Afrontal Dance: Where Afro Meets Dancehall
Meet the vivacious and bodacious movin’ groovin’ ladies of Afrontāl Dance, who are spreading their message of freedom and fearless self-expression through the medium of dance. The 4-person crew made up of Maryann Vincent, Divya Easwaran, Nivitha Krishna and Alisha Ajit, are bringing a taste of Africa and Jamaica to the shores of India.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who has heard this genre of music and has not enjoyed it. There’s just something about it that’s so relatable, and instantly puts you in a good mood,” Explains Alisha Ajit of Afrontāl , “You want to move to it, it has that appeal.”
Beginning their dancing careers as early as the age of three, dance has been intrinsically entwined with the girls’ life. With a collective history of having been trained professionally in the styles of Bharatnatyam, Ballet, Jazz, Hip-Hop and Contemporary, these versatile ladies discovered their love for Afro and Dancehall in the year 2016, while attending a Dancehall workshop conducted by Maryann Vincent.
° A Historic Meeting
Having grown up around Reggae and Gospel music her whole life, Maryann’s attraction to the genre was one that was grounded in her childhood. A place where she felt comfortable and safe, Maryann knew that her love for the form was one that needed to be shared with the world.
Maryann’s first-ever workshop in the styles of Afro and Dancehall was the hallowed ground upon which the foundation of Afrontāl was laid. Divya Easwaran, who had been a pioneer for female dancers in the underground dance battle scene, had been exploring her newfound love of Dancehall in the comfort of her own bedroom, while Maryann did the same in Chennai. Alisha and Nivitha, who were both professional dancers in their own right, and had a budding fascination with the genre themselves, found themselves moving along to Maryan’s cues on that historic day.
“She couldn’t take her eyes off of me!” Nivitha jokes, in her tongue-in-cheek manner.
Alisha, who had long-since been training in the styles of Jazz and Ballet, and who had known Maryann only as a distant acquaintance until that day, speaks of the workshop as a significant turning point both in her life, and her career as a dancer.
“It was like my world had been flipped upside down,” she says. After having trained in forms like Ballet and Jazz, that demand perfection in every detail, Dancehall came as the salvation she never knew she needed. “It was so freeing and liberating to experience a dance form where the whole idea was just to let loose and be yourself.” She explains, “You don’t have to look like anybody else. There’s no correct way, and there’s no wrong way. The idea is to find yourself within the form,”
The rest, as they say, was history. With Divya joining in, the three girls got together to form Afrontāl , with an aim to spread joy, and moreover, have a good time.
° Dance and the Indian Market
Gaining widespread popularity and online-fame over their years together as a collective, the girls elaborate on the growing market for dance, and for lesser-known styles the likes of Dancehall. As I speak with the versatile and spunky Divya Easwaran, she explains that not a few years ago, the metric by which to judge a dancer as being successful was largely reliant on their visibility. This meant that all the best dancers would appear on the television, as reality TV contestants or background dancers.
However, the past few years have seen that dynamic flipped on its back, with the advent of social media. With independent dancers able to promote various non-mainstream dance forms from the comfort of their own homes, dance in India took on a form that was more accessible, and ever so much more diverse.
“A few years ago, the number of dancers in Afro and Dancehall were very few, and today there are so many across India.” Divya explains. When asked about the future of the industry, and of Dancehall and Afro in India, Divya expressed a sense of pride in her community, as well as a hope for the future. “There is a big market for the forms, but the exposure and the kind of projects that come in for these styles are still limited.” She explains, “At the end of the day, this style is not what the regular masses would immediately relate to, but the market is growing, and it will continue to grow in the future.”
Pioneers of the form in their own right, the girls have used their popularity to introduce Dancehall and Afro to the Indian nightlife scene, bringing their long-time idols, London-based Ghanian artists HomeBros to the girl’s home turf for a two-day workshop, meant to inspire and educate.
“We wanted to give people a taste of the culture that surrounds the form of dance, which is more than just dancing,” Maryann explains, “It’s dancing with other people, with music and with a DJ, with a set-up and of course, drinks!”
° Dual Roles and Unity Through Division
While each of the girls is a full-time, professional dancer, the crew exists in a state of duality, with their individual beings being split between their careers as working professionals, and as professional dancers.
“It can be hard to explain to people- we don’t moonlight as dancers, and we don’t have day jobs.” Maryann elaborates, “We dance 100%, and we work at our other jobs 100% too. It’s not part-time. It’s dual roles.”
Maryann, who is also a graphic designer, has been dancing since she was only a child. Nivitha, who began her career as a dancer at the age of three, training in Bharatnatyam and even performing as part of Shiamak Davar’s company, has a full-time job as an architect. Divya, who is a well-known name in the underground battle scene, started her own disco-themed festival, and also co-ran a dance studio in Bangalore, and Alisha spends her days teaching dance, and managing and conducting outreach programs at a performing arts institute.
Residing in four separate part of the country, the girls dance both together, and as individuals, united by their form across the miles of distance between them. “We’re not from the same city.” Alisha explains, “That’s what’s unique about us, we are a collective, but we’re very separated. We are united by our love of dance.”
For the girls, as it is for most artists, dance is about the joy they feel, and the joy they are able to spread. “It’s joyful to move, and it’s a very natural thing for a human being to move- to react to stimuli, to sounds, and to music.” Maryann explains.
“I think dance is the only thing for which I do not have excuses.” Nivitha explains, “We all do other things besides dancing in our professional lives, and I think this is the only thing that really brings us all together without an excuse. Everything else that we do has an excuse that comes with it.”
Afrontāl will be conducting a live workshop from TheVibe Instagram handle today, on the 2nd of April, 2020, at 7pm. We will be there. What’s your excuse?
All images used in this article are courtesy of girls of Afrōntal Dance, and are courtesy of their original owners.
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