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Rhythm of the Youth

It’s all about the youth

By Michael K. Dowe, II

Groove Phi Groove Fellowship

Bob Bloom

Capoeira and the BCCNE


President Clinton spoke about it, Whitney Houston sang about it, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard ran across a stage and screamed it: It’s all about the youth.

While everybody these days seems concerned about shielding youth from violence, by rating everything from movies to television to video games, some activists are trying an alternative--expose kids to positive, uplifting things. This is why a group of MIT students recently got together for a day-long workshop for Boston area youth.

Last Saturday, the MIT Chapter of the Groove Phi Groove Fellowship held a dance workshop in Johnson athletic center entitled “Rhythm of the Youth.” The workshop included several area artists who specialize in everything from West African dance to Break Dancing. Kenroy Cayetano ’99, a member of the fellowship, said, “We advertised to over forty schools in the area -- Boston, Cambridge, Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury -- wherever we thought there’d be kids interested in the project.” Their efforts attracted a diverse group of African American, Caucasian, Caribbean, Latino, Asian, and other youths, ranging in age from elementary to high school. Even a number of colleges students came to dance.

The “Rhythm of the Youth” program was a fun, energetic way to introduce youth to music and dance from other cultures. The basic format of the program consisted of an exhibition of the dance or music, followed by a workshop session with the children. The program lasted over six hours, accomodating the variety of showcases including South African Gumboot, Stepping, Poetry Slam and Free Style Rap, Hip Hop Dancing, Break Dancing, West African Drumming and Dance, and Afro-Brazilian Capoeira. It was no surprise that nearly all the participants remained the whole time.

The first dance of the program was a South African Gumboot and Stepping exhibition. For those of you who don’t know what Stepping is, think of that Broadway show Stomp, only ten times more rhythmic and theatrical. The South African Gumboot will be showcased in the I-Fair next weekend, so look out for it. After the exhibition, the kids were split into groups, where members of the Grooves taught them different stepping routines. With some instruction and a few shy giggles, the kids began to learn the steps, and afterwards, the groups were joined to show what they had learned. The concept for the workshop illustrated the point of the entire program: to instruct and to unify.

The instruction continued with MIT’s first Hip Hop dance group, the Moch a Moves. Some of you may remember the Moves from their performances during this past basketball season. According to member Ayana Mohammad ‘99, the group wanted “to get the kids energized with a few moves.” With the aid of DJ Aron Qasba ‘00, the Mocha Moves grooved to Lauryn Hill and bounced to Luke. During the workshop, they taught another routine, butterflying and bank-head bouncing to Outkast. The Moves will probably be back next basketball season, and word has it that y’all can look out for DJ Qasba spinning some vinyl before Busta Rhymes takes the stage tonight.

Break Dancing, one of the four elements of the Hip Hop culture, was the next to be demonstrated by the Boston Floor Lords. The Floor Lords are the oldest crew in Boston, with over 18 years of dancing, touring, and teaching. And as DJ Qasba scratched some old school beats, the Floor Lords proved why they have such a title. Group members range in age from 8 to 32 years old, and with nicknames like Dash, Genie, Lil Herc(ules), Amazon, and Domino (just to name a few), the Floor Lords are one of the few crews to incorporate different ages, genders, and styles. Genie, a two-year member of the crew, said that the inclusion of females “brings a less hard-core image to breaking.”

The Floor Lords are currently working to establish a nonprofit organization to teach about the elements of hip hop -- breaking, emceeing, deejaying, and graffiti. Dash, one of the original old heads in the crew, stressed that they dance “for positive reasons, for the uplift and unity of hip hop culture.” In addition to teaching a class in Jamaica Plain, the Boston Floor Lords will be hosting the “Spring Break B-Boy/B-Girl Competition” on April 25 (2-7pm) at the Tobin Gym in Roxbury, where both New York breakers and Boston talent will perform and compete.

Not to be outdone, a few local emcees stepped forward to perform. Guillermo Fisher ’01 read poetry between several exhibitions, including one entitled, “Do Ya Hear Me?” While DJ Qasba provided a beat, Lawrence Durant ’98 and Bapu Jena ’00 held a freestyle session. Reminiscent of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s tirade at the American Music Awards last year, Jena was heard shouting, “This is for the kids!”

The program shifted in focus from hip hop back to other cultures. Bob Bloom, a Master Teaching Artist for the Connecticut Commission for the Arts, provided over fifty drums for his hands-on drumming experience. A student of Nigerian Drum Master Babatunde Olatunji, Bloom’s phrase for the day was, “If you can say it, you can play it.” So while drumming the beat, Bloom led the group by singing in the native language of the songs, including Yoruba and other West African dialects. Trust me when I say that with over fifty people beating drums, the joyous music could be heard well beyond Johnson center.

The next exhibition was one of the most impressive I’ve seen to date. El Grupo Capoeira Camara Angola of the Brazilian Cultural Center of New England gave an exhibition of their rhythmic game of combat. Capoeira is a hybrid of martial arts and dance, with its roots in Africa and Brazil. Mestre Deraldo Ferreira of the BCCNE instructed the group on every aspect of the game, from the movements and philosophy to the music and instruments. The game occurs in a circle of people called the roda, where they play the rhythm instruments, sing, and dance. After Mestre Deraldo’s instruction, the group sat in the roda and began the intricate movements of the game. A student of Capoeira, Aaron Meyers, said, “In the roda, the people have a conversation of sorts with their bodies.” The game is unchoreographed, so each movement is like a statement to the other player. With twenty four years of experience in Capoeira, Mestre Deraldo made contortions and flips that I’ve only seen in video games. In addition to the BCCNE, he also teaches at Brown University, Amherst College and the Boston Arts Academy.

The Groove Phi Groove Fellowship has been bringing events of social and cultural awareness to campus since Spring 1996. For this event they enlisted the help of other members in the MIT community, as well as people from other schools. “We had about 24 volunteers during the program,” said Ricardo Dawkins ’01. Some volunteers were used for organization and setup, and some acted as mentors to groups of children. Dawkins continued, “We had the mentors talk to the children about themselves, what it’s like to be in college,” as well as “encourage them to perform well in school and get involved with music and the arts.”

The “Rhythm of the Youth” program got several parents, Big Sisters, and community leaders to bring their children. Rosaba Soliz, a performing arts teacher from the Hernandez school, pulled together a group of her students from La Pinata, an organization geared towards teaching Latin American history and contemporary issues through the arts. She knew that the program would “energize the kids and expose them to cultural elements.” Soliz stressed that “events like these are important for the youth because they learn about themselves.” The spirit of community service was evident in the proud faces of the parents and the eager faces of the youth. The program even inspired a group of Soliz’s students to give an impromptu performance of Merengue dancing.

David McGill ’99, chairperson of the event, found the program successful because such a diverse group youth were able “to have fun together as well as learn about various cultural dances that they might not have been exposed to.” The children “seemed as if they wanted to continue learning those dances in the future.” McGill stated that the Grooves “definitely plan to do an event for the youth annually.”