The West Harlem Art Fund and Scope Art Fair are presenting an exciting experience on March 2nd for New Yorkers during Armory Week. In a community that is rebuilding itself and forging a new identity, The West Harlem Art fund decided to reflect inward and deep to an African tradition that has universal appeal – dance.
For this “Live Art” experience, the participants are the installation. They will learn and rehearse the South African Gumboot dance in a routine with an experienced dancer/choreographer. Participants will then change and perform the work while being videotaped for an online viewing.
Gumboot dancing was born in the gold mines of South Africa at the height of the migrant labor system and during the oppressive Apartheid Pass Laws. The gumboot dance (or Welly Boot dance) is performed by dancers wearing Wellington boots. Sometimes the boots had bells added, to ring as the dancers stamp on the ground. This dance was often used as a code or system of calling to say something to another person a distance away. It acted in place of language among those working in the mining grounds.
The mine workers were not free to move around at will and were separated from their families for long periods of time. At best, working in the mines was a long, hard, repetitive toil. At worst, the men would be taken chained into the mines and shackled at their work stations in almost total darkness.
This dance can still be seen today on the streets and plazas in tourist areas of South Africa. Some miners also still use it today. Gumboot dancing, like many other forms of African dance, utilizes the concepts of total body articulation and polyrhythm (the simultaneous sounding of two or more independent rhythms). The miners created a new type of harmonic song and energetic dance, which helped to keep morale up during the backbreaking days in the darkness below ground. It is a dance made by idiophones (a musical instrument which creates sound primarily by way of the instrument’s vibrating, without the use of strings or membranes) or autophones (objects of the everyday life vibrating by themselves), and is similar in execution and style to forms of “Stepping” done by African-American fraternities and sororities.
The West Harlem Art Fund reached out to creative professionals and retailers from around the City that were willing to help us spotlight a New Harlem that is more contemporary, hip and transcending. Search for Live Art at the Mink Building. The Mink Building is located at 1361 Amsterdam Avenue at 126th Street. The installation begins at 12 p.m. Get tickets here.