DanceAfrica— the largest African dance festival in the country– returns to Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 27, bigger, better, Blacker, bolder and in-person and outdoors for the first time since 2019.

Since DanceAfrica’s founding 45 years ago, the event has been BAM’s longest-running program and the official clarion call in Brooklyn that summer is coming!

This year’s program kicks off on Tuesday May 3, with an artist workshop by Mark Morris Dance Group and continues throughout the entire month of May, with film screenings, a master class, live performances, an outdoor marketplace and much more. 

“It really is a full, Brooklyn takeover,” said Coco Killingsworth, vice president of Creative Social Impact at BAM. “One of the things we’re incredibly excited about is returning to in-person. There’s nothing like the real thing. We’re looking forward to filling the streets again and bringing the community together … bringing everybody back is going to be remarkable.”

“Homegrown”

The festival, known for spotlighting the artistic brilliance and cultural diversity of the African Diaspora, each year hosts a dance company from overseas– such as from Haiti, Senegal, Rwanda, Cuba and Brazil— with companion programming accentuating each country’s culture contributions. 

This year’s festival, themed “HOMEGROWN,” will feature U.S.-based dance companies from Brooklyn, Harlem, the Bronx, and Washington, DC– each offering a homegrown vision of traditional dances.

HOMEGROWN brings the festival full circle by offering participants a poignant look-back at how the DanceAfrica movement got started and a fresh look-forward at its amazing growth:

“We’re going back to the beginning, where you get to see a different company each night,” Killingsworth said. “It’s an incredible moment to be in celebration of community again.”

2022 Featured Companies

Featured companies include Asase Yaa African American Dance Theater, a Brooklyn-based troupe known for its explosive African dance and drum performances. Marking its sixth DanceAfrica appearance is Bambara Drum and Dance Ensemble of the Bronx, bringing West African traditions to the stage in a high-octane performance. Rousing and critically acclaimed percussion orchestra and dance ensemble Farafina Kan from Washington, DC, will share the history and spirit of traditional West African drumming and dancing, blended with contemporary music. 

Bronx-based Harambee Dance Company performs the majesty of the African diaspora through movement, modern dance forms and live percussion. First seen at DanceAfrica 1992 and marking its sixth DA appearance is LaRocque Bey School of Dance, the oldest African dance school in the US. And finally, all will be joined on stage by the DanceAfrica Spirit Walkers and the BAM RestorationArt Dance Youth Ensemble.

How it Started

BAM Artistic Director Abdel R. Salaam said “HOMEGROWN” is an opportunity to acknowledge the global contributions of the diaspora right here in the United States– the socio-political struggles, creativity, fortitude and desire for Black people in America to reclaim their cultural roots which led to the birth of DanceAfrica.

BAM Artistic Director Abdel Salaam Photo: Julieta Cervantes

“There were a lot of socio-political movements and cultural movements in civil rights happening around that time,” said Salaam. “Where we landed was on a very strong need to understand our roots. And cultural identity became the center of that foundation.” 

DanceAfrica was founded in 1977 by Baba Chuck Davis, a dancer, choreographer and instructor at BAM. As an African Dance instructor and someone who was heavily involved in the Black Arts Movement, Davis decided to approach BAM’s founder, Harvey Liechtenstein, to propose programming that highlighted Black culture.

“At that time, BAM focused predominantly on European art forms; there was nothing focused on the culture of Africa,” said Salaam. 

Baba Chuck wanted to create an arts and culture platform that pointed directly to Africa, a fountain that the entire world could drink from, said Salaam. That first year, he started with performances by his own dance company, The Chuck David Dance Company, and that decade continued to tap into the talent of African American dance companies around the country. In 1988 DanceAfrica welcomed its first African-based company.

DanceAfrica Photo: BK Reader

“We as young artists began to feed our intelligence from artists from all over the diaspora,” Salaam said. “The desire to do continental African dances was extremely important. The exchange was food, clothing, spiritual traditions and dance– all of this was going back and forth. Soon, we became the mecca here in the U.S. for the diaspora, and DanceAfrica became that consciousness expanding experience.”

“Thousands of years of experiences were empowering us!” Salaam continued, “But, what was our story?”

“Fela, a Nigerian musician, became who he was because he was empowered by James Brown and Prince. Our jazz music influenced Hugh Masakela of South Africa. So it was not only about what we were gaining from Africa but also what Africa had learned from us.”

In this way, “HOMEGROWN” not only harkens back to all of the original expressions that birthed the festival into existence, but also builds upon the best parts of what it has become.

How it’s Going

In addition to the dance performances at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House and the popular outdoor DanceAfrica Bazaar with over 150 vendors offering crafts, food, and fashion, participants can also look forward to a DJ dance party at BAMcafé with live music, a Tribute to the Ancestors, a Community Day, and the newest edition– a Teen Expo and Talent Show.

Restoration Youth Arts Academy Dancers Photo: Supplied/BAM

“The children of the original movement became the seeds that have germinated and now are flowers that have produced other flowers,” Salaam said. “It’s an intergenerational, legacy experience– an embodiment of a family of culture, rhythm and movement, thanks to Baba, (ibaye).”

“So let’s bring it full circle! Let’s acknowledge and stand up and shout to the world. It was our struggle, our yearning, our socio-political and cultural experiences that enabled us to find ways to talk about our story and bring us what DanceAfrica is today.

“I call it the gift that has been given to the world!” 

For the full schedule and tickets to BAM’s DanceAfrica 2022: HOMEGROWN, visit BAM.org/danceafrica. Advance registration is required for some events.

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