Part of Cumbe’s mission is to share the rich stories from the world of African and diaspora dance and music. Many of you have asked us about our name, so here is the fascinating history behind it.

August 13, 2015

By Jimena Martinez, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance

We at Cumbe feel blessed to be part of your lives and routines. We often hear from students that it seems like we’ve always been around – but we’re actually only three-and-a-half years old! However, our name – Cumbe – has a rich history and legacy.

“Joy” Studio

Alegría, the Spanish word for “joy,” was almost our name.  It speaks to the core of who we are: the vitality and joy of African-inspired dance. However, while we were testing Alegría as a name, we fell in love with another word that a friend suggested: Cumbe, a word from Guinea. Cumbe seemed perfect because it means “celebration,” “dance,” or “party,” and is also a rhythm and a dance. The word also migrated to the Caribbean and the Americas before returning back to Africa – evolving and changing along the way just as people, music, and dance have.

Tracing the Journey

Tracing the actual path of the word cumbe is like playing detective, though – we know only fragments of its journey. The journey starts in Guinea – M’Bemba Bangoura, one of our teachers, tells us that cumbe is a celebration dance and rhythm from the Yahinka people in Gaoual, a small town in Guinea near Senegal. The Yahinka are a part of the Malinke, one of the most important ethnic groups in West Africa.

In the video below, M’Bemba talks about cumbe and demonstrates the 3 different rhythms that comprise it. Note: Normally the 3 rhythms would be played simultaneously on 3 different drums – here, he demonstrates each one in succession on one drum.

We next find cumbe in Mexico in the 15th and 16th centuries, where the dance and music of black Mexicans became “an integral part of religious feast days.”1 The cumbé (also known as gurumbé, paracumbé, chuchumbé, or guineo) was among the most popular of these dances; it was so popular and sensual that Mexican authorities actually tried to regulate when it could be danced.  We even found a version of the popular Mexican song, “Cielito Lindo,” in a cumbé rhythm.

Click “play” to listen to the song:


Next, the word traveled to Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia. In Venezuela and Brazil, towns formed by fugitive slaves were called cumbes. Marcelo d’Salete’s synopsis of his graphic novel Cumbé (about slave resistance in Brazil) states, Cumbe, the Bantu word that gives name to the work, is rich in meanings: the sun, the day, the light, the heat and a way to understand life and the world. It is also a synonym for quilombo (Brazilian term for towns created by escaped slaves).”2 A personal connection for me – since I’m Colombian –is that cumbia, the national dance of Colombia, is said to have roots in the cumbe rhythms and dance of Guinea.

A fascinating part of the story also takes place in Jamaica. Jamaican maroons (fugitive slaves who fled the plantations and successfully maintained their freedom) created the gumbe (a square drum with four legs) after the British banned the use of peg drums. Originally used in spiritual rituals, it went on to become part of goombay festivals in the Caribbean.

Gumbe drum

Gumbe drum

The story gets even more interesting here: in the early 1800s, a group of Jamaican Maroons resettled in Freetown, Sierra Leone3 and brought the gumbe drum with them. The gumbe drum has since gone on to influence music-making throughout West Africa –from Guinea Bissau to Ghana, Nigeria, and eventually most of West Africa – influencing many modern styles like Calypso, Palm Wine Maringa, High Life, and Afrobeat. It’s a great example of how music and musical instruments made the return journey back to Africa.4

Just as the name, music, and dance cumbe has journeyed around the world, Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance aims to take you on a joyful journey through dances and music that originated in Africa.  We take inspiration from the many ways that cumbe has signified resistance and resilience, and it strengthens our commitment to create a lasting, thriving, and joyful home for the dance and music of Africa and its diaspora!

