Opinion

Remembering ‘Baba Chuck’

Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble

Chuck Davis has led the African American Dance Ensemble for more than 30 years. Davis and his ensemble have performed across the country and around the world. He was named one of America’s 100 “irreplaceable dance treasures” by the Dance Heritage
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Chuck Davis has led the African American Dance Ensemble for more than 30 years. Davis and his ensemble have performed across the country and around the world. He was named one of America’s 100 “irreplaceable dance treasures” by the Dance Heritage

Sometimes, an individual can have far greater impact, affect the lives of people and a community in far more ways, than the simple fact of their conventional role.

Durham was privileged to be called home by one such individual, Chuck Davis, known affectionately by many here as “Baba Chuck.”

Mr. Davis died Sunday at the age of 80. He formed in 1983 the African-American Dance Ensemble, and it was as leader of that group that he was perhaps best and most widely known. He still appeared and occasionally performed with that group until shortly before his death.

He had joined the faculty of the American Dance Festival in 1974, four years before it moved from Connecticut to the campus of Duke University — adding bringing the remarkable practitioner and instructor to Durham to the ADF’s multitude of contributions to this city’s cultural and civic life.

But it was as an ebullient ambassador of love and joy that he touched so many lives here.

All I’m thinking right now is my hugs with him.

Retired ADF director Richard Reinhart

Charles Reinhart, now retired but for many years director of ADF, no doubt spoke for countless others when he reflected on Mr. Davis’ death on Sunday. “All I’m thinking right now is my hugs with him,” Reinhart said. He “could bring people together no matter what their religion, what color, their backgrounds.”

It was virtually impossible to encounter Mr. Davis, at a performance, at any of the countless events in which he participated or just by chance without feeling uplifted. He was “always a bright light,” recalled Angela Lee, executive director of the Hayti Heritage Center. “He always filled the room with his smile and with his spirit,” she told The Herald-Sun’s Cliff Bellamy. “Whenever he came to Hayti, he’d always greet us with ... a big smile and a hug and a kiss.”

You get the people involved in the dance, you’re bringing them together. That’s unity.

Chuck Davis

The dance studio at the Hayti center has been named the Chuck Davis Dance Emporium in his honor. Each year, Mr. Davis led the center’s Kwanzaa Celebration. “Dance is a unifying force … and thus it is with Kwanzaa,” Mr. Davis said in 2015, as he discussed the principles of Kwanzaa. “You get the people involved in the dance, you’re bringing them together. That’s unity.”

That principle is “so apropos because it’s what we all are striving for, especially today with all the strife and all that political crap that’s running back and forth, we want people to understand the value of self, the value of family, and the value of community,” Mr. Davis said.

We would honor him by living up to that admonition.

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