Detroit is many things: the birthplace of soul, a living history of the American auto industry, and, in recent years, a story of African-American resourcefulness and economic rebirth.
For dancer Erika “Big Red” Stowall, the motor city is a canvas, on which to express her femininity, reclaim personal safety, and be “vulnerable, but powerful as well” through choreography and movement.
Watch Stowall showcases her blend of styles (movement she calls “mutt” or “gumbo”) in Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood, including in front of the old Michigan Central Station train depot. In the early 20th century, tens of thousands of African Americans from the south arrived at this very station to start new lives in the urban north.
Stowall started dancing at the age of four focused on African and Caribbean traditions, and later studied jazz, tap, ballet and contemporary dance. In her own words, she developed early, and dealing with the attention of men at a formative age has inspired her to empower women through her company Big Red Wall.
And, of course, her city is a constant source for thematic material.
“To be a dancer in Detroit, you have to acknowledge where you are," she says. "You're seeing people being pushed out, unwanted. As a black woman myself, that's not something I'm going to stand for and tolerate.”