Citations & Footnotes:

1.  Santiago de Murcia’s Códice Saldívar no. 4: Commentary by Craig H. Russell, pps 69-70.

2. Website for Livraria da Travessa, bookseller for “Cumbé” by Marcelo d’Salete:

3. Freetown was created as a colony for freed slaves from the transatlantic trade.

4. These are the main sources of our information about the Jamaican gumbe drum and its return to Africa:

– “A Drum’s Trans-Atlantic Journey from Africa to the Americas and Back after the end of Slavery: Annobonese and Fernandino Musical Cultures” by Isabela de Aranzadi (article)

Website titled Jamaican Maroon Music:

Forum conversation on

Jimena_BW_DP_Photo - by Inna Penek

About the writer: Jimena Martinez co-founded Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance, along with Dominique Bravo and Pat Hall.  Jimena fell in love with dance rooted in Africa in her 20’s and founded Cumbe because she feels strongly that there should be a home for this incredibly important culture in Brooklyn and New York City.  Prior to joining Cumbe, Jimena worked for over 20 years as a senior manager in educational and criminal justice reform organizations.

December 5, 2012










M. Soledad Sklate interviewed Daniel Fetecua – choreographer, dancer, and founder of Pajarillo Pinta’o – about the African influence in Colombia and his Cumbia y Fandangos! workshop at Cumbe on Dec. 16, 2012.

Interview by M. Soledad Sklate 

Q: What is the history of the African influence in Colombia?

A: As far as I know, Colombia has the second largest population of African communities in Latin America.  Africans were brought mainly from West Africa (Senegal, Ghana, Congo) as slaves with the Spanish Conquest. Some of them escaped, others got their freedom in 1851 when slavery was abolished in Colombia. They formed communities in the Pacific region and the Caribbean coast, in humid and wild areas where the Spanish would not go. This allowed them to settle, form communities, and keep alive their African cultural heritage. I recently read a book called “Soy Atrato,” written by Nevaldo Perea, that talks in detail about the history of the Chocó area, where most of the Afro-Colombian and native population is concentrated. This region and its inhabitants have been struggling for their territory and cultural autonomy, and have also suffered a lot of violence in order to protect their land, rich in natural resources. Palenque de San Basilio, for example, is a village on the Pacific coast that was founded by runaway slaves. Thanks to the remote location, they developed their own music and folklore, even their own language called ‘palenquero,’ which is a mix of Spanish and African languages. The northern Atlantic coast of the country – which was more accessible, more open – got more mixed. In fact, there is amazing folklore everywhere in Colombia: in the mountains, in the flatlands, in the jungle, on the coast.

Q: What do Afro-Colombian dance and music have in common with more well-known rhythms and dances from West Africa or the Caribbean?

A: There are always similarities in terms of movement and the way of dancing. I could be dancing and moving the same way as somebody else on the dance floor, and then find out that he’s from Haiti. Afro-Colombian dances and music share the same roots with dances and rhythms developed in other countries with African influence. The currulado is a typical Colombian and also African rhythm. The mapalé has a lot of African influence. The hip movement in the puja is another example of this influence. What differentiates Colombia from Cuba or Haiti is the native indigenous influence. In those countries, the native populations were exterminated. In Colombia, ‘pure’ indigenous communities survived, and also mixed. Colombian dances and music are the result of both African and native indigenous influences.

Q: Cumbia and Fandango will be the focus of your upcoming workshop at Cumbe on December 15 and 16. Can you tell me more about those rhythms and the workshops?

A: Cumbia is the most popular Colombian dance, and the workshop will focus on the traditional Colombian way of dancing Cumbia, including live musicians. I suggest that ladies bring a skirt, and men bring a hat. The woman dances in front of the man, who follows her. The dynamic between man and woman is flirty, seductive. We will learn the history, the rhythm, and the playfulness of the ‘game of conquest’ that Cumbia is all about. Cumbia is a mix of several influences: the hip movement shows the Afro and Arabic influences; the man dances alone, which shows some African influence; the singing is in Spanish, whereas the music shows Afro and indigenous influences as well. Fandango is a more festive, faster rhythm that is popular during Carnival season on the Atlantic coast. There is a rapprochement (coming together) between man and woman; they hold hands. It is a lively, relaxed rhythm, where Spanish, African and indigenous influences are all present.

Q: Who are your students? Who is interested in Afro-Colombian dance and music?

