Photo Credit: Tyler LaRiviere, Chicago Sun-Times
From the first time I saw a Sean Cheesman African dance piece on So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), I’ve been mesmerized by this genre. African dance is not just about the movements; there's so much history and meaning behind the steps. All over the United States, dance schools and arts programs use this style of dance as a way to teach youth about many important aspects of African culture. For example, 17-year-old African dancer and Chicago native Aviwe DuBois, who was recently interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times, said that she not only learns about history through dance, but African dance also teaches her about leadership and family values.
DuBois started dancing at the age of 5, and now attends Chicago High School for the Performing Arts (ChiArts). In addition, DuBois is also a student at Les Enfants Dance, an After School Matters program. Essentially, this program helps teens find their power through dance, while teaching young performers the historical and cultural contexts embedded within choreography. Overall, After School Matters programs aim to provide Chicago public high school teens opportunities to explore and develop their talents, while gaining critical skills for work, college, and beyond.
At Les Enfants Dance, Artistic Director Shakeena President-Beckford introduces teens to a variety of different dance styles. They learn ballet and modern dance for classical training, in addition to traditional African, Caribbean and Latin dances. President-Beckford has had many dance students over the years, but she feels that DuBois's attention to detail makes her stand out from the crowd.
“I haven’t had a student like Aviwe in a long time. She pays attention to the smallest details — a finger, a toe, a single step. She does whatever is required to complete the statement. She pulls everything together to tell the story," said President-Beckford to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Photo Credit: After School Matters-Les Enfants Dance on Facebook
President-Beckford's co-instructor at Les Enfants Dance is her mother, Carol Ika President, and together they have formed a dance family where all of their students refer to them as "Mama Shakeena" and "Mama Ika." Students feel that Les Enfants Dance is a safe space where they can better themselves through the art of dance theater performance. By the time they graduate high school, Les Enfants dancers are stronger and more disciplined because of their exposure to culture and art at a young age.
As forDuBois, she has stuck with African dance for so long because enjoys learning the meanings behind each routine and finding the connections between certain stories and steps. She's constantly inspired by the culture of African dance and strives to teach people lessons through her art. DuBois always wants her audience to know that there is a meaning behind everything she does on stage.
Sometimes dance isn't just about dance- it's about life. African dance is the perfect vehicle to teach the rich stories of African culture to our youth. By acting out stories through dance, these lessons will stay with children for much longer than if they were just read them in a textbook.