We present to you, Episode 1 of Weirdos for Wellness featuring Vince Johnson and Alex Brazinski. Filming & Editing: Adriana Imhof
8-9 pm Beginner Lesson: Laurel Card
9 pm - 12 am Open Dance Floor: Dj Valentin - practice and party with us and our super inclusive salsa vibes
Performance by Leilani and Michael (pictured)
$12 online/$15 at door. It all goes down at our studio home: 2100 Chestnut St. 2nd Floor, enter next to Poi Dog
Ever try to go out Salsa dancing but feel kind of intimidated? Us too. It can be kind of overwhelming at first. That's why Laurel created this practice party for students of salsa to come get their feet wet and meet other beginners. It's a great time!
All levels are welcome in Afro Club. Don't miss this special class offered only at UMA.
Sundays 3:30 - 4:30 pm
Sanchel Brown was in Senegal for several weeks this summer, working as a teaching assistant and generally upping her game as a fierce footwork dancers who walks with folkloric dances of the African continent and the club dances of her hometown of Baltimore.
Sanchel's class, formerly known as B'more Afro House is now, more simply, Afro Club is back with new material and a deeper connection to the lineages it weaves together. Sanchel is particularly invested in Saba, a dance style of Senegal that is polyrhythmic, complex, and fast paced. Saba, like Baltimore Club, is a quick stepping, high kicking, hold nothing back dance of power and spirit.
Below, Sanchel talks about having to proove her dancing game in front of a very critical audience of neighborhood kids on her most recent trip to Senegal.
I’d never imagined the day when children could make me so nervous while dancing. After years of dancing on many stages, platforms, and auditions the need to prove myself couldn’t top my test to prove my skills to the Senegalese children of Mbour. Mbour is a small village right outside of Dakar, the capital and central city of Senegal, with tons of cement buildings, dirt roads, buses, taxes, and the beautiful reminder of nature’s elements existing all in one time.
Concluding my two week training program my friend, who is also a drummer by profession, showed me around his home village. He welcomed my request to dance with some of the top dancers of the village whom also perform with a local company of four generations, Sillaba de Thiaroye. When the time came, the drummers of the village gathered their materials and a young dancer signaled me to follow along. As the drums struck the complex rhythms of Sabar children came by the doves to see what the noise was all about. Five, ten, fifteen, and several showed their faces in what now was a huge crowd and my heart sank. My only intention was to sharpen my skills and gain some great footage to place in the film version of Home to Homeland (shameless plug). I wasn’t expecting to perform.
I didn’t intend to lose my freshly gained Africa approved “card” so as the rhythms began and my feet burned on the hot grounds I started to dance Sabar. I struggled to catch some of the steps that seemed so natural for my dance partner. Some children chuckled. Some tried to show me how it’s really done. Some watched to see if I’d be able to get it. Some of the dancers encouraged me to use my arms simultaneously with the legs and to catch the hidden rhythms. Soon I picked it up and gave a final performance of the movements learned. I caught a small applause from my tiny critics! Had I done a good job with capturing and performing the hardest dance of centuries?
In March of this past year, UMA produced the premiere of Sanchel's show Home to Homeland. If you're interested in supporting the show, contact Sanchel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dance is a life changing habit.
