MOUNT RAINIER – The Soul in Motion Players AfricanDance and Drum company performed on February 24 and 25 with a high energy show that showcased drumming and dancing styles from West Africa, Cuba and Brazil.
Held at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainer, the group, founded by Philadelphia native and Howard University graduate Michael Friend, is a nonprofit with a mission of sharing the richness and the experiences of African-American culture through theatre, dance and drumming. Group members delighted an audience that showed its appreciation by enthusiastically clapping along and swaying to the rhythms. A few in the crowd even joined the company onstage to show their own impressive footwork at the end. Included was the 3-year-old daughter of dancer Megan Atkinson who garnered nearly the biggest applause of the evening.
The program began with the pouring of libation by well-known Washington, D.C. area dance troupe founder Baba Melvin Deal who called in the ancestors to bless all of the performers and those in attendance.
African dancing often celebrates a special occasion such as a wedding, the birthing of a child or a naming ceremony, and Friend selected four dances with unique significance to their regions. He also included an excerpt from “We are Africa,” a play he wrote in 1989 to express his frustration with society and its ills, particularly homelessness.
The company of three vocalists, eight drummers and seven dancers kicked off the evening with a rousing tribute to Ile Aiye, an Afro-Brazilian group founded in Salvador, Bahia that featured plenty of high kicks, waist twisting and undulating torsos. For the piece, “Kassa,” the drummers had an opportunity to shine as they drummed the Kassa, drummed during harvest time to support farmers working in the field.
Kpanlogo, a recreational dance and music form origination from urban youth in Accra, Ghana, was joyous and creative, and Yankadi/Makru, a traditional seduction dance for young women, was appropriately teasing and colorful.
The Soko, a rhythm played in the time leading up to a boy’s circumcision, was delightful to watch, as was the Guinea Fare, or Women’s Dance, traditionally performed by the bride-to-be the night before her wedding day.
Friend said that a part of his company’s mission has been to promote cultural diversity “and to help people to understand that Africa is “about more than just slavery.” We are more the same than different.