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The Daily Tar HeelFriday, September 27, 19915
Dance rooted in Africa has universal appeal
mix modern with
By Melissa Mankowski
The Opeyo! Dancers performed
Wednesday night as part of an African
American Culture Week program titled
"African Americans in the Arts."
The Opeyo! Dancers, a group of stu
dent dancers who incorporate African
American music and influences into
their dances, performed in the program
sponsored by the Black Cultural
Center's Special Projects Committee.
Twoof the piecesmixed reggae music
and traditional African-American
dances with some modern dance and
ballet steps. A third piece focused on
the theme of freedom from oppression.
The African-American heritage was
. emphasized in all of the pieces through
the choice of music and style of dance.
Sonya McAuley, an Opeyo! dancer,
said the music pieces were selected by
the dancers, and the dance pieces were
created from the music. All of the danc
ers contributed to the choreography.
Dancers tried to focus on African
American culture and interests,
The music of Third World and Sounds
of Blackness were used in Wednesday's
Willie Jordan, a University alumnus
and a teacher at Enloe High School in
Raleigh, also spoke about how African
Americans could use the performing
arts to change and improve the image of
blacks. He said African- American danc-
ers such as Alvin Ailey and Arthur
Mitchell of the Harlem Dance Theatre
'had a great influence in the dance world.
The Opeyo! Dancers will perform as
, part of a Big Buddy sign-up activity
Oct. 24 and the Black Greek Step Show
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Local ensembles perform dances transported from Africa
By Mara Lee
Choose the one that doesn't belong:
hip-hop dance, jazz dance, Simon says,
Wrong. They all have legacies from
African dance integrates audience
participation, storytelling and commu
"African dance is not about some
pretentious attitude like some forms of
dance. We're very humble we are
entertainers. We're very open, every
pore in the body is open, we are open to
receiving," said Chuck Davis, leader of
The African-American Dance En
semble, a Durham-based group formed
in 1983 that tours nationally.
The audience must be open to receiv
ing as well, because Davis shouts move
ments to perform on cue. "Sometimes
there might be some people who are
shy, but if that be the case, it only lasts
five seconds. (Audience participation)
is the nature of my company's format.
"In traditional Africa, you have the
communal aspect. We're talking about
not an audience, but the community that
comes to share in what we offer. We're
coming from a point of truth, of shar
ing." Donee Thomas, artistic director of a
beginning dance class at the University,
agreed that the emotional response from
the audience was an integral part of
African dance. "It's a very energizing
kind of dance, and it's very easy to
move people," she said.
Thomas founded Afro 2, which is
sponsored by the Black Cultural Cen
ter, in the fall of 1989. The troupe of
about 30 people choreographs its own
African-American pieces, but its focus,
African dance, is directly imported from
Senegal and Kenya.
Thomas has trained with Afro 1, a
regional touring group based in New
Jersey, since she was 6 years old. Afro
t has two parts, a training ensemble and
The New Yorker
- Richard Cortlu, TIME Magazlrw
I G 11. Q U O
a traveling group. Thomas joined the
traveling section at age 1 2, and in 1987
traveled to Senegal. Patricia Reed
Bookheart, the group's leader, visits
Africa two or three times a year to
Davis also emphasized the impor
tance of research. "I started out in 1 959,"
he said. "I was going with teachers to
the library. In 1977, 1 began going to
Africa myself, and I've been going twice
a year ever since." Davis' dances come
from South Africa, Central Africa, West
Africa and from the former Mali Em
pire, he said.
Both troupes spend a lot of time
practicing. Davis' ensemble rehearses
12 to 18 hours weekly, and sometimes
more. Nine performers work only in the
group, and the other 15 dancers and
musicians have outside jobs as well.
Afro 2 meets four hours weekly.
African dance has universal appeal,
something many don't realize, the di
rectors said. Davis had a 10-day artist-in-residency
at N.C. State University
recently. "It's black, white, blue, or
ange and green, which is wonderful,"
he said. "We are about seeing the world
through African eyes."
Similarly, Thomas said she welcomed
all comers, no experience necessary, of
all races. "I would like for African dance
to be accepted and for all people to
study it and appreciate it," she said.
African dances often relate stories
and events. The Davis ensemble per
forms rites-of-passage pieces, wedding
dances, war dances and others. The
initiation dance strikes the audience best.
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Davis said. "Each time you make a
transition, whether from one age to an
other, one role to another or one level of
consciousness to another, it's done with
pomp and circumstance. It's really joy
ous," he said.
Some African dances Thomas has
studied include death, pregnancy, vir
ginity and welcoming dances, she said.
"Funga welcoming is the first
dance that any dancer would learn," she
said, and added that funga was the most
popular piece Afro 2 performs.
Dance is important on many levels,
Thomas said. "It's important for any
culture to hold onto the positive aspect.
Dance for the black culture is very im
portant in general," she said. "There are
very, very significant similarities be
tween contemporary dance and African
Thomas said she danced for reasons
other than cultural. "It's a very, very
good form of exercise. It's very excit
ing to learn the dances and to be a pait
of a very close group. And it releases a
lot of stress. It's a very beautiful art
form," she said.
Davis suggested applying the spirit
of African dance's warmth to life. He
said, "I hope everyone will take the time
to share a positive thought with some
body every day, and if they can, dance
A portion of Afro 2 will perform in
the Cabaret at tonight's "A Night in
Africa." Classes from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
on Tuesdays and Thursdays are still
open and can he joined through the
BCC or Donee Thomas.
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A cappella groups gear
up for 2-day jam session
By Susie Rickard
The University's female a cappella
group will host the first annual Loreleis
Jam Session tonight and Saturday at 8
p.m. in Playniaktrs Theatre.
Singing groups from all over the
East Coast will travel to Chapel Hill to
represent their schools. The Loreleis
organized this concert series to con
nect the loi ":ng tradition of a
cappella singing in ihe North with the
sparkling style and spirit of the South.
This unification should prove to be
exciting as well as entertaining.
The groupsparticipating include the
University of Virginia Hullabahoos,
the Duke University Pitchforks, the
University of Rochester Yellow Jack
ets, Tufts University'sBeelzebubs, the
Princeton Tigressions andUNC'sTar
Heel Voices, Clef Hangers and
Melanie Wade, president of the
Loreleis, said these groups, which are
some of the best singing groups from
college campuses across the nation,
"will expose our campus to a different
style of a cappella." For example, many
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of the Northern schools have recently
been experimenting with vocal per
cussion sounds. This concert series
will enable all the groups to exchange
techniques and integrate their sounds;
thus, the audience will hear a wide
showcase of music.
The two-night jam session will
prove to be a beneficial experience for
all. This will be the first time multiple
schools from the Northern states, where
a cappella groups are more prevalent,
come to play in a jam-session setting
such as this. Many of these schools
have 1 5 singing groups or more, mak'
ing it difficult to find performance
time. The ji n session gives them a
place to sham their talents.
The So!";.ern schools, on the other
hand, will benefit from the exposure to
different and innovative types of a
cappella singing. Best of all, the audi
ence will hear a fun and worthwhile
concert with a wide variety of music
ranging from barber shop quartet style
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