Text overlaid an image of Judith McCarty in front of the Manhattan Bridge. She wears a black t-shirt and red bucket hat with white face paint and long curly brown hair. She stands looking off into the distance with her fist in the air.

I am a French African born choreographer. I was raised everywhere, from South Africa to London to Congo. I have lived in different places because my Dad was a civil engineer, so I have had the privilege to live in different countries. I came into dance because my Mom’s culture is all about dance. African culture is all about dancing when they are happy, sad, and when they protest. Dance was always in my face. Because of a cultural thing, when you dance, people spray money on you! I like money. I have always gravitated towards dance. Being offered teaching jobs, choreography jobs for Broadway, and working with Fiyah Dancehall Theater are some of the things that got me into the New York Dance scene. It was tough.

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We would love to hear about your dance company, Afro-Afriqué.

I never originally planned to start Afro Afriqué out here, because I have a company back home called Retro Black. Retro colors meaning diversity, color, old school. Every company that I create has diversity to it. Coming into company wanting to start Afro Afriqué was because I was feeling homesick and by myself. I said, “You know what, I am going to start something that feels like family.” I have a gift to be able to give people a platform and see what they can do with it. You have a dream? You have a passion? Let me teach you something. I want to push you to be the best version of yourself. This was something that fueled me a lot because I was empty. I needed a family here so I started to build a family. The first audition I held in 2018 was much bigger than I expected. People from all over the country showed up. For me, I wanted to break all of the negative patterns I experienced with dance. I wanted to build something like, “we love dance, but dance is love.” We dance to get away from all the bad things, but why are we implementing the negative things into what we love? It’s about a support system. All of us have a different background and a lot of my team is foreign and doesn’t have a support system here. We built this not just for me, but for everybody else.

The dancers of Afro Afriqué pose in a group in matching black outfits with black bucket hats looking straight at the camera.

What does Afro Afriqué represent to you?

What do you want people to take away from your performance and energy?

A spiritual release. A lot of us hold things inside and you notice when we dance, we scream, clap, and do reckless shit—it’s a sense of release. I want people to be okay expressing their power. We can seem quiet at first, but the minute we start dancing, we are just so beast. I want when people watch us, I want them to see us as fearless. This is freedom. This is love. It is rich culture. Authenticity. I want people to watch us hype each other up. I want people to learn more about themselves when they watch us dance. 

 

I would say I do a fusion of all African dance styles. Afro is a fusion of all the African street dances. Now, we do African street dances—social dances. Afro is a very modernized dance term. If people are curious enough to learn they will take the time to be like, “Hey, I want to go to this country. What kind of style are they doing here? I know Afro, so which part of Afro does this country do?” I have an understanding of each country’s basic styles. In my classes, I sometimes do a different country for each class. I teach more than dance—I teach a culture. 

Where in the world have you personally taught classes and performed? And Afro-Afriqué?

Afro Afriqué has mostly been around the US. The furthest we have gone is Sydney Australia. Me personally, some of the bigger cities I have taught in are in France, London, South Africa, and Spain. I have been teaching and performing for a long time.

What inspires you about dance?

Who are you most inspired by?

What inspires me the most about dance is the different things you are able to be in dance. Despite what you are feeling or what you are going through, you can pick what your reality is for a moment and live it, because you are dancing it. My peers inspire me. I don’t like the far-fetched inspiration. I am inspired by the people I know on the daily. My friends, my boyfriend, people that I get to watch dance on the regular. The things I see them do is next level. I constantly see them grow and see what they are putting into dance. Everybody thinks about what dance gives them, but no one ever thinks about what they are putting into dance. Are you introducing people to the freedom of dance? When I see my friends kicking butt, those are the things that keep me grounded. And of course Tanisha Scott. She is my biggest mentor and inspiration and she found me. I am really big on women kicking ass. I love seeing how people handle their art in different moods. I choreographed and artistic directed the entire Miseducation tour for Lauryn Hill—and she became a huge mentor for me. One of the best things she shared with me is, “Create shows that are going to succeed when there is chaos.”

What advice do you have to give to the aspiring dancer/choreographer/dance community? 

Be a student. When you listen, you cover more grounds than when you are focused on your ego. Make dance internal and not external. A lot of people make dance external and that’s why they can be like, “I don’t want to dance anymore,” because it’s about fueling other people. They lose their love and authenticity that they have for dance. Rejection is part of your growth process. You must be rejected. You don’t fully realize your strength in dance until you have been rejected 5, 6, 7 times by the biggest things you’ve ever wanted. It comes back full circle. After that rejection you will be even more prepared for it because now you know what to expect. You will come back with a stronger mindset. Dance is not for weak people. People will have a strong opinion of your artistry, but that does not define you. If you are easily defined by people’s words with what you love, you lost. I will not let anyone define me or put me in a box. 

Is there anything you would like to share with us? 

Social media. Use it for what it’s for, but don’t let that define your skill level and your path. If you want a career, you must build a personal connection with people. Instagram is cool, but you want to walk into a room with corporate people and they know you by your first and last name. They know you by the work you do. When people speak highly of your work, that is what makes you successful. Not the likes or the views. We should keep up with the times, but that doesn’t mean you lose your foundation. Foundation is important. No matter how far things grow, they wouldn’t be where they are without how it started. Connecting the two bridges is highly important. There is at least fifteen people in the world that could say “this woman made me and pushed me to be where I am today.” That is a bigger impact than 50k followers. Word of mouth is always going to be so much bigger. It’s about showing up in the world and how many people’s lives you impact. 

Judith McCarty dances in front of the Manhattan Bridge wearing a black skirt and black t-shirt with a red bucket hat. She stands with one leg in front of the other and arms forward and back at 90 degree angles, looking off into the distance.