Thursday’s lunchtime workshop: Where African Drumming Meets Dance
Looking deeper at the ideas of the experience of dance for the dancer and the ways in which choreography develops organically, I reached out to two of Dance in the Mitten’s guest artists: Chi and Ambyr Amen-Ra. This couple comes from deep and traditional artistic roots—Chi taking up African drumming at the age of 2 as a part of the Ngoma Za Amen-Ra New Afrikan Cultural Theatre in Detroit, Ambyr studying dance as a child, beginning with Yanvelou dance, and later taking on a variety of disciplines and techniques. They work together to blend movement and music, a process that Ambyr explains, saying, “We don’t have to argue about tempo and which rhythms go with certain movement. Instead of focusing on basics, we can get right to creating shows that are amazing to see and hear.”
Each of the artist’s backgrounds help this collaboration thrive. As I mentioned, Chi began drumming from a very young age, rising to the rank of lead drummer. In college, Chi became involved in African Greek Life as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity Inc. While Chi points out that movement is inherently linked to African drumming, he notes that the connection between movement and music was strengthened by stepping, an essential part of the African Greek Life experience. Growing up so deeply rooted in a such a traditional cultural practice from a different region of the world was difficult at times, but Chi stuck with it despite the adversity he faced. He explains, “When I was younger I sometimes didn’t see the long-term benefit of sticking with a craft and lifestyle that isn’t popular. But I am forever grateful that my parents and teachers kept on me to be dedicated.” He further went on to say that “I think the biggest thing personally is that through this music I have had an opportunity to see the world and to gain a more mature and global perspective on life.”
Chi performs at these international opportunities with his wife, dancer Ambyr Amen-Ra. She was introduced to dance by her mother, and began taking Yanvelou (a Haitian folkloric dance) classes at the age of 2. The daughter of a Dunham technique-certified dancer, Ambyr studied Katherine Dunham style extensively—even performing with Dunham’s Children’s Workshop Company at the age of eleven. As she developed as a dancer, she explored a variety of other disciplines including Horton technique, ballet, Afro-Haitian, and Afro-Cuban styles. Childhood friends, Ambyr and Chi have explored their arts together for years, but really began collaborating a lot beginning in 2008. Ambyr says, “It makes creating easier when you have a partner who understands both music and dance the way that Chi does.” This fascinating pair will be teaching class together during the Dance in the Mitten intensive this August—be sure to check them out! Their class will be Thursday 8/6 from noon-2:05 pm at Kenville Studios of Dance & Creativity.
written by Melissa Durante