A few years back I met a journalist from Accra, Ghana, who told me he danced every day. Where? I asked, thinking of health clubs, nightclubs, maybe churches. He said he danced at home, with his children. Some African Americans try to reconstruct that way of life, a means of keeping their traditions alive through actions--telling stories, dancing, playing music. The idea is to live the heritage: African music and dance are life-giving, as vital as the heartbeats on which the drumbeats are based. This weekend Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago ("muntu" means "the essence of humanity") offers an afternoon "bring the family" special featuring both African and African American dances. Juba Jig features several traditional forms that helped Africans fight the dehumanizing effects of slavery: in the hambone slaves slapped their bodies because their drums had been taken away, and in the cakewalk, a promenade, they poked fun at the manners and mannerisms of their masters. Evening Time is based on the traditions of West Indian slaves, who lightened their work and play with music and movement. Among the African dances are the Mandingo people's Lenjengo and the Djolla people's Econne Econne, showing off the strength of workers in the rice fields. Expect audience involvement--the good communal kind, not the humiliating Letterman kind. Sunday at 3:30 at the Navy Pier Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand; $5-$10. Call 791-7437, 559-1212, or 602-1135 for tickets and information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kwakena Shabu.