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Dance Theatre of Harlem Provides Free Master Class in Celebration of MLK holiday

BY Tim Dingman

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This year Martin Luther King celebration was incorporated with both spiritual and dance, this event was presented over the weekend at  NJPAC.

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I sing “Hosannas”  said Andrea Long,  the premier dancer for the dance theatre of Harlem, who pronounces her name it  “On Draya.” Andrea Long began her dance studies at Pennsylvania Ballet. She later studied at the School of American Ballet. Ms. Long joined the New York City Ballet and danced there for eight years before joining the Dance Theatre of Harlem and becoming a Principal Ballerina. She has danced the roles of Choleric in The Four Temperaments, the lead in John Taras’ Firebird and performed Balanchine works Allegro Brillante and Concerto Barocco among others. Currently she is a master teacher passing her knowledge and vast experience to the next generation of dancers.

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9:30 Saturday morning.   A snowing morning, Ms. Long was joined in the  basement  room at NJ PAC education facility, to teach eighteen excited local youngsters a “Master Class” in ballet. _MG_2540

She stands at a piano, resting one hand on the top, and raises one leg until there is a straight vertical line from pointed toe to pointed toe, one on the floor and the other pointed to the ceiling.  The student range in age from nine to seventeen, and in height ranging from four ft. three -six ft. two. Ms. Long explained the  French instructional position names, such as Adage.  Arabesque.  Attitude.  Eleve. Pass de dieux. Jete. Glissade.  Plie.

In tribute to Martin Luther King celebration, Ms. Long taught a Ballet technique liturgical dance workshop.  Hosanna is a liturgical word in Judaism and Christianity meaning “save, rescue” (possibly “savior”).”Hosanna” was the shout of praise or adoration made in recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

From Biblical times to the 19th century, an emergence of dancing during Christian worship services began to spring up. Praise dancing began during slavery from the traditions of West Indian dances called ring shouts. Although the word shout is used, it does not denote actual yelling. The shouting is used to describe the ecstatic dancing in the ring shouts. The participants would gather in a circle during worship services to sing praises, pray, and dance. Each person would have their turn doing either one. Sometimes ring shouts would be performed with drums, bugles, flags and banners.  The liturgical dance traditions of the 19th century leads into the more complete and choreographed dances done during church services today. Famed choreographer Alvin Ailey even used elements of liturgical dance in the famous piece entitled “Revelations.” He used billows, flags (they were tethered), and streamers in the dance.

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Ms. Long instructed, watched; gave encouragement comments; offered corrections; demonstrated proper positions and posture; 12:00. The two hours workshop was energetic and demanding, even my knees hurt and all I did was take photos.  As people file out’ she pauses.  She says, partly to me, partly to herself.  “I was too tough.  I scared them.”

No, Andrea.  You gave them a challenge.  You gave them something to achieve.  You gave them you skills, your artistry, your energy.  You told them about discipline and self expression and “presence.”  Now it’s up to them

Just as your words have power, so does your movements. It is important to realize the power that dance possesses. It has the power to move anyone to tears, and the power to make anyone feel uncomfortable. As dancers, we have the ability to tell stories with our bodies. At times we can become silent storytellers. We have the ability to express worship through our dance, salvation, warfare, and peace.  At the end Ms Long wraps herself around a the young dancers and pulled her arms through theirs for a final embraceable movement.  This was a beautiful free community event, a jewel to be found in Newark, New Jersey’s  largest urban city.

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