Garifuna Dance Group “Hamalali Wayunagu” Performs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music during Dance Africa Show

by Wellington C. Ramos

Every year for the past thirty-five years, “Dance Africa” is held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, New York City, USA. This event is being made possible by Chuck Davis the founder and artistic director of the Chuck Davis Dance Company which was founded in 1968 and the African American Dance Ensemble in Durham, NC in 1983. This year the event was held during the Memorial Day weekend which started on Friday the 25th of May and ended on Monday the 28thof May 2012. He has been a panelist in several programs of the National Endowment for the Arts and is a recipient of the AARP Certificate of Excellence, the North Carolina Dance Alliance Award, the 1990 North Carolina Artist Award, the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine and numerous other awards. He invited the Hamalali Wayunagu Dance Company to participate in this year’s event for the first time so they became the first Garifuna dance group ever to participate in Dance Africa.

Since 1991 at the request of the Governor, he has served on the board of the North Carolina Arts Council, and in 1992 he received the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, the state’s highest honor. In 1996, Chuck Davis and his African American Dance Ensemble was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Dance Residency Program, a three year initiative launched in 1994 by the New York Foundation for the Arts and funded the Pew Charitable Trusts. Chuck Davis’ efforts to bring people of African descent from all over the world to showcase their African culture is second to none and he is deserving of all the numerous awards he has received so far.

Hamalali Wayunagu Garifuna Folkloric & Modern Dance Company is an entity of Garifuna Heritage Center for the Arts and Culture. It was founded in 1992 by dancer, dance instructor, choreographer and professor Luz F. Soliz. From its establishment, Hamalali Wayunagu has been instrumental for people in search of information about Garifuna history, dance, culture and music through the arts. Hamalali Wayunagu’s mission is to reach out to the world and educate as many youngsters as possible in order to maintain a continuous practice of the Garifuna tradition through the art of dancing, singing, drama, play and drumming. Its goal is to assist in the preservation of this rich culture, language, religion and maintain its purity. The company is known for its unique and innovative choreographies. It is also known for being the longest surviving dance company in New York City and one of the best in the entire United States of America. If you happen to see this group perform, it will leave and everlasting imprint in your mind. It will also give you the urge to see them perform again and encourage others to come and witness what you experienced.

The dance company was allotted fifteen minutes on Monday the 28th of May 2012 at 3:00 P.M. to showcase the Garifuna culture and the dances. In the little time that they were given, punta, gunjei, wanaragua and the dugu religious demonstration were the pieces that the group displayed to the audience. This was backed up by drums, Garifuna singers, conch shell, maracas and the tambala. One could hear the loud cheering, screaming and clapping in the audience roaring like thunder in a storm. At the ending of the show, some members of the audience came to greet the dancers to inquire more about the history of the Garifuna people and their culture because they had never heard of them or see any group from this culture perform before.

Since the formation of this dance company, the Founder and Director Ms. Luz F. Soliz has been struggling to keep her dance group alive and functioning in these difficult economic times. Yet, despite these difficulties she is committed to this cause to make sure that the cultural dances and other aspects of the Garifuna culture be taught to her people and others in the community who are interested. Practice sessions are held at the Jackson Democratic Club on Boston Road in the Bronx where space was provided to the group and also at Charles Drew J.H.S. on Third Avenue in the Bronx.

Her goal is to establish a Garifuna Cultural Center For The Performing Arts permanently in the city of New York. Anyone who is interested in enrolling their children or learn more about the Garifuna culture is welcome to become a part of this group. For those who are willing to contribute towards the preservation of the Garifuna culture, they can contact her at lsoliz77@gmail.com or call (646) 245-7302. The Hamalali Wayunagu Dance Company intends to do everything in its capacity to ensure that they remain in existence to preserve this rich culture.

San Pedro Sun