I’ve been hoping to get a little more insight on his work, so I was thrilled when Helanius Wilkins, Founder and Artistic Director of Edgeworks Dance Theater, the DC-based all male dance company, agreed to answer a few of my questions. He’s been busy preparing for this weekend’s performance at the American Dance Institute, so he took my questions via email.

Maria: Let’s get the cliched question out of the way: influences. In past conversation you’ve mentioned Horton, Ailey, Bill T Jones, and martial arts as either influences or training grounds. Have you been dancing all your life? What motivates and inspires you?

Helanius J. Wilkins: While I have not been dancing all of my life, dance has always been a part of me. I do not feel that I chose dance, it chose me. It is a calling – and my career is the result of something far deeper than simply making the choice to dance. Life motivates me to dance. What I do is about life experiences, observations, and a quest to know and understand more in order to contribute to the shaping of a more socially just world.

M: In Cold Case, you faced head-on some of the brutal realities of race and racism in America. Can we expect the same frank treatment of sexuality and spirituality in [your newest work,] the determining factor? Where does this honesty come from?

HJW: Absolutely, I have no issues with addressing some of today’s most difficult issues. I believe that we are in a national crisis on so many fronts. Unless we become proactive about confronting these issues, things will never change. … The honesty comes from not being afraid to take risks – not being afraid to ask questions.

M: Community involvement was part of the foundation for the determining factor. How did that part of the process go and did it take you in any unexpected places?

HJW: Yes, the determining factor is in part the result of community collaboration. This collaboration was very enlightening, humbling, and exciting all at the same time. I have walked away with so much…And the journey is just beginning. Yes, unexpected places were a constant in the process. This made for a truly moving and wisdom filled experience.

M: In addition to the acclaim you have received for your work as an artist, it seems that you have attracted recognition from funders as well (your website has a long list of funding, recognition, and honors), including your recent feature of the Catalog of Philanthropy. Nonprofit management skills are key to making the jump from artistic genius to recognition and success. How have you balanced your choreography, teaching, and management responsibilities? What advice would you give to nascent dance companies looking build themselves as an organization?

HJW: Keeping my art first, staying connected to my passion for what I do, and being strategic about everything has been/is the key to the balancing of my responsibilities. These very things are the things I would also share with an emerging organization/artist.

M: You’re about to make your NYC debut (as a headliner) and have already had success touring domestically and internationally. What do you feel sets EDT apart to garner the attention it has, and what do you want the world to know about your work and your dancing? What are your plans for the future?

HJW: There are many things that I believe sets EDT apart from other companies. From being DC’s 1st all male contemporary dance company of predominately Black men to being the second in the nation of its kind to being a company focused on the often misunderstood voice of the african-american male. As much as our work is serious and honest it is entertaining and it reflects the stories and feelings of real people – real lives. Plans for the future: One step at a time.

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You can see Helanius Wilkins and Edgeworks Dance Theater in a preview performance of the determining factor this weekend, May 2-3 @ 8pm at the American Dance Institute in Rockville, MD.

For tickets, go to www.americandance.org

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