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Collage Dance Company Performs To An African Beat For 30 Years

Collage Dance Company
Jerri Dorsey-Hall
Collage Dance Company celebrates 30 years of African dance, singing and drumming in Durham, NC.

The Collage Dance Company has wowed audiences for decades with its authentic African costumes, precise foot-work and exquisite drumming.  And some of the performers are as young as ten years old!

Tonight, the Durham-based company is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary with a performance at the Carolina Theatre featuring more than one generation on stage.

Sakarah Hall-Edge is keeping the beat, singing, during a rehearsal for the big thirtieth anniversary show.  She and several other ladies, some in their mid-forties,  are on stage at the Carolina Theatre in Durham preparing to show they can still jump, shake and flex like they used too!

Twenty-two year-old Sakarah shouldn’t have a problem.  She spent a BIG part of her life dancing with Collage.

“I danced with Collage from age six until I graduated from high school at age seventeen," said Sakarah, still moving her feet.

Most of the girls start performing with Collage at ten years old.  But I remember Sakarah when she was little, being moved up early.  She could jump so high and move her body so fast her hair would fly and twist like a windmill!

Sadiyah Shakur-Saleem is the founder and artistic director of Collage Dance Company.

“You see that one, who was holding back.  Because I say to some of them in their ear, let it go girl! Because some people are holding it back.  And when you see it all put together, that is a wonderful experience," said Shakur-Saleem.

Shakur-Saleem says people have thanked her for giving her girls and guys more than just movement of body.

"We really see what confidence is built in young people.  A lot of them actually said, I can do my interview for my job because of Collage," said Shakur-Saleem.  "Or I can stand in front of my class and make my oral presentation because I have danced in front of audiences.”

Shakur-Saleem says it’s exciting to see so many of the dancers come back for the performance.  Some of the former Collage dancers now have children who also dance or drum.

One of them is Jerri Dorsey-Hall who was in the very first Collage Dance Company.  She said it helped make her fearless.

“There’s a certain gift that comes with, not just taking a class, but having the opportunity to perform," said Dorsey-Hall.  "It's something about having that fearless, confident spirit to be able to let go and release and connect to the drums."

Jerri’s daughter, Taylor Dorsey-Flowers, has been dancing with the company since she was nine years old.  She’s a rising high school senior at the Durham School of the Arts and is dance captain.   She says it’s hard work, but she works hard to find a balance.

“Yes, because they stay on you!" said Taylor Dorsey-Flowers.  "And you know, if your grades are bad you're not dancing! So, there's a correlation between the two."

Collage boasts a 99% high school graduation rate and a college graduation rate almost just as high.  Dorsey-Hall says there is a lot of support to help the young folks do well.

“Oh definitely, and aunts and uncles and everything because of Collage. It’s awesome.  A big family! Extended family!”

The Collage Dance Company family will perform tonight, May 22, at the Carolina Theatre in Durham at 7:30.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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