DanceAfrica: Pittsburgh returns to Kelly Strayhorn Theater for three days of African cultural immersion

By Amanda Waltz

Audiences will be immersed in three days of history and traditions of African art when DanceAfrica: Pittsburgh returns to Kelly Strayhorn Theater from Fri., July 26-Sun., July 28.

Now in its eighth year, the event features performances from local dancers and choreographers and is done in partnership with the Legacy Arts Projects, a Pittsburgh-based organization dedicated to preserving the history and traditions of African art as represented throughout the diaspora. 

The event includes live dance and music performances, workshops, an African marketplace, and a community meet-and-greet, all under the umbrella theme of “We Are the World,” which, as the KST website states, seeks to “create the world as we imagine it can be.”

“The experience from the entrance to the theater, you enter this world of cultural expression,” says KST development and communications manager Orlana Darkins Drewery. This encompasses everything from the performances on stage to the marketplace, with vendors selling items like clothing and oils and shea butter products.

The schedule boasts two evenings of adult performances and a Sunday youth performance, all described as celebrating an “international perspective on West African traditions, culture, and the unique vitality of its intergenerational dancers and musicians.”

Photo: Kelly Strayhorn Theater

In addition to the performances are morning workshops taking place in KST’s Alloy Studios. Among the instructors is Chrisala Brown, a local dancer, teacher, and choreographer who incorporates African diaspora traditions in dance styles and studies and performs traditional West African music and dances from the Republic of Guinea, Senegal, and Mali. 

Two other workshops will be led respectively by McDaniel Roberts, of the African American Dance Ensemble, and guest instructors from the Djapo Cultural Arts Institute, which teaches traditional dance and drumming. 

The DanceAfrica: Pittsburgh program is the city’s own version of a long-running New York-based festival founded in 1977  by the late Chuck “Baba Chuck” Davis, considered by many as a master of African dance in America. Davis was honored by DanceAfrica: Pittsburgh during its 2017 iteration, the same year he died. 

  • Photo: Kelly Strayhorn Theater

While this year is focused primarily on local talent, Darkins Drewery points out that past DanceAfrica: Pittsburgh events have welcomed national artists. Besides Pittsburgh-based groups like the STAYCEE PEARL dance project, the Balafon West African Dance Ensemble, and the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, visiting artists like the Oyu Oro Experimental Afro-Cuban Dance Ensemble of New York and the Afoutayi Haitian Dance, Music & Arts Company of Minnesota have also taken the stage at the event. 

Darkins Drewery adds that partners like the Legacy Arts Project align with KST’s mission “to serve as a catalyst for creative expression that focuses on bringing diverse communities together and exposing neighborhoods to artists that range from making us more aware of issues to sharing or introducing audiences to cultural tradition.”

“[Legacy Arts Project] strives to share the history and traditions of African art through education, instruction, and interaction,” says Darkins Drewery. 

Founded by dancer Linda “Imani” Barrett as an arm of her art center in Harlem, the Legacy Arts Project showcases not only dancers and choreographers, but drummers, spoken word artists, poets, singers, and visual artists. 

“Their artistic presentation is designed to not only educate but uplift and unify,” says Darkins Drewery. “And that’s what KST strives to do in everything that we do and every partner that we work with, through creative expression, finds ways to build community.”