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Jazz and Tap Dance Resonate across Kinshasa

April 18, 2012
The day before their final performance, the Jazz Tap Ensemble gave a preview to students at the Protestant University of Congo. (State Dept. Images)

The day before their final performance, the Jazz Tap Ensemble gave a preview to students at the Protestant University of Congo. (State Dept. Images)

During a  seven day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Jazz Tap Ensemble (JTE) held a series of well-attended and warmly received workshops and performances across the city of Kinshasa. Though tap dance was virtually unknown in Kinshasa beforehand, the new art form resounded with local audiences.

As part of the Education and Cultural Affairs Bureau’s DanceMotion USA program, Embassy Kinshasa organized workshops, master classes and lecture demonstrations for the Los Angeles-based troupe with the DRC’s National Ballet, its premier performing arts school (l’Insitut National des Arts), and a diverse group of professional dancers and musicians.

The troupe also hosted an intensive workshop at a local cultural center known as “The Zoo.” Within only a few hours, the students had learned the basic steps and moved on to more advanced rhythms. By the second morning of workshops at “the Zoo,” one group of local dancers had even choreographed a new piece to incorporate traditional Congolese steps.

Finally, JTE performed at the Protestant University of Congo, the Black and White Club and at Halle de la Gombe. The closing night’s concert at Halle de la Gombe, however, was the visit’s clear highlight. On Kinshasa’s most prominent stage, in front of a crowd of over 700 people including Ambassadors and leading cultural figures, JTE showcased American music and dance for the Congolese public. As a grand finale, the musicians played a tune by Thelonious Monk, then launched into a classic piece called the “shim sham.” Kinshasa’s dancers streamed onto the stage in sync, executed their steps, and then showed off the piece that they had choreographed just days earlier.

About The Jazz Tap Ensemble: The Jazz Tap Ensemble is dedicated to those two great American traditions - tap dancing and jazz music.  Hailed as leaders in the renaissance of tap, the Ensemble brings together the talents of its several dancers and musicians in a spirited display of creativity and spontaneity. JTE has appeared in major concert halls in the U.S. and internationally including the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian, London's Riverside Theatre, Paris' Theatre de la Ville, and Lyon's Maison de la Danse.

About DanceMotion USA: DanceMotion USA is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State.  The goal of DanceMotion USA is to share work by some of America's finest contemporary dance makers and serve as a gateway for cultural exchange.  US embassies and the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs partner with dance companies, leading cultural and community-based organizations, and educational institutions to host unique residencies that create opportunities for engagement and exchange.