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arts music

IU’s African American Dance Company performs with bravery Saturday


IU’s African American Dance Company presented its spring concert at 7:30 p.m. April 15 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Currently directed by Stafford C. Berry Jr., the ensemble has performed at IU since 1974, combining numerous traditions of Black dance.  

The theme tying together this particular performance was “Brave Enough.” Berry — known as “Baba Stafford” to the students in the ensemble — said he invited performers from IU’s ballet and contemporary dance departments to participate in this show.  

“It’s the biggest show that we’ve done thus far,” he said. “There are a lot of works in this piece and it’s the most guest folks I’ve invited to be in a show.”  

The first piece combined sounous, a traditional Guinean music of healing, with the lyrics and melody of Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” The Indianapolis Pan African Dance Ensemble provided the sounds of sounous while members of the AADC sang and danced. 

The crowd was immediately responsive and vocal. The Company came out swinging with bright, active energy and the audience responded in turn, fueling the spirited dance. The combination of traditional and modern idioms served to introduce a show that incorporated musical practices from a broad range of places and times.  

Related: [Bloomington Delta Music Club Presents provides musical whimsy Friday night]

Berry came out between songs to lead the audience in participatory activities. One was a call and response in Twi, a Ghanaian language, where Berry would request the crowd’s attention and they would assure him they were listening. Another asked them to stand and introduce themselves to their neighbors.  

Although these meetings were brief, they helped to establish a sense of community among the audience that reflected the harmonious performance of the ensemble. IU junior Assata Dailey talked about how the company feels like a family. 

“When you’re up there, there’s this energy that bounces off of everyone,” she said. “This is more than just a course for a lot of us. This is home on campus, especially being a student of color at a PWI.” 

She said this feeling of closeness follows the group on and off the stage, no matter what they’re doing. Dancers consistently had smiles on their faces and their precise, coordinated movements demonstrated immense trust in themselves and each other.  

Dailey and Berry both emphasized the significance and scale of the collaboration taking place for this show. They said the theme, “Brave Enough,” referenced the difficulty of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to work with others who may be steeped in unfamiliar traditions.  

“Over the past year we have entered, interacted with and engaged with other dance spaces on campus,” Dailey said. “Baba was brave enough to do that, something that hasn’t been done before.” 

Although the Company had to face difficulties in preparing for this show, its mission of bravery brought together artists of several disciplines in taking a leap of faith to learn something new, resulting in a strengthened sense of unity among IU’s dance community.  

“We’ve had some challenges with going to other spaces where the majority of folks don’t subscribe to the same cultural aesthetics we do,” Berry said. “It’s this idea of being brave enough to at least take one step forward before we take another step forward.”

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