A couple of weeks ago I found an old photo of my friend and I at a Ballet performance (I’m on the right). I was kind of startled by the picture because I have no recollection of that young Simone, even my Ballet classes slip my mind. It is interesting what people do and do not remember from their childhoods. Surely my dance memories would remain intact, but all I can remember is my friend’s name. With this absence, finding this photo gave me some reassurance of dance in my life. I don’t think finding this photo was a coincidence. A few days later I was scrolling down my Facebook feed and came across a trailer for Michaela Deprince’s upcoming book trailer below.
I was immediately inspired by her personal story, the images and reality of a Black Ballerina and and just the elegance of Ballet. I never considered taking Ballet classes again because of my “too late” mindset. But, as I continued to learn more about Deprince, Misty Copeland and after watching First Position, I decided it’s not too late for me. I’m hoping to start adult Ballet classes next year at the Dance Theatre of Harlem!
While taking Bollywood and Bhangra classes on Wednesdays I have also found a home at Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance. It is truly a gem. I started taking classes about a month and a half ago. I registered for Cumbe’s Community Dance Day, where all the classes for a Saturday were $5. My first class was Congocise taught by Funmilayo. I love the live drumming, which Funmilayo says is better than today’s synthetic music. I strongly support eating real food instead of synthetic food (and try whenever I can) because real food gives you healthier energy. I never thought about live music like drumming providing healthier energy than synthetic beats.
The second class was West African with Mouminatou Camara and then Samba/Afro-Brazilian with Danielle Lima. After taking Samba I realize I’m not good with my feet, I need to move my left side more and I have a hard time doing two different moves using my legs, feet and arms at the same time. In all three classes, the dancing style where people line up in four lines on one side of the room and dance across to the other side was new to me. Cumbe offers so many interesting classes like Salsa, Afro-Latin Jazz, Afro-Haitian, Sabar, “Dancing the Orishas” with Gilset Mora and special workshops like upcoming Rumba with Stevie Insua. I love Cumbe, and what’s awesome about the center is that people from all different backgrounds come to learn!
Congocise class with Funmilayo
After my first experience with dances from the African Diaspora, the word “free” comes to mind. Free head, neck, shoulders, arms and hips. Free everything. It’s not like learning choreography where there has to be some thinking and constant repetition involved. Following the teacher’s movements in lines across the room is a mixture of observation and pure dancing. When it’s your turn, you have no time think, hardly any time to practice, you just go. Three days ago I took Samba/Afro- Brazilian again and gained confidence to just dance (even if I don’t have the movements all the way right). This reminds me as a dance teacher-on-her-way to always remind students that dance class is about having fun and expressing yourself, trying your best and never giving up on learning the moves.
I’m really excited about DanceAfrica next year, the nation’s largest festival dedicated to African dance. It takes place in New York City through Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and other states like Chicago and DC. Last year DanceAfrica focused on Madagascar-based music and dance troupe Bakomanga. I didn’t get a chance to go in 2014, but I’m hoping to attend next May. Cumbe participates in this festival and I can’t wait to find out which teachers will give dance demonstrations.
West African Dance Demonstration with M’Bemba Bangoura at DanceAfrica 2014
So far I have taken a Hip-Hop, Dancehall and Afro-Cuban Folkloric class at Cumbe. The most challenging class has been Afro-Cuban Folkloric dance. I cannot describe the dance, people have to see and experience the strength and spirit in the movements for themselves. I sucked in this class. I could not get the moves right to save my life. I was off with the beat and an overall mess. When my arm was supposed to go right, it went left and when I was supposed to turn I was tripping over myself. I’m intimated by that class and contemplating about going back, but the biggest lesson I have learned at Cumbe is that I cannot expect to waltz in a class and ace a cultural dance I have never been exposed to. It takes time. I’ll say it again, (mostly for myself) it takes time. A few of my fellow Dance to Unite family members have said this to me, so I’m going to continue to learn and grow at Cumbe keeping that in mind.