A: A lot of people of Colombian descent come to discover part of their heritage unknown to them. I’ve also had Mexican and Ecuadorian students, but also people from other places who are interested in this part of Colombian culture because of their interest in African and diaspora music and dance. In fact, one of the main goals of my career as a dance teacher and a dancer is to show the other face of Colombia, the rich culture of the country. That’s why I created the dance company, Pajarillo Pinta’o, while I was studying in Germany. Whenever I said I was from Colombia, people associated the name of the country with drugs, violence, kidnappings. I set myself to reconstruct the repertoire of dances and rhythms that I used to dance while growing up.

Q: What was the evolution of Pajarillo Pinta’o?

A: I created it in 2003 in Germany, to reconstruct traditional folkloric dances and rhythms. A few other Colombian and Venezuelan students who were also studying in Germany became the dancers of the company. When I moved to New York in 2006, I was determined to continue with the company, but now casting professional dancers from all over the world. Inspired by this cosmopolitan nature of the city, I started to play around and fuse folkloric choreography with contemporary influences. I started to mix traditional dances I had learned at the Universidad Nacional in Colombia with my training in Limón technique and other contemporary styles. And in this way, I started to develop my own language, which blends folkloric and traditional with modern and contemporary. My goal is to safeguard the traditional repertoire, but to also create new choreographic works that will always be connected to my roots, yet they can be shared as something universal with audiences all over the world.


About the writer: M. Soledad Sklate is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University, doing academic research on the intersection of literature and embodied cultural practices and manifestations rooted in African diasporic influences. She is an avid practitioner of Latin and African dances, and is working at Cumbe as a Media and Communications intern.


November 26, 2012









M. Soledad Sklate interviewed the multi-talented Julio Jean about his new album of Haitian music, his music and dance career, and his philosophy on teaching. Julio’s band played live at “La Rumba de Julio,” his CD Release Party, on Dec. 7, 2012.

Interview by M. Soledad Sklate 

Listening to the beautiful tones of “Kenbe la” was the perfect prelude to my conversation with Julio Jean, which offered me a better understanding of the motivations and goals behind not only his new CD but also behind his career as a dancer, dance teacher, musician and singer: to honor Haiti and its people, and highlight the joy and beauty of Haitian culture.

Q: What is your special focus in the classes you teach at Cumbe?

A: I teach Afro-Haitian dance, which includes a lot of folkloric dances, social dances and ritual dances from religions like Voudou. My focus in my classes is not perfect technique. Of course technique is important but for me, the communion between the rhythm, the movement, and the dancers is much more important. When you explain the movements too much, or make too many corrections, you lose the rhythm. I usually show the movements, lead the group, and then let it flow. I make corrections, but mostly during the breaks, not during the class. Most of the times I also sing the songs that go with the rhythms in order to help students immerse themselves in the dance. Some students have actually asked me if I could offer a class where I’d teach those songs! It’ll probably be coming … My classes are all about community, and communion with the rhythm. I like to enjoy the dancing, so I want my students to enjoy it as well.

Q: Where did you learn and get trained in all the different kinds of Haitian dance?

A: When I started studying at the National School of Arts in Port-au-Prince, my concentration was music. I had always been interested in music, singing along all the songs playing in the radio or in the record player my dad used to have. One day, however, in preparation for the inaugural ceremony of the Musée du Panthéon national haïtien (National Museum of Haiti), they came to the university looking for dancers for the show.  There were not enough male dancers in the dance department, so they were recruiting men from other departments … and they picked me! Lavinia Williams, who had danced and trained with Katherine Dunham, was in charge of the recruiting efforts. When she saw me, she told me: “You shouldn’t be in the music department! You should be a dancer!”  After hesitating, I finally gave up and said yes! My classes in music had been by that time very theoretical, so I was captivated by how much progress I could see in my dancing in a short period of time! But the study of dance at the School was not only dancing. Besides being trained in ballet, modern, Dunham, traditional Haitian styles, we also studied theory, philosophy and culture.

Q: How would you describe the style you have developed?

A: I construct my movements based on traditional forms, stylizing them by fusing my modern and Dunham training. Thanks to Lavinia and other great Haitian teachers who taught me Dunham and many other techniques, I was familiar with the practice of mixing and fusing traditional folkloric Haitian styles, and modern influences. Another important element of all the shows I created is the narrative. I always integrate music, dance and theatrical components, my shows always have a story line.

Q: Does your new CD “Kenbe la” also have a story line? What was your inspiration to produce this CD? What is your goal?

