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Black History Month: Exploring African culture through dance

Casimiro Nhussi performs in Dance Immersion’s Celebrating Our Men in Dance running Feb. 6-8 at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre.

Leif Norman

Next week, Dance Immersion, an organization that supports the dance community of the African diaspora, mounts Celebrating Our Men in Dance, as part of the TD Then and Now Black History Month series. The program of solos and group dances features the works of eight choreographers. We spoke to Dance Immersion director Vivine Scarlett, the program's curator.

Dance Immersion is not a dance company. Can you describe what the organization is all about?

We're more of a presenter and producer, highlighting dancers of the African diaspora. We're a connector.

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With the production Celebrating Our Men in Dance, what are you zeroing in on besides the gender?

We want to highlight the positivity of black men. We hear so much in the news and everywhere else about the negative things that happen. We want to celebrate those fathers who raise their children and those who go to school and graduate and make a positive contribution. Part of that is celebrating our men in dance.

Next year, Dance Immersion will celebrate woman choreographers. Is there a difference in styles that we'll see from this year to next year?

It's not that, really. Because there is such a variety among the men, it's more about celebrating the different styles in general. Also, some of the choreographers have been around for many years and there are emerging ones as well. You'll see a wide range of expression.

Dance Immersion is celebrating its 20th anniversary. What do you see as your most significant accomplishment?

Institutions have been developed. There has been growth. We can go to the dance community now and find a professional teacher to come in and teach classes, for example, in traditional West African dance. We're able to present works in a professional venue. That adds to the experience for everyone.

What is the relationship younger dancers have with traditional African dance? Is there a disconnect?

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The connection comes from the history and the belonging. If history hasn't been taught, one doesn't see themselves in it. The problem is that the history isn't always freely and happily given. So the younger generations tend to create their own styles. History is forgotten. But we find that when we do African dance, with drumming, the thing is to just let them see it. So now we have a generation of our kids, and the kids of people with Ballet Creole and COBA, who have grown up in the system. They're putting their own voice and their own spin to it. It's something that resonates with them. They see themselves in it.

So, 20 years, and a new generation is making its presence known. That has to be satisfying for you.

That's what it's all about. I am now mentoring a young lady who will take over my place in July.

Oh, well, I wasn't suggesting that the young generation is pushing the old generation out or anything like that.

No, no, no [laughs]. It goes to show that the next generation is taking these things on. It's not all about one person. It's striving for excellence and doing thing in a professional manner. [Black dance pioneers] Katherine Dunham and Len Gibson did not have the opportunity that I have, living here right now. They were really disadvantaged, simply because they were black.

And what's your own connection with those icons?

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The things they accomplished inspire me, so that I can inspire other people. And to let them know that we can do this.

Celebrating Our Men in Dance, Feb. 6 to 8, 8 p.m. (extra matinee, Feb. 8, 1 p.m.). $18 to $30. Enwave Theatre, 231 Queens Quay W., 416-973-4000 or harbourfrontcentre.com.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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