Boomers who can’t resist African dance

by Susan Harris on August 12, 2011

Thanks to this story in the Washington Post, I’m a loyal fan of People’s District, a blog that profiles interesting people who happen to live in D.C.   And I can’t resist passing along the stories of two very musical guys in my generational cohort because they don’t just dance; they show us how dance can change lives.

Thomas on Having it Bad for Drums and Dancing is about a guy who loves West African dancing.  He’s been dancing and teaching dance on Sundays at a popular drum circle in downtown D.C. for 20 years now.  Here’s why:

I guess I just transform into someone different when I dance. It is like a spirit takes over me. One time, I was driving by the U.S. Capitol and they had the Zulu dancers performing. I was in the car with my wife and son. The drums captured me and I jumped out of the car while it was still moving to get to the music. My wife had to jump in the driver’s seat and take control of the car. I guess I just have it real bad for drums and dancing. My wish in life is to go to Africa and dance my heart out in Senegal and Guinea.

Melvin on Filling Nothingness with Hope is one of the few profiles that uses a last name and that’s because Melvin Deal here is well known -  as a dancer, musician, choreographer, cultural anthropologist, administrator and teacher. He runs the African Heritage Dance Center and here’s why he does what he does:

When I started in ballet and modern dance in 1958, my ballet teacher at the Northeast Academy of Dance told me that I would never be a successful dancer because I was dark skinned black. That led me to start doing research on the kinds of dance and cultures my people had before they came to America.  From there, I went to Howard and studied dance and then went off to Africa eight times to travel the villages and meet dance people, musicians and even, cannibals. The whole time, I kept my finger and foot in the community. I did all of this research and travel to help reclaim our culture and bring it to the at-risk youth in D.C. I have committed the last 54 years of my life to that.

My attempt at African dancing
I’ve attended many a performance of African dance over the years – I’ll be seeing some tonight, in fact – and find it utterly irresistible.  So naturally I had to give it a try – there’s a class practically in my neighborhood, and all ages are welcome.  Promising, right?

And sure enough, there were lots of middle-aged ladies there, and the music was provided by not some boom box but six live drummers!  The joint was jumping!

Um, too  jumping for my eardrums, it turned out.  And speaking of jumping, the dance we learned involved lots of it, too much for my aging feet landing on a hard surface.

Oh, man, I hate it when the body’s not as willing as the spirit.  That ever happen to anyone else?

{ 1 comment }

Pam J. August 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Greg (my son) goes to that DC (Meridian Hill) drumming circle almost every Sunday. As a serious atheist, sort of a Hurwitzian atheist, he gets all the spirituality he needs by being in that group. Ironic that it’s held on 16th Street, the street of so many traditional churches.

Yeah, I too know the spirit-body conflict. But give yourself many pats on the back for having so MUCH spirit. The body can be adjusted; it’s much harder to adjust the spirit.

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