For a young Vikki Baltimore-Dale, a career in dance was hard to envision. Though she had trained in Washington D.C. with the best teachers her mother could find, there didn’t seem to be the right place for her. She thought modeling would offer more opportunities.
Then Walter Nicks, an African American modern and jazz dancer, took her under his wing. “I also saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and was absolutely blown away,” said Baltimore-Nicks, now a professor of jazz dance at UNLV. “I knew I wanted to perform concert dance with an African American cultural aesthetic. I was then at a university where I never saw this kind of aesthetic. I related to it immediately. It fit me like a glove.”
Since then, she has taken countless other dancers under her own wing as she became a pioneer in the field of Black dance, eventually authoring the only textbook that exists on the subject.
Her career includes being a company member of George Faison’s Universal Dance Experience in New York City and performing on Broadway in the role of Sophisticated Lady in the musical Bubbling Brown Sugar. Her movie credits include The Green Lady in the Wiz as well as The Blues Brothers, and Francis Ford Coppola's One From The Heart.
She was the first to teach master jazz dance classes at Yunan Art Institute in Kunming China and the University of Novosibirsk, Russia. Her choreography commissions include “Continuum I and II” for the legendary Cleo Parker-Robinson Dance (Denver), “Pressure II” for Windows International Dance Company (Hong Kong), and Kaleidoscope (New York).
When she joined UNLV 32 years ago, Baltimore-Dale was the first Black faculty member in the College of Fine arts and has shared her knowledge and talent with thousands of students since.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I was put in dance by my mother who saw the classic movie The Red Shoes. It was about a young lady who puts on red pointe shoes and can never stop dancing.
Two things stick in my mind during my younger years dancing. The first is the outstanding instructors she chose for my training. My mother never danced, but she sought out the best academies and studios in D.C. She did her research, which I love to do as well.
Second is my experiencing my mother’s emotional and physical upset when a prestigious school told her they did not accept Black youth. This school was run by a well-known Mexican dance artist. It was a devastating affront to her because he was a minority himself. Those two situations gave me a thirst to research and a desire to show the world the value of Black dance and how it has impacted the dance arena.
Tell us about a time in your life you were daring.
Authoring a textbook to assist the course I constructed titled Survey of African American Dance was quite daring for me. I had not authored anything but my master’s dissertation. However, the professor who was my advisor at the time mentioned to me that from my writings he thought I should write a textbook. He was a point of inspiration when I dared to follow through with authoring the textbook. It is the only course and textbook of its kind
Producing a "DANcumentary" (a name coined by me) was another daring undertaking. I had never formatted film and dance in such a way. A DANcumentary is a marriage of dance and documentaries reflecting socio-political civil rights issues and commentary. The formatting and emphasis highlight the past and contemporary emotional impact of pertinent information in a tactile creation of movement form and historical notation.
During the Covid pandemic, and in honor of George Floyd, I choreographed and directed two DANcumentarie” — "Off the Chain I…Disrespect" and “Off the Chain II…Reverse the Curse." My subject matter included slavery and lynchings but to my surprise they were well received and appreciated for their eye-opening messages.
The DANcumentary has prompted me to form a production company, The Arc. At present, the company consists of former students from UNLV Dance. DANcumentaries will be used as an educational tool in the academic arena to supplement issues that are often avoided.
You have served on the board of directors for the International Association of Blacks in Dance. How has that helped your teaching?
This position has opened the door to coordinate, choreograph, and direct the traveling performances of UNLV dance majors to IABD conferences. The students have performed in Toronto, Dallas, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia and at the prestigious Kennedy Center in DC. In the 10 years as a board member of the IABD, I have taken at least 58 students to perform on the same stage as Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey 2, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance 2, Dallas Black 2, and other iconic second companies.
What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?
Not to take tap because it makes your thighs large.
Tell us about your recent award and what it means to you.
I received the third Dr. Bert Babero Sr. Faculty/Staff Award in 2021 in recognition of my record of serving Black students at UNLV through research, teaching, mentorship, and advising. It was awarded by the Student Diversity and Social Justice organization. This award was especially important to me because UNLV students from different disciplines nominated and voted for the recipients of the award.
It was additionally rewarding because it meant that 25 years of sharing information about the African American experience had permeated the student body and kept alive information of great importance that had been overlooked. The recognition and sharing knowledge of my heritage has made UNLV and the world academically richer.
What do laypeople usually ask you about your field?
Earlier in my career, they thought dance was an easy major to complete.
Tell us about an object in your office and what it represents to you.
I surround myself with special experiences or finds. I have a younger picture of Alvin Ailey which is a rare find. And a picture of Cleo Parker Robinson and myself — it’s special because Cleo, an icon and pioneer of dance, commissioned me to choreograph two works. There is also a picture of one of the works, Continuum I, performed by an all-male cast on my desk. There are also artworks from students who took my Survey of African American Dance course.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Watching my animals do what they were created to do. Dogs run, fish swim in their aquariums, and parakeets fly free in a special part of my home.