In 1977, the Chuck Davis Dance Company constructed an African village within the confines of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The success of that performance was the foundation for DanceAfrica, an annual weeklong festival that features performances, workshops, and an outdoor bazaar. The festival has since spread to a number of other cities, including – as of this week – Philly, when the Community Education Center hosts the first DanceAfrica Philadelphia.
“The CEC has been looking to do more with the African dance and drumming community,” says Theresa Shockley, executive director of CEC. “Each city does its own version, but I think they’re all interested in having dance and drumming be the centerpiece of an effort to build and strengthen community.”
That initiative fits perfectly with the mission of the CEC, a nonprofit performing arts space that supports the local arts community through educational and performance opportunities. As Shockley says, “My goal with DanceAfrica Philadelphia is to bring attention to the fantastic dance and drumming community that we have here. But I’d also like to have people across racial and economic barriers realize what a powerful art it is and how it can, particularly for African-Americans, be an important part of building character and family dynamic. For me, that’s always what the arts are about.”
Shockley, who has performed in past DanceAfrica festivals as a founding member of the dance company Urban Bush Women, worked closely with Davis, known as “Baba Chuck,” to create a version of DanceAfrica unique to Philadelphia. The inaugural four-day festival, which she hopes will become an annual event, will feature performances by local ensembles including Kùlú Mèlé African Dance and Drum Ensemble, Kariamu and Company: Traditions and Illstyle & Peace Productions. In addition, there will be lectures and workshops, an Afro Beauty, Health and Wellness Marketplace, and an exhibition created with the Philadelphia Folklore Project called “Honoring Ancestors of Rhythm, Movement and Place.”
“Since this is our first festival,” Shockley says, “we wanted to look at the tradition of African dance from Africa through slavery up until today. The exhibit explores the political implications of what it means to be a part of that culture and to have that be an important part of your life. We wanted that history to be central to the whole event.”
Nov. 6 – 9
Community Education Center
3500 Lancaster Ave.