All posts by Zak M. Salih

A Chat with Dance Place’s New Executive Artistic Director

Christopher K. Morgan

Since 1986, Dance Place has been more than our local dance training and performance venue. It has provided the Brookland community with free artsy activities as well as after-school programs and summer camps.

This August, Dance Place founder Carla Perlo will step down after 37 years leading the organization. In early September, Dance Place will welcome its new executive artistic director, Christopher K. Morgan.

A dancer, choreographer, and arts educator, Christopher will be responsible for the Brookland area-based institution’s overall vision. He’ll also curate over 40 weeks’ worth of performances and programming.

As Christopher prepares for this next stage of his creative and professional career, we caught up with him for a chat about his background and future plans for this cultural institution.

How did dance become your artistic passion (as opposed to, say, painting)?

As a child I danced the hula and dances of Polynesia with my family. Both of my parents were born and raised in Hawai’i but had moved to Southern California during their service in the U.S. Marines. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, they gave my brothers and sisters and I the opportunity to connect to our cultural heritage through the dance and music of our ancestors.

I came to Western-influenced forms of dance (ballet, jazz, modern dance) at the age of 17. While participating in high-school theater, a choreographer suggested I take a ballet class. Recognizing a talent in me I didn’t know I had, the ballet teacher invited me to take classes from her for free. Before I knew it, I was consumed by this passion I felt for these ways of moving my body and expressing myself.

I studied in a studio throughout my senior year of high school. I had been studying dance and writing at the University of California at Irvine for two years when I was offered my first full-time job as a dancer for Malashock Dance & Company, a modern company in San Diego. I leapt at the opportunity, as dance had become my all-consuming passion – and has been ever since.

How did you first get involved with Dance Place?

I first learned of Dance Place in 1998 as a young dancer living in San Diego preparing to move to D.C. to dance for what is now The Dance Exchange. A few months later, in January of 1999, I found myself onstage at Dance Place in an evening of dancer-choreographed works.

Of course, I’ve attended many performances at Dance Place over the years, but since I began my dance company, Christopher K. Morgan & Artists, in 2011, Dance Place has played an important role in presenting our work multiple times. Most significantly, Dance Place was one of the two lead commissioners and the site for the world premiere of my 2016 work, Pōhaku, which has now toured to nine venues around the United States.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve felt a growing call to arts leadership emerging in my life, which drew me to the executive artistic director role at Dance Place. In order to achieve equity for under-represented artists, diverse representation must be at the decision-making tables. As a person who identifies with multiple marginalized groups, I take very seriously my role to serve artists, students, and audiences of all types.

What are your hopes for the future of Dance Place?

I’m approaching this new role with a philosophy of inclusivity and service, which is essentially continuing Dance Place’s existing mission. I’m excited how this evolution in my career will allow me to support and serve artists, students, and audiences.

One thing I hope for is to help Dance Place and the greater D.C. dance community increase their visibility on the national scene as an important center for dance. After all, we’re in our nation’s capital, and D.C. has the second-highest concentration of choreographers in the country. The work being presented and made here is noteworthy, and it should be recognized more.

What should the relationship be between an arts organization and its surrounding community?

Nothing exists in isolation. I like to use the image of concentric circles. The concentric circles of community Dance Place inhabits begin with the Brookland and Edgewood neighborhoods and expand from there out to D.C., and from there to the region, and from there to the nation.

Dance Place’s relationship with Brookland and Edgewood has to be strong in order for the organization’s role in the greater D.C. community to be strong. In turn, that creates an open environment that’s ready to receive what the artists who come from outside this particular community bring to our neighborhood. The circles can be porous when they’re strong, allowing ideas and information to flow inward and outward.

What do you like most about the Brookland and Edgewood neighborhoods?

As someone who’s worked at and patronized Dance Place, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Brookland and Edgewood. It’s amazing to see how the neighborhood has evolved since I first set foot in it back in 1998. I hope it can continue to keep its long-time residents while it grows and embraces new neighbors. I’m a big fan of the nearby Busboys and Poets location, and I love grabbing a beer over at Brookland Pint and seeing the Arts Walk alive with people.

