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Akron choreographer Dominic Moore-Dunson honors Jayland Walker in dance

Akron choreographer Dominic Moore-Dunson has examined issues of race through his work for years. He was working on a dance piece about police violence when Jayland Walker was shot to death by Akron police in 2022. As the one-year anniversary of Walker's death is commemorated, and the community grapples with the officers not being charged, Moore-Dunson's new work debuts.

Community Healing

The dance is called "inCOPnegro: Aftermath," and it explores what happens to a community in the wake of police violence as well as how a community can heal.

"We're trying to talk about, after all is said and done after the news outlets go away, after there's no more viral video, and there's this feeling that no one really cares anymore,” Moore-Dunson said. “What is that community left to do, and how do they heal with the trauma that they've experienced?"

It's a multi-discipline work featuring choreography by Moore-Dunson with original music by jazz saxophonist Chris Coles and hip-hop musician Floco Torres.

 Saxophonist Chris Coles plays his instrument with his eyes closed.
Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
Akron saxophonist Chris Coles performs music he composed for "inCOPnegro" during a recent rehearsal.

Talking about George Floyd

Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Moore-Dunson began a podcast that included conversations with Black police officers.

"I was really curious about the Black officer experience because I just never heard a Black officer talk about their experience,” he said.

Those conversations began to inform the choreography, as did Moore-Dunson's own interactions with police as a Black male.

 Four performers move on dance floor during a rehearsal of "inCOPnegro" in Akron.
Malcolm Bamba
Ideastream Public Media
"inCOPnegro" rehearsal at Balch Street Theatre in Akron

Pulled over

Back in the 2000s, just a week after getting his driver's license, Moore-Dunson recalled being pulled over.

"I was at soccer practice in Tallmadge, Ohio. And it was February, and it was cold. It was snowing… and I got stopped by a police officer,” he said, adding that three more police cruisers arrived shortly after being pulled over.

“I was asked to get out of the car, I was put on the hood of the car. I was patted down… and then at the end, they're like, ‘Oh, your tail light was out,’ and then they let me go," he said.

Over the years, Moore-Dunson estimated he's been pulled over by police more than 40 times.

 Dancer with hand covering his face in sadness as another performer moves in the background.
Dave DeOreo
Ideastream Public Media
Dominic Moore-Dunson and Floco Torres during a recent rehearsal of "inCOPnegro."

Jayland Walker

In 2022, Moore-Dunson and his collaborators were workshopping the piece at the National Center for Choreography on the University of Akron campus.

That summer the direction of the dance changed with Jayland Walker's death, which brought a new focus to the work. Moore-Dunson said he started to see for the first time how such a tragedy impacted his home town.

"When Jayland Walker was murdered one of the things I started really paying attention to is how everyone was reacting to it, and how you see that cycle of this explosion of people protesting and people really trying to show that this is wrong,” he said.

 Two men acting as father and son embrace.
Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
Dominic Moore-Dunson and Kevin Parker embrace as father and son during rehearsal of "inCOPnegro" in Akron.

He said the new dance is a gift to the community of Akron.

"We as artists have an ability to see all the unsaid things in society and in a city and in a community. So we took all those unsaid things and molded it and created it into something to hand the community for them to do with as they will,” he said. “I just hope they feel the care that we put into this for them."

inCOPnegro” is at the Balch Street Theatre in Akron through Saturday, July 1st.

Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.
Jean-Marie Papoi is a digital producer for the arts & culture team at Ideastream Public Media.