By Naeisha Rose
Feet of Rhythm, a Haitian folkloric dance company in New York led by Nadia Dieudonné, a choreographer and master teacher, had a bombastic showcase performance at the Appel Room in Lincoln Center for the Booking Dance Festival NYC earlier this month.
The captivating Jan. 5 showcase in Manhattan was an excerpt of the dance troupe’s longer piece called “Heritage,” according to Dieudonné, a co-founder of Feet of Rhythm.
“It depicts of the plight of the Africans that were kidnapped and brought to Haiti and their plight,” said Dieudonné. “Through there we develop a historical journey.”
The excerpt depicts the Ragga street performance that takes place the 40 days before Easter on the streets of Haiti, according to Dieudonné.
“It’s like a post-carnival communal dance that takes place during the 40 days of Lent,” said Dieudonné. “Different neighborhoods would have their Ragga and they will come out in a street friendly competition for who has the best songs, who has the best costumes and it last every Sunday until Easter Sunday.”
The red, blue, green and gold traditional Haitian costume dresses that had silver sparkles were designed by Cynthia Karaha, the promoter and the other co-founder of Feet of Rhythm.
Karaha and Dieudonné met back in 1992 while working on a music video for the Konpa band Lakol, which had the hit song “Ole Ole.”
Karaha, started to direct the video, which was made half in color and half black and white, and had dance moves from the early 1990s, but when she was looking for traditional African dance moves to intertwine in the video she found help in the form of Dieudonné, who coordinated the traditional section of 1992 hit music video.
“It was a big thing,” Karaha said. “It was number one on Billboard, but I didn’t think the dance was strong enough and I remember seeing Dieudonné and I pulled her in because she had the right energy.”
A few years later Karaha and Dieudonné started to work together in the world of dance and formed Feet of Rhythm.
“We instantly clicked,” said Dieudonné. “I liked her professionalism and she liked my talent and from there we decided to start a dance company, Feet of Rhythm, in 1994.”
For the co-founders, Feet of Rhythm is not about money.
“It’s about spreading the Haitian culture to adults, but early on we decided to also teach a lot of children, whether they were Haitian or not, the importance of the Haitian culture through music and dance.”
While Dieudonné liked Karaha’s professionalism, she also liked that the promoter had a dance background.
“I know ballet, jazz, and Haitian folklore dance,” said Karaha. “I was born in Brooklyn because my parents were in exile from [Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier], but when things died down we moved back to Haiti.”
Not only did she learn to dance there, but Karaha learned how to sew from her great aunt and mother, and later became an executive producer on music for the godfather of Creole rap George Lys “Master Dji” Herard.
“They didn’t like the political things that rappers would say in the rap,” said Karaha.
Karaha went on to become a promoter in Haiti and then left the Caribbean island when she turned 18. She also became a background dancer and learned African dance and belly dancing, but eventually decided to stick to the management side of dance and music, which led to her meeting Dieudonné.
Dieudonné entered the world of dance at 12 years old.
“I had the opportunity while going to church and girl scouts to meet my mentor Myriam Dorismé,” said Dieudonné. “She was a Haitian folk singer and activist and she took the youth in the church and taught them the Haitian history through music and dance.”
Together, Karaha and Dieudonné have passed on the traditions of Haiti through dance and music at Lincoln Center with their dance piece, which had the snare and Haitian drums, energetic bare feet dancers quickly swaying while waving the Haitian flag and whistling, men in guayabera shirts and women in traditional costumes.
“It was an awesome experience being at Lincoln Center, and being able to represent Haiti and the Haitian culture,” said Dieudonné. “It was awesome that we were able to get that type of exposure.”
Karaha hopes to one day raise the $25,000 in funds necessary to put on the full performance of “Heritage.”
“That’s our dream to do that 90-minute piece,” said Karaha. “We need to pass the heritage to the kids.”
This August will be the 25th anniversary of the founding of Feet of Rhythm.