HomePalmyra News'A spectacular celebration of Black history and culture'

‘A spectacular celebration of Black history and culture’

Palmyra hosts dance presentation by African ensemble at community center

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Entertaining an audience with powerful drumming and dancing were members of the Universal African Dance & Drum Ensemble, during a recent Black History Month presentation at the Palmyra Community Center.

Nearly 70 people filed into the Palmyra Community Center on the afternoon of Feb. 10, talking among themselves and anxiously waiting for the curtain to rise while children played on the gym floor.

Everything settled down as Mayor Gina Ragomo and Michele Sykes, manager of the Palmyra Community Center, introduced the Universal African Dance & Drum Ensemble to begin a borough-sponsored Black History Month presentation.

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The room reverberated as the show opened with six performers playing African drums loud and fast, creating an atmosphere of excitement and amazement. One of the drummers ventured into the audience for a solo in front of an awestruck young girl, and then there was a crescendo by all of them dressed in traditional African clothing that was met by a big round of applause.

Then the dancers floated in wearing colorful outfits and dazzling the crowd with their grace and skill. They moved several times at a frantic pace to the upbeat tempo of the drums, and there were gasps as the final performer danced to the beat by standing nearly 10 feet tall on stilts.

The show ended with the entire ensemble working together with choreography and raising their hands to the sky, producing a standing ovation.

The ensemble’s presentation – including a member on stilts – was performed on the afternoon of Feb. 10.

“This is a spectacular celebration of Black history and culture,” Sykes enthused. “The ensemble is very vibrant and entertaining.”

“We sponsor an event every year,” noted Ragomo, adding that the presentation marked the second visit from the Camden-based ensemble during Black History Month.

Last year, the borough presented the film “Harriet,” about how former slave Harriet Tubman and her work as conductor of the Underground Railroad brought many Blacks their freedom. In 2022, residents saw “Selma,” a film about the Civil Rights movement in Selma, Alabama, and the bloody 1965 attack by police on peaceful protesters crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The Universal African Dance & Drum Ensemble lets the audience experience the history and rich culture of African dance and the meaning of the African drum beat, according to Wanda Dickerson, who co-founded the troupe in 1984 with her husband Robert.

With her husband’s death, she is now the matriarch of the ensemble. Helping her out are her oldest son Jamal (chief choreographer and artistic director) and his wife, Ronsha Dickerson (dance director and teacher); son Nasir Dickerson (choreographer and artistic director); daughters Atiya Johnson-Dickerson (dance director and teacher) and her husband, Dwayne Johnson (choreographer and teacher); and Ayanna Dickerson (dance director and teacher).

“This troupe has been taught by the best traditional and authentic African teachers, scholars and historians as well as great African American teachers since their beginning, and it has grown to be one of the largest professional African Dance & Drum Ensembles in the United States of America,” notes the troupe’s website.

The ensemble is blessed by having one of the best African dance teachers, Yalani Bangoura of West Africa, on staff, the site added. It’s a versatile group of about 72 professionals, educators, nurses, veterans, police, business, community personnel, college students, school students and children.


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