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Fiery Footwork

Neri Torres and company

You hear it in contemporary pop songs like Missy Elliott's "Work It" and Iconz's "Get Crunked Up." You see it in modern dance steps: the swirling movement of the torso, the stomping of the feet. It's the clave, "a pa-pa-pa that comes from the Afro-Cuban rhythms, which [have] been more and more absorbed by contemporary dance and music," says Neri Torres, a Miami-based choreographer and dance professor. Spicy, sensual, Afro-Cuban music and dance uniquely embody a frenzied, energetic expression born from African tribalism and Latin chispa (spark). That robust flavor, often called tumbao, will be displayed copiously during the fifth annual BAILA USA Dance and Cultural Arts Festival this Thursday through Sunday.

BAILA (which means "dance" in Spanish, and also stands for Beats of Africa In Latin America), Miami Dade College, and the IFÉ-ILÉ Afro-Cuban Dance and Music Ensemble have united to present the four-day extravaganza. It promises dance workshops covering salsa, rumba, timba, and capoeira; workshops on drumming and chanting; and lectures on the African influences in music from Caribbean and Latin American countries, Brazil, and the United States.

The highlight of the festival's educational portion will be a forum and master class by Katherine Dunham, widely acknowledged as the matriarch of black dance. Dunham, age 94, is revered for creating an art form by founding the first African-American dance troupe in the 1930s and incorporating African-inspired movements into the modern dance vocabulary.

A tribute to Dunham will take place during a Saturday-night gala. Soloist Theo Jamison, Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble, and Brazilian candomblé soloist Mestre Caboquinho will be among the performers. Sunday the dancing moves to the country for closing festivities at a ranch in southwest Miami-Dade. Expect food, drink, live music, and a spirited Yoruba/Afro-Cuban ceremony called a toque or bembe.


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