Katie Clancy Takes Class and Writes About It.
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Written by Katie Clancy for The Dance Enthusiast © April 2008
The Class: Richard Gonzales /Afro- Caribbean Dance
||Djoniba Drum and Dance
37 E. 18th Street and Broadway, 7th Floor
212- 477-3464, www.djoniba.com
The Days and Times: Thursday, 6pm -7:30 pm
The Cost: $16.00 per class
What You Should Bring: For Women -Skirts are not mandatory, but they are very helpful--if you can, bring a white/light colored flowing skirt ankle length-
What Katie Has To Say:
The first time I took Richard Gonzales's Afro-Caribbean dance class, I had a spiritual awakening. More than the sweating bodies gliding across the floor in unison, more than the five drummers slamming their souls into the music, more than the beautiful white skirts moving atop sensual rocking-hips—it was the challenge of the movement that inspired my catharsis.
A native of Puerto Rico, Gonzales’ teaching style is highly energized and eclectic. His background includes the classical Dunham Modern technique but also employs more traditional rhythms derived from the Afro-Cuban Yoruba Religion.
The class always begins with a short fifteen-minute warm-up that focuses on breath, articulation of the arms, and rooted strength in the legs.
After the musicians have strolled in and are set up, we line-up in groups of three and spend the rest of the class moving across the long narrow room.
While there are occasional low spins or jumps, most of the lower torso is firmly planted: there is lots of stomping and firm walking in constant rhythm. The arms act out stories derived from the Orisha Deities: the cutting of tall grass with machetes, shooting bows and arrows, harvesting sugar fields, and carrying water jugs.
At first I was blinded by my own frustration. It was difficult to integrate both upper and lower body configurations. My eyes were glued to the floor and obsessed with my own imperfections. When I finally did take a breath, I lost myself in the beauty of the collective group.
Through all the sweat, the pounding percussion, and singing, I experienced a moment of pure communication between the drummers, the dancers, and the divine.
Beyond the spiritual, the energy is communal and relaxed; many of the dancers have been taking Gonzalez’s class for as long as ten years. The musicians act like a big family, sometimes bringing in an older Abuela (grandmother) to help sing or watch after a toddler.
Now that Gonzalez has stopped teaching two days a week at Djoniba, the Thursday class is jam-packed. With more than 40 full-bodied and eager dancers in the space, expect to feel a little claustrophobic. Still, though it may feel crowded, the opportunity to unload emotional baggage and daily stress with a fit of passionate dancing is worth it!
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