Art & Soul choreographer Karome Walker isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics through dance

Karome Walker didn’t grow up knowing she’d become a choreographer. First, she was a competitive gymnast and cheerleader who tried dance and fell in love. Then she choreographed a high school recital, leading to more requests to do the same.

Walker studied dance at Ball State University, where she began to put storylines behind the movements — the type that tackled challenging topics like bullying and mental health. And her calling became clear.

“I was able to find songs and really dig deep and be able to do less of a fluffy ‘here’s a dance’ — but this dance is going to speak to someone. This dance is going to change someone’s life,” Walker said. “The more I had scars and stories is how my choreography started to grow, too.” 

‘Art is definitely my therapy’:  Art & Soul’s Shayla Williams discusses her craft 

Now, she runs the Meraki Dance Co., which will perform Saturday for Art & Soul, an annual celebration of Black artists organized by the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Walker and her company will showcase dances about mental health, struggles and rescue using narratives and a soundtrack that includes songs by Demi Lovato and Lauren Daigle.

Walker is the second of four featured artists — including singer Marrialle Sellars, poet Chantel Massey and artist Shayla Williams — who are part of this year’s Art & Soul.

Walker, who’s from Charleston, South Carolina, moved to Indiana and attended Concord High School in Elkhart. An internship at Wishes Dance Studio brought her to Indianapolis. Over the years, she’s refined her skills by educating kids and adults as well as choreographing for multiple organizations. She’s worked with Iibada Dance Co. and Epiphany Dance Collective, among others.

Karome Walker is one of the featured artists for Art & Soul in 2022.

At Wishes, she said students told her they wanted to work on a piece about bullying and human trafficking. The performance facilitated better conversations about the challenging topics between parents and their children.

“When (kids) see it in an art form, it hits different, so they’re able to connect or maybe see the bigger picture that mom was trying to say earlier,” Walker said. “Those moments (are) when I said, ‘OK, yeah. This is what I’m meant to do.'”

About two years ago, Walker founded the Meraki Dance Co. She named it with the Greek word, which means to devote love, passion and soul into the craft. Its headquarters are at 30th Street and Shadeland Avenue, and the company serves adults and youth.

Starting during the pandemic meant capacity limits and social distancing were necessary. The timing also meant that the adult company’s dancers could respond to the biggest topics of the day — including the Black Lives Matter movement, women’s rights and the LGBTQ+ community — through their art form.

“What we’re super proud about is that we’re not afraid to go there,” Walker said. “Everything that we do has a message.”

2022 Art & Soul: If you go

The second installment, called Black Dance Day, will run from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Madam Walker Legacy Center, 617 Indiana Avenue. Admission is free.

Patrons can receive free COVID-19 vaccinations and regular immunizations provided by the Indiana Department of Health. Along with Walker and the Meraki Dance Co., performers include Epiphany Dance Collective and Iibada Dance Co. 

Find more information and the full schedule at indyarts.org/about/art-soul.

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Contact IndyStar reporter Domenica Bongiovanni at 317-444-7339 or d.bongiovanni@indystar.com. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @domenicareports.

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