxic conditioning that impact our daily lives. During the post-concert discussions, steps to move forward beyond these stereotypes will be addressed.”

To help students grasp the complex issues of race, culture and identity, Richburg has developed a curriculum specifically designed for high school students. The curriculum explores how some of the toxic self-beliefs may have developed by engaging students in activities that investigate how each defines themselves as opposed to how we are defined by society.

The concert’s additional sponsors include General Mills, Inc., the Minnesota State Arts Board, Xcel Energy, American Family Insurance, the National Black MBA Association-Twin Cities Chapter, the Midwest Minority Supplier Diversity Council (MMSDC) and the University of Minnesota’s Office of Business and Community Economic Development.

“Being Branded” is set for a two-night run September 17 and 18 at 7:30 pm at Ridder Ice Arena on the University of Minnesota campus, 1901 4th Street SE in Minneapolis. Tickets for each performance are $25 for adults and $12 for students.

Tickets for the evening performances on September 17 and 18 are still available. To purchase tickets, visit www.mbcc, or contact Ashley at 651-777-9119.

For any questions regarding “Being Branded,” including the classroom curriculum, the morning performance for the students, or the evening performances on the September 17 and 18, contact Ashley at 651-777-9119 or email

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