Dancing with Soul

Wednesdays are the most exciting, yet busy day for me. Not only is it the usual “hump day” drama, but I also have to go to Church.

Wait, a Witch that attends church?!?! Are you Christopagan?

No, Far from it.

So….. What Gives?

It’s not “Church” or Bible Study in the traditional sense. It is a midweek break that I give to myself to reconnect with My Soul via dance; Afro-Cuban folkloric Dance to be exact.

I attend, Dance Church, presented by the Community Drum & Dance Society!

Photo Credit: M. Graves
Photo Credit: M. Graves

Imagine if you will, running around and stressing all day, coming home, showering, putting on a tank top, some wicking shorts or capris, and 12-25 yards of skirt, jumping in your car to drive to a lively, nondescript building in Corktown, Detroit, getting to the door and suddenly being surrounded in… PEACE!

Me in a 25yd skirt . I'm 5'4. It's a lot of skirt.
Me in a 25yd skirt . I’m 5’4. It’s a lot of skirt.

Sandalwood incense greets you as you enter and all of the stress that was just on you just drops. Your kindly greeted as you sign in with a warm smile and inquiries about your past week.

You’re among your own, no men are here except the Drummers who you hear warming up and getting in their places.

A group of sisters are in the corner sending up prayers and petitions for one another; some are paying their respects to one of any of the altars that are around.Some are stretching on the dance floor. The initiated Greet the Iyalorisha, or Priestess in the Santeria/Lucumi tradition, in the prescribed way; other just give her a warm hug. As you scurry to the dressing room to place your shoes and other gear, you’re greeting again by those dressing for the session. Waist Beads, headwraps and voluminous skirts abound.

Afro-Cuban Master Class with Danys "La Mora" Perez @ Ordway June 2011
Afro-Cuban Master Class

As you re-enter, you find a space and prepare for The Talk. See, the first 15 or so minutes of class is filled with centering , meditation, and then Iya, the instructor, gives us a message of encouragement. Backing her are rhythms of many drums, and yet they are quiet enough where everyone can hear.

She may talk about us walking in greatness, fulling our destinies, stomping out fear, or just remind us that this isn’t a technique class, but a soul class. It isn’t about getting all the steps perfectly, but, lining your soul up with the steps (It’s a difficult concept to grasp at first.).

Not all who are here are part of an African or Diasporic path. In this room are Sisters of many Shapes, Sizes, faiths and backgrounds. Some are married, some single. Some are Straight and Some are Lesbian or Bisexual. Most are of an African Ancestry, however there is Latino, White and other Sisters there too.
We move as one. Some on different skill levels but we all move as

One. One beat, one Purpose. 30-60 women in a small studio with 8-10  Male drummers. We mimic the movements Iya shows us, all doing the same movements, and yet each personality shines through.

There is none of the typical cattiness that comes when women dance in front of men; They are like so professional and trained that they fade into the background, unfazed by the various level of dress or undress between us. Even with skirts flying up and around, none gawk, leer or prey. They are highly attractive, but we dance for the Spirit, not them. We are safe to be us.

ALAFIA at Cuban Music Festival (CREDIT: Jennifer Gonzalez)
ALAFIA at Cuban Music Festival (CREDIT: Jennifer Gonzalez)

We end in a Circle with the drummers making up one site. Here’s where the real magic comes, for anyone who is moved to is given the floor to Dance to the rhythm. As the spirit moves the sisters they take their turns Dancing and gyrating  to the beat, feeling different levels of Spiritual ecstasy. Some dance in pairs, some even throw other West African movements in. When all is past, we gather in front of the drums and bow, then we salute them for the messages they have brought. A collection is taken to show our appreciation, and to make sure we have drummers next time.

Batá drums. From left: okónkolo, iyá, itótele. Photo: Harold Muñiz
Batá drums. From left: okónkolo, iyá, itótele. Photo: Harold Muñiz

drenched in sweat, in different levels of disarray, we redress, or naw, and bid each other farewell with hugs , kisses and bows. You can tell that we linger because we wish it to never end, but as with all good things it must. You re-enter the world and the breeze off of the water cools your heated skin and awakens you from you Euphoria. Well, I  have just enough time to wipe off and head to my overnight shift. I’m tired, sore, and my ankle kinda pops.


I can’t wait to do it all again!

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