As I step into this new role, I’m looking forward to getting to know the residents and local business owners around here. In fact, if you’re reading this and want to meet, let’s do so in the neighborhood. Or better yet: Stop by a performance at Dance Place when our new season starts in the fall and say hi!

Dance Place is located at 3225 Eighth Street NE.

All That Jazz at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society

Outdoor murals set the scene for the cool vibes inside.

Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, which has its second anniversary this month, certainly isn’t shy about the music it celebrates.

Right from the street, striking murals of jazz musicians lead you toward an unassuming front door. Step through that portal on a typical Wednesday or Sunday evening, and you’ll find yourself in one of Brookland’s coolest little haunts.

Inside, rustic brick and plaster walls are decorated with photographs of jazz musicians, framed prints of jazz-themed artwork, and African masks and artifacts. A collection of tables and chairs line up in front of the main stage, where from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., local and visiting musicians play everything from Cuban jazz to blues to neo-soul.

JACS celebrates jazz musicians of all generations.

Visit midway through a set, as I did several times recently, and you’ll be pleasantly shocked by the blast of trumpet, the cool tinkling of piano keys, the heartbeat thrum of a guitar, the rumble of drums. It’s a unique sensation all the more precious for being right in our own backyard.

While the ambiance is leisurely, it should be noted this isn’t the kind of jazz you zone out too. There’s nothing smooth or quiet about the music here at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society. This is jazz that holds your heart in its palms, that excites you, that moves you. It’s impulsive, scattered, free-form.

Artistic director DeAndrey Howard has another, simpler way of putting it. His first words at the start of a recent show say it all: “Jazz, jazz, jazz.”

Jazz, and its historical roots, are everywhere you look.

The brainchild of Howard and Dr. Alice Jameson, Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, a 501(c) nonprofit organization, is about more than just great jazz performances. It’s also about jazz education, about sharing the music with different generations of listeners and performers. During two shows I attended, the room was filled with people of all ages and backgrounds, some alone, some in groups, everyone looking straight up at the stage in the dim lights, marveling at these cats working their musical magic.

During breaks in the sets, people chat with one another or with musicians. There’s also time for guests to grab a meal from a local caterer serving dinners on-site. Non-alcoholic beverages and snacks are available throughout the evening.

In addition to serving as a cultural center for jazz, JACS also hosts other events, including lectures, spoken word performances, and writer’s groups. The building itself is available to rent for parties and special events.

A spoken-word performance piece celebrating the spirit of jazz

Coltrane. Ellington. Davis. Titans of jazz music, all of them. And all of them resurrected – along with other voices just waiting to be discovered – twice a week at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society.

So the next time you pass by those vibrant jazz murals on 12th Street between Franklin and Girard and you hear that cymbal crash or trumpet call, do yourself a favor: Go inside and listen closer.

Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society is located at 2813 12th Street NE. Open on Wednesdays and Fridays. For a list of upcoming performances, visit jazzandculturalsociety.com. Cover charge is $5.00 (some events are free).

Touring Brookland’s Little Free Libraries

Location: 1309 Newton Street

There’s just something about used bookstores.

The crowded shelves, the musk of old paper, the hushed sense of history. It’s something with which big-chain bookstores (such as Catholic University’s Barnes & Noble) and libraries (such as nearby Woodridge Library), just can’t compete.

A used bookstore is like an archaeological dig for bookworms. It’s also, I’d argue, an essential part of any neighborhood.

Location: 1218 Kearney Street

Which is why, after three years as a proud Brooklander, I still find myself wondering why a good used bookstore hasn’t planted roots somewhere along our streets. Especially when I know there are plenty of readers in this neighborhood. I’ve seen their bookshelves during the House and Garden Tours. I catch them occasionally sitting on neighborhood benches or at bar tables.

