As a late afternoon sunbeam lights up the Concord Academy Dance Studio, four students in a Dance 2 class are working on their final composition. Led by Destiny Polk, a dancer, poet and activist in her first year as a Wilcox Fellow in Performing Arts, they begin with a warmup, moving fluidly in a circle, as if through water. Then as a small audience assembles, Polk explains the assignment.
“I asked them: If they could have one magical superpower, what would it be?” Polk says. She smiles at the students encouragingly, then at the audience. “That’s what they are going to show you through dance.”
Using the body to tell a story or express an emotion is at the heart of Polk’s work as a dancer, teacher, and activist. A Boston native, she began dancing at the age of 4 and remembers the inspiration she felt when her grandmother took her to see the Alvin Ailey dance company, showing her the first of her role models. “My grandmother would point at a dancer and say, ‘She looks like you,’” Polk remembers. “I could always see myself being a performer.” Another of her heroes is Anna Deveare Smith, whose documentary-style theater speaks to Polk’s belief in the power of art to create political, and personal, transformation.
With that belief in mind, Polk created the digital platform Radical Black Girl, with the goal of building more community among artists of color and more paid opportunities for their work. Polk’s website showcases her own dance, poetry, and choreography, as well as collaborative work with other artists. In addition to the online platform, Polk has worked on community engagement and dance projects in Boston, Cambridge, and Chicago. Last year, the Milton Academy alumna suspended her formal studies at Wesleyan University in order to pursue arts and activism on her own.
Polk created the digital platform Radical Black Girl, with the goal of building more community among artists of color and more paid opportunities for their work.Polk credits her parents for supporting her choice and keeping her grounded. “My mom always said, “You can be an artist, just not a starving artist,” she says with a laugh. Her fellowship at CA has helped her share her talents with younger dancers while also continuing to be part of the Boston dance and activism scene.
An enthusiastic traveler — most recently to Cuba — Polk often bases original choreography on a poem, a travel experience, or another kind of story. It’s an approach she brings to her work with CA students.
For the student performers in Dance 2, the challenge of “choose a superpower and show it” leads to a composition about eight minutes long that blends choreography with improvisation, and solo movements with duets. It’s a task students describe as both challenging and illuminating. One dancer, Peter Connolly ’19, begins with the short blunt movements and then transitions to more elongated moves to show his hoped-for superpower: eternal life.
“It was hard, as I haven’t been dancing long, but I ended up enjoying it,” Peter says.
Zoe Green ’22, who chose “love” as her superpower, finds Polk’s emphasis on storytelling and emotion a refreshing change from dance classes that focus on pure technique. “I’ve learned a lot about how to express ideas and talk with my body,” Zoe says.
She isn’t alone. Polk’s approach to blending story with dance has generated a lot of enthusiasm on campus, says Amy Spencer, head of the Performing Arts Department and Polk’s co-teacher during the Wilcox Fellowship. “Students are really excited,” says Spencer. “Everyone wants to work with Destiny.”