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Hamilton's Josh Taylor teaches black history through dance

Award-winning dancer and instructor has been teaching a routine based on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Selma to Montgomery marches.

Taylor is the winner of the 2015 Jackie Washington arts award

Josh Taylor, an award-winning dancer and instructor in Hamilton, has been working on a routine inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. (John Rieti/CBC)

Josh Taylor glides across the studio dance floor, spins then raises his fist to the sky. His new routine is inspired by Martin Luther King and set to a song from the Selma soundtrack — Taylor has been teaching it to local school children during Black History Month.

Before one group performed the routine, Taylor asked each dancer to imagine living in 1965 and heading out to a protest like the historic Selma to Montgomery marches.

He asked them to imagine they already had friends or family who had been beaten, or worse, and that by protesting they to were taking their lives into their own hands.

And the students got it.

"They danced it so well. They just grasped the concept," Taylor told CBC Hamilton, beaming with pride.

The only problem was that only black students came to the class, confirming a "fear" of Taylor’s that Black History Month may not be connecting the way it should be.

"You have some students who say 'that’s not my history, so I don’t need to go there'," he said.

"It defeats the whole purpose of having Black History Month."

Had students from another race showed up, he said he would have given the same speech, letting them bring their own struggles to the routine.

"Social justice is social justice," he said.

Taylor, the winner of this year’s Jackie Washington arts award as part of the Rev. John C. Holland Awards, still has plans for the Selma routine. If he can organize enough people he’s hoping to do a large-scale version of the dance for the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 21. 

Throughout Black History Month, CBC Hamilton is producing a series of portraits of people in the city’s black community and asking them what black history month means to them. An audio clip you can listen to using the player above will accompany each photograph.

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