The African American Dance Company's student organization held its third annual Pre-Kwanzaa Celebration and Student Showcase. The event was held at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center from 6-7:15 p.m. Tuesday.
The showcase and celebration were filled with music, drumming, dancing, singing and education, as the members of the audience learned about Kwanzaa and watched student-choregraphed dances.
The event is centered around sharing the company’s version of a pre-Kwanzaa celebration, Baba Stafford C. Berry Jr., director of the AADC and IU professor of practice, said.
“That event is part showcase, part educational information session, part conversation, part entertainment,” Stafford said.
The company started hosting the celebration two years ago, Stafford said, because they noticed there was no acknowledgement of Kwanzaa around campus. After doing some research, Stafford said he found the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center had hosted a pre-Kwanzaa celebration before but wanted to know where those celebrations went.
Stafford said because he celebrates Kwanzaa and grew up learning about the holiday, he wanted other people to have that experience.
“I figured that there would be folks out there who I'm sure know about Kwanzaa, but don't necessarily know enough about it that they feel secure in either attending a program or celebrating it themselves,” Stafford said.
The showcase is important to him, Stafford said, because he is a proponent of a holiday that gives African American people an opportunity to be responsible for their own caretaking, well-being and future. Beyond himself Kwanzaa is an African American cultural holiday that anyone can celebrate because it’s not based in religion, though spirituality is a part of it, Stafford said. So, whether Kwanzaa is a learning tool, he said, or a way of connecting with Black and African culture, it’s important for the whole campus and community to know about it.
“Now that Black lives are mattering, it's even more vitally important, from my perspective, because it teaches a lot in one fell swoop, in one fell shot about lots of critical issues and items that are called values that are associated not just with Kwanzaa, but with the upliftment of Black folk, even in 2023,” Stafford said.
The event featured four dances choreographed by students in the advanced level of the dance company course, Stafford said. The students taking the foundational level dance company course, he said, will be doing most of the dancing.
Assata Dailey, co-president of the AADC’s Student Organization, is one of the student choreographers and said having an event like the pre-Kwanzaa celebration is important because to the organization’s knowledge, there is no other event like theirs for Kwanzaa.
“We want to acknowledge that it's still here and that people still celebrate it,” Dailey said. “We want people to know that it's here and live on campus.”
CéAira Waymon, co-president of the AADC’s Student Organization, is also one of the student choreographers. She said the pre-Kwanzaa celebration is important because before she joined the company, she knew Kwanzaa existed but didn’t know about the holiday’s origins or that it was a cultural holiday for the African American community and diaspora.
“So, not only educating African Americans about this cultural tradition and holiday, but also, I am unaware of any other group on campus that is putting on a Kwanzaa-related event,” Waymon said. “So, if we're the only ones we really need to show out and make sure people are coming to learn about Kwanzaa.”
The celebration, Stafford said, is not only an educational opportunity, but also entertaining. Over the past two years, they said, the company has gotten amazing feedback about how much people have learned and enjoyed the celebration and how much they discovered about the ensemble and Kwanzaa.
“It’s just robustly packed full of such education, culture, goodness, and a good time,” Stafford said. “It's also a chance for you to kind of just take a breath, you know, from this craziness that we'll all experience in these last two weeks, as we head to the finish line that's called the end of the semester.”
Finally, Stafford said, the celebration is important because it encourages people to reflect, not only about Kwanzaa but about all people’s cultural holidays.
To learn more about the African American Dance Company, click here.