January 14, 2011 Last night at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts, Nildinha Fonsêca the Afro Brazilian Dance Instructor and Assistant Choreographer for Balé Folclórico da Bahia taught an Afro Brazilian Folkloric master class.
The class was broken up in three parts: the warm up, dancing across the floor and a choreographed sequence. The warm up, a mixture of contemporary and Afro movements, was intense. We began with a nice fluid breathing exercise that evolved into abdominal work, contractions and movements in a seated position. As we transitioned from stretches into we were warned by Miami-based choreographer Augusto Soledade “ You will want to take an Advil when you get home” as he interpreted Naldinha’s Portuguese.
After the warm up we lined up in rows of seven to begin exercises across the floor. For a moment I flashed back to my days dancing with Agbedidi Africa at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Nildinha fused West African dances from Guinea and Nigeria with Afro Brazilian movements, which helped to orient us to footwork used in the Candomblé dances. We ended this portion shimming our hips as we danced Samba to the drums.
Finally we began dances for the Orixas, the Yoruba deities of Afro Brazilian religion Candomblé. We began with Ogum, God of war, civilization and work. Our upper body recreated the story of the Orixa. Our arms were cutting cross laterally one representing a machete and the other held what we were cutting whether it be a sugar cane or an enemies head. The movements included turns, lunges, squats and jumps gracefully combined to honor Ogum.
The final dance we learned was for Xango, a deified King of the Oyo Empire and God of fire and male sensuality. Nildinha shared with us Xango doesn’t put his head down because he is a king, indicating the necessity for us to maintain a strong upper body by controlling our heads. The arms stayed close to the torso and the shoulders rotated in full backward circles combined to footwork we used in the across floor excercise.
Nildinha Fonsêca’s class was amazing. Through dance the connection of AFrican dance as some know it in the US was connected to dances retained by Afro Brazilians through the religion Candomblé and popular dances. Augusto Soledade, Director of Brazz Dance, will begin ongoing Afro Brazilian Contemporary dance classes at 9:00 a.m. at Little Haiti Cultural Center beginning January 24th for those who want more than a taste of Afro Brazilian Dance.