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African Dance Company comes to Linden Elementary

Friday was not a typical day in the halls of Linden Elementary School. Normally students are encouraged to sit quietly and listen, but not on this day.

The Nathifa Dance Company paid the school a visit and encouraged the students to clap their hands, move their shoulders and make some noise. Most importantly, they taught them valuable lessons in African history in a manner that was so much fun the students did not realize they were learning.

The performance was funded through a grant from the Alabama State Council of the Arts. Linden Elementary School was one of 34 schools in 17 counties benefiting from the council’s statewide School Touring program.

Wanda Fisher, principal of Linden Elementary, said they were lucky to first get the grant, and secondly to get the dance troupe to come.

“We were very fortunate to be selected for the grant,” Fisher said. “When we were selected we had to go through the process of the paperwork. We were lucky to get them and very happy to get them, especially in February with it being Black History Month.”

Aaron Woods, who is a member of the group, said their main goal is to teach young people about who they are and why they dance.

“We travel around teaching about African history and a lot of other things,” Woods said. “We do a lot of things to explain what we do and where the instruments came from. We tell them why we dance and why we drum.”

Woods said the program is very important because it teaches students how communication was conducted prior to the age of technology.

“Back in those days they did not have phones and computers so we used drums to communicate,” Woods said. “We really didn’t have books either so we used dances to tell stories. We just try to educate people on why we do African dance. They are not just dances. They are telling a story.”

Fisher said the message the group sent to the students was uplifting. She said a great deal has been lost in the culture in America through the years and the show was a great way of reminding the children of how important the dances were.

“We were also very excited to hear them speak on the importance of family and it was encouraging to hear them talk to the children about appropriate dance,” Fisher said. “So many of our youth today take it out of context and are not keeping it true to the culture. I was really delighted to hear them talk to our children about what appropriate dance is.

It was a lot of fun for our children and they learned a lot.”

The Nathifa Dance Company was established in 1990 under the direction of LaVondia Bryant. Nathifa is a diverse group of artiits skilled in the African, Caribbean and African-American dance and drumming whose vision is to share and express vibrant African American art forms and foster positive elf image and lift self-esteem through movement, culture and rhythm.

The three members who came to Linden Friday were all originally from New York. However, they did not meet each other until they came to Alabama. Woods said it was fate that brought them all together.

“Whenever you have a common goal God will lead you to where you need to be,” Woods said. “This is spiritual. Lavandia Bryant-Square if from Brooklyn, I am from Buffalo and Yolanda Martin is from the Bronx, but we didn’t meet each other until we got to Birmingham.”

The group operates out of Birmingham and travels all over spreading their message.