THURSDAYS 7 - 8 pm
We know you want to dance. Here's how:
Vince is offering a new class every Thursday for folks who feel like they are starting from zero, or maybe even less than zero. For folks who self identify as having "two left feet." We absolutely believe anyone and everyone can learn to dance, no matter what age, body type, gender, or previous experience. We understand that dance can be terrifying. This class will give you the building blocks to start dancing, to find your groove, and to change your live. Vince breaks down the mechanics of basic movements and musical concepts slowly and with individualized support. This class is for folks who have literally never ever taken a dance class of any kind, but love music and wanna boogie. If this sounds too good to be true, it's because, yes, this kind of class for adults, taught by acclaimed professionals is uncommon. But UMA is uncommon too. Yeah, that's right. We're special :)
Dance class can be a like going to the gym, going to church, and getting on stage on in one hour. It's like going to the gym because you will get your heart rate up with solid cardio without endless hours on a treadmill. Drilling movements and learning choreographies in different rhythms you will build fast and slow twitch muscles. Over time this leads to both explosive power, precise agility, and physical endurance. It's like going to church because you can let go of the rest of your life for a hot minute. You can offer up a part of your spirit to the groove, let go, let loose, release, and reconnect to the pleasure of being in a human body. It's also like church -- or any sacred community -- because it's an opportunity to share your hard work and your bliss with those sweating around you. UMA is built around dances of the African diaspora and American folk dances, all of which have a social and cultural function to bring people together in sadness, grief, rebellion, sensuality, joy, ecstasy, and more. It's like getting on stage because dance class is a place where we can practice being seen. Being seen as out imperfect selves striving towards a goal, a moment of arrival. Learning to be seen in class or on stage is a practice of self-acceptance, learning to let go of what others think and strive towards our own performance goals.
Come through! You can take one class as a drop in. Buy a 5 class or 10 class card. Or sign up for an Intro Month (30 days of unlimited classes for $40!)
photos: Terrell Halsey, from WORKINONIT DELUXE on June 1 at the Performance Garage.
pictured: Sophianne Mahalia, Nick Roach, Major Curl, Jenna Horton, Raluca Area, Helen Nolan, Camille Halsey, Lily Kind & Dancers.
The artists in residence this summer are both incredible humans, merging strong choreographic experience with their own personal journeys in house, hip hop, and identity. Save the date: Their combined show is July 13 in our Rittenhouse studios.
Norma Miller, known as the Queen of Swing, passed on to the next world the morning of May 5th at her home in Florida. She was 99. Miller is a much celebrated figure in the Lindy Hop and Jazz Roots community across the globe. One of the true O.G'.'s of lindy hop and jazz dancing, Norma famously won the 1935 Harvest Moon Ball Dance contest. She was then invited to join Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a crew of young black jazz dancers from NYC who trained and showed off socially at the world famous Savoy in Harlem, NY. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers went on to travel the globe, spreading the joyful and rebellious spirit of swing across the globe. She is one the featured dancers in the infamous, high-speed dance scene from Hellzapoppin'. In the thirties and forties, Norma had her own company of dancers with whom she choreographed and performed. She continued to hustle even in her nineties, teaching all around the globe, keeping vernacular jazz dancing alive at home and abroad. Rest in Power Norma!
Check out these article to learn more about Norma Miller's life and work.
2018 NY Times Article about Miller's work teaching around the world
NY Times Obituary
today's jazz roots bad asses
In celebration of Norma's life and legacy, I want to celebrate some of my other favorite jazz dancers. In this blog, we've already shouted out Latasha Barnes on as a powerhouse working in both jazz roots and house dance styles. Last month, I was in Paris attending the Jazz Roots festival. I was motivated to attend when I saw an internet video of her 2018 performance.
Florence Mills was the Beyonce of her day. She sang, acted, and choreographed. She had her own show, Blackbirds Revue, that toured the globe. Mills voice is often described as "birdlike" though no recordings of it remain. She was outspoken in her advocacy for civil rights and racial justice.
Katherine Dunham forever stands as the goddess and scholar who elegantly bridged vernacular jazz and concert dance theater. She was a choreographer, dancer, ground breaking anthropologist, and an activist speaking her mind until her last days. Dunham's legacy is apparent in several classes at UMA, not just Solo Jazz and Lindy Hop. Her influence is felt in Leilani Chirino's Afro-Cuban class, in Sanchel's B-more Afro House Class, and also Majestique's class.
I LOVE MOVEMENT! I would be miserable without it.
I relish knowing that my body is a tool to express myself in whatever way I choose. We all have the physical activities that we love to do, but what are you doing to make sure you will always be capable of performing at your top level? What do you do to make sure your body can handle the rigors of your personal practice?
