On Center: Washington, D.C., dance company will perform world premiere of Drumfolk at Penn State
November 01, 2019 11:44 AM
by John Mark Rafacz, Town&Gown
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Some of America’s most innovative and influential art – jazz and blues for starters – has resulted from African Americans transcending oppression and discrimination to communicate their stories.

Step Afrika!, the first professional dance company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping, will build on that tradition when it performs the world premiere of Drumfolk January 31 at Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium. Drumfolk is an exploration of the drum as an instrument of community, resilience, and determination.

The Negro Act of 1740, a reaction to the Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina, took away from enslaved Africans the rights to assemble, read, and use drums. In response, they internalized the rhythm of the drum and began to use their bodies as percussive instruments.

Drumfolk will feature Step Afrika!’s first presentation of traditional masked dances from West Africa; a choreographic investigation of the ring shout, a 200-plus-year-old African-American percussive dance rarely seen on American stages; and a contemporary work exploring the ways the drum was reclaimed through mediums such as stepping and vocal percussion.

Stepping blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities, African traditional dance, and influences from various other dance and art forms.

“Stepping uses the body as an instrument to create intricate rhythms and sounds through a combination of stomping, claps, and spoken word,” says Amy Dupain Vashaw, audience and program development director for the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State. 

The Washington, D.C., troupe, which is marking its 25th year, is known for integrating songs, storytelling, humor, and audience participation into its productions.

In addition to the end-of-January performance, the dance company will be in residence in State College.

“While the company is with us for a week, they’ll engage with campus and community organizations and classes,” Vashaw says. “We feel so lucky that their inaugural visit to us includes both the world premiere and a meaningful, in-depth engagement of a week.”

After the Drumfolk performance, dancers will participate in a discussion with interested audience members.


McQuaide Blasko Endowment supports this performance. The presentation is part of a Center for the Performing Arts season focus, The American Experience: Through an African-American Lens. Sandra Zaremba and Richard Brown provide support for engagement programming related to this and other focus events. Support for programming at the Center for the Performing Arts is provided, in part, by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

For tickets or information, go to cpa.psu.edu or call (814) 863-0255.

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.






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