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Saturday, May 12, 2012

1977: The Origins of DanceAfrica

Chuck Davis Dance Company, circa 1970s
By the mid 1970s the Chuck Davis Dance Company was one of the highest profile African-American dance companies in New York City. Based in the Bronx, for many years the company had been busy with various community outreach programs. With grants from the NEA, CDDC taught choreography and physical education to Bronx teens, and in 1976 it was designated company in residence for the New York City Board of Education. Through lecture-demonstrations, movement workshops, and concerts, the company reached over 15,000 students in public schools across the city, serving as a motivational force designed to inspire greater academic achievement.

These activities laid the groundwork for what would come to be known as the first DanceAfrica: the February 1977 residency of the Chuck Davis Dance Company in the Lepercq space at BAM. Continuing its community-oriented work, CDDC added a new element to their mission: to promote the celebration of African heritage, which emerged as the hallmark of DanceAfrica.

Chuck Davis, 1977
Upon entering the Lepercq, visitors to the Chuck Davis Company’s performances found themselves in the middle of a constructed African village. A note in the program read:
In essence, you are visitors to our village which is wherever we are. We welcome you with Dyembes (Drums) and Eparoro (Chant). Through the chant we ask that you not only enjoy your stay with us but form with us a comradeship that will remain a lasting association.
And indeed the association has been long lasting: each subsequent spring has brought a celebration of African identity and heritage to Brooklyn, as Chuck Davis has expanded his metaphorical village into a real community. Starting from the basis of his own company, Davis has built a network of African and African-inspired dance ensembles from around the world, which perform at BAM and other venues across the US year after year. As Davis himself would say, “peace, love, and respect” goes out to all members of the DanceAfrica community past and present.

Members of CDDC on BAM's roof, 1979. Photo: Chuck Davis.

1 comment:

  1. Dance Africa is more than just a performance; it is a cultural focal point for the reconnection, renewal and revitalization of our collective African Spirit for thousands of African descendants here in New York and elsewhere! I always come away feeling refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to face todays's life challenges which are miniscule compared to what our ancestors endured! Dance Africa is a Give Thanks/Give Praise ritual acknowledgment to those who came before! Love you, Baba Chuck! Live long & Dance! Ahmasi

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