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A choreopoem is a form of dramatic expression that combines poetry, dance, music, and song.[1] The term was first coined in 1975[2] by American writer Ntozake Shange in a description of her work, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Shange's attempt to depart from traditional western poetry and storytelling resulted in a new art form that doesn't contain specific plot elements or characters, but instead focuses on creating an emotional response from the audience.[3] In Shange's work, nontraditional spelling and African American Vernacular English are aspects of this genre that differ from traditional American literature.[4] She emphasizes the importance of movement and nonverbal communication throughout the choreopoem so that it is able to function as a theatrical piece rather than being limited to poetry or dance.[5]

The "XX Chromosome Genome Project" by S. Ann Johnson is a contemporary example of a choreopoem. It combines poetry, song and dance to illuminate the commonalities and differences between women of various cultures.[6] In this choreopoem, Johnson writes about eight women in search of self-acceptance and liberation. These colorfully dressed women, who are named after flavors of foods, represent international cultures around the world through music, spoken word, and movement.[7]

Another contemporary artist championing the choreopoem is Monica Prince,[8] author of How to Exterminate the Black Woman ([PANK], 2020)[9], and the forthcoming Roadmap (SFWP 2023). Prince teaches the art of the choreopoem at Susquehanna University.[10]


Ntozake Shange innovated the genre in 1974 in Berkeley, California at the women's bar “Bacchanal”. It was in the Bay where she was working with a group of women that consisted of dancers, musicians, and poets. During this time, Shange trained in dance with Sawyer, Mock, and Halifu Osumare, who were credited with helping usher Shange into her passion for dance. The concept of choreopoem initially descends from ancient West and Central African traditions however, Shange's modern and diasporic configuration of the practice stemmed not only from an homage to her African roots, but also from her participation in women's studies, dance, and poetry, which all conflated to create her Black American and Atlantic interdisciplinary genre.[11]

Influenced by women from the Black Arts Movement, based on Black Nationalism that encouraged black separatism, and the feminist arts movement, which focused on using art of various mediums as acts against war and in favor of civil and homosexual rights,[12] Shange was inspired by the Black Arts Movement and the many women of the movement in the late 1960s who were using their work to challenge the Black Aesthetic's disposition and centering of Black patriarchy and masculinity. Thus, her genre and praxis created an explorative and central space for Black Women's various and complex experiences, in a personal, familiar, yet crafted language and voice. Her genre of choreopoem substantiated processes of narrative creation beyond what existed in both European Western theatrical dance practices and in the Black Theatre tradition alike. She understood and criticized the Black Theatre tradition's role in recreating Eurocentric frameworks of creativity and thought within Black communities. She urged Black artists to look to Afrocentric, interdisciplinary, and alternative forms of artistic communication and structures instead.[13]

During summer 1974, while working with choreographer Paula Moss, Shange created about twenty poems that were understood as a larger choreographic project. During this time, her first formal, published, and most renowned choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, was developed.[Barnard Archives 1] Working closely with choreographer Dianne McIntyre, Shange was able to confront her childhood experiences through movement. McIntyre helped to choreograph for colored girls with Shange, as they wanted to convey awareness and community through dance.[14] The inclusion of movement and dance in a choreopoem was as essential to her as the poetry aspect. Shange described that "with dance (she) discovered (her) body more intimately than (she) had imagined possible."[15] Shange’s emphasis on dance was a result of her experience with African dance and movement classes as well as her exposure to Santeria through dance and music as it relates to African dance.[16]

Shange found that Black performance art as a theatrical practice was more suited for the abstract interdisciplinary work she was creating, compared to that of prior Western theatrical traditions. Chorepoem in its nature creates an intersection between the physical materiality of the written poems and the embodied meaning, rhythms, sounds, and experiences embedded within them, thereby creating new possibilities, new theatrical traditions, new languages, new narratives, and new worlds. After for colored girls, Shange continued to explore and utilize choreopoem, creating works such as boogie woogie landscapes (1977), From Okra to Greens/A Different Kinda Love Story: A Play/With Music & Dance (1978), Spell #7 (1979), and A photograph: lovers in motion (1979). Many other artists including her friend and collaborator Dianne McIntyre have also innovated within the choreopoem genre, which has also become increasingly popular and inspirational among younger generations of artists, proving the immense and ongoing creative impact it had, particularly on women of color artists.[17]

