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Get on your feet! Racines Black Dance Festival celebrates African dance in the Americas

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Get on your feet! Racines Black Dance Festival celebrates African dance in the Americas

The Racines Dance Festival is back Oct. 18 to 20 for its third year celebrating African dance in the Americas. The festival brings together professional dancers from around the country to give workshops at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in styles like Afro beat, waacking, Cuban rumba, sabar and others. A group performance at Roxbury Community College polishes off the experience by highlighting each of the teachers’ special skills.

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“I think a lot of people may not be aware of the influence that black dance has had on American culture and how much it has shaped American culture,” says Marianne Harkless Diabate, who founded the festival in 2016 with Baindu Conte-Coomber and Mckersin Previlus. “Our mission is to bring communities together to increase cultural awareness and to elevate black dance in the area.”

This year, the group performance will work backwards chronologically, featuring contemporary dances and then working back to traditional African styles. Each teacher and/or teaching group will perform a separate vignette in the larger performance. Diabate also notes that there will be opportunity for audience participation.

Among the many notable artists teaching workshops this year are Carl Alleyne, a native Bostonian teaching locking, global hip-hop artist and teacher Tweet Boogie, and Isaura Oliveira teaching Brazilian orixa from her native city of Salvador.

The core of the festival is about joy and community. But the role of black dance and black history in our current culture is a key part of the dialogue as well. “Black history has been sort of relegated to the sidelines. At this point I think it’s largely regarded as something that’s important for black people to learn. And what I want to stress is that it’s important for everyone to learn, because it’s the history of our country,” says Diabate.

The first iteration of the festival was held in Cambridge and garnered about 200 attendees to the workshops. This year the group expects to receive 500 participants. Those attending the festival can purchase a full festival pass, passes to attend a select number or workshops or just a ticket to the group performance. Community members interested in supporting the festival can donate on the Racines website.

Diabate says the most rewarding part of the festival has been watching dancers (and newcomers) of all ages, races and experiences coming together to celebrate. “My experience with black dance is that it’s just about community and people,” she says. “So it makes you feel good doing it. It’s accessible at many levels. It’s dance from the heart.”

If you go

WHAT: Racines Black Dance Festival

WHEN: Friday–Sunday, October 18–20, 2019

WHERE: Workshops: Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Friday performance: Mainstage at Roxbury Community College


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