African Dance Remix at AbunDance Academy

“Be in the moment. Be here and dance. If the step didn’t work, just go to the next moment. Shush that person. Be here today. In class. In the moment. ”

— Karisma

Karisma. Her name perfectly matches her personality. As she tells it, she picked her name from the womb. She's always been a dancer, kicking and wailing in utero when her mom said the name "Karisma," objecting with silence and indifference to all the other names that came before. With a name like Karisma, "with a K, no H," you just can't disappoint. And she doesn't. Karisma would provide a shock to our dance systems on this Friday evening.

Like her divinely picked name, African Dance Remix Class at AbunDance Academy in Brooklyn, NY, was divinely chosen as the first Fit-In(Fun) event for our group. Or perhaps because Karisma and I are NYU alum and friends, it was easy to get a hookup, but I like the notion of God putting His hands on our interaction and reconnection better. 

On the corner of 430 Rogers Ave, big glass windows let you in to the world of AbunDance, sort of like an aquarium, but with human bodies in motion.

For me, that triggered anxiety.

Dancing. 

People walking by.

Looking. 

Judging. 

Yikes! 

(Yes, I'm a fitness instructor. I stand in front of people, dance in front of people, forget choreography in front people, make up moves in front of people. Yes, I do all of the above. But I still get anxious and nervous. I'm human. Fearless?  Not yet.)

Inside the dance studio, the wooden floors are scuffed, Alvin Ailey flyers are posted, and images of Karisma and her students are posted on the plastered and exposed brick walls. I can only imagine how many feet have danced on the floors since its inception; feet pounding synchronously to the bass of African drums, little toes scattered across the floors en pointe, as little brown girls try their best to emulate Misty Copeland. AbunDance serves as a dance studio for the little brown girls of Brooklyn, introducing them to a bevy of dance styles, and training them up to be the next best dancers of the world.

But this was Friday night so it was time for the adults to shine and dance. The thing about us adults… we’re not as carefree and excitable as children. I don’t know what or how or when it happens, but we’ve clammed up. We’ve lost our mobility. Perhaps we’ve become consumed with how other people move and compare it to our own instead of being brilliant and wanting to be seen.  Maybe we’ve forgotten the joy (Bills. Stress. Joy killers. Duh.) in moving our bodies freely and uninhibited. The critiques and glares of the world dim our light and we’ve become vegetative in motion. Though most likely figments of our own imagination, the ability to dance like nobody’s watching is set aside and locked away.

Karisma tuned into all of this, all of the ‘brown,’ as she called it. Dancing with children constantly probably allows her to remain carefree and youthful, like the Peter Pan of dance, but I suspect she’d be this way, children or not. Dancing from the womb, remember. Anxious, nervous, yet excited, we danced. What made us think we’d enter her studio and dance like hermits inside a shell is silly, in retrospect.

“You are here, which means your body can do, which means you can dance.”

All of us. The Fit-In crew, danced in tight contained spaces, afraid to let go. The Abundance dancers; however, danced freely and openly, using their bodies in excess, not shying away from the space available to move. Either Karisma released them from their self-containment or they never lost their free spirit in the first place. Based on how the rest of the evening went, I’ll take the former for $1,000 Alex and let’s make it a true Daily Double. 

“I paid for all of this space, use it! That corner too. Look at God!”

Karisma demonstrated how to make the most of our bodies ability to move (and her floor space), showing us large, expressive movements she had acquired from her trips across Africa. The Congolese “wine” (I don’t know if there’s an actual name for the dance) is a hip swirling movement. As if swerving your hips with “come hither” prowess wasn’t enough, involving the shoulders to mimic the movement of the hips…!!! My future husband should’ve been locked onto my GPS coordinates with this dance! 

“Think of scrubbing your kidneys when you’re wining. Let your shoulders mimic your waist. Don’t contain the motion.”

There’s an antidote for tight bodies… Or at least a temporary fix… Free dance.

“Feel the music. Just dance. If you want to get on the floor, have private dancer moment, do it!”

And so we did. We danced to the sounds of contemporary Afrobeats. We danced and gyrated, letting go of modesty, and welcoming back the motions our bodies probably thought were lost in childhood. We danced some more. We laughed. We freed ourselves, some more than others.... (Stephanie slid across the floor like a human spider, disturbing my dancing, free spirited-ness as I heartily cackled at her reclaimed ability to let loose)

There was choreography. Dope choreography. And we did that. Much better towards the end of class, a whole lot less “ brown.” You couldn’t tell us we weren’t ready to re-enact the dance scene from Coming to America! We left African Dance Remix class rejuvenated and with some Karisma, with a K, no H, injected into our lives.

Thank you Karisma for having us and we will definitely be back, less brown of course, and taking up all of the floor space!

Carly ErskineComment