Third Annual Black Dance Festival Returns to Long Beach

Keena Walters first heard about the CRay project, like any student hears about most things, through an Instagram post. A classmate in one of her Cal State Long Beach dance classes messaged her about the Long Beach organization’s free dance classes just before the pandemic began.

Nearly three years later, Walters looks forward to The CRay Project’s third annual Black Dance Festival, a week-long event filled with free dance classes, workshops and performances. These events will take place August 7-14 at various locations across the city, including the Long Beach Playhouse and Rose Park.

After years of volunteering and dancing with the organization, Walters credits The CRay Project for giving him a sense of community after moving to Long Beach from the Bay Area for college.

“It made me feel like I was part of Long Beach,” Walters said.

It is this family feeling that The CRay Project will highlight in this year’s festival. The theme, “For those of us…,” serves as a way to celebrate black creators today and ensure “they get the flowers they need,” said co-founder Chatiera Ray. .

The CRay Project is a “Black Empowerment Movement” dedicated to providing platforms for artists of color and those who face injustice through educational and affordable opportunities, according to their site. The grassroots organization was founded in 2015 and is led by two black women from Cleveland, Ohio—Ray and LaRonica Southerland.

This year’s festival will feature many teachers and artists who have long been part of The CRay Project family. Although the full lineup hasn’t been released, Ray said a few longtime instructors will return to perform and teach. The dancers and choreographers chosen for the festival are those who are not just “our dance family, but our real families,” Ray said.

Dancers perform at the CRay Project’s annual Long Beach Black Dance Festival. (Courtesy of the CRay Project)

These artists will also be spotlighted virtually through a series of live-streamed performances accompanied by interviews with the artist. These 5-10 minute videos will be broadcast throughout the week and posted online.

While previous years have included business pop-ups, this year’s festival will kick off with a black artist mixer and networking event. There will be a handful of performances, featured business topics to discuss, and an opportunity to mingle with other Long Beach creatives.

The festival also features workshops covering a wide range of topics within the entertainment industry, such as lighting for people of color, performance makeup hacks, a discussion of how young people can staying motivated in a competitive industry and a panel on how creators can stay true to their mission and resist outside influences.

The highlight of the festival remains the free dance classes that will take place in various public spaces around the city, which Ray says he hopes “will [people] regain a newfound confidence and be okay with the body they are in.

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