Choreopoems by Ntozake Shange[edit]

Choreopoems by other authors[edit]

  • How to Exterminate the Black Woman by Monica Prince ([PANK], 2020)[18]
  • Roadmap (SFWP, 2023)[19]
  • I Am A Black American by Peter Shaffer[20]
  • Langston by Tom Krusinski[21]
  • "Love Soup" by Tom Krusinski[22]
  • XX Chromosome Genome Project by S. Ann Johnson[23]
  • You're All I Need To Get By written by Sababu Norris and Dr. James Mumford, choreographed by Nina Butts, and performed by Hampton University's Department of Speech Communications and Theatre Arts (1985)[24]


  1. ^ "To start with a word and end with a gesture". Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  1. ^ Rawson, Christopher (March 7, 2008). ""Layla" is Forceful "Choreopoem"". ProQuest. ProQuest 390693272.
  2. ^ Cox-Cordova, Jill (July 21, 2009). "Shange's 'For Colored Girls' has lasting power". CNN. Archived from the original on November 29, 2010. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  3. ^ rorydean (February 22, 2011). "For Colored Girls (2010)". Above the Line. Retrieved October 11, 2011.
  4. ^ Waxman, Barbara (Autumn 1994). "Dancing out of Form, Dancing into Self: Genre and Metaphor in Marshall, Shange, and Walker". MELUS. 19 (3): 91–106. doi:10.2307/467874. JSTOR 467874.
  5. ^ "Shange, Ntozake". literati. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  6. ^ "The XX Chromosome Genome Project by S. Ann Johnson". 2 Pens & Lint LLC. Archived from the original on May 12, 2014. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
  7. ^ Matema, ZSun-Nee. "'XX Chromosome Genome Project' at Hamilton Arts Center". DC Metro Theater Arts. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  8. ^ Episode #186 Monica Prince on Choreopoems and Her Journey to Poetry, retrieved 2022-03-21
  9. ^ admin (2020-03-26). "How to Exterminate the Black Woman (a Choreopoem) by Monica Prince". [PANK]. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  10. ^ "Monica Prince". Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  11. ^ Morris Johnson, Nicole M. (2018). "Ntozake Shange and the Choreopoem". The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance: 333–336.
  12. ^ "Feminist Art Movement". The Art Story Foundation. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  13. ^ Morris Johnson, Nicole, M (2017). "Ntozake Shange and the Choreopoem". The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance: 333–336.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Brooks, Kara (February 10, 2012). "Ntozake Shange on Why She Had to Dance". The Oberlin Review. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  15. ^ Collins, Lisa (2006). "Activists Who Yearn for Art That Transforms: Parallels in the Black Arts and Feminist Art Movements in the United States". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 31 (3): 717–752. doi:10.1086/498991.
  16. ^ Effiong, Philip. "Ntozake Shange's Choreopoem: Reinventing a Heritage of Poetry and Dance" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 12, 2014. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  17. ^ Morris Johnson, Nicole M. (2018). "Ntozake Shange and the Choreopoem". The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance.
  18. ^ Prince, Monica. "Monica Prince Choreopoems Scholar". Monica Prince. Retrieved 2022-02-27.
  19. ^ "SFWP". Santa Fe Writers Project. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  20. ^ Riddick, Sharon (March 12, 1986). "Choreopoem production teachers black history". ProQuest: 13. ProQuest 569411136.
  21. ^ "Dancer From 'The Wiz' Joins Cast Of Singin' & Shoutin'". ProQuest. ProQuest 184480702.
  22. ^ Temin, Christine (October 30, 1980). "The total theater approach: REVIEW DANCE". ProQuest: 45. ProQuest 1009981415.
  23. ^ Matema, ZSun-nee. "'XX Chromosome Genome Project' at Hamilton Arts Center". DC Metro Theater Arts. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  24. ^ "Musical production at Hampton University". ProQuest: 12. March 13, 1985. ProQuest 569402585.

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