|Janice Hart-Brathwaite, 2nd from left, with Charles Moore Dance Theater.|
Photo courtesy of the artist
In February 1976, dancer/choreographer Charles Davis held three performances in the Lepercq Space in today’s Peter Jay Sharp Building at BAM. He constructed an African village to honor the ancestry of African-Americans. From there, a tradition and institution grew steadily. This year the DanceAfrica Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary (May 26—29). It is not only BAM’s longest running program, but also has wide-ranging elements for everyone—performances (including for students during schooltime), classes, a bazaar, films, community events, scholarships, and a Memorial Room. All contribute to spread Baba Chuck’s, and current Artistic Director Abdel R. Salaam’s, enduring central messages: love, respect, and tradition. Here are stories from a few people whose lives have been touched by DanceAfrica.
William Mathews, “Baba Bill”
Council of Elders
I met my future wife Mama Lynette [White] in 1981 and she invited me to an African dance class taught by Chuck. After a while sitting on the side, Chuck asked me to get up and dance with them. I was not a dancer and knew nothing about African dance. But his presence was so illuminating and his personality so inviting that I did as he said. After that, he said I was to come back next week, which I did. Some time after that, Lynette told me I was going to be on this “Council of Elders.” Since I was courting her, I did as told. That’s how I became involved with DanceAfrica. I remember asking Chuck once why he wanted me to be a member. He said, “Anyone that can make my premier dancer smile and look so happy is part of my family.” The Council of Elders is an important part of the festival. We instill the sense of respect for tradition, culture, and elders in all participants. I oversee arranging the Memorial Room and have set up two mentorship programs (Crowns and Seeds) at Bed-Stuy Restoration. Chuck really makes you want to participate. He makes you feel loved, like you’re in a family. I call it the magic of Chuck.