Culture and Devotion at the Pan Caribbean Dance Theater

2001

by Jianna Caines / photos by Khalid Muhammad

Marie Brooks splashed into the room with a phenomenal presence that immediately captured the attention of all her students. “5,6,7,8!” was all you heard as everyone rose to their feet. Then I knew what kind of power she had.

Born and raised in Guadeloupe, this sista knows what Caribbean life is about. Brooks is the sole founder of Pan Caribbean Dance Theater. All of the dancers who dance at the Pan Caribbean agree that Brook has played a major role in the cultural development of New York City’s youth. Moat Johnson, a fifteen year old student of John Brown High School in Queens, makes it her priority to attend these classes, all the way in Harlem. She states that Brook has provided her with knowledge beyond the skill of dance. They learn about life and how people interact with each other. Brook feels it’s very important to know that “None is Greater or lesser than.” Everyone,according to Brooks, should make an effort to identify and understand each other because we are all equal. 

The hard wood floors, bookshelves and brownstone surroundings will give anyone who enters an at home feeling. In school students use textbooks and museums to learn about their culture and other cultures, BORING. Imagine if you could learn about other countries hands on. Brook takes it one step forward, straight to Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. Right to where it all started. The students, who range from ages three to sixteen years of age, study abroad and meet politicians of these countries. In the past Brooks was asked if she takes a lot of adults on her trips? Brooks replied “If I had to watch you IÕd know before I take you”..Any given day the former president of an African country can drop by. The president of Uganda did just this.

While having a rap session with the dancers he stresses a point that happens to be shared by Brooks which is: “People of color should try to understand each other more.”

Orange, lime, hot pink, mixed with African drums. The vibrant dresses dance in the air and flow to the beat of the music. It is evident that these dancers know their ABCÕs when it comes to technique. On the other hand, Brooks says, “What is the point of knowing your alphabet if you canÕt tell a story.” Picture one of their concerts. They already have the most flavorful music, costumes, and dances by far. She knows that the key to an earth shaking performance is to add the flavor of rap, poetry and or spoken word. This mixes with some contemporary music, that teens of the Hip-hop community completely identify with. This includes Beenie Man, Lady Saw, and Red Rat.

All of these wonderful things would not be possible if Marie Brooks did not devote herself, mind, body, and soul, to her students. The Pan Caribbean Dance theater offers the whole package: a family environment, travel, mentoring, talent, culture. Devotion is the only way to describe the Pan Caribbean Dance theater. With all of this in mind there’s no question of why they are invited to events, such as the the opening ceremony of the centennial Olympic games. The youth are really appreciative of Brooks. Devon Nyngs from the High School for leadership and Public service says “I feel privileged to have such a good teacher.”

Capoeira at Its Best

story by Angel Colon / photos by Shem Rajoon

Capoeira was born out of the struggle for Freedom. 

Capoeira is an art form from Brazil that evolved from African culture. In Copier opponents must always pay respect to the ground because it’s an African tradition of saying thanks. The game of Capoeira is played in a circle called the “roda”(ho-da), in which opponents must play in, however, they must stay in sync with the motherland rhythm, too.

Omi Hill w his mom

The Capoeira music centers around the musical bow called the “Berimbau.” The Berimbau sets the rhythm and the style for the game. Helping out the Berimbau are the “Pandeiros”(tambourines), “Atabaques”(Drums), and many other instruments, which are also accompanied by the clapping of the watchers and participants.


The Capoeira Batizado, which reporters from HarlemLive attended, began with drums and bells and then words from the masters and parents.

The Capoeira Batizado’s (Baptism) warriors, amazed me with their outstanding physical ability. The heart and courage of the little children who defended themselves against the learned masters was outstanding as well.

The Batizado was available to the students who were just learning how Capoeira is done. One girl was scared to go up against one of the masters, but she still rose to the occasion and managed to receive her green belt. A lot of the children had some really great moves that stunned the audience. A little boy was standing on his head for a good ten seconds. Once the dancing portion was over, although the kids were very tired, they were still eager to do some more dancing around, but it was time for the baptism to begin.

After the baptism, the masters gave every student a nickname. These names were made for a specific reason or cause. One boy was named Cabra because he wore a Chupa-Cabra (a Puerto Rico myth) shirt to practice one day. One was named Bruce Lee because of his speed. Another kid was named Rabbit. Can you guess why a boy is named Rabbit? If you thought it was because of his teeth, you’re right-that kid’s teeth were tooooo big.

If you are thinking about taking classes don’t think twice. If I had the time I would take some classes but I can’t. If you’re saying forget it, give it a try!