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DanceAfrica, DC Festival 2019

DanceAfrica, DC is a week long celebration of the African Diaspora, in Spirit, through Dance, Art, Music and Culture. It takes place every year in the Washington, DC Brookland area. On this day, Sunday June 2nd the festival celebrates 32 years of presence within the African Dance Community. And it is an exciting time to be at DancePlace.

Photo credit: Jonathan Hsu

Midday performances, led by Griot Mama Sylvia Soumah of Coyaba Dance Theater includes outstanding African dance companies, masterclass series, free outdoor performances and activities, and its signature African Marketplace featuring: local vendors, a gallery of some of Africa's texture, color and uniquely pattern jewelry, clothing, handbags, accessories and more.  DanceAfrica, DC is known to inspire, invigorate, educate, and entertain and on that day… did.

Photo credit: Jonathan Hsu

As you drive or walk down 8th St NE you’re instantly drawn to the sound of music from the four corners of the African continent richly rooted and there blossoming on the block of DancePlace theater. A long strip of tents each hold irresistible items for sale capturing your attention, delicious food trucks with savory bites and a mass of loving people enjoying the reunion of the returning festival.

It’s truly magical, to watch a person get pulled into a moment of gazing at a simple trinket or fabric that inspires them-- awakening an African sensibility or story waiting to be told. A family affair, there at the festival little ones are dressed in their African attire toddling around freely taken into the atmosphere of family and fun. As it is in Africa, there parents don’t need to be nearby because everyone looks out for each other, a whole tribe of people that know you by name or by face can equally show you love, correct you and keep you safe.

As a first timer, I got a taste of it all: the stage, the community, the education and the fun. Mama Sylvia Soumah, who addresses the crowd in a beautifully adornment of African design, color, sequin and beads with her long braid hair down,  welcomes the audience to be free, have fun and dance along with the performers onstage. The performances ceremoniously commence with the remembrance ritual in a gesture that honors that Ancestors. It is custom to acknowledge those who came before us by pouring a libation, through intergenerational teaching on how to carry on such traditions that are sewn into the fabric of African culture today. A Libation pour is performed while calling out the names of Elders, Loved One's, Teachers, Family Members and Friend who have passed on-- having left this earth and bequeathed the traditions that remain apart of the African make-up today.

Honoring and Acknowledgement  can also be done by way of ritual, ceremony, a building of alter and/or of course in a dance. On this day, audience members took part in all of these above, witnessing the various aspects of reverence beginning with the pouring of water: a cleanser, a purifier a re-birthing element of nature. As the keepers of these tradition, Mama Makini, squatted down, poured, calling out the names chiming" MADDASEE, MADDASEE" meaning "Thank You"--the sound of their names echo the impact of their legacy. It hit us there in the audience, for if anyone thought that they'd come to see and be entertained they now realized the magnitude of the moment which hushed us, blessed us and caused us to breathe being present in the moment.

The first act opened with a chorus of singing African/Black Young Women chiming in passionate song of reconciliation and love as they offer praise carrying baskets and white candles to an altar placed in the downstage. The piece evolved into both singing and dancing. They flail their arms like wings, the fingertips bending the wind in precision with their hearts opening completely to us. Simply Breathtaking.

Photo credit: Jonathan Hsu

The soft expression on the dancers faces tell us that "all was at peace". All female, it was a statement of pure love and maturity....acceptance for the things to come. African dance does that, it tells a story through movement and gesture so vividly that words aren't even needed.

The second indoor performance by Ni Dembaya, Journey to Legacy, consisting of a high energy fanfare of dancers ushering in the celebration and acknowledgement of life and a new relationship. The instrumentals: 3 Djembe drums and 2 drums on Sticks took us to the Motherland.

Photo credit: Jonathan Hsu

The entire choreography was full of fire and energy, but the sound really took over. Mid-dance a Drum Call featured the main drummers, their style, unique sound and offering to the audience. One drummer, dressed in traditional attire while wearing an 80's style cap paid homage to the Elders seated nearby with his hand talk. A gentleman who could not simply contain his mojo danced in response to the rhythmic call that was being put out. He twirled, kicked and beat his feet to the sounds that made him feel alive.

The second drummer, Kofi Agyei is well anticipated. He sparked excitement and applause from the audience with his "mean business" stance and impressive attack in his solo. He dances, swing his hips, shuffles his feet sideways and dishing out energy when he comes down to meet the twirling gentleman who obviously was still in the Spirit. The last drummer, was also an Elder. He made his drum sound-- talk to us in a simple yet compelling performance too.

Following the Sankofa Dance Theater premiered a new work the company about healing, growth and patience. Together four jubilant dancers, recreated a story of everyday life carrying a basket for sewing seeds and gathering a harvest in this original dance work. DancePlace stage has a remarkable set where hues of color embellish their African patterned costumes array of colors, shapes and fixations.

During intermission, audience members are invited to stay active and a participate in the surrounding activities: I had a chance to slip outside of the theater and appreciate the sounds of a Cuban band exciting the crowd. Immediately, I recalled the Black Latino connection within the scope of Black African Disapora or Pan African culture. We are BLACK YES. Therefore, we have the power to move identity beyond the waters of forced labor and the slave trade. Instead of mourning the losses in sorrow and anger the Festival celebrates, recognizes and inserts the beauty of our heritage and that which would make our Ancestors proud.

Speaking of Ancestors, a memorial of someone the most notable and prolific figures of African Dance in the DC dance scene sits in the entryway adorned with pictures, flowers, fruit, note cards, candles and accessories that honors their name and contribution. The Mamas (Mother) and Babas (Father) of our time including in the infamous Baba Chuck Davis, a teacher, father and friend to many who gave the children purpose and a place to call home in dance where otherwise they would not have.
The midday show ends with performances by Tarabuti Youth Association, a tribute to the South African coal miners and the Apartheid struggle in a Gumbe Boot Dance. As well as an outdoor tribute and closing performance by Coyaba Dance Theater as they conclude the year with young children to high school performing together.
Photo credit: Jonathan Hsu

The Americans/African American, the African, the Latino or Latina, the Pan African, and Caribbean cultures.... is a diametric blend of history. It is depicted on the faces, in the attire and energy of the people there at the Dance Africa Festival! The young adults of the community are beginning to step up. Teaching the young people, articulating the traditions from throughout the years, passing them on and leading by example. The children who dance now give themselves over to the dance, relinquishing control while maintaining the integrity of movement technique. The Festival has proven to be a sacred learning ground and a joy to all who are a part of it.

Review Written by: Kayla L. Harley

About the AUTHOR/Writer

Here we are in Spring....soon to be Summer and GOD has been faithful.
I've visited a two new states in the U.S. traveling to the Midwest and across country.....and have basked in the beautiful Jamaican mists, twice the year alone. As an Artist, Blogger and soon to be Expat I am in awe at these miracles. These exploits have inspired me to continue to seek adventure, embrace the newness of Life and LEARN as much as I can about planet Earth. It's no secret that travel has improved my health and over lifestyle. My wits are sharp, communication skills improved and ability to navigate in spontaneous situations. 

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