Seattle dance artist dani tirrell’s departure leaves powerful legacy, large void

When dance artist dani tirrell moved to Seattle in 2008, tirrell by no means thought it would be a long-time period keep.

Thirteen years afterwards, tirrell has had this sort of a robust affect on the dance scene right here that some of Seattle’s dance leaders and artists are anxious about how the community will fare when tirrell leaves Seattle at the close of this calendar year. 

In the summer, tirrell started as an associate curator and producer at Dance Place, a dance effectiveness and education middle in Washington, D.C. Tirrell has been back again and forth among Seattle and D.C. for most of the yr, finishing up some imaginative assignments in Seattle, but this December, tirrell will go to D.C. complete time. 

The legacy that tirrell leaves driving in Seattle is a single of collaboration, neighborhood and service, but tirrell’s departure also leaves a void that Black arts leaders say will be hard to fill.

Around the many years, tirrell has worn lots of diverse hats — choreographer, performer, student, trainer, curator, producer — and has worked with a dizzying quantity of organizations in Seattle, together with Northwest Tap Connection, the College of Washington, On the Boards, Seattle Theatre Group, the Central District Forum for Arts and Thoughts, and quite a few other people. 

“Contributing to the rise and the existence of African American choreographers, to me that is the massive legacy. Dani labored tirelessly. I don’t know what’s heading to transpire with all of that now that dani’s not listed here,” mentioned Donald Byrd, artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater. 

To audiences, peers and friends, tirrell has been a source of inspiration and encouragement. To pupils, tirrell has been a mentor and supporter. To very long-standing institutions, tirrell has been a loud voice holding them accountable to missions of equity and inclusion and risk-free creative environments.

For Seattle as a full, tirrell’s dedication to company and constructing neighborhood has created much more possibilities and visibility for people who experience the most significant worries in the dance marketplace. 

As tirrell prepares to make waves and tackle new problems on a far more national scale in D.C., we caught up with the transform-producing artist and with tirrell’s friends, students and collaborators about the legacy tirrell leaves at the rear of whilst forging ahead to new stages. 

Making a extra unified neighborhood

At a assembly at Velocity Dance Centre in 2013, Markeith Wiley, then only a distant acquaintance of tirrell’s but now a close friend and regular collaborator, noticed practically each and every essential Black choreographer in the town collected for the initial time since Wiley began dancing in Seattle.

“Dani was the nucleus of that,” explained Wiley. 

“I was like, Ok. What matters to you is Black local community, not just dance community. I was like, ‘What have I been missing considering the fact that I have been right here? It’s this.’” 

Possibly tirrell’s most effective-recognised perform, the multidisciplinary present “Black Bois,” which tirrell made in 2018 and revived to a offered-out viewers at the Moore Theatre in 2020, speaks nicely to what a lot of see as tirrell’s specialty — the capacity to bring persons together. 


“Black Bois” brought together Black dancers of a extensive assortment of identities within Blackness and together the gender spectrum. For quite a few of them, it was the 1st time they were performing jointly or in a exhibit with so numerous other Black artists. 

“From my working experience, almost everything [in the dance community] was just extremely spread out,” said Majinn O’Neal, dance artist and dani’s “co-pilot,” as tirrell calls them. “Things are however spread, but dani for me and for a good deal of individuals was the individual that bridged a whole lot of local community gaps.” 

Even through the pandemic and the Black Lives Subject protests, tirrell aided maintain artists in conversation by making the Instagram Stay demonstrate “Intimate Conversations,” a form of converse clearly show meant to support artists at a time when they couldn’t gather and to produce a place for Black artists and leaders to make artwork, weigh in on planet challenges and introduce them selves to new audiences. 

Danimajinn — dani tirrell and Majinn O’Neal — taught house and street dance courses at the University of Washington together for several years. O’Neal says one of the things they’ll miss is the hilarity and joy of meeting up with tirrell and finding that they both accidentally wore the same clothes.  (Catherine Anstett)


The connections that tirrell has solid over a decade and a 50 % have prolonged from unique dancers and college students all the way up to arts establishments, generating a additional unified dance scene in Seattle, specifically among the Black dancers and companies. 

This aim on building group has steadily created extra collaborations and much more operate for Black and brown dancers in Seattle, a town exactly where, Byrd says, at one time there were being “almost no Black dancers producing operate.” 

That was about 2002 when Byrd had just come to Seattle and shaped Spectrum Dance Theater and the Demonstrating Out mentorship application for emerging Black choreographers at the CD Discussion board to deal with that trouble, together with other people, like Sharon Nyree Williams at CD Discussion board. “I obtained the ball rolling,” Byrd reported, “but dani took the ball and ran with it.” 

Sharon Nyree Williams and dani tirrell introducing Showing Out: Black Contemporary Choreographers, a mentorship program for emerging Black choreographers at the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas. (Michael B. Maine)


Classes from Seattle

Byrd explained when he fulfilled tirrell in 2015, when tirrell was one particular of the contributors in Exhibiting Out, he found tirrell to be “creative and intelligent,” but also “reticent” and “intimidated by things.”

Just a calendar year or so later, tirrell was working the method and, over the decades, has expanded it and lifted the profiles of dozens of promising young artists. 

“Over the a long time I’ve discovered this amazing growth in not just dani’s artistry, but in dani’s assurance,” said Byrd. “Dani’s perform obtained much better. ‘Black Bois’ was a person of the most interesting points I have witnessed in Seattle ever. I want all people would expand with that type of integrity.” 

