African Dance is back at Hayti

(Ivy Burch, front right, leads the group in traditional African movements.  (Staff photo by Anthony DeHart)

After nearly 2 years of virtual meetings, African Dance is back in person at the Hayti Heritage Center.

African Dance! – Every Monday!

For more than 17 years, The Hayti Heritage center has been home to the Hayti Rhythms dance class.

Every Monday, Ivy Burch and Tony Hall lead a group of women from all walks of life in traditional African dances. The class has long since been a source of community, and an important cultural touchstone in the Hayti cultural center. Unfortunately, the class wasn’t able to meet in person for almost 2 years during the Covid- 19 pandemic. 

“When we started out with in person classes, there was no limit on who could come. We just had a fun community, from all walks of life, different genres, different locations, we all came together as a family.” said Ivy Burch, one of the instructors. “When the pandemic set in, you know, everyone was shut down.”

Unwilling to give up the community dance time that has become so treasured, the group found ways to meet even during the lockdown. “We got into virtual classes,” said Burch. 

These virtual classes gave folks the ability to stay connected, while also staying safe. 

“I’m really grateful to have been able to dance while I was pregnant, but stay safe,” said Marie Gladdock, who has been coming to the class for several years. 

“It’s not the same online. It’s so powerful to be in the room together. But it’s better than not connecting with each other at all. And they brought the full life and the full vibrancy even through the screen.”

While the virtual classes were a nice way to keep the community together during the pandemic, they don’t hold a candle to the experience in person. 

“There’s nothing like being in person,” said Burch. “You know, you can get in your living room, and you can do a couple of things. But then it’s like, Ah, I need to be here to get that support, that love, that I actually feel.” 

Thankfully, African dance is back in person every Monday night at the Hayti Cultural center. While everyone is excited to be back, the group is still taking precautions against COVID-19. 

“And right now, we’re only doing 12. And we’re wearing masks,” said Burch. 

“So until we can get a better grasp of things. Hopefully, we’ll be opening up back to the way we originally started without any limits on how many can come.”

Coming back after almost 2 years of virtual classes, many in the group mentioned how powerful it was to be dancing to live music again. “I will say that my first class back, I realized how I had not been opening my body,” said Tanisha Davis, another longtime participant. “Being able to stretch and feel the rhythm of the drums and hear the drums, it made my heart sing.”

(Drummers, from left to right, Elisha, Seikou Njie, and Robert Corbitt guide the group with traditional drumming. (Staff photo by Anthony DeHart)

Beyond just the music, many folks in the class mentioned how much they missed the love and support of the dance community every week, and how much they’ve come to rely on the support of their dance community. 

“You’re around people we love and we know we’re gonna see each other,” said Davis. “And when you’re missing it’s like wait, where’s so and so? Yeah, you know, like you start to check in on people and you’d love them you were dancing the same line you seem in the same class and everybody just the energy is contagious.”

While the group is excited to be back in person, everyone is looking forward to welcoming back the full class. “One other change during the pandemic coming back is because there are 12 slots, it is hard for others to get in,” one participant wrote in an anonymous note to the Durham Voice. “People have to sign up 3 to 4 weeks out. That is a bummer” 

Ivy Burch leads the class in stretching. (Staff photo by Anthony DeHart)