World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Dimensions Dance Theater

DANCE ORIGIN: South Africa
GENRE: Traditional

Dimensions Dance Theater (DDT) was co-founded in 1972 by Deborah Vaughan. Under her continuing artistic leadership, DDT has become widely recognized for presentations of traditional dances and contemporary choreography drawn from African, jazz, and modern dance idioms, garnering national and international acclaim, performing throughout the US and in Nigeria, Jordan, Germany, Zimbabwe, Congo (Brazzaville) and Cuba. DDT has advanced African American dance through interdisciplinary collaborations with many musicians and singers in African and African American traditions, such as Hugh Masekela, Nikki Giovanni, Omar Sosa, John Santos, OIGC, Linda Tillery, Anthony Brown, and Khalil Shaheed.


DANCE ORIGIN: South Africa
TITLE: Amatshe (The Can Dance); Isicathulo (The Boot Dance)
GENRE: Traditional
CHOREOGRAPHER: Dingani Lalokoane
DANCERS: Noah James, Erik Lee, Dorcas Mba, Lavinia Mitchell, Valrie Sanders, Justin Sharlman, Denice Simpson, Phylicia Stroud, Latanya d. Tigner, Roquisha Townsend

Dimensions Dance Theater presents workers’ dances that evolved in two South African communities.

Isicathulo (The Boot or Gumboot Dance) originated in the colonial gold mines of South Africa, where thousands of men— Bantu people from the newly-founded Zulu warrior kingdom and fierce indigenous Xhosa tribes from Pondoland, Eastern Cape—worked in deplorable conditions. Under colonial law, indigenous Africans lost control of their mines, and their poverty forced them to live and work in British and Dutch mining settlements. Laboring below ground in the semi-dark, often standing in knee-deep water, they were forbidden to communicate with each other. So they developed a coded language of rhythmic symbols: clapping, stomping, and slapping
rubber gumboots, legs, arms, and chests. The dance was also a form of music, a sonic dance style with total body articulation of traditional polyrhythms. (Traditional Xhosa music features drums, rattles, whistles, flutes, mouth harps, stringed-instruments, and group singing accompanied by hand clapping.) In friendly competition, miners challenged one another to create increasingly complex rhythmic patterns. The form became entertainment as employers showcased their gumboot dancers in performances for visitors. The dance is now popular throughout South Africa.

Amatshe (The Can Dance) also began as means to enliven communal work. The form was born as rhythmic clothes-washing game played down at the river by Zulu and Sotho women in Lesotho (Basotholand). The women traditionally danced with amatshe, or stones: now they perform with tin cans, chosen for their clearer and louder sound. The vocal calls tell dancers when to start, stop, and bang the cans.

Dimensions dancers wear a modified version of traditional South African dance garb. Gumboot groups adorn their rubber boots with bells to reference the shackles that once chained gold miners to their stations. They also wear work clothes with kerchiefs and hardhats. The women’s costumes reference the clothing of South African village dancers, with Zulu flared skirts for ease of movement.


DANCE ORIGIN: New Orleans, Louisiana, US US and Africa
GENRE: Funerary Dance Second Line
TITLE: The Last Dance: St. Ann and N. Rampart
Latanya d. Tigner
Laura Elaine Ellis, Dorcas Mba, Lavinia Mitchell, Chelsea Morris, Valrie Sanders, Elize Selvaragah, Denice Simpson, Phylica Stroud, Latanya d.Tigner.
Delina Brooks, Colette Eloi, Erik Lee, Justin Sharlman, Roquisha Townsend
YOUTH DANCERS: Miciaih Bell, Isandla Blanc, Ava Travick-Best, Marianna Hester, Te’a Paden, Maurcedez Potts
MJ’s Brass Boppers: Big Chief Ray Blazio (of The Wild Apache Indians), Greg Gomez (trombone), Luke Kirley (sousaphone), Michael Jones (snare drums), Nazir Magbool (trumpet), Tom Salvatore (trumpet), Mike Waters (saxophone), Harold Wilson (bass drum)

This exuberant performance, St. Ann and N. Rampart, celebrates second line dance and music from New Orleans. When jazz funerals were sponsored by Social Aid and Benevolent Societies (SA&BS), community members followed behind the band in a second line, enjoying the music and honoring the deceased. In the late-nineteenth century, insurance companies replaced the SA&BS, and the second line detached from the jazz funeral and developed its own identity. Second line parades continue today—even post Hurricane Katrina—as members of Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs (SA&PC) dance and sing their way through the backstreets of New Orleans, making designated stops at houses and significant neighborhood sites, such as New Orleans’s Congo Square.

At the head of the parade, club members wear elaborate suits, fancy shoes, fashionably fabulous chapeaus, or hats, and intricately adorned sashes that display the club’s name; often they twirl handkerchiefs and matching decorated umbrellas above their heads. Next come the parade-goers, moving in sync with the band, everyone engaging in syncopated banter and call and response, buck jumpin’, high steppin’, and dishing out their best improvisational repertoire. A parade can cover up to five miles and last over five hours, so it’s no wonder one signature step is called “the stagger step,” the band leader calling out:

Put your right foot forward, drag your left to the rear and get on down the street!

The costumes are typical attire for SA&PC, with fans made of ostrich feathers. The brass band is also traditional: with sousaphone/tuba, trombones, trumpets, saxophones, snare and bass drums, cow bells, tambourines, and whistles.

The Last Dance: St. Ann and N. Rampart is an improvisational piece created around the structural form of a second line parade, with elements of composed choreography based on typical second line dance. It was created in 2012 by Latanya d. Tigner.


TITLE OF PIECE: Rhythm Harvest
Deborah Vaughan
Althea Anderson, Laura E. Ellis, Denice Koch, Andrea Lee, Anisa Rasheed, Valrie Sanders, Latasha Seiliby, Elize Selverajah, Dorcas Sims, Latanya D. Tigner
Drummers: Sekou Gibson, Mohammed Kouyate, Mosheh Milon, James Rudisill
James Calloway, John Santos

In the 2005 Festival, Dimensions Dance Theater celebrates the beauty and vitality of the African Diaspora. The collaboration between choreographer Deborah Vaughan and percussionist/composer John Santos weaves contemporary music and dance together that represent the multiplicity of rhythms of Africa as their source. Rhythm Harvest is an offering that reveals the distinctive bold rhythms and robust, yet elegant dance styles of Africa, styles that endure through the passage of time and continue to reinvent themselves.

This dance journey focuses on the passage from Africa across the Atlantic to the Americas. It explores the ways in which African forms impacted the many cultures it touched. In this sense, the journey down a river, over a land, across an ocean, symbolize birth, ritual, work, play and the celebration of life.

Multi-talented artist, John Santos, collaborated on this project with Dimensions. He was born in San Francisco and raised in the Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean traditions of his family, surrounded by music. He is an internationally acclaimed performing and recording artist, writer, composer and teacher whose credits span across film, video, music recording and publications. He has collaborated with distinguished Latin Jazz artists around the world, and, since 1986, has directed the Latin Jazz band, Machete Ensemble.

This dance piece was funded in part with funding from the San Francisco Arts Commission.

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