Durham Dances
in front of
Zoe Litaker’s camera

Zoe Litaker opens “Durham Dances” at The Fruit on October 19th in conjunction with The North Carolina Dance Festival.

This is the culmination of a project that Litaker conceived more than three years ago. She has been adding to it bit by bit for those years with no funding, but lots of conviction. Litaker has been passionate about photographing dancers since her years in Seattle.


Saydenu in Orchard Park

Saydenu in Orchard Park photo by Zoe Litaker


During that era when her primary medium was collage, she was also photographing students of the Pacific Northwest Ballet–Zoe had connected through a friend who had kids there.

Litaker told me her first set-piece dancer shoot was with ShaLeigh Dance Works, according to their website, “a diverse ensemble that consists of some of Durham’s most brilliant performers and creators ranging in genres from theatre, performance art, heels, drag, martial art, and contemporary ballet.” They shot in the woods with Zoe, who staged them with black balloons and antique mirrors.

As this project developed and coalesced, Litaker realized it was about Durham and the vibrant Durham dance community. Zoe estimated that she did thirty-five dancer shoots over the last three years. And while they were far flung, from Las Vegas to New Orleans, the core of the work was in Durham–only photographs with a connection to Durham will be included in the show and the book. (See some of the dancers in other places on her Instagram.)

The project’s pace has quickened as the publishing and exhibition deadline approaches and the last two months have seen Litaker and Durham’s dancers do more than a dozen shoots.

As Litaker progressed and the project evolved, there were no props. It was just the dancers and the environment, the landscape, ubran, rural, or anywhere on the Durham panorama in between.

The Durham locations are what stands out. Litaker photographed her subjects everywhere from the middle of Main Street, and with many a Durham mural, to the skate park, the iconic Durham burger joint, “King’s”, and the location of the Civil War’s final surrender, Bennett Place.

Litaker wants the book to promote Durham and our dance community. She photographed the Big Red Dance Project, the NC Youth Tap Ensemble, Swagga Muffins, The Bipeds, and many more. The types of dancers featured range from Samba to Belly, Urban to Swing, Zouk to Contemporary, Modern to Lyra, Indian to Tap, to Drag, Fire, and Break dancing… as diverse as Durham.

Zoe told me, “I am so blessed with the dancers in this area. It just worked out so beautifully. Dancers are willing to go beyond.”


Kristin photo by Zoe Litaker

Kristin over the railroad photo by Zoe Litaker

This allowed Litaker to have an intense focus on “making it (the work) as good as possible.” She wrestled with locations and meaning. She looked at Durham as layered and nuanced, rather than a simple flat expression of itself now. Zoe forced herself to pick exactly one photo and no more from each shoot.

The Durham Dances book will be extremely minimalist, featuring Litaker’s starkly expressive photos. The words of the dancers themselves are at Litaker’s blog, along with many more photos.

The Fruit, graciously standing in for The Carrack–which closed before Litaker could exhibit, is taking zero commission on the show. The individual photos are available as prints here.

An opening for the Durham Dances book will be held on October 19th in conjunction with the NC Dance Festival at The Fruit, #305 South Dillard Street, Durham.

5:30pm Book Signing and Show Opening
6:15pm Short Performances
8:00pm NC Dance Festival


Durham DANCES Zoe Litaker Oct 2019 at the Fruit



Aaron Mandel

Aaron Mandel is a writer and an accomplished public speaker. He is the publisher of the Clarion Content. For more than a decade, the Clarion Content has covered Durham’s arts, politics, music, and cultural milieu. From breaking news stories to the hottest local acts, the Clarion Content is on the scene. The Clarion Content published more than twenty distinguished guest columnists and garnered nearly a million views. Mandel is a volunteer for the Durham Mighty Pen Literacy Project and serves as the President of the Board of Sustain-A-Bull Durham, a local small business collective with more than 200 members. He writes regularly on the Clarion Content and has been quietly writing fiction since the 4th grade. Mandel has been published in the Raleigh News and Observer. He has also produced numerous art shows, including, “Durham under Development”. He was a featured speaker at “The State of Publishing” conference. He has presented to Durham Chamber of Commerce, “Chamber U” on the “New Media”. He has also served as the play-by-play announcer for the D.B.L., a Durham youth basketball league. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Religious Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington. An avid policy debater at Indiana and a Nation Debate Tournament qualifier, Mandel was also a member of the New Jersey State Champion two-person Policy Debate Team. He has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, and Baja California, Mexico.

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