“Contributing to the rise and the presence of African American choreographers, to me that is the big legacy. Dani worked tirelessly,” says Donald Byrd, choreographer and artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theatre, shown here at a 2019 rehearsal of Byrd’s “The Harlem Nutcracker.” “I don’t know what’s going to happen with all of that now that dani’s not here.” (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)


Tirrell is quite conscious of that development as well. As a baby, tirrell was really shy and tranquil. 

“That particular person did not have the voice that they have now,” explained tirrell. Growing up exterior of Detroit, tirrell’s dance encounters have been primarily in greater part white studios and educational facilities. 

“You experienced to combat to be the best. I began to question myself and my capability,” explained tirrell. “Still some of that lingers currently, but not so significantly. When you have people matters and you’re previously a definitely shy particular person, you never go for what you believe you’re meant to go for.” 

These days, people who know tirrell would be astonished to listen to words and phrases like “reticent” and “intimidated” attributed to the artist. Instead, they use terms like “loud,” “authentic,” “honest,” “leader.” 

As a chief in the neighborhood arts scene, tirrell has usually been the “loud” voice pushing for alter to make guaranteed the most below- and misrepresented artists have not just alternatives, but encouragement, aid and local community. 

“Dani is under no circumstances really just working for them selves. Dani is normally in service to other individuals,” stated O’Neal.  

That dedication to assistance partly arrives from tirrell’s aversion to the cutthroat atmosphere and lack of option in tirrell’s early dance times. In the courses tirrell teaches and shows tirrell choreographs now, the focus is much less on the perfection of method or staying the finest. 

Randy Ford (aka Aísha Noir), left, dances during a rehearsal for “Black Bois” at Meany Hall at the University of Washington in 2020. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)


Randy Ford (aka Aísha Noir) a dance artist, friend of tirrell’s and authentic cast member of “Black Bois,” says tirrell’s personal choreography system assisted her gain a further knowledge of who she is. 

“If it wasn’t for ‘Black Bois’, you would not be listening to Aísha Noir, you would not be viewing Randy Ford,” she reported. “Dani has normally encouraged me to be my rawest self. I want to have that with me in my do the job.” 

At the conclude of every course tirrell teaches, the pupils circle up and “pour words of adore and affirmation into each individual other,” stated Olivia Anderson, a pupil in the Street Kinds system tirrell taught with O’Neal at the University of Washington. 

“When I took dani’s course, it shifted my perspective,” explained Anderson. “I could truly feel that it wasn’t about starting to be a improved dancer, it was about getting a greater human being.” 

The artists whose life tirrell has touched worry getting rid of the advocacy and treatment tirrell has poured into Seattle, but they are also the ones who feel named to action in and try out to fill the quite a few roles that tirrell held listed here. 

“The get the job done that is becoming established by Black people in this metropolis is however loud in the finest way. It’s starting to get louder now for the reason that dani’s not heading to be yelling for us any longer,” reported Wiley.

Tirrell has gained lessons from living and working as a Black queer particular person in Seattle as very well. 

“[Seattle] is not an uncomplicated area in particular if you are a Black man or woman, specifically if you are a Black girl or Black femme,” said tirrell, who at first arrived to Seattle for the reason that tirrell’s husband or wife received a position below. “This is a really hard put. As much as I required to operate out of this spot, I had to find out the classes. If you can make it out listed here, you are executing fantastic. D.C. will be a breeze.” 

What’s future?

So what is it about Washington, D.C., and Dance Area that is drawing tirrell absent from Seattle? 

Tirrell suggests it’s about having to know the dance scene on a extra countrywide scale. 

“I’m thrilled about being capable to be in far more nationally centered conversations about dance and movement and art,” explained tirrell. “At situations, I assume you can be extremely isolated within of the Northwest, i.e. the Seattle space. That is not a lousy or a fantastic matter. It is a factor. I recognize how a great deal I really do not know about what’s heading on for the reason that we tend to be so isolated. So I’m excited to open up up area to study more.” 

Tirrell has no strategies to prevent producing noise and creating neighborhood in D.C. In a lot of techniques, tirrell says, the situation at Dance Place will be a way to establish on the perform that tirrell has completed in this article in Seattle. 

Dancers rehearse “Black Bois” at the University of Washington in 2020. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)


“I’m attaining information primarily to assistance Black and brown and queer and trans artists. We have to understand factors at a distinctive charge, and I really don’t imply slower. We have to do much extra perform,” stated tirrell. “If we have much more people that glimpse like me, if we have additional persons that think broadly about Black and brown and queer and trans artists, then we’re ready to drive us ahead in a way … I really do not feel any of this function is for me to keep on to. It is for me to also give resources and resources to artists that never have entry to it.”

At a time when quite a few arts organizations are reckoning with institutional cultures and policies that have negatively impacted Black and brown and queer and trans artists, even those sad to see tirrell go are keen to see what tirrell can do with a additional national system. 

“Dani’s journey inclusive of lifestyle lessons will enrich and educate a broad group during this time of unrest,” stated Melba Ayco, the artistic director of Northwest Tap Link and a person who turned like loved ones to tirrell. “I will relaxation a lot easier understanding dani tirrell is at the helm of a countrywide system.” 

Despite the fact that this move will be a good chance for particular growth, tirrell has no intention of leaving everyone guiding. 

“I have been declaring anything these days out loud that I do not think a large amount of us have a tendency to say — I want the bigger matters. Be it even larger platforms to generate on and with, much more recognition for the matters that I do, far more visibility, and I have been so worried to say that out loud, but I imagine as an artist you crave selected matters,” claimed tirrell. “Those factors will allow me to open up up doors for so quite a few other people. I’m not carrying out this by yourself …. I want to continue to keep supplying again in the most significant, boldest, fiercest way attainable.

“I want that. We should have it.”