So this is our third time coming to NOLA and giving this camp to the kids. Some things are the same every year: shining faces (new and familiar), exciting classes and the sadness that comes when the reality hits that it will soon be over until next year. The energy is unique from one year to the next, however. The personalities of the New Orleans community is all its own anyway. Add to that the ever-changing social climate of a post-Katrina New Orleans and include a smattering of families in need of a release (psychological and/or subconscious) and the result is always interesting!
The kids really need us. At first that need was obvious due to the recent trauma of the storm. But now, four years later, the fresh wounds have scabbed over but there is still the lingering desperation that can come from living in a city that no one thinks about as being in need; unable to see past the popular, gaudy surface.
It is not simply a financial issue. There are many children that we serve that come from families that are considerably well-off. But the reality of living in the city that America forgot cannot go by any of them unnoticed. Much of the rebuilding of the area is superficial (mostly in the commercial district and of course Bourbon Street.) However, in our wandering of the city, we still noticed plenty of houses still bearing the markings from the initial searches. (Although it was brought to my attention that some of these markings were left intentionally as a symbol of the homeowners’ survival, I fear this is an exception rather than a rule.)
That’s why I am so proud to be a part of this group. The parents of the kids are very verbal in their gratitude towards us and our continued presence. The kids light up with the attention we give them and love having their moment to shine when we allow them to express themselves creatively. I think they enjoy the fact that we are helping them to find their voice.
For the three years I have been a part of Dance Camp, my contribution has been giving a class experience in African dance styles, rhythms and storytelling (affectionately referred to as Afro Modern.) My reason for this stemmed from reading about the displacement of New Orleans residents after Katrina. Many were separated from their families and the only homes they have ever known. This brought to mind the auction block in slavery times when enslaved Africans already removed from their homeland were also separated from their families.
This association made me realize the importance of heritage and history. Not just for African Americans but for AMERICANS! If we do not know where we came from we don’t know who we are so how in the world can we have any idea where our futures will take us?!
This year, however, I changed my focus in regard to the class. Instead of simply teaching them movements, I decided this year to incorporate ALL of the campers into a performance of the West African welcoming dance known as Fanga.
Teaching so many children of such varied ages and skill levels was a daunting one to say the least. I’m not gonna lie….I was a little nervous around day two! We had a run through of what will be performed at tomorrow night’s performance and, although the run of Fanga was a bit rough….it’s in there! The show is going to be wonderful. All the teachers are giving their “A-game” as usual. Many of us are utilizing different strengths this year. Some of these strengths were acquired through our experiences here in previous years.
I wish I didn’t have to return to Philly a week early, but I will definitely carry this week’s experience with me alongside the smiles of the kids whose lives we’ve impacted again.
Charles Tyson, Jr.