WHAT THE UNIVERSE HAS FOR ME
Every fall, activist-performer China Hudson guides a circle of young women through the ancestral ritual of becoming members of the village. Chicago-born, she is a Disney Musical Theatre teaching artist and artistic director of theater and cultural awareness at Rainbow Dreams Academy. Ms. Hudson has performed in local productions of “The Color Purple,” “For Colored Girls” and Danai Gurira’s “Eclipsed.” She is principal dancer and director of the award-winning Olabisi African Dance and Drum Ensemble.
I originally came to Las Vegas for love. But as I contemplated the move, I found I would love to be a black entertainer on the Strip. That was in 1998. This is gonna be hilarious, but when I moved here, I drove past the Moulin Rouge and I said, “I want to open that casino. I want to be on the Strip. I want to do these things. I want to be an entertainment director. I want to do this. I want to do that.” Now that I’ve been here for 20 years, my thought process has shifted a little bit. I don’t necessarily have to be the entertainer on the Strip, but I would like to produce, production manage, star in — if I can — whatever the universe has for me. I am blessed to be a part of some programming at the Smith Center. The Strip is the only place I have not touched. The community has really taken over my life in a good way with the Rites of Passage program, mentoring young girls through African principles and traditions and African dancing, spearheading and keeping that culture alive. I’m at my 17-year mark of teaching African dance. Now I’m moving into lecturing. I’m blessed because I have the opportunity to do whatever I want. Whether it’s teaching, or dancing, or writing and producing, I have that opportunity to be in it. I didn’t have a clue in the beginning. I was like, “Las Vegas? Am I going to live in a hotel?” It wasn’t until I reached out to the westside of Las Vegas that I really began to embrace the culture of Vegas. I learned so much sitting, talking with Ruby Duncan and Sarann Knight-Preddy, and Norma Miller, Helen Toland — these different iconic women who have been here, really since the beginning. And they’re saying, “Hey, this is where it used to be and this is where we are now, and this is where we still have to go.” And they’re looking for young women like myself to carry us to the next level. And I’m gonna be looking for young women to take us over the hump, because it never stops. There are still strides we need to make as African people living in Las Vegas. Walter Mason was the first black entertainment director in Las Vegas. He was the first one. How many entertainment directors are there now that are black on the Strip? There’s so much that we need to do, that needs to happen. I’m obliged to be part of that. Funny story, I was going to the College of Southern Nevada, and I had been here maybe about two months when I said, “Where the black people at?” And somebody said, “What ’chu mean?” and I said, “Where can I go get some catfish, some salt-n-vinegar chips. You know, where they hanging out on the corner? Not you African-Americans. Where the black folk?” They said, “Oh, you wanna go on the westside.” So, I took the 111 Pecos bus south. I got off at Lake Mead, took the 210 west. At the underpass, the scenery began to change. I said, “This is where I need to be.” I walked from Lake Mead and Losee to Martin Luther King and I went in every building from Nevada Partners to Sonny’s Market, to Seven Seas to the little shoe store that’s behind Seven Seas. I went in everything because I wanted to meet the people. And I walked into the West Las Vegas Cultural Arts Center. I met a guy by the name of Ellis Rice. He was the first person to meet me at the door. We sat and talked for four hours. That building — the West Las Vegas Cultural Arts Center — I owe everything to: every job, every referral, every show came from contacts through that building. I walked into that building and I haven’t walked out since.