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Local choreographers featured in Dallas Black Dance, Bruce Wood shows

Dallas Black Dance Theatre company member Hana Delong, choreographer of "Post Mortem," her first major piece for the troupe. It premieres as part of the company's 2024 "Cultural Awareness" shows.
Kent Barker
Dallas Black Dance Theatre company member Hana Delong, choreographer of "Post Mortem," her first major piece for the troupe. It premieres as part of the company's 2024 "Cultural Awareness" shows.

Hana Delong started late. Growing up in Orlando, Fla., she didn’t begin formal dance training until high school. Even after graduating from a college dance program, Delong still didn’t feel ready for the professional world and spent another three years honing her craft at the prestigiousAiley School in New York.

“The cliche is dance brought me out of my shell,” she says in a phone interview. “But it kind of did, slowly. I had finally found something that I thoroughly enjoyed, that I picked for myself.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre company member Carmen Cage rehearses a scene from choreographer Hana Delong's "Post Mortem."
Courtesy of Dallas Black Dance Theatre
Dallas Black Dance Theatre company member Carmen Cage rehearses a scene from choreographer Hana Delong's "Post Mortem."

Now 34,Delong has been a member of Dallas Black Dance Theatre since 2014. Next weekend she takes another step, this time as the choreographer of Post Mortem, part of the company’sCultural Awareness shows at the Wyly Theatre. Twenty-two minutes long, it’s her first major piece for the troupe.

The work, she says, closely examines the common struggles that people go through, often silently, including depression, heartbreak and unrequited love. “I like to play with the idea of love as desperation, wanting someone so badly that you can’t have them.”

One of the songs that inspired Post Mortem isJames Blake’s “The Wilhelm Scream,” with lyrics focusing on doubts about love and the dreamy feeling of falling. It animates an early solo.

“I want it to look like this person is drowning in someone’s love, or in this love they have for somebody,” Delong says.

Alysia Johnson, who has choreographed a new piece for Dallas Black Dance Theatre's 2024 "Cultural Awareness" shows.
Michelle Reid
Alysia Johnson, who has choreographed a new piece for Dallas Black Dance Theatre's 2024 "Cultural Awareness" shows.

It shares the stage with another new piece, byAlysia Johnson, a member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Johnson took a more conventional route to a dance career, training at the Dallas Black Dance Academy as a kid and then at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and the Juilliard School.

This month,Wood Dance is also showcasing choreography by company members.Wood/Shop started during the pandemic as a film project intended to give dancers an outlet while live performances were shut down.

The latest edition, to be held at the Bruce Wood Dance studio in the Design District, features new pieces by Jaime Borkan, Alex Brown, Kevyn Butler, Sofia Downing Ortega, Weaver Rhodes, Mia Rosin, Megan Storey, Elliott Trahan, Cole Vernon, Seth York and guest artist Domingo Estrada Jr.

Bruce Wood Dance company member Sofia Downing Ortega's "Las Bandidas Tambien Lloran," which the company performed as part of the 2023 "Wood/Shop" series.
Sharen Bradford
Bruce Wood Dance company member Sofia Downing Ortega's "Las Bandidas Tambien Lloran," which the company performed as part of the 2023 "Wood/Shop" series.

Delong spent her early years in East Orange, N.J., before her sports-centric family moved to Orlando when she was 12. She played tennis and basketball growing up but also remembers drawing, painting and learning dances she saw on television.

Though she was shy around strangers, her mother always saw her theatrical side, she says.

After attending Catholic school all her life, Delong decided to try something different. Though she had only taken a couple of dance classes, she auditioned for the dance track at the Orlando magnetDr. Phillips High School while also submitting a visual art portfolio. She was accepted into both programs and chose dance.

Dancer-choreographer Hana Delong of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
Kent Barker
Dancer-choreographer Hana Delong of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

“My dance teacher told me she picked me because I smiled the entire time,” Delong recalls.

The training was two hours a day, plus an extra period once she advanced to performing in festivals. She was already a fan of New York — she and her father went to the city on weekends when the family was living in New Jersey — and decided she wanted to go to college in the dance capital of the world.

She applied to three schools and wound up atAdelphi University on Long Island.

“I loved the fact that it wasn’t quite the city, but the train was really close,” Delong says. “I could take it in for classes. They also brought in really great choreographers for us. It made me realize this is something I really do enjoy. Adelphi ignited that for me.”

Still, she didn’t feel ready to pursue a professional dance career, so she applied to the scholarship program at the Ailey School. “When I told my dad, he asked, ‘Are you going to go to school forever?’ " It was the right decision, she says.

“I realized this is not a game. I have to put in the work. And I started to really love it because I was fully immersed. We weren’t doing anything but dance and I never got tired of it.”

Members of Dallas Black Dance Theatre rehearse Hana Delong's "Post Mortem."
Courtesy of Dallas Black Dance Theatre
Members of Dallas Black Dance Theatre rehearse Hana Delong's "Post Mortem."

Delong even tried commercial work as a dancer for the then-New Jersey Nets basketball team. But the breakthrough came when the Ailey School revived choreographerMatthew Rushing’s Uptown, which features figures from the Harlem Renaissance.

“I got to play a lot of different roles,” she says. “I was having wig changes and costume changes. It was theatrical.”

Since joining Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Delong has choreographed short pieces for the company’s annualBlack on Black performances. Like Wood/Shop, they’re a showcase for company members’ dance-making skills.

Bruce Wood Dance company member Cole Vernon's "La Vie en Vert," which the company performed as part of the 2023 "Wood/Shop" series.
Sharen Bradford
Bruce Wood Dance company member Cole Vernon's "La Vie en Vert," which the company performed as part of the 2023 "Wood/Shop" series.

Last year, she made a dance for aJamaican troupe based on the movement of horses in their natural habitat and another work for students at Fort Worth’sI.M. Terrell Academy, whose famous graduates include the late jazz legend Ornette Coleman.

Delong calls herself a “Google queen,” researching ways to improve her body. She took up yoga, and since buying a home in 2019 leaped into furniture-making. Friends noticed, and it’s turned into a side business.

“I’m not afraid to try anything,” she says, including creating Post Mortem. “I hope this leads to many more opportunities. It’s something I think will showcase my style and also me as an individual.”

Details

Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Feb. 9-10 at Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. $35-$65.dbdt.com.attpac.org.

Bruce Wood Dance, Feb. 9-11, at 101-103 Howell St. $45.brucewooddance.org.

Arts Access is an arts journalism collaboration powered by The Dallas Morning News and KERA.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, The University of Texas at Dallas, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Manuel Mendoza is a freelance writer and a former staff critic at The Dallas Morning News.