It’s late evening and though I’m tired, I’m still wide awake and buzzing with excitement. I’m in Dominica at the Fort Young Hotel preparing to go to Grand Bay tomorrow for a dance lesson in Bele, one of the island’s heritage dances that has been preserved from Africa. I’m here on a research sabbatical from the New York City Board of Education. Going to Grand Bay to learn Bele in the nation’s cultural capital seems like the realization of a dream come full circle. Just this February I was laying on the black sand beach of Rosalie Bay on Dominica’s Atlantic side of the island checking my emails when I discovered that Study Sabbaticals had been reinstated for teachers with more than 14 years of tenure with the Board of Education. I made up my mind to apply for the sabbatical and began writing up a research proposal to study African Cultural Retentions in the Caribbean, Latin and American dance and to create a dance and social studies curriculum from my findings.
Now nine months later, I’m in Dominica doing this research after studying and traveling in Ghana and Gambia since August. It’s easy to gather information in Dominica because the people have preserved the dances from the time period of slavery, to the present date. It’s easy to see the French and English origin of dances such as the Quadrille, Heel and Toe, Lances and Flirtation and the creolization resulting from the applying of African stylist qualities, such as: demonstrative facial expressions, abundant hip movements and greater interplay and contact between male and female dance partners in contrast to the European dances. Here one can also observe Dominica’s dance Bele, said to have come directly from West Africa. The Bele is a beautiful and powerful, syncopated dance between one or more female and male dance partners, drummers and singers. One of the most notable aspects of this dance is the fast and complex foot movements that allow the dancers to seem as if they were riding a horse as they dance across the stage. Watching this dance, done in local creole dress, is a treat of colors flashing, skirt ruffles flailing, and rhythms blaring. The controlled and engaging movements of the dancers draw me in and make me feel that I’ve almost entered another time period.
Tomorrow I am going to learn Bele from Dominica’s own Miss Wob Dwiyet (something like Ms. America) and visit a school where I will watch the students perform cultural dances, record them and interview the students for my pen-pal project . A project with the school I am on sabbatical from in NYC ,Public School 87. I am thrilled to see my project picking up steam. Dominica is such a beautiful country with a heritage it’s citizens have a right to be proud of. Everywhere I go people are open to sharing the culture with me. I’ve interviewed many, documented dances from young and old alike. I was also given the opportunity to appear on the local news and the Youth Action Network to talk about my project, The Akwaaba Dance Project.
My experience has been amazing. When I pull out my journal and review my vision for the research journal I dreamed of … I feel amazed. Little flecks of black sand from Rosalie Bay still fall from the creases of the pages I wrote on back in February. I look back and realize just how far I’ve come on this journey. Each day of my experience here I can’t wait to see what the next day holds. For now though, I have to get some rest, so I can keep pace with the students and instructor, who will teach me the historical and inspiring of Bele dance.
Until next time!!