Dance: Rod Rodgers, Dancer & Choreographer


Rod Rodgers, was  a modern dance choreographer known for dances  often motivated by social themes expressed with quiet passion.

In a career that spanned 40 years he was a prominent member of the second generation of black choreographers in New York that suffered  from the limited opportunities for black dance artists but also because his work did not fit into the stereotype of ''black dance'' as either bold, accessible and jazz-driven social-protest works.

Born in Cleveland, Mr. Rodgers grew up in Detroit, where he studied tap and jazz dance. Later, he performed in clubs and resorts while studying with teachers who had trained with such black dance pioneers as Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus. In 1962 he left for New York, where he studied with Mr. Hawkins, Mary Anthony and Hanya Holm. Three years later, he became the director of the dance project at Mobilization for Youth, where he created a popular lecture-demonstration program called ''Dance Poems . . . Black, Brown, Negro.'' 

''Each dance I create has grown out of my personal experience as a black American.  My function in the Revolution will be to share my personal experience through dance, a vital and growing experience, not to show only old stereotypes or create new ones.”

Mr. Rodgers is probably best known for his experimentation with form and unusual music, most notably in his signature 1968 ''Tangents.'' Set to scores by Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, the piece featured dancers manipulating long white sticks that extended the line of their bodies, served as percussion instruments and suggested emotional states.

Two central elements in Mr. Rodgers's dance aesthetic could be seen in the piece, the dance writer Don McDonagh suggested. The flowing movement was in the style of Erick Hawkins, with whom Mr. Rodgers had danced, and sticks had been used similarly in African dances. In ''Tangents''  Rodgers mapped out ''insular isolation with geometric precision.'' Rodgers created dances inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a particular hero of his, and Malcolm X, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes and other noted black artists and activists. 

His searing ''Box '71'' evoked the prisons that men make inside themselves. He dedicated his 1987 ''Victims'' to ''victims of nuclear war, past and future.'' And he was a tireless participant in programs like Dancemobile in the 1970's and 80's that brought dance to communities with little or no exposure to the art form. 

Mr. Rodgers's racially integrated company was founded in 1966 and is still in existence, with headquarters on East Fourth Street. Many of its dancers went on to important choreographic careers of their own. Mr. Rodgers's dances were also performed by troupes including Philadanco and the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble.

Something of a Renaissance man of the arts, he was also a percussion player, photographer, graphics designer and dance teacher. He choreographed ''Aida'' for the Syracuse Opera Company and ''The Black Cowboys'' for the Harlem Opera at City Center. He choreographed off-Broadway productions, including ''The Prodigal Sister'' for Woody King Jr. He performed in and choreographed several television specials.

Mr. Rodgers's work was presented in the first Dance Black America festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1983. 

He was 64 when he died from complications from a stroke,