A: After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, I was commissioned by the City of New York to create a show to present on Summer Stage. The show was based on my singing, so I had to find musicians to accompany me. Right after the performance, the base player, Chico Boyer (who is also a producer) proposed me to make a CD! He said he would be the producer, but that the music should be all mine! I always have a melody in my mind, so we started to work on it right away.  “Kenbe la” combines traditional Haitian songs with my own compositions. In collaboration with Adrien Jeanite, an excellent and experienced musician who plays the keys in the CD, we rearranged and adapted songs of different traditional Haitian rhythms. For example, “Anasilya” is a popular song in the Haitian troubadour rhythm. “Kama Kama” is a traditional voudou song. “Kenbe La (La Rumba de Julio)” is a rumba in the Afro-Haitian style, and “Madan Kleman ak Siya” is a carnival song. “Peyi-a”, “M’ap mande’w”, “Manman Penba” and “Ki bò’w rete” are all my own compositions. “Ki bò’w rete” (Where do you live) was the first song I composed for this production, which features a hybrid rhythm that I call ‘tropical blues.’ The inspiration for all my artistic creations is Haiti, and the hope to have something that Haitians could be proud of. I’ve always wanted to be a good representative of Haiti, in America and anywhere else.  I want everybody to love “Kenbe la”, that’s why it has so many flavors, for everything and everyone!


About the writer: M. Soledad Sklate is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University, doing academic research on the intersection of literature and embodied cultural practices and manifestations rooted in African diasporic influences. She is an avid practitioner of Latin and African dances, and is working at Cumbe as a Media and Communications intern.


November 15, 2012










Certified Dunham instructor Penny Godboldo talks about what it was like to take class with dance pioneer Katherine Dunham, and her Dunham Technique workshops at Cumbe. Katherine Dunham Technique is a cornerstone of African and diaspora dance, and Penny is one of the few instructors who worked closely with Katherine herself. 

Interview by Tamara Warren

I first met Madame Penny Godboldo in 1998 at Marygrove College in Detroit, where she continues to teach as Associate Professor of Dance. Like many of her students, after one Dunham technique class with Penny, I was hooked. Her classes include careful, personalized, and precise instructions, insight into the philosophy of Ms. Dunham, and stunning demonstrations of choreography over the melodic rhythm of the live drums.

Penny Godboldo began studying the Katherine Dunham Dance Technique in the 1960s and later served as a demonstrator for Ms. Dunham. Katherine Dunham made Penny an instructor of her technique in 1993, and Penny is a founding member of the Dunham technique certification board.

Q: What is the Katherine Dunham dance technique?

A: Dunham Technique is a codified modern dance technique that has its roots in traditional African dance, that can also be interpreted as jazz or folklore.  It incorporates classical ballet as well.  Paramount to successful execution is the understanding of the mind/body/spirit connection.  The tenets of Dunham Technique are intercultural communication, socialization through the arts, and form and function.  In this context, dance is a way of life, and participation in the fact of dancing is as important as life itself.

Q: What was it like to take class with Katherine Dunham?

A: Taking class with Katherine Dunham was always an intriguing and adventuresome experience.  It was always intense — an experience that required that you work deeply into the muscular, dancing on the edge of exhaustion, interpreting always the most exciting of music. Most importantly, she spoke a great deal throughout the class, sometimes prefacing movement with lecture and also ending the class posing questions that punctuated the points she wished to make.  What points did she want to make? I think she was always striving to make the dancer become adept at critical thinking and discernment, to feel things more deeply, and to be a problem-solver.  In essence, become more of a humanist.  Always the message to those in her presence (she spoke to observers who were not dancing as well) was to contribute something to humanity and to stand up for those who are not able to do so for themselves.  Each experience with Ms. Dunham was empowering.  At the end of class, one was never quite the same as when they started it, and there was always much to contemplate.

Q: How did her company members add to the technique?

A: One of the greatest contributions of company members was their personal “testimonies” of what Katherine Dunham (and especially her technique) had done to improve the quality of their lives.  The traveling, exposure to other worlds and other cultures, and developing raw talent into world-class stars are stories they all have to tell.  Additionally, the emphasis placed on the level of integrity inherent in Dunham dance movement is something that has always been of great value to me personally as a dance artist.

