Newark native Tracie Morrison’s play, The Prayer Dancer, is a story of love, life and friendship told through the art of dance. In the three-act play, Morrison writes about four friends, all with different lifestyles, views, and experiences, with dance being the the one thing that unites them. Morrison, a self proclaimed amateur dancer and lover of all types of dance, decided to write the play after waking from a dream where she witnessed four different versions of herself conversing on the altar of her church. The dream went on to inspire the characters in Morrison’s play.
“I think that a lot of times we may feel like we are one-dimensional, or it seems like we live one side of our lives often, but there are so many sides to us. Those girls are all a part of me, but they are also very fictional.”
From the brash hip-hop dancer to the happy-go-lucky liturgical dancer, Morrison culls from her life experiences to carefully craft these women who use the stage to ponder, pray and ultimately dance through their problems.
Morrison doesn’t just include dance as a part of the narrative, she breathes enough life into it for dance to be able to stand alone as its own character.
“Dance is a language unto itself,” said the 38-year-old playwright
The Rutgers University alumna dabbled in her fair share of dance during her college years by foregoing the typical choices to fulfill her physical education requirement and, like the characters in her play, using dance as an avenue to work through her own personal issues.
“I’ve always had issues with body image and self esteem and back then, I asked myself, ‘If I take this modern dance class, can I break through this?'” said Morrison.
“During our final exam, you actually had to dance a piece from one end of the gym to the other side, and I had to utilize my body and the space to say whatever it was that I wanted to say.”
Almost two decades after Morrison’s first brush with interpretive dance, she uses the same demonstrative power of dance to dissect issues of Christianity, domestic abuse and infertility in the play. The choice to tell this particular story in a play as opposed to a novel is an interesting one, and one that Morrison hopes highlights how important the physicality in the story is to the overall narrative.
“It’s just a different way to tell a story. This format allows you to picture the book as you go along; you actually have to envision the dances,” said the author.
“The best part of the book is that you get to engage with the story. You’re thinking about what they look like as they’re dancing, what that movement looks like.”
Morrison, who works as a high school counselor in the Montclair Public School system, hopes that the book will connect with women of all backgrounds.
“I want women to know that regardless of whatever problem they are dealing with, there’s a woman who’s dealing with the same thing or something equally as hard,” said the author.
“That simple fact is what connects us as women.”