Theresa Shockley, the executive director of the Community Education Center located in West Philadelphia, takes her heritage quite seriously. Partnering with DanceAfrica, a program offered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Shockley helped direct DanceAfrica Comes to Philadelphia Nov. 8 and 9.
The two-day event included Philadelphia’s Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble, Kariamu Welsh and her company, Illstyle & Peace Productions, and special guest group Farafina Kan from Washington, D.C.
“I think that there is such a need and a desire of a part of the African-American community and the community overall to have a sense of culture for African-American people,” Shockley said. “In many ways we are very much disconnected from our [roots].”
In addition to dance companies being featured, a marketplace was set up during the main event and drumming workshops were available.
DanceAfrica is the largest dance festival dedicated to African dance, founded by Chuck Davis in 1977 in New York City. This was the first time the festival came to Philadelphia. The remarkable response from the community might suggest that it will return.
The workshops were well attended, and the main concert almost filled the 840 seats in Drexel’s Main Auditorium.
Miriam Giguere, dance program director and associate professor at Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, helped to support this event.
“I think the caliber of dancing was very high and the workshops were well attended. The people’s response was very successful,” she said.
Courtney Fickes, a pre-junior dance major, said, “The amount of talent, respect and gratitude among the performers was both pleasant and refreshing. I’m thankful to have had this opportunity to experience African culture.”
The positive reactions of both the performers and the audience are all thanks to both programs’ mission statements. The CEC and DanceAfrica are geared toward creating a sense of community across cultural and economic divides.
What Shockley created was a message far beyond performers honoring their ancestors onstage. It was a combination of the new and the old. It brought together a community within Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.