dance company’s director assures that she speaks loudly from the stage even though she never opens her mouth. And that’s for a simple reason, as far as Vanessa Owens sees it.

“Our body is our voice,” said Owens, the founding/executive director of the Indianapolis-based Kenyetta Dance Company. “That is how we speak. We definitely tell a story.”

Come Nov. 30, Owens and 11 of her peers will present works under the diversity-oriented theme of “The Skin We’re In” as part of the annual Arts For Aids fundraiser at The Commons. The event that helps fund health programming in southern Indiana and five HIV-AIDS programs — four in Africa and one in Haiti — has sold out in recent years.

Kenyetta, a Swahili word meaning “beautiful flower,” has highlighted the African-American experience via the arts since 2004. Many of its social media posts include the reminder that “black dance matters.”

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“Our bouquet is very international,” Owens said, emphasizing that the troupe features a mix of ethnicity.

So the company leader embraces diversity. But she acknowledged that she’s reluctant to offer much description of the pieces to be performed locally other than titles of works such as, “People of the Sun,” and “Bend, Don’t Break.”

“I usually don’t like to read dance descriptions in a program until afterward,” Owens said. “It can affect how people specifically interpret what they have seen. Usually, people do get it.”

In particular, Owens wants audiences to know they should feel as free as her dancers to express themselves during a performance without waiting until the end of a piece.

“If there’s a jump, a lift, anything that they appreciate or makes them feel something, then we love for an audience to show that appreciation so that we know they’re getting it,” Owens said. “That’s really the compensation that we thrive on. And that means that we’re really communicating.”

Columbus resident Mary Harmon, one of a six-member organizing committee for the event that has sold out each of the past few years, called Kenyetta’s visit “a cultural treat for the community.”

And all for a life-and-death issue.

“It is so imperative to keep awareness and consciousness alive regarding one of the major health issues that continues to impact the marginalized in this country as well as Africa and Asia disproportionately because of poverty and lack of health care resources,” Harmon said.

Cummins Inc.’s sponsorship of the event has made some tickets available to students of the local Dancers Studio Inc., where Owens’ brother, Nick Owens, a Kenyetta member, teaches hip hop and other dance classes. Alma Wiley, Dancers Studio Inc. founder, is thrilled to see the corporate community be such a solid arts partner.

“Several students have trucked up to Indianapolis to see Kenyetta, and I have done so myself to see them a couple of times, and I have been blown away because they are so fabulous,” Wiley said. “So, I’m very happy that our students will have this opportunity.”

If you go

What: Arts For Aids fundraiser inn conjunction with World AIDS Day featuring The Kenyetta Dance Company presenting “The Skin We’re In” and the Asante Actors of Indianapolis. Fox 59 TV journalist and Columbus native Kyle Inskeep will serve as master of ceremonies.

When: Doors open at 5 p.m. Nov. 30. Program begins at 6 p.m.

Food and drink: Food by Le Petit Caraibes plus a cash bar.

Also: Free photo booth, African Bazaar by Global Gifts, silent auction. The program supports health programming in southern Indiana and five HIV-AIDS programs — four in Africa and one in Haiti.

Tickets: Adults $25, students $12, children younger than 11 admitted for free with an adult ticket purchase. Available at

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.