Bayou Life: Kabuki Dancers: Dancers with a Message
If you bully someone, it will hurt yourself,” nine-year-old Florence confidently states into a microphone to a group of attentive grade-school children. Some children sit in chairs with their summer camp counselors, while a talkative bunch huddle together on the floor of an event room in Ollie Burns Branch Library. Florence, wearing jean shorts, a tee, and an oversized hoodie, stands close to her mother, retelling her experience with school-yard bullies. Joining them on stage are four members of the Kabuki Dancers, a Lafayette-based performing arts group on tour in Ouachita Parish presenting their new and powerful anti-bullying program Drop The B.E.A.T. (Bullying Ends After Talking) in five participating libraries during the month of July.
The Japanese word “kabuki” refers to a classical Japanese dance-drama characterized by its stylization and use of elaborate make-up worn by some of the performers. Though the Lafayette performers stray clear of make-up, choosing instead a straightforward and manageable look of sneakers, jeans, and a red custom top with the word Kabuki printed, elements of Kabuki theatre are still prevalent: dance, pantomime, and emotionally dramatic roles. “Raise your hand if you want to come up,” says Jude Romero, who has been break dancing for twenty years since he graduated from high school. The room erupts in a torrent of “Me, me, me!” Four selected kids join the members at the front of the room for a friendly dance-off, while the room claps them on. One kid stood out by flossing (trending dance move marked by repeatedly swinging arms with clenched fists from side to side) at an impressive speed. Truly, there is nothing like children dancing to the beat of their own rhythm. The ice-breaker allows a sense of community to build between kids and adults alike before the show begins with Morgane Prejean. Wearing a bright blue Kabuki shirt, she dives into her spoken word: “So listen, the way we treat people is the way we feel inside. And it only takes one wave to shift the tide. Right and wrong is the difference. And you can’t take a stand if you’re just sitting asking ‘Did minding my business really make a difference?’ From the crowd, a young voice sing-songs “No,” immersed by her words. The remaining dancers join Romero, Torrez Hypolite, and Terrance Morgan and accentuate her message with choreography. She continues, “We gotta’ do something about all this bullying that’s been going on. We gotta’ kick out the madness, hatred, and just stop.” A kick and a spin from the dancers gets a few excited reactions from the transfixed group, and that’s how they start dropping the B.E.A.T.
The main portion of the program incorporates skits interlaced with impressive break-dancing spins, freezes, and poses. The scenario at hand involves the bullied, the “friend that everyone wants,” and of course, the bully. Morgane narrates and keeps the kids involved as the performers swerve between narrative and dance to show and tell efficient and non-violent ways to navigate bullying situations, all while learning and understanding the responsibility of each role. Laughter, yelps, and high-pitched screams take the form of approval from the impressionable crowd, and as the performers close their message, a respectful quiet settles in. “We are able to keep the kids’ attention in a way that maybe some motivational speakers can’t,” says Jude, emphasizing that the group doesn’t “preach” to kids. “I know that there is a place for it, but we just feel like we need to keep their attention at all times, because as soon as we lose them, we’re going to lose them.” One point of the show is to keep kids moving. The last order of business involves about thirteen kids on stage learning, in unison, some of the trio’s moves. “Remember, right leg over left,” says Torrez to tiny focused faces that reveal a yearning to learn and a palpable excitement of being part of something unique and energy-driven.
Using the arts as a tool for channeling and expressing emotions has proved fruitful for the Acadian Kabuki group, reveals Torrez. “We have the information and want to give it to them in a way that they are going to remember,” adds Jude. As self-proclaimed “artists with a message,” their additional programs are marked by the common thread of positively influencing their community. Their first program, “In or Out: Never Give Up!” focuses on achieving goals through hard work, self-improvement, and determination, while “Shots Fired,” which is currently under development, is motivated by the recent surge in youth-related gun violence. “It’s not even about dancing anymore. It’s for the kids,” says Jude. He takes time to open up to them about his own experience with bullying, particularly about being one of the shorter kids of his class. Thinking about his own experiences, he realized that how kids bully and why hasn’t changed: “Same ‘ol stuff, but it affects kids the same way.” The mere act of shining a light on the issue is a step in helping out. The group hopes to educate their audience and to encourage self-expression through art and creativity. Their message has reached a variety of venues, as they have performed and competed at festivals, stage shows, and competitions throughout the nation. Highlights include: Jazz Fest, The Apollo Theater in New York, as well as part of the 2013 Super Bowl half-time activities.
We’ve all heard and believe that children are our future, but there are different ways that that can be true. Not all children end up having the same future. Not every future is the one we would have chosen for a child. The kids that attend events like those hosted by the Kabuki Dancers are eager, energetic, and genuinely curious. Merely fostering that is investing in a child’s potential. The Kabuki team is acting on the very ideal that has been shaping our education system—that no child should ever be left behind.
Follow the Kabuki Dancers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Also make sure you subscribe to their Youtube channel and check out their impressive moves. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book a show or find out about their next tour.
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