Q: Who are some of your Dunham influences and mentors?  

A: Madame Lavinia Williams-Yarborough is without a doubt the most influential right after Ms. Dunham.  “Madame Lavinia”, as we called her, always taught her students with love and great care.  She used to instill in me the importance of really knowing a people, and she said one could learn that from studying their religious beliefs.  I found that to be an astoundingly valuable way to develop compassionate and astute world citizens,  and I still use that valuable tool when teaching my dance students to this day.  Other Dunham teachers who had a great effect on me are Tommy Gomez, Talley Beatty, Clifford Fears, Vanoye Aikens, and Lucille Ellis.  But I would say all of my Dunham technique teachers have influenced me to some extent.

Q: Why did you decide to bring this workshop series to Brooklyn?

A: I believe wholeheartedly in the brilliance of Ms. Dunham, the therapeutic and healing properties of her technique, and its amazing ability to communicate the human potential.  Inherent in executing the movement fully and properly is the celebration of life at its fullest.  When I was certified to teach the technique in 1993 (even though I first began to study Dunham technique in the mid-’60s), I made a commitment to Ms. Dunham to make it part of my mission in life to spread the word about this amazing and empowering technique.  I also became a founding member of the Dunham Technique Certification Board in order to help facilitate training certified teachers.  When I was a student training at the Alvin Ailey school some years back, I loved the period of time that I lived in Brooklyn.  I find it to be a vibrant and homey city that reminded me much of my youth growing up in Detroit.  Cumbe exudes that friendly atmosphere and makes students and teachers alike feel comfortable and welcome.  Co-directors Jimena Martinez and Dominique Bravo and artistic director Pat Hall have a commitment to offering both high-quality dance, and responding to what the Brooklyn dance community is asking for.   Although I could have started teaching anywhere, Brooklyn was my first choice.  It is my hope that Dunham technique will continue to grow throughout the New York area and the world beyond.

Q: What will students get out of the workshop? 

A: Students will get a great workout and experience amazing self-discoveriesabout what they are personally capable of.  Dunham is a strengthening technique and will make even the recreational dancer extremely strong and healthy.  This technique develops mind, body, and spirit, and the students will be forever changed by this workshop experience.  For those who feel they are called to teach, these hours can count towards certification.  Those interested may obtain specific information from me during the workshops.

Q: What if students only attend one of the classes in the series – will they be able to keep up?

A: Of course, the best scenario is for students to commit to the series of classes, as I wish to build a strong foundation for those who want to fully get the benefits of the technique.  However, any experience in Dunham technique is a wonderful experience.  In this case, students will be encouraged to work at their own level, giving the most effort that they are able to give.


About the writer:  Tamara Warren has written for over 80 publications including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Delta Sky, Vibe, Forbes, Wax Poetics, Nylon, The Detroit Free Press and Okayafrica. She holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School. The Detroit native lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their four-year old son.


November 8, 2012








Teacher Papa Sy talks about traditional Senegalese dance and how his generation of dancers, trained by Germaine Acogny, built on Senegal’s dance heritage to create “métisse-dance” (hybrid-dance). 

Article by M. Soledad Sklate 


Papa Sy was born in Diourbel, a town in western Senegal, about 90 miles, east of Dakar. He grew up in Rufisque, once an important port city in its own right but a suburb of Dakar now. He then moved to Dakar, where he worked for a few years, and he joined the National Conservatory of Dakar in 1993 when – to paraphrase Papa Sy’s words-, “he was already old” (but he was only in his 20s!) His 6 years of training in the conservatory allowed Papa Sy to excel in mastering Sabar and other traditional Senegalese and West African dances.

