African American Choral Ensemble celebrates anniversary; Dance Company hosts workshop

Post courtesy of newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:

This weekend will be a busy one for two of the performance-based groups in the African American Arts Institute. The African American Choral Ensemble will begin to celebrate its 40th anniversary while the African American Dance Company will host its 18th annual dance workshop.

The African American Choral Ensemble has been creating captivating musical experiences, from soulful spirituals to upbeat gospel songs, for years. Raymond Wise, director of the ensemble, said the group has a warm sound that is rich and full of color. Wise describes the ensemble as a hidden treasure on campus.

Raymond Wise

Raymond Wise

To mark the group’s 40th year of making music, former professor and dean of students Michael Gordon will return as a guest performer. He will also be honored, along with Mellonee Burnim, as one of the ensemble’s original directors in 1975-76.

Wise said this anniversary concert was brought to life by a chance discovery of the program from their first public performance 40 years ago.

That program consisted entirely of Hall Johnson spirituals, some of which are no longer in print. Working around that setback, Wise said they either found recordings of the pieces and transcribed them or replaced them with other Hall Johnson works.

“Our goal was to try to create the essence of the same concert,” Wise said.

The concert will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Second Baptist Church — the same place where Gordon directed the ensemble’s first concert. During Sunday’s concert, Gordon will sing a solo that was also performed in the original concert titled “I Don’t Feel No Way Tired.”

“It’s a unique opportunity to hear this music performed,” he said.

This concert is the first of two events that will be celebrating the ensemble’s four decades of work. On April 30, the Buskirk-Chumley Theater will host the Choral Ensemble’s spring concert featuring both students and alumni of the program. The event will honor all six previous directors.

African American Dance Company workshop

On Friday and Saturday, the African American Dance Company will hold its annual workshop in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center.

Professor Iris Rosa, the dance company’s director, said she created the workshop in 1998 as a way for students and community members to learn and experience new styles of dance. People with varying levels of dance experience are welcome.

Rosa said this workshop is more than just a dance class; it is also an opportunity to learn more about history and culture. “Many times we don’t have that exposure,” she said.

Iris Rosa

Iris Rosa

The event will offer specialized classes in diverse styles of dance, including West Indian, Afro-Cuban, West African, Bantaba and Salsa. A drum master class also will be held.

Guest artists and instructors will be Alfred Baker, Rogelio Kindelan-Nordet, Glendola Yhema Mills, Milagros Ramirez, Clifton Robinson and Sheila Ward.

Registration and cost information is available online. Registration can be completed in person on the day of the event, space permitting. Participants can sign up for individual classes or the entire two-day workshop. More information is available on the dance workshop website.

“My students are very excited,” Rosa said.

In addition to the fee-based sessions, two events will be free and open to the public. A reception and chat with the artists will take place at 7 tonight, and the 18th Annual Dance Workshop Showcase will be at 7 p.m. Saturday. Both events will be in the Neal-Marshall Grand Hall.

Rosa said the students in her dance company look forward to the workshop as a kind of prequel to their annual spring performance, which will take place this year on April 9.

Rosa also said she hopes the workshop will help to shatter preconceived notions of African styles of dance.

Rosa said she hopes the community will attend and use the opportunity to learn and grow, no matter their dance experience.

“It’s for everyone because these dance forms need to be exposed to everyone,” she said.


The annual African American Dance Company workshop is now in its 18th year.

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