The Berkeley High School (BHS) African American Studies Department celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. It was accompanied by the annual Afro-Haitian dance performance, a lively event showcasing BHS students and acting as a public testament to the department’s success.
The Spirit of Dance started off with a rendition of what is often referred to as the “Black National Anthem.” The Community Theater soon filled with the many voices of audience members singing along to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The main performer was clearly in her element. She was very calm and collected as she sang, swaying along to the sound of her voice and impressing everyone with her stellar vocal skills. The song ended and the lights dimmed, but the performance was not over. Dancers, accompanied by joyous singing, made their way down the theater’s main aisles towards the historic stage.
Dance choreography is supposed to tell a story, an idea which the performances in The Spirit of Dance seemed to speak to by way of the lively choreography demonstrated in each performance. The open interpretation of each choreographic work, as seen in these dance performances, is one of the many beauties of dance as an art form. The Spirit of Dance succeeded in this. It left viewers with the ability to imagine a unique story behind the expressive dances.
The BHS Afro-Haitian dancers were incredibly impressive in their synchronicity. While following complex choreography at a rapid, rhythmic speed, the dancers were able to move together in near perfect unison, something which made for a beautiful sight as they danced fluidly under the bright stage lights.
My favorite part of the performance was towards the end, when performers danced to jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” sung by a BHS student. It was rather short, but very elegant and polished.
The diverse selection of music was a wonderful addition to the show. There were recordings of Aretha Franklin’s renowned “Respect,” live drumming that was both steady and rhythmic, and a Spanish song by Puerto Rican-American artist Victor Manuelle.
While watching The Spirit of Dance, it’s impossible not to notice that the majority of performers on stage are female students. There appears to be less of an inclination towards dance electives in male students. After further inquiry, one of the dancers confirmed that most of the performers are female, but they said they had no way of knowing why that might be.
Moreover, I learned that for many of the male dancers who were enrolled in the class, it was not their initial elective choice. For some students in the Arts and Humanities Academy, the course is a way to fulfill required credits.
Despite the disparity in gender representation, the show had great racial diversity. Since the class draws students from every small school, the group seems to reflect the variety of backgrounds and identities that make up BHS.
With its varied dance styles, set music, and colorful lighting, the performance was an all-around lovely display put on by BHS students. The Spirit of Dance beautifully celebrated diverse culture and properly honored the African American Studies Department’s 50th anniversary.