DANCE NEWS: The Bessies Announce Honorees of Lifetime Achievement and Service to the Field of Dance Awards

DANCE NEWS: The Bessies Announce Honorees of Lifetime Achievement and Service to the Field of Dance Awards

Published on September 10, 2021
DanceAfrica: Spirit Walkers; Photo by Paul Bartlett

Congratulations to Choreographer, Director, and Producer George Faison and to DanceAfrica

The NY Dance and Performance Awards, The Bessies, New York City’s premier dance awards honoring outstanding creative work in the field, announced today that choreographer, director, and producer George Faison will receive the 2021 Bessie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance, and DanceAfrica, an annual celebration of African and African-American dance, music, and culture, will receive this year’s award for Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance. The two awards will be presented at the 37th annual Bessie Awards ceremony on Monday, October 11.

“We are elated to honor dance and performance pillars George Faison and DanceAfrica,” said Heather Robles, Executive Director of The Bessies. “George Faison has been a longtime pioneer in dance. Similarly, DanceAfrica has been celebrating dance, art, and culture for decades. The impact of their work spans generations, sharing and celebrating Black genius with communities around the world.”

A headshot of George Faison in which he gently holds his chin and looks straight at the camera
George Faison

George Faison, DFA, University of Massachusetts, award-winning, internationally celebrated producer, writer, essayist, composer, director, choreographer, and dancer, made history in 1975 when he became the first African American to win a Tony Award for best choreography for The Wiz! Faison began his career as a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His Broadway career began with the musical Purlie. After leaving the Ailey Company, he formed his own company, the George Faison Universal Dance Experience, and went on to create several American dance classics of his own: Slaves, Suite Otis, Gazelle, and Poppie. He has also choreographed and staged concerts for musical greats including Ashford & Simpson, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dionne Warwick, Stephanie Mills, and many others.  Faison has directed regional productions at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ, Center Stage in Baltimore, the Kennedy Center, and the Public Theater in New York. He is also the author of several musicals: Apollo, It Was Just Like Magic which starred Morgan Freeman, Clarice Taylor, and S. Epatha Merkerson; Sing Mahalia Sing with Jennifer Holiday; If This Hat Could Talk, based on the life of Dorothy I. Height; and, most recently, Bah Humbug from the Notorious E.B. Scrooge based on A Christmas Carol. His film credits include Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club BandThe Cotton Club, Driving Me Crazy, and The Josephine Baker Story.

In 2000, Faison, along with co-founder Tad Schnugg, established The Faison Firehouse Theater in a decommissioned firehouse in Harlem, which was branded “Hollywood in Harlem” by the media. He is a co-producer/artistic director of the critically acclaimed citywide SummerStage Harlem Dance Caravan at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park. In 1999, he created The Firehouse Respect Project, a youth empowerment troupe for community outreach that continues today. He recently co-produced the 10th anniversary gala of The History Makers: An Evening with Valerie Simpson in Honor of Nick Ashford and directed Steppin’ Out of the Negro Caravan at Howard University.

His current season will include three premieres of Noa Ain’s multigenerational chamber jazz opera, TrioBitch, a series of monologues by Datra Martindale and Kim Williams; The Timeless Language of James Baldwin with Avery Books; On Common Ground, about men and women facing the facts about domestic violence, Steppin’ Out of the Negro Caravan, African-American literature and the American experience; and a multimedia installation called Harlem, Virtually Yours! Faison has recently directed and choreographed The Wiz 40th Anniversary Celebration, a co-production with SummerStage in Central Park. He is currently producing and directing a new musical entitled Whitney Houston: The Last Interview.

A clump of colorfully-clad dancers reach their hands to the sky. They stand in dark light with pinstripes of white light rising vertically
DanceAfrica 2019; Photo by Julieta Cervantes

DanceAfrica is BAM’s longest-running program and America’s largest celebration of African and African-American dance, music, and culture. Created in 1977, under the artistic direction of founding elder Chuck Davis and with the aim of heightening awareness of African culture, the festival has evolved into a beloved annual Memorial Day weekend event that brings the entire community together. In 2015, the leadership baton was passed to Abdel R. Salaam, who now serves as artistic director. 

Each year DanceAfrica welcomes a new visiting company from Africa or its diaspora. The performances include other traditional and contemporary dance companies, including the students of BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble, the DanceAfrica Spirit Walkers, live music, a virtual Libation Ceremony, a Procession of the Elders, and more. The weekend-long festival also includes an array of cultural and community events, film screenings, an art exhibition, and the one-and-only DanceAfrica outdoor bazaar—a global marketplace of African, African-American, and Caribbean arts, crafts, and food featuring over 200 vendors and attracting up to 30,000 visitors per year.

The virtual 2021 Bessie Awards ceremony will be held on Monday, October 11, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be available starting September 20.


The NY Dance and Performance Awards have saluted outstanding and groundbreaking creative work in the dance field in New York City for 37 years. Known as “The Bessies” in honor of revered dance teacher Bessie Schönberg, the awards were established in 1984 by David R. White at Dance Theater Workshop. They recognize outstanding work in choreography, performance, music composition, and visual design. Nominees are chosen by a selection committee composed of artists, presenters, producers, and writers. All those working in the dance field are invited to join the Bessies Membership and participate in annual discussions on the direction of the awards and nominate members to serve on the selection committee. For more information about The Bessies, visit

The Bessies Steering Committee, responsible for setting policy and providing oversight for the Bessie Awards throughout the year, is comprised of Cora Cahan, Judy Hussie-Taylor, Jeanne Linnes, Stanford Makishi, Nicky Paraiso, Carla Peterson, Craig Peterson, Gus Solomons jr, Paz Tanjuaquio, Laurie Uprichard, and Charmaine Warren.

The 2020–2021 Bessies Selection Committee: Ronald Kevin Alexander, Charles Vincent Burwell, Maria Baranova-Suzuki, Michele Byrd-McPhee, Yoshiko Chuma, Sangeeta Ghosh Yesley, Celia Ipiotis, Benjamin Akio Kimitch, Koosil-ja, Anabella Lenzu, Adesola Osakalumi, Pam Pietro, Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Elka Samuel Smith, George Emílio Sanchez, Elgie Gaynell Sherrod, Andrea Snyder, Ivan Talijancic, and Philip Treviño.

The Dance Enthusiast Shares news from the dance world and creates conversation.
For more Dance News pieces, click here.
If you have important news to share, please send announcements or press release to!

The Dance Enthusiast - News, Reviews, Interviews and an Open Invitation for YOU to join the Dance Conversation.

Related Features

View More Features