African dance class draws an enthusiastic crowd

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An intense drumbeat reverberates in the auditorium of the Clarkston Community Center as women, most of whom are barefoot, step and stomp and move rhythmically across the wood floor.

On this Saturday morning, a group of about six women begin warming up as Adiellah Bates of Decatur, an alumni of The Uhuru Dancers, leads them by demonstrating steps and movements as well as with hand gestures. More women and two men trickle in, removing their shoes and coats, and joining the circle. In time 30 or more participants are stepping in and out of rhythm.

The two-hour Uhuru Dance Workshop takes place every Saturday at the center beginning at 9:30 a.m.

“Uhuru is dedicated to the community,” said Bates. “We give back to the community and share our culture through African dance, drums, song and all types of music.

“It gives a sense of community and a sense of family,” she continued. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a good workout, good energy and educational at the same time.”

Uhuru Dancers, Inc. is a traditional African dance company and on its website credits itself as the oldest professional African dance company in metro Atlanta. Uhuru means freedom in Swahili. The group offers a wide variety of drum and dance classes, community events and performances throughout the year.  Its dancers have performed at the Decatur Arts Festival, Atlanta’s Dogwood Festival, Sweet Auburn Festival, the National Black Arts Festival and other events.

Akyra Zilliner of Richland Hills is attending the workshop for the second time along with several friends from Florida and South Carolina. They decided participating in dance would be a fitting sendoff activity for one of the friends who’s moving.

“I used to be a dancer,” said Zilliner. “I like dancing. It’s a stress reliever.”
Five drummers pound out thunderous beats on eight drums and three women with sekeres—gourds with a net of beads attached—shake, twist and slap their instruments, adding another layer of sound to the driving beat.

Following the warm-up, another instructor takes over, telling the participants—some dressed in African garb, others in workout gear—to spread out.

“We’re going to break down some of these steps,” she said. “The first movement, kick, step back. Kick, one, two, three. Up, one, two, three.”
Some of the dancers are quick to pick up on the movements, others struggle to follow.

The auditorium takes on something of a festival vibe as vendors set up tables with jewelry, tie-dye clothing, handbags, African attires. More dancers arrive, sign in, pay the $10 a week class fee and join the moving mass.

Andria Rush of Decatur has been a member of Uhuru for two years.
“I love this,” said Rush. “It just feels good. The drums just move me.”


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