What Inspired Shanice Sloan to Dance at the Pantheon?
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
Performance at the Pantheon
With the blessing of Josephine Baker's grandchildren, American dancer Shanice Alonya Sloan, danced in the likeness of Josephine Baker in front of the Pantheon in Paris, France on May 12, 2021. The date is one month after Josephine's day of passing, April 12, 1975 and closely follows May 8th, Victory Day for Europe Allied Forces in World War II. A twin performance is planned in NYC on May 20th, which was declared Josephine Baker Day in 1951 by the NAACP.
(photo)Josephine Baker was born in Louis, Missouri, U.S in 1906 and died on April 12, 1975 at the age of 68. She was a French citizen and is currently laid to rest in Monaco. In 1951 the NAACP declared May 20th Josephine Baker Day in honor of her achievements. A decade later she was the only women to speak at the 1963 March on Washington with Martin Luther King for American Civil Rights.
Legacy for Cabaret Performers Worldwide
The performance sought to give expression to the importance of Josephine Baker's contribution to society. Baker was France's first black international star, she was a feminist, a French resistance fighter, an American civil rights activists. For the dance community she is the epitome of showgirl wit, charm, and glamour. Josephine is still discussed and celebrated nearly 40 years after her death. The famous banana skirt remains outrageous even today and society still tries to make sense of the innumerable persona's Josephine presented.
Shanice Alonya Sloan proposed the idea to Christopher Renfurm, founder of Cabaret Diversity, shortly after working together on CDN's first official photoshoot on May 9th. A fellow cabaret star, Melissa Sicre, shared a news reportage from France24 about the 2008 petition which proposes that Josephine Baker be pantheonized. That is to say, for Josephine Baker to be laid to rest among the 80 most notable and influential people of French society. Shortly after, the idea came to life.
Today in France there is an movement for Josephine Baker to be given the honor that only 5 other women have been given. Politicians, scientists, writers, painters and soldiers are among the 80 immortalized inside, however, no performing artist, man or woman, has been received inside the Pantheon. Laurent Kupferman, the French essayist and advocate for the petition to pantheonize Josephine, is quoted in 2021 Interview on France Musique saying,
"The qualities which are attributed to Josephine Baker are specific to the expectations of the moment. [...] Her pantheonization would be a powerful symbol of national unity, emancipation, and French universalism."
Kupferman started the petition on V Day, May 8 of 2008. A symbolic day to say France will be again victorious when president Emmanuel Macron honors Josephine Bakers embodiment of French ideals. Furthermore, Kupferman believes by adding a dancer and singer to the Pantheon will show how essential performing arts are.
Shanice has allure. That mischievous twinkle in her eye is telling of her intelligence and charm. Her dances are deeper than the make-up, costuming, and hair. While watching her dance, the audience feels transported into something greater than themselves. She performed her act twice in front of the Pantheon to a growing crowd of press, magazine editors, singers, artists, and passerby's.
In the first part of the act, Shanice wore the ever iconic banana skirt by RevARTE, which seemed to laugh both with the audience and at the audience. Her talent as a mover and story teller was on display as she impersonated Josephine Baker's signature steps. The second part of the act began with a solemn costume change into an original 1940s women's military uniform on loan from Casablanca Paris, complete with authentic WWII medals. Shanice stood at salute as the French National Anthem played. Solidarity, unity, and the fight for liberty and freedom could be viscerally felt during the performance. Even the dozens of onlookers over Cabaret Diversity Instagram live were touched.
(photo)Shanice wore an original 1940s women's military uniform complete with 3 medals. The medals and hat were on loan from La Compagnie du Costume, fur by Henri Montag, and couture banana skirt costume by RêvARTe. Cabaret Diversity Network and RêvARTe provided further production support, choreography, and Gala Lebedev photographed. Shanice is quickly becoming her own tour de force working with street fashion brand, Pigalle, accessories luxury brand Roger Vivier, and now Cabaret Diversity Network. Following in the legacy of Josephine Baker, Shanice also arrived in France from America at 7 years old and found success in French theater, recently as a breakout star with Crazy Horse Paris. Which, by the way, the signature arched back stance of the Crazy Horse dancer is directly inspired by Josephine Baker.
Shanice shares why she was inspired to perform May 12th in front of the Pantheon,
"It's the natural order of things for Josephine Baker to be Pantheonized. It is one thing to fight to be recognized and respected as an artist but it is another to fight for the future generations. Josephine did not have only ambition for herself. She had ambition for all of us; those who do not fit in because of their race, their beliefs, and/or their sexuality but nevertheless decide to live loud and proud!
Josephine has paved the way for all of us showgirls of color. I know that I have the freedom to dance today because she has unapologetically allowed herself, one hundred years ago, to do just that."
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Follow Shanice on Instagram here: @shanice.a.sloan
More about RevARTe here
Photo credit: Gala Lebedev
Costume & Video Production: RevARTe
Choreography: Christopher Renfurm
More about the 2008 Petition: France Musique "Orse Josephine"