Shamel Pitts Challenges The Idea Of Black Masculinity Through The Touch Of Red

March 7, 2023

With the recent conversation focusing on what “Black masculinity” looks like, it’s much more important to understand that it is a notion that can’t be boxxed into a singular idea. Traditionally, black masculinity has been associated with strength, power, and stoicism. However, this narrow definition of masculinity can be harmful and limiting. Instead, conversations that focus on the expanded definition of masculinity that allows for vulnerability, emotional openness, and empathy need to be had. The recent cover by Jonathan Majors has brought this conversation to the surface again, with opposing views on what the idea of a Black man should be represented.

Another person challenging the traditional views on Black masculinity is Shamel Pitts, one of the most acclaimed dancers/choreographers of his generation and a shining example of Black excellence. The Brooklyn native presents his latest series, TOUCH OF RED which deals with masculinity and vulnerability, especially in the context of Black men and how they are perceived/perceive themselves. Set in a stylized ring (with set design by the 2015 McArthur Fellow Mimi Lien, lighting by the veteran Australian designer Rus Snelling, and video projection by Lucca Del Carlo), the duet originated from Shamel’s fascination with quick footwork of boxing and reflection on toxic vs. new masculinity. The piece is performed by Pitts and the 2022 Princess Grace Award winner Tushrik Fredericks. The work investigates how Black men can allow themselves to soften, even under extreme pressure and heat. The confined space references a futuristic and voyeuristic gladiator entertainment site in which a heat path between the two performers builds, not out of aggression or combat, but within an enhanced electrifying effeminacy that heals.

Shamel Pitts remembers the origins of the work: “When I returned to the US, there was a lot of boxing on TV, and watching it, I never understood the appeal of two men beating the crap out of each other– especially two men of color; I found it revolting. But in my mind, every time I feel repulsion, I am also curious to dig deeper. A closer look at great boxing matches of legendary athletes like Muhammad Ali revealed something unexpected – a layer of camaraderie, almost tenderness, a kind of touch that felt profound, vulnerable, and consoling. At the same time, the form intrigued me: the footwork in boxing is often a reason why great fighters are described as “dancing in the ring”. In Touch of RED, it’s important that the audience sits around the “ring” when it happens – we want them to feel a level of participation, closeness and warmth that is not theatrical, but rather a primordial gathering.”
The multidisciplinary piece, developed as part of Live Arts’ Live Feed creative residency and commissioning program, as well as in a series of art residencies, and first performed at MASS MoCA in 2022, will have its NYC premiere at the New York Live Arts Theater (219 West 19th Street, New York, NY 10011) on Thursday, April 27th, Friday, April 28th, and Saturday, April 29th, 2023 at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at or 212-691-6500, on sale now.