When I’ve got that craving for used bookstores, I tend to take myself across town to Second Story Books (in Dupont Circle), Carpe Librum (off Farragut Square), or Walls of Books (east of Columbia Heights).

And when I want to stay local, I stroll past our neighborhood’s Little Free Libraries.

Location: 8th Street (adjacent to Annie’s Ace Hardware)

Scattered throughout our streets in cabinets, trains, and even robots, these little huts are like birdhouses for books in need of new readers. They also provide welcome homes for books you’re looking to put up for adoption.

According to the website, there are four registered Little Free Libraries in Brookland. A little amateur detective work uncovered a few more flying under the radar.

Location: 3907 13th Street

On a recent fair-weather Saturday, I took a few books of my own to give away. What I found  peering inside these little rooms is a curious window into the reading tastes – or distastes – of some of us here in Brookland.

Location: ArtsWalk

The best part of these used book huts? They’re all built (or repurposed) and maintained by Brooklanders themselves. Which makes them a touching tribute to the creativity, ingenuity, and community spirit of our neighborhood.

Robot Little Library in front of Brookland’s Finest, 3126 12th Street NE

So yes, Brookland could stand to use a fixed used bookstore where readers like me can indulge in our own private searches, our own unexpected discoveries.

In the meantime, these free little libraries our neighbors have built and keep stocked with books offer a different kind of search.

Know another Little Free Library location in Brookland we missed?  Let us know in the comments!

Solitude (And Serenity) At The Franciscan Monastery’s Hermitages

We’re excited to bring on Brookland-based freelance writer Zak M. Salih for an occasional series of longer-form posts. Zak’s written for blogs and publications including UrbanTurf, Washington City Paper, The Millions, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. You can learn more about him at zmscopy.com — or just look for him sipping Manhattans at Steel Plate. Welcome aboard, Zak!

Hermitage at Franciscan Monastery (interior)

Peace. Quiet. Solitude.

For some people, that sounds like a horrible idea. For others, it sounds like just the respite needed from a frazzled, hyperactive life.

One solution to that, it turns out, isn’t hours away in the mountains. It’s right in our own backyard.

The hermitages at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America (1400 Quincy Street NE) offer anyone – not just the deeply religious – an opportunity to retreat from the world. To sit and contemplate things bigger than themselves.

Inside each hermitage (there are currently two) is 350 square feet of handicapped-accessible living space, including a bed, a desk, a kitchenette, a washer/dryer, and a small deck. The most important asset, however: the profound sense of removal from the world. (There’s a reason the hermitages are built to fit only one person.)

It’s a retreat in every sense of the word: physical, mental, and — if you’re so inclined (though it’s not a prerequisite) — spiritual.

As Father Jeremy Harrington, former Guardian of the Franciscan Monastery, said during the opening dedication ceremony of the first hermitage in September 2012:

Saint Francis regularly went to remote places, caves, and mountaintops to pray. So this is the hermitage for people to come and have the opportunity right in the middle of Washington for prayer, for solitude, for communion with God.

Designed in collaboration with architecture students from The Catholic University of America, the hermitages are a far cry from the dank caves and grottoes Saint Francis preferred. They’re more like 21st-century cabins dropped onto the Monastery’s 42 acres.

Hermitage at Franciscan Monastery (exterior)

And they’re getting more popular. A second hermitage opened last year on December 1 to accommodate increased interest in stays (the first hermitage hosted 76 visitors in 2016).

According to Susan Gibbs, a spokesperson for the Franciscan Monastery:

The original vision is to have a maximum of four hermitages, depending on space, finances, and demand. The second hermitage is located near the first, but the layout is different, so each experience will be unique.

If you’re interested in booking, it’s best to send an email to hermitage@myfranciscan.com. You can also call 202-526-6800 with general inquiries.

The cost is $80 per night and includes everything except food, for which the hermits themselves are responsible. As far as length of stay, people usually stay between one and seven nights, though longer retreats can be arranged.

This writer (and closet hermit) certainly plans on making a reservation in the coming months, once spring arrives for good.

Learn more about the hermitages here.