Kinstretch is a movement enhancement system that develops maximal body control, flexibility, and usable ranges of motion. It is a system that puts your joints into the most difficult positions possible and forces you to make them stronger in those positions. It is a system that bulletproofs your wrist from injury when you thrust all your weight onto it during an inversion. It is a system that connects your brain to those hard to reach ranges of motion so that you can control every vertebrae during a backbend.
You jump, you stomp, you flip.
Are you confident your joints can handle the pressure?
We are athletes, artists, and performers; our body is all we have. It is imperative that we treat it as our greatest asset and spend the time necessary to keep it a well oiled machine. Kinstretch upgrades each moving joint of the body in isolation so that when they work together they run with no issues. Using the laws of exercise physiology and strength training, come see what it means to find your movement limitations, target them, and make them your greatest strength. Give your body the best chance to stay healthy, pain free, and mobile so that you can move well for the rest of your life!
I vividly remember my mother with a tobacco in hand blowing smoke to the muerto’s face and spitting alcohol onto the preinda (cauldron where el muerto sits) filled with gunpowder. A large fire would loom overhead - el muerto was listening and we can ask for guidance. We sang to Orishas as a form of prayer. In the car, we would sing a lot to Eleggua - the orisha in charge of showing you paths in life, “el que abre los caminos.” We would drive around in the car, pull the windows down and sing “Eshu o, Elegguara é, Eshu o Mofuribale, o Mofuribale mi padre, Elegguara é” while offering him candy, pennies, and corn in return for his help.
In Cuba, it is not uncommon to participate in both Santeria and Palo religions or even also Catholicism. Living in Miami, though, where most of the Cuban immigrants were light-skinned and Catholic, I was not allowed to share with others that we practiced Afro-Cuban religions. We masked our practice with going to church on Sundays after Saturday’s Tambor.
During my dance studies as a college student at Florida International University, I had the opportunity to train in Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban modern dance (Tecnica Cubana). Things felt better, more normal -as if the two sides of my upbringing - classical dance at school and religious dancing at home- weren’t necessarily separate.
After graduating college, I moved to the northeast United States, where I felt very out of place. Desperate to bring home to me, I began teaching and performing Cuban social dances (Son, Casino, Rueda de Casino) with my partner Michael Huang, took classes with Gilset Mora (Headlong studios), danced for Philly’s Afro-Caribbean percussion group Timbalona (Andres Cisneros, Christian Noguera), and continued to train with other instructors (Kati Hernandez (L.A.), Royland Lobato (Oakland), Chini Perez Domenech (Minneapolis)) while teaching and performing at Cuban dance congresses across the country. It wasn’t until Michael began taking percussion classes with Christian Noguera and playing at home and at Rumbas at Imperfect Art Gallery in Germantown, where I began to feel comfortable in Philly. I finally felt at home.
Rumba is a secular Afro-Cuban music and dance that has been passed down through the generations, a community celebration ("Rumba" also means "Party" in Spanish). The music is primarily percussive, carried by three tumbadoras, or conga drums, and led by a lead singer who improvises a call and response with the rest of the singers. When the music gets to its peak, dancers join in as well.
There are 3 types of Rumba. Rumba guaguanco is the most prevalent today, and the dance involves a hen and rooster like game of pursuit between the male and female dancers. Rumba Columbia traditionally is danced by only male dancers; it is an energetic and acrobatic style which involves dancers showing off their prowess and battling each other. Rumba Yambu is the slowest of the genres, and is considered the dance of the older folks. It is a sensual but restrained dance of courtship.
Today, I continue my training with master professor Marisol Blanco (Havana/Miami) where she directs the Afro-Cuban dance company Sikan, making Afro-Cuban dances and traditions better represented, even among the Cuban community. Thanks to her, I feel like coming home as an Afro-Cuban dancer and practitioner isn’t as isolating anymore. I continue learning and bringing information and more of home back to Philly. I’m happy to call UMA my second home now, where I can share my heritage and culture with students who are eager to learn and move to our infectious polyrhythms. "
Congratulations to Sanchel! She took us on an epic journey!
Missed it? Check out a review at thinkingDance.
Below are some photos Lily snapped on opening night.