When I asked him how he would best describe Sabar dance, his immediate answer was “La danse sabar est aérienne” (Sabar is aerial). He then unraveled this for me: the characteristics of different Senegalese dances depend on le terrain (the ground, the terrain) of the region where the dance is practiced. Sabar, for instance, is the dance of the “habitants du sel” (inhabitants of the saltmines). Most of the northern part of Senegal has a semi-arid, dry terrain, with some thorny acacia trees and huge baobabs dotting the landscape. The tendency to jump and elevate is not surprising then, given the harsh conditions of the land. In contrast, Papy Sy explained, the dances of the southern region of Casamance are “en bas” (down).  The landscape in this area is more hospitable, with forests, and green and abundant vegetation due to higher levels rainfall. The tendency then, is to remain low, close to the ground. “C’est l’espace qui conditionne le style” (It’s the physical space that conditions the style), he summarized.

Germaine Acogny

The knowledge and mastery of traditional dances acquired after his years in the conservatory were not enough to satisfy Papa Sy’s passion for dance and his innovative spirit. He joined Germaine Acogny’s École des Sables, and was part of the very first class to graduate from the program. This fact made Papa Sy and his generation of dancers proud, of course, but they wanted to “marquer époque.” They wanted to leave a mark in a more profound and even radical way. The question that Papa Sy and a few of his fellow dancers had in their mind was: “What can we do to enrich our already precious traditional dance heritage?” “Métisse-danse” (hybrid-dance) was the answer to their question.


European and American dancers had been coming to Senegal to learn the traditional dances, styles  and rhythms.  Why they, Senegalese dancers, could not go out, discover and absorb the dances and styles of other cultures, and then bring them back home to enrich and infuse traditional dances with outside elements? There was nothing stopping them, so that is exactly what Papa Sy and some of his dancer friends did. As part of the process of learning dances and techniques from different parts of the world (India, Europe, modern and contemporary dance from the US), Papa Sy had the opportunity to collaborate with Susanne Linke, a renowned German dancer and choreographer (important in the development of Tanztheater and contemporary dance internationally). After a world tour presenting their collaborative work in 2001, Papa Sy went back to Senegal to further develop the idea of “métisse-danse”, share his knowledge and train a new generation of dancers. He created the Pasytef Ballet Théâtre de Dalifort, the first dance ‘company’ in Senegal – before that, all the dance groups were called troupes – and the Pasy Dance School, which offered free dance artistic education to children.

In trying to translate “métisse-danse” to a term accessible to a foreign audience, Papa Sy described it as “contemporary African dance.” This is the comparison he made: as Western modern and contemporary dance styles have developed out of ballet technique, métisse-dance has traditional Senegalese dance techniques as its base, which is empowered, enriched and fused with influences and inspirations from the styles he learned in other parts of the world. “La danse est universelle”, Paya Sy concluded.  However, as universal as métisse-dance is, it remains, at the same time, deeply rooted in the land, rhythms, styles, dances, traditions, and sensibilities of his native Senegal.


About the writer: M. Soledad Sklate is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University, doing academic research on the intersection of literature and embodied cultural practices and manifestations rooted in African diasporic influences. She is an avid practitioner of Latin and African dances, and is working at Cumbe as a Media and Communications intern.


October 21,2012









M. Soledad Sklate interviewed award-winning dancer, choreographer, and sought-after teacher Baba Richard Gonzalez about his project at Cumbe: the “Meet the Artist” Choreography and Performance Workshop. The workshop is a unique opportunity for emerging choreographers to develop dance pieces with a group of students under the guidance of a seasoned professional, and culminates in a performance.

Interview by M. Soledad Sklate 

My sunny Sunday afternoon got even brighter after I had the privilege to interview our dear dancer, choreographer, and educator Baba Richard González. Baba has been immersed in the study of traditional African-Caribbean dance for thirty plus years, and has taught in both the United States and the Caribbean for over two decades. His commitment to the rich traditions of the Caribbean has fueled his passion for the documentation and preservation of Afro-Caribbean dances through teaching and performing. Baba is the embodiment of the transformative power of dance and culture. Winner of many awards, his most important one might be to have the opportunity to share his gift of dance with his students, fellow dancers and the community.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of “Meet the Artist,” the choreography and performance workshop that you are currently doing at Cumbe? Why did you come up with such an innovative idea?

A: This workshop came out of the idea of providing a platform for emerging artists and choreographers to develop and showcase their work in progress with the guidance of seasoned professional choreographers. You cannot find this anywhere so I proposed the idea to Jimena Martinez (co-director of Cumbe) and Pat Hall (Cumbe’s artistic director), because I knew that Cumbe has the type of community where such a project would become a reality.

