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.”

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