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Cameroon Takes The Spotlight at This Year's DanceAfrica at BAM

Film screenings, live performances, an outdoor marketplace, classes, an art exhibit and much more are at BAM's DanceAfrica festival.

DanceAfrica, the largest African dance festival in the country, returns to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, featuring a dynamic celebration that will highlight the cultural richness of Cameroon.

This year's festival runs from Friday, May 24 through Monday, May 27, with choreography classes, a panel discussion, film screenings, live student performances,
an outdoor marketplace, an ancestral tribute performance and much more!

The annual festival has a long history of spotlighting the artistic ingenuity and cultural diversity of the African diaspora — 47 years to be exact. Each year, BAM shines a spotlight on a different African diasporic culture.

This year's anchor performance, The Origin of Communities / A Calabash of Cultures, under the artistic vision of Abdel R. Salaam, will underscore the interconnectedness of dance, music, and the ancient foundations of human culture.

Featuring a unique dance collaboration with the DanceAfrica Spirit Walkers and Billie's Youth Arts Academy Dance Ensemble, the festival will also incorporate the mesmerizing polyphonic sounds of the Women Of The Calabash ensemble, known for their captivating performances using calabashes of various sizes.

“When children are exposed to a new culture or a new dance form, you can see their perception of African culture and the continent change,” said Karen Thornton, Program Director for the Billie Holiday Theatre Youth Arts Academy. “This also makes students, as well as their parents, understand that we are more similar than we are different.”

The Ensemble prepares for their performance via video before transitioning to in-person rehearsals with the visiting dance company, Thornton said.

Then the visiting choreographers come to the studio to watch the group.

“Every year, they are blown away by the students,” Thornton said.

The festival's impact extends beyond performances, with educational initiatives like the DanceAfrica In The Classroom program providing dance classes in public schools including 14 class sessions, each running between 45 to 60 minutes long.

In addition, Brooklyn high school students are involved in BAM's Spring Dance Insider, a free after-school dance training program from master teachers.

A family dance class at BAM's DanceAfrica. Photo: Supplied/Tony Turner via BAM

This all culminates into a school-time DanceAfrica performance in May, where over 4,000 students, parents, educators, family and friends come to see two one-hour performances, according to Ava Kinsey, BAM’s Director of Education.

These performances include children as young as two years old that come in from other states including New Jersey and Maryland.

As students learn a new dance form from a different culture, it really peaks their interest in the whole festival, Kinsey said.

“It’s really very moving to see all the children come together to perform and learn,” she added. “And for the students, it’s so much more than just one performance, it becomes this huge experience for them as they get to be part of something as large as DanceAfrica.”

Coco Killingsworth, BAM’s Chief Civic Engagement officer, said people show up to DanceAfrica for many different reasons. “Some come just for the boisterous energy of the outdoor bazaar and music, while others look forward to quieter, seated performances. Inevitably, it becomes a reunion of sorts,” she said.

“The energy you see and feel is unbeatable,” Killinsgworth said. “You see the dances, you see the people, you see the children and your elders and you’re aware of your community.”

Community Day at DanceAfrica 2023. Photo: Supplied/Tony Turner via BAM

This year, there will be a roundtable discussion with the Council of Elders, made up of the individuals who started and preserved the festival for over 45 years. On May 26, the Council will discuss the importance of preserving the legacy of DanceAfrica, and its work to create connections among the ancestors, the art and
culture of Africa and its diaspora. In conjunction with the ongoing DanceAfrica Oral History Project, this conversation serves as a gathering point and opportunity for the DanceAfrica community to ask questions.

“There are many student alumni that come back to teach, perform and simply join in the festivities every year,” according to Ava Kinsey, BAM’s director of education. “DanceAfrica is truly generational,” she said. “Once you participate in it, it marks a time in your life and you keep coming back.”

Tickets for DanceAfrica 2024 can be purchased here.