The regular one or two-day workshop that I and other dance teachers usually hold are great, exciting, people look forward to them … but after them, what are you left with in terms of educational value? I wanted to create at Cumbe an educational component that is centered and focused in emerging dancers and choreographers, and also on the development of students participating in the workshop. I wanted to create and offer something different. People can take regular workshops elsewhere. They can only find this special format at Cumbe. I envision having the choreography and performance workshop on a seasonal basis, 4 sessions a year. I hope to hold the next one in February or March 2013.

Q: Can you tell me more details about the format of the workshop? How is this workshop different from other workshops you have conducted in the past?

A: The traditional form of other workshops I teach is “follow me along.” That is, I demonstrate a movement, and then students repeat the steps in progression moving across the floor. The choreography and performance workshop is very different. Two emerging choreographers, Kelly White-Burrell and Mara Rivera, are working along with me while their dance pieces are being created. As a professional, I see the areas where they need development and I help them by creating the avenue so that they can identify and explore their art. This process follows my vision, but it provides them with the space they need to start developing their own visions. The other important aspect is that these emerging artists will be the teachers of the future, so the workshop allows them to interact with the community and learn from their experiences. I can see their development; they are developing their own teaching style, this is their training.

Q: How is it different for the students?

A: Students have a more active participation in creating the pieces. They are in the process with me. The choreography and performance workshop is very good for their dance training, but it is also valuable in terms of education because I can address their questions of deeper interests and deepen their understanding of dance. The focus is not on me, it is on community building and development. Students of all levels can participate, which is challenging for me because there is no selection process, no auditions, there is an element of surprise in terms of how the group of students is going to be. The students are expected to arrive ready to work, because there is no warm-up. The material is presented to them in 3 repetitions, and each student has to find the way to learn it (through video, writing up the steps, etc) for the following week. They have to take the material and make it their own. This gives them independence and an insight on how the creative process works.  Then the room is divided in 3 sections, each group working with a different choreographer, and then we rotate.

The process is intense, since we only have 8 hours of practice to put together a 45-minute show.  Dancers are used to this, but it is a challenging process for those who are relatively new. They not only need to learn the technique, but they also have to learn (outside of the class) the spirit and the purpose of each movement, each gesture, and each expression.

Q: Can you tell me more about the piece, Mixed Flava’s!, that you and your students will showcase on November 3?

A: Mixed Flava’s! is a puree of infectious rhythms, contemporary and traditional, from the African Diaspora. As a young man, I studied Flamenco – so the piece is influenced by the form. I also studied contemporary dance, so you can see contemporary influences as well. However, what attracted me to traditional dance was the sound of the drums and ‘el ritmo latino,’ el Clave!

Mixed Flava’s! isan evening featuring a mixture of dance, poetry, and infectious rhythms and aesthetic expressions of the Caribbean islands.
The evening will start with “CLAVE,” a collaboration between Kelly White-Burrell, Mara Rivera, and me, danced by the ensemble of students and accompanied by live percussion. The second piece is “THE DRUM (AFRICA TO AMERICA),” choreographed and performed by Kelly White-Burrell. Then there will be a percussion piece directed by Niko Laboy called, “EXPRESSIONS – Infectious Caribbean.”

After the intermission, I will perform, “MY DREAM, MY JOURNEY” (2009), based on a dream I had and how it lead me to “La Regla de Ocha.” After that, there will be a piece dedicated to the spiritual force of the rivers, “OCHUN’S SWEET WATERS.” The ensemble will dance the archetypes of the Orisha interpreted as an art form. The presentation will close with “SOY BOMBA!”, honoring my Afro-Puerto Rican heritage, and featuring Mara Rivera, Cynthia Renta, and the ensemble’s interpretations of the traditional Puerto Rican dance and song.

You can watch Mixed Flava’s!, the culminating performance of this workshop, on our Videos page.

About the writer: M. Soledad Sklate is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University, doing academic research on the intersection of literature and embodied cultural practices and manifestations rooted in African diasporic influences. She is an avid practitioner of Latin and African dances, and is working at Cumbe as a Media and Communications intern.


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