SPECIAL PROGRAMMING: Vietnamese Black Tai Dancers

The Vietnamese Black Tai dancers of Des Moines, Iowa, will be featured at a special Convocation at Centenary College of Louisiana on Thursday, March 7, from 11:10 AM – NOON in Kilpatrick Auditorium. A second Black Tai performance is scheduled in Kilpatrick Auditorium for Friday, March 8, from 10:00 – 11:00 AM for members of the Shreveport-Bossier community. At both events, Som Baccam, leader of the dance troupe, will discuss Black Tai history and the importance of preserving Black Tai culture. Following Baccam’s talk, ten Black Tai dancers in full costume will perform traditional Black Tai dances.

These events are part of programming developed by the Meadows Museum of Art at Centenary College that houses a collection of 365 paintings and drawings of Indochinese peoples created by French Academic artist Jean Despujols in 1936-38. 

The collection includes portraits of Black Tai people in full ethnic dress as well as Black Tai women performing scarf and fan dances. In the fall of 2012, Meadows Museum staff sent images of these art works to the Black Tai community in Des Moines in the hope that descendants could identify relatives who lived in North Vietnam during the mid-1930s. When Som Baccam’s elderly mother viewed the artworks, Baccam says, “She broke into tears.”

Of the many ethnic groups from North Vietnam, the Black Tai, or Tai Dam, sought permanent refuge for the longest period of time.  In 1954 when the French left the region, the Black Tai fled to neighboring Laos.  In 1975, a change in the Laotian government compelled the Black Tai to cross the border into Thailand where they lived in camps. Desperate, the Black Tai sent letters around the world asking for refuge.  Governor Robert Ray of Iowa invited the Black Tai to Des Moines where they settled and  have recently established Tai Village in an effort to preserve their traditions and culture.

To prepare for their visit to Shreveport, Baccam and the Black Tai dancers have practiced traditional dances for weeks. “The women are excited to travel to Shreveport to discuss our history and perform the dances that our mothers and grandmothers performed when they lived in Vietnam,” says Baccam. She adds, “We’ve practiced every weekend for some months. All of us hope the people of Shreveport enjoy our performance.”     

To date, none of the individuals in the paintings, drawings, or photographs from the Despujols collection have been identified. In mid-March, images of artworks from the Meadows Museum collection will be taken to Hanoi and presented at the ASEAN Traditional Textile Symposium where Black Tai elders will demonstrate traditional weaving techniques.

Schedule of Events:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

8:30 - 10:00 AM: Black Tai group discussion and performance at Magnet High School with videotaping by Robert Trudeau

11:10 AM - Noon: Centenary College Convocation featuring discussion with Som Baccam and performance by the Vietnamese Black Tai dancers of Des Moines, Iowa (75 PASSPORT POINTS)

Noon - 1:00 PM: Lunch in Kilpatrick Auditorium with the Black Tai dancers

1:00 - 2:30 PM: Meeting with the members of the ASEANA Foundation of Shreveport

Friday, March 8, 2013

10:00 AM: Special performance by the Vietnamese Black Tai dancers of Des Moines for students and teachers (parents welcome)

1:00 - 2:30 PM: Tour of Centenary College campus with the Maroon Jackets

6:00 - 9:00 PM: Friends of the Algur Meadows Museum BLACK TAI GALA at the Meadows Museum