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Meet Michelle Grant-Murray of Olujimi Dance Collective

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Grant-Murray.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Michelle. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am a Black Woman born and raised in the South. My parents were high school sweethearts. I moved to Miami at 13 years old and lived in Opa-Locka. My life experiences are complex, intricate, and diverse. I have two children and I am married. I am an inquisitive, spiritual, grounded, down to earth and loyal woman. My dance career is complex and diverse. I began dancing at 8 years old in Texas with Sue Henderson. I was the only Black child in the dance school and as a form of physical therapy to strengthen my abdominal muscles. Rather than surgery, the doctor recommended that my mother enroll me in dance class to close the muscles in my stomach from a hernia. This was when I met my passion for Dance. I went on to major in Dance Education at Jacksonville University, Cultural Studies and Pedagogy at FIU (Master of Arts) and Choreography at Jacksonville University (Master of Fine Arts). My rooted culture connection to dance always thrived. I grew up vibrant in my home full of life and liberation. My grandparents were avid music and dance connoisseurs. There was always blues, rock, soul, music playing in my house. There was always dancing, good food, and plenty of laughter in the air. There were always good people around that loved and protected one another. Dance has played a tremendous role in my life; guiding me through some of the most challenging and rewarding times. Dance is my gateway to the universe. Movement carries the history and culture of people andCulture nurtures the universe with the minerals needed for substance and sustainability. I am passionate about nature, unity, diversity, love, compassion, and dreams. I always knew that I wanted to work with people that share a similar passion about life. This is why I created Olujimi Dance Collective.

Olujimi Dance Collective is a multi-faceted concept that is community-inspired. The collective is composed of diverse artists that share a common goal of EXCELLENCE. The intersectionality of the ODC is centered around Black identity as the core of the creative process. Olujimi Dance Collective includes dancers, performers, filmmakers, choreographers, dance education, scholars, visual artists, and musicians.

The company was originally formed in 1992 in Okinawa, Japan. My husband (a military veteran) was stationed there for four years. Okinawa is a magical land, filled with creativity, innovation, ancestral memory, culture, history, and a unique philosophy that intersects with West African spirituality. This information fueled my being and NEED to dance, perform and create. My passion for dance was heightened by my experiences with the community, nature, spirituality and culture. I became a mother in Okinawa. This celebrated time of my life inspired my creative practice and process. Upon returning back to the United States in 1995, I focused on dance pedagogy. The company resurfaced in 2012 as a Dance Company, Olujimi Dance Theatre. Meeting and mentoring young artists (dancers, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists) has been a HUGE inspiration. The opportunity to witness their growth and development inspired me to create Olujimi Dance Collective – a safe space, free of judgment that inspires creativity, love, hope, peace and promotes gratitude.

“When “I” is replaced by “We,” Illness Becomes Wellness! ” – Malcom X

Throughout my life practice, I have met so many people that come to the arts broken by the illness and effects of diseases such as racism, patriarchy, hegemony, emotional, mental and physical abuse, spiritual condemnation; my innate nature is to provide and hold space that promotes a deep-rooted and ground philosophy of love that stands the test time. This is real “understanding.” A place, thought, idea that is deeply rooted and moves in the stance of LOVE. WE NEED HEALING! The Arts provide healing.

