The following is a report on the African American Dance Ensemble written by BAC board member and Director of Fine Arts & Advanced Studies for Brunswick County Schools, Connie Enis.
As a precursor to the 13th annual Brunswick County Intercultural Festival, which occurred on Saturday, September 30, 2017, outside Odell Williamson Auditorium at Brunswick Community College, the African American Dance Ensemble was the featured act who was invited to perform at two separate events the day and evening immediately before the festival.
These two performances held on September 29, 2017, were possible as a result of a Grassroots’ Grant from the Brunswick Arts Council and NC Arts Council.
The Director for this annual festival, who was responsible for booking this outstanding dance ensemble, was Mari-Lou Wong Chong with the help of her festival committee.
The first of two African American Dance Ensemble performances was held on Friday, September 29, from 10:00-11:00 AM at Odell Williamson Auditorium for nearly 1400 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders representing all races and ethnicities in the 10 district elementary schools in Brunswick County.
School principals were asked to select which grade level(s) could attend based on the allotted seats given out per school. In addition to these elementary students, nearly 40 high-school dance students also came from one of our traditional high schools. To support this cultural event, the Transportation Department provided activity and yellow buses to transport these students to and from the auditorium at no cost for the mileage or driver. As preparation, weeks before coming to the show, all elementary principals and the one high-school dance teacher were sent several attachments providing detailed informational resources about the continent of Africa with geographic visuals and its culture and language particularly related to fine arts and especially the evolving role and importance of dance in the communities of selected African countries.
To help better understand this wealth of information, several lesson plans appropriately aligned to various age groups and discipline areas were also provided to the schools. These resources were used by classroom teachers with their students as creative classroom activities in preparation for understanding the performance they were to experience.
That one-hour show by the African American Dance Ensemble from Durham, NC, featured very colorful, authentic costumes and unique, realistic instruments particularly percussion ones. There was also a Storyteller who narrated the various types of dances with their special movements and foreign vocabulary heard within each. The emotional intensity of the dances coupled with the arduous choreography that helped to tell the story fascinated the student audience. Of course, the fast pace of the melody heard in the drum beats invigorated the crowd. The result was much interactive engagement with the audience with hand movements, word echoing, and clapping. Then came a really personal time for students who were selected by their teachers to join the dance group on stage and participate along with them in front of their peers. How much fun that was! As if that were not the highlight, then came the teachers’ turn to join the ensemble and move and shake to the cadence of the troupe. The auditorium was filled with laughter and cheers urging their teachers to perform their dancing skills. This was truly an enthusiastic and fun way to appreciate global awareness and learn about cultural diversity and the role of the arts in the lives of Africans over the ages.
Then that evening from 7:00-8:00 PM at the same auditorium at BCC another concert was unveiling—that for the entertainment of the families in Brunswick County. That show was nearly twice as long as the earlier one that had been presented just for the students. Approximately 300-350 people came to that production. All there thoroughly enjoyed the performance of the actors and singers as they seemed to never tire from showcasing their musical routines. As was the case earlier that morning, the Storyteller did an amazing and informative job of teaching the audience about African people and how the arts reflected and impacted their emotions, daily lives, culture, and traditions.
The African American Dance Ensemble has been in existence for over 30 years and performs in many different venues. They are amazing professionals who symbolize the goodness and warmth of the people of Africa over the ages as they depict the scope of African lives so tirelessly and beautifully through dance and song.
Here’s a bit of video of the special performance that was live-streamed at the time by The State Port Pilot .