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  • Helanius J. Wilkins


At 37 I found myself proud with eyes wide open and seeing potential for a different America. Something that I never imagined possible during my lifetime happened, an African American was elected President. Seeing someone in the reflection of myself leading our country was more than a dream, but a reality. At 40 I confidently found footing in my first-ever evening-length solo dance work, /CLOSE/R. My most vulnerable and personal work to date, it marked a clear departure from the ways I had been making work with my then company, EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, and left nothing to chance. At 47 I found myself tired, overcome with fear, and afraid to walk in public. The repeated videos of police brutality incidents triggered my fear. I pushed back by choosing to learn to walk again by doing daily 12-mile walks as a personal protest and embracing making dances in open spaces.

Today, I am 48 and I find myself continuing to navigate living amid pandemics (COVID-19 and structural racism), again not something I anticipated to happen during my lifetime and circling back around to finding footing in actioning through artmaking. I feel tremendously grateful for another day – one to begin bravely and courageously writing a new chapter of my life. I feel alive, energized, and full of purpose. I also feel patient, anchored in resilience, and humbled by the learning, growing, failing, and getting back up to start over again that is yet to come.

“You have to be willing to stand on a mountain of NOs for one YES” are words that I live by from the late and effervescent B. Smith, an inspirational multi-talented Black businesswoman with a big heart. This 48th birthday finds me reflecting on my love affair and relationship with dance – one that has taught me a great deal about rejection but also about the stamina necessary for not giving up. It has been/is my life partner. It has been/is a conduit for living through my successes and failures, my joys and pains, my opportunities and roadblocks, and my strengths and weaknesses. Dance is my encouraging guide and worst critic, my friend and enemy. It keeps me honest while moving passionately in the world.

This birthday also finds me reflecting on the many collaborations that allows me to do what I do. They afford me the relationships to engage in the practice of rituals and architecture of systems that I reveal in the public presentations of my work as a means to positively impact the lives of others and the world around me. My collaborations have, and continue to, make space for letting go and choosing flight even when fear is felt repeatedly with no pattern, rhyme, or reason. Collaborations often make space where and when least expected. To that end, I am grateful to be walking into year 48 celebrating the official selection of Dirt, my most recent screendance created in collaboration with Roma Flowers (TX) and Andy Hasenpflug (PA), in two more film festivals - The 33rd Minimalen Short Film Festival (Norway) and ScreenDance Miami Festival produced by Miami Light Project! I am also grateful to be fully immersed in the dreaming, listening, and practicing connected to the construction of The Conversation Series, my latest intermedia project that will unfold as an ever changing evening-length work, with Avery Ryder Turner. In this moment, I am specifically focused on a screendance episode of the project that I am creating in collaboration with Carlos Flores of Watcheye Studios (CO).

In the words of Maya Angelou “Still I rise.” In a profession that is often synonymous with youth, I am hugging this moment with wings that want to reach new heights, a heart that wants to nurture more untold stories and make visible the invisibilized, hands and feet that want to actively participate in the practice of learning how to and creating a pathway for coexistence and belonging, and a voice that wants to collaboratively engage in conversations toward new discoveries. There is much I am inspired to do.

48, here we go…


Top Image: Studio Session.

Photography by Christopher Michael Carruth ©December 2019.

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