Due to a fire at Joe’s Movement Emporium on Saturday, The Lesole Dance Project performances have been rescheduled for Jan. 18 and 19, 2014. Joe’s Movement Emporium has since re-opened.
Shortly after moving to the United States in 2002, Lesole Maine was on the lookout for a dance group representing his native South Africa.
“I couldn’t find a company like that,” he said.
So in 2003, Maine founded Lesole’s Dance Project, a nonprofit organization and professional dance company dedicated to performing South African traditional dance, American modern dance and Afro-fusion dance. The company will perform Saturday and Sunday at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier. Lesole’s Dance Project is registered in Montgomery County though the ensemble rehearses in a studio in Mt. Rainier.
Maine, now living in Silver Spring, was born and raised in South Africa and said he’s been dancing “since [he] can remember.” With a mother and father who were both dancers themselves, Maine started taking ballroom dance at 9 years old along with his sister.
Lesole’s Dance Project has five company members including Maine who doubles as the artistic director. Recent college graduate Megan Atkinson has been with the ensemble for four years and, in September, became the group’s rehearsal director.
“In college, you always want more, always want an opportunity,” Atkinson said. “I just wanted to dance.”
Atkinson attended Suitland High School and graduated from Towson University in May with a degree in dance. Though she said she’s had some exposure to African dance, along with training in ballet, tap and hip-hop, Atkinson said Lesole’s Afro-fusion is something “you won’t find anywhere.”
“I had done West African dance,” Atkinson said. “But South African dance, I knew nothing about until I joined the company.”
According to Maine, part of Lesole’s Dance Project’s mission is to educate audiences who, like Atkinson, aren’t familiar with South African styles of dance.
“Africa as a continent, we have different styles of dance and different movements,” Maine said. “When you talk about Africa ... people think of West Africa and those are the norms Lesole is trying to break ... The main goal is to teach them about the culture and the history of South Africa.”
In her time with the company, Atkinson said she’s learned some of the major differences between West African and South African dance, including the free and loose nature of West African movement versus the more rigid style of South African dance. The two styles also differ in the dancers’ interactions with the drummers.
“In West African dance ... with the drumming, the drummers pick up the cues from the dancers,” Atkinson said. “South African it’s the total opposite, the dancers take cues from the drummers.”
Lesole’s Dance Project performs a variety of traditional South African dances native to a number of tribes. Khoba is a dance from the people of Botswana. It originated in the ancient times of the bushman people. While Maine said historically Khoba was performed for many occasions, including to pray for healing or rain, now it’s mostly performed as a courting ritual.
“Khoba expresses the flirtatious,” Maine said.
In order to learn the Khoba dance, Maine traveled to the Republic of Botswana in South Africa.
“It’s not the kind of dance where you can just go and learn and then put it on stage,” Maine said, “The rituals they do are so sacred, in order for you to learn the dances, you can’t just say, ‘I want to learn the dance.”
Instead, Maine said he was expected to spend time living and learning among the Tswana people.
Another dance the company performs is called Ndlamo, a warrior dance from the Zulu people, South Africa’s biggest ethnic group. Shaka Zulu was the most prominent leader of the Zulu Kingdom and often used the dance as a way to train his warriors.
As the mission of Lesole’s Dance Project is not only to entertain but to educate, the company spends much of its time leading enrichment programs in local schools and in the community. Like many of their performances, the two shows at Joe’s this weekend will feature some explanation behind the dance moves.
“Every time when we perform, even when we are not doing educational programming, I think as a performer, you have to leave a message behind,” Maine said.
“We hope for [people] to be inspired,” added Atkinson. “If we get one [person] to smile, one [person] to want to know more, then we’ve accomplished our goal.”