Dancing to the Diaspora Beat
Each May, the wildly popular DanceAfrica in Brooklyn, N.Y., showcases the best African music, dance, film and eats from around the world.
It would be hard to name a more popular summer festival than DanceAfrica. Held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) every May for 34 years, it offers topflight dance, music, films, dance classes, children's activities and a super-popular outdoor bazaar, drawing thousands of people, not only from New York City but from all over the country and the world. A joyful celebration of the arts of Africa and the Diaspora, it owes its creation and robust personality to artistic director and founder Chuck Davis, who established the Chuck Davis Dance Co. in New York in 1968 and later the African American Dance Ensemble in Durham, N.C.
"The festival is all about community," Davis told The Root. "We want to entertain, educate, celebrate and honor the ancestors. I love it when people return year after year and we hug and scream and jump with excitement in just being together. That's our spirit."
The celebration starts off with a free, opening ceremony at Weeksville Heritage Center today. The main dance performances will take place at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House May 27-30. The traditional libation rite is led by the Council of Elders, who honor those who have passed on to the ancestral grounds. From there, it travels to Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza, where the community welcomes the Santiago de Cuba-based Ballet Folklórico Cutumba, this year's visiting company, with dances by students from BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble. The center, which includes three historic structures, is on the 19th-century site of the original village of Weeksville, a thriving African-American community.
Davis, one of the foremost teachers and choreographers of traditional African dance, established DanceAfrica in 1977 to introduce the public to a wide variety of companies and other achievements of the culture. "It worked," he says. "We have effectively spread the word. And we're not going to stop."