As a Black Woman, I wear many hats. My number one J.O.B. is Wife, Mother. Right now, I am the Coordinator of Dance at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus, Founder and Artistic Director of Olujimi Dance Collective, Artist in Resident at Live Arts Miami and Deering Estates, Co-founder of Florida Black Dance Artist Organization, and Founder and Curator of the Black Artist Talk. I am working towards inspiring the next generation of Artistic Leaders to move into the Afro-Future with authenticity, grace, tenacity, brilliance, excellence, compassion, and radical expressionism.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Life is challenging. A life of abundance, gratitude, compassion, empathy, and tenacious creativity is brought challenges and obstacles. I have had many challenges in life. Each challenge uncovers and reveals a new part of me. I am an introverted and private person so dealing with obstacles is hard because I tend to close myself off. I am working on this aspect of me. I spend a lot of time in prayer, meditation, and talking to the water. The strength, determination, compassion, and grace of God guide me. I honor my Ancestors and God in all things. This process brings peace and focus. I am able to meet the challenges and work through the obstacles. Obstacles and Challenges reveal to make you stronger and prepare you for the future. I am thinking of an African Proverb, “Don’t ask me where I am going but where I come from.” I come from pounded yams sprinkled to cinnamon, allspice, corrandier, nutmeg, agave, honey, pink salt, drizzled fresh churned butter, perfectly seasoned collard greens with a dash of apple cider vinegar, scotch bonnet peppers garnished with succulent green onion, herb infused hot water cornbread, and lemon mint iced tea! I am a Southern Woman full of life. The obstacles and challenges serve as blessings in disguise to nudge us forward.

Please tell us about Olujimi Dance Collective.
Olujimi Dance Collective (ODC) is composed of dancers, performers, choreographers, and storytellers who are committed to preservation, sustainability, ecology, and feminine power. ODC is committed to uplifting the lives of Black Females on multitude levels that involve healing, spirituality, empowerment, education and excellence. We present in a variety of mediums from conversations, lectures-demonstrations, master classes, artist residencies, and performances. The work of the collective is process-driven and works as a healing agent to unearth ancestral knowledge, stories and relationships. We produce programs such as “The Black Artist Talk” that was inspired by conversations with other Black and Brown Dance Artists in the community, nationally, and internationally. These conversations were sparked by the sensibilities of Black bodies in artistic spaces, the complexities and authenticity that exist within culture and how this information was celebrated, heightened, intuitive and often appropriated. This included conversations connected to spirituality, physicality, embodied wisdom, science, business, and ecology. Choreographed works include “UnEarth (2012)”; Kahina” A Tangled Root (2016); Omi (2019) and “Rosewater” (2020). Currently, I am working on investigating the power of spirituality in the Black Female body and the intersection of masculinity.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Leleigh McCurdy, Aria Grant, Ruth Jackson, Mamie Ruth Jackson-Grant, Hattie Mae Newton, Elma Newton-Henry, Lena Mae Henry-Grant Mellerson. I am the product of a kind, loving, and tenacious Black Women. The women in my family are filled with a diverse sense of knowing. I was always told by my mother that “common sense is not common to everybody.” Acknowledge and explore your sensibilities as “other ways of knowing.”; street sense, spiritual sense, intellectual sense, emotional sense, physical sense, and ecological sense. These women taught me about the value and importance of spirituality as your primary sense of knowing. They taught me how to listen to nature, the animals, the water, my body, and my children as clear directives in regard to foundation, future, character, and persona. Because of this information, I am a keen observer of birds, ants, dogs, the wind, water, air, fire, and most definitely the cosmos. I never travel alone. My ancestors guide and protect me. Naturally, my mentors are divinely selected. Dr. Carole Boyce-Davies, Dr. Linda Spears-Bunton, Dr. Joan Burroughs, Marica Grant (my Auntie), Dr. Brenda Dixon-Gottschild.

My #1 cheerleaders are my children, my husband, my family and the young people that I work with. I am inspired by their independence, determination, motivation, love of life and connection to nature. As a mother, my children are a true source of creativity, innovation and clarity. My children, and the young people that I mentor and teach, motivate me and keep me youthful while at the same time embracing and sharing wisdom.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
“Omi”, Miami Light Project Here and Now 2019, “Kahina: A Tangled Root” Norton Museum 2019, “Kahina: A Tangled Root” at the Historic Virginia Key Beach 2018, “Beyond the Surface: American Dance History” Vol 1, 2013, Kendall Hunt Publishing, “Omi”, Perez Art Museum, 2018

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