August 3, 2005
By ASHLEY L. BATTLE, Courant Staff Writer
Cory Green, 16, jumps high into the air and touches his feet
to his fingertips, following the rhythms of the African drums.
He is the only young man in
the African piragramics class at The Artists Collective in
Hartford's Upper Albany neighborhood. Piragramics is a technical
style of African dancing created and taught by "Aca" Lee
Thompson, who serves as master choreographer at the collective,
where he has worked for more than 30 years.
"It has a lot to do with anatomical rhythms and simulating
movement," said Thompson, explaining piragramics.
Thompson, who has traveled around the world as an international
dancer, is firm with his students during instruction, telling
them they must dance with their soul and that anything less is
Thompson credits his long history with the collective to the
fact that he loves to give back to his community. Even when traveling,
Thompson made sure to give back to the youths in his community.
"I love younger spirits," he said. "If
you share your energies with the young, it will come back to
Green, who lives in Hartford, says it can be hard being the
only young man in the class, especially because there used to
be more. Green said that over time, the number of young men enrolled
in the dance classes decreased.
Founded in 1970, The Artists Collective emphasizes the cultural
and artistic contributions of the African Diaspora. It is the
only multi-arts and cultural organization of its kind in Connecticut.
Since June 27, more than 200 students have participated in two
summer programs at the collective: camp culture and the capital
workforce summer employment learning program. Camp culture is
a six-week summer program that trains students in the performing
arts; the youth employment program provides pre-employment training
to teens 14 to 19 with no experience in the performing arts.
This was the 29th anniversary of the summer programs.
Green is participating in the youth employment program for the
third year and has worked with The Artists Collective for 10
years. He has participated in almost every class the collective
offers, including martial arts, steel pan drumming, tap dance,
jazz dance and art.
Jonathan Mendez, 15, of Hartford, has enjoyed his first year
as a participant in the youth employment program.
"I've learned how to listen and respect myself and others," he
said. Mendez has taken classes such as hip-hop dance and steel
Johnesha Weaver, 12, has taken
part in the collective's after-school program, where she studied
jazz dance, as well as camp culture. Weaver thought African
piragramics with Thompson was fun because "we
got to do different movements, things we normally don't get a
chance to do."
Student performances will
be tonight and Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Artists Collective.
The theme of this year's performance is "Rites of Passage: The Evolution of a Dream." For
more information about the performances, call the collective
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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