Black Motherhood Explored in Mother, May I?

Loren Holmes’ “Mother, May I?”
Photo by Lynn Lane

In “Jezebel,” one of Loren Holmes’ early works, an anxious, unnerved woman in black negligee gathers herself in front of a vanity before putting on a red dress and dancing in a flirtatious, suggestive manner to an unknown audience. When she is done, she returns to the vanity. She is disturbed again, appearing to console herself as she smears red lipstick across her face. This final image suggests that the work is an attempt to look at the Jezebel archetype through a more complex, internal lens. 

Similarly, in the initial incarnation of “Mother, May I?,” which premiered earlier this year, Holmes portrays a young Black mother in a series of vignettes. The sequence, overlaid with visual representations of Black mothers through history, suggests that Black motherhood is not a static paradigm, but an experience rich in emotional nuances that at times conflict with one another. She expands this exploration on December 9 and 15 at Archway Gallery with Mother, May I?: A Preview Exclusive. A mixer begins each night at 7pm, with the performance at 8pm.

This choreographic journey comes after nearly a decade of dancing for Houston-area companies and independent artists. By the time she developed “Jezebel” for Dance Source Houston’s Mind The Gap in April 2022, she knew that she wanted to develop a personal practice around telling the stories of Black women. In mining her own narrative, she realized that her story was one that was shared by many women in her community. “My story is the story of other women,” says Holmes. “So I had to ask myself, is this really personal, or is it not? I don’t think the answer has to be linear.” 

When Holmes was awarded a Dance Source Houston 2022-2023 Artist-in-Residency, she used her own lived experience as a Black mother as the framework for her piece. It wasn’t until after its premiere at Barnstorm Dance Fest that she knew the dance had legs. “I thought, this can’t be the last time people see this work,” she says. “The response behind it was overwhelming. People were asking, where is this going to be next? What is this going to turn into? [This event] really came out of the response from Barnstorm.”

Loren Holmes’ “Mother, May I?”
Photo by Lynn Lane

The preview referred to in the show’s title is for the documentary that has, and continues to be, developed alongside Loren’s choreographic process. She is also one of the subjects of filmmaker Jasmine Williams’ companion piece that examines the added societal pressures that Black mothers face. The December 9 and 15 event at Archway Gallery will preview fifteen minutes of the upcoming film. 

The concurrent creation of dance and film works have informed the development of each. “There’s a lot of dance in the film because I’m a dancer,” says Holmes. “In filming and editing, the dance informs a lot of the stories. The movement helps you look through a different window of the same story. As dancers, that’s the beautiful part of our job. We can express something in movement, and see it in a whole new light.” 

The film is composed of what Williams calls “sacred moments” with the mothers who were interviewed for the project. “These women were able to get in front of the camera and share a lot of details and experiences as children and single mothers,” says Holmes. “For that, [these moments] are sacred because they would not have done it under any other pretense.” After filming, each mother was assured that if they changed their minds about what they wanted to share, it wouldn’t be used in the final edit. “For something to be sacred, I think it also needs to be kept safe.” 

Like its subject matter, Mother, May I? is in large part a community effort. Holmes has assembled a team that not only includes Williams, but music producer Charity Lewis, spoken word artist Tiffany “The Wordmatician,” and Stacey Allen’s Nia’s Daughters Movement Collective. “I wanted my collaborators to be women because I definitely stand on the idea that certain stories should be told by the people they are about,” says Holmes. “The dance artists are women of color as well. They’re not all mothers, but they all still have a good eye and ear to lend to the project because of their relationships to single mothers.”

The film is firmly set in both Beaumont and Houston, and will be released sometime in 2024. Both the dance and film address the full spectrum of their subject matter, including its harsh realities, such as postpartum depression. “It’s real life, and no one talks about it,” says Holmes, which is a large impetus for her push forward. 

Holmes and Williams have gotten closer through the process, and while Williams is not a single mother, the project has left her wanting to know how she can help. “Everyone can help,” says Holmes. “Help doesn’t mean financially, but it can mean finding a center that has single mothers. People can volunteer and watch the kids so the mom can take a break. You can donate your time. You can write to your local representative’s office and advocate for resources.” 

It truly takes a village.

Mother, May I: A Preview Exclusive runs December 9 and December 15 @ 8pm with a pre-performance mixer @ 7pm. For tickets and more information, visit

About the Author

Adam Castañeda is a dancer and arts administrator in Houston, Texas. He is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Pilot Dance Project, a non-profit arts organization with the mission to empower and transform communities through innovative dance, theater, and visual art. With his company he has performed in evening-length works by Ashley Horn, jhon r. stronks, Jennifer Mabus, Jaime Walne-Fruge, and Heather VonReichbauer. When not with the Pilot Dance Project, he enjoys performing with Suchu Dance/Jennifer Wood.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *