Kriye Bode Minokan:
Peniel Guerrier Seizes the Moment to Galvanize Haitian Dance Community

Dasha A. Chapman

The Call: Peniel Guerrier and Kriye Bode

2020 marked the 15th year of Peniel Guerrier’s Kriye Bode, an annual participatory event that elevates Haitian dance and culture through workshops, panel discussions, and performances. Guerrier, a New York City-based Haitian dancer, choreographer, pedagogue, and community-activator has for a decade-and-a-half staged a vibrant Kriye Bode event in New York City to raise awareness of the beauty and healing power of Haitian dances and culture. Kriye Bode has become the frame for all Guerrier’s cultural work, driven by a mission to “promote, preserve, and educate” about Haitian cultural legacy, garnering respect for Haitian dance and respect for Haiti1 1 . Summer 2020, Guerrier reimagined Kriye Bode in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the global intensification of social inequities and mass uprisings for racial justice. On Kriye Bode’s 15th anniversary, Guerrier, with production support from his partner Amanda Mulea, staged KB MINOKAN, an international Haitian dance festival held virtually. Always one to seize change as an opportunity for innovation, Guerrier took on the challenges presented by 2020 as impetus to curate a series of workshops with dancers across locations, generations, Haitian dance lineages, and perspectives on the art form. Taking place over five consecutive weekends, the event featured 15 workshops taught by Haitian dance artists located around the world, from Canada to Chile and New Mexico to Switzerland.

KB Minokan Poster, artwork by Amy Kurzweil

Ultimately, KB Minokan demonstrated the breadth, complexity, and contemporary relevance of Haitian dance artistry3 . 

“Haitian dance” indicates an artistic performance genre that draws its aesthetics from Haiti’s Afro-syncretic “danced religion” of Vodou, and the African-derived worldview that undergirds the roots of Haitian culture2 . While dance is embedded in Haitian social life and sacred ritual, the origins for dance as artistic staged performance date to the formation of Haitian folkloric dance, also simply called Haitian folklore, or, in Kreyòl (Haitian Creole language), fòlklò. Folkloric performance emerged during Haiti’s cultural nationalist period of 1940s-1950s, a time when Haitian intellectuals, politicians, and artists turned to long-denied African-based practices to devise a performance form that represented Haiti’s unique cultural character in the wake of oppressive French-oriented colonial mentalities and a 19-year U.S. Occupation of the island (1915-1934)4 . As historian Kate Ramsey has argued, folkloric performance became “central to Haitian political self-definition in post-occupation Haiti5 .” Dance and its associated music, songs, performance elements and codifications of historical memory mobilized anti-colonial cultural nationalism. Folkloric performance also fueled the growth of Haiti’s “Golden Age of Tourism” (late 1940s-early 1950s), while purposefully maintaining aesthetic, representational and pedagogical motivations so as to educate Haitian and foreign populations about the rich textures of Haiti’s African-descended culture6 . Importantly, to do so, folkloric dance was intentionally separated, but very much derived from, the stigmatized and actively persecuted African-based religion of Vodou. In the early 1940s, Vodou practice was legally prohibited and practitioners violently repressed by campaigns of the Catholic Church in alliance with the Haitian state7 . Folkloric dance’s separation from its cultural meanings led to many generations of dancers being schooled in movement technique without its history or spiritual meanings. The KB Minokan artists came from different Haitian dance lineages, but, importantly, both the event and the artists featured brought forward the Vodou essence of the dances in meaningful yet varied ways8 .

The event name “Kriye Bode Minokan” deploys concepts and terminology from Vodou. “Kriye Bode” beckons people to a ceremonial gathering of renewal: “Kriye bode is a term that signifies the call to participate. Kriye bode calls people together to dance, sing, drum, and rejoice in the energy of life as a community9 .” “Minokan” names the place where all Vodou spirits (lwa) reside. “Minokan” implies an all-encompassing embrace of the vast spiritual reservoirs from which Haitians draw strength in practices of balancing and sustaining community and self. Calling his annual cultural events “Kriye Bode” since their conception in 2006, Kriye Bode Minokan, “The great calling,” broadened Guerrier’s summons to people from all over the world alongside Haitian spiritual entities to gather strength in a journey toward transformation. As per Guerrier’s mission, the events were open to all, the $15/workshop fee at times being waived for accessibility. And participants did indeed join in from multiple cities, countries, times zones, levels of experience and cultural backgrounds, with different routes of connection to the teaching artists and Haitian dance in general. Many of the teachers attended workshops other than their own to either dance or watch. 

Guerrier conceived of KB Minokan to serve multiple intents. He wanted to connect people: Haitian dance teachers from different generations with each other, and teachers with interested students across locations and generations as well. Many of the teachers hadn’t met one another or been witness to their colleagues’ approaches to Haitian dance, and the online format facilitated the building of new networks amongst teachers and students. Marking 15 years of Kriye Bode at such a tumultuous time, Guerrier felt called to do things differently. Instead of having the usual culminating performance, KB Minokan began with an Opening Ceremony, “Uprising” – a significant shift in the framing of the festival, which I discuss further below. This ceremony initiated KB Minokan in terms of the entwined historical, political, and spiritual dimensions of gathering to dance. For Guerrier, this ceremony and the workshops that followed marked a new beginning, a new “we” that could come together around the sharing, preservation, and promotion of Haitian dance culture and community10 . 

Guerrier aligned the launch date of KB Minokan to correspond with the 229th commemoration of Bwa Kayiman, the historic event that initiated the Haitian Revolution in August 1791 and commenced a 13+ year rebellion of enslaved and formerly enslaved Africans that ultimately established Haiti/Ayiti as an independent Black Republic in 180411 . Against the backdrop of six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the swell of protests against anti-Black police brutality and systemic injustice, Guerrier felt called by both his human and ancestral interlocutors to garner collective strength needed to fight battles against the virus and intersecting social oppressions. Corresponding with this objective, Guerrier began each dance workshop throughout the festival with a moment of silent prayer and intention. Attendees would “connect themselves” by pressing their two fists together and “linking their elbows together” (from one Zoom rectangle to the next) – virtually manifesting a circle of connection for these times. Guerrier closed each workshop with many thanks to all involved, in addition to a practical plea and gesture: bringing his hands over his mouth then tracing the outline of a facemask he’d say, “You know what to do: your mask, your mask… Wear a mask!” 

In 2020, faced with so many challenges and a whole new way of navigating the world, Guerrier seized our transitional moment to choreograph a new way of coming together, a new practice of building community through practice and study of Haitian dance. At a time when Haitians in Haiti have been enduring an intense and protracted political crisis since 2018, and consistent foreign intervention, indiscriminate violence, high inflation, political corruption, and lack of educational opportunities define the Haitian context of insecurity, this work takes on a necessarily urgent tone as a fortification of Haitian cultural practice across time and space. Since the founding of Kriye Bode in 2006, Guerrier and his team of artists, performers, and culture workers have utilized education, performance, and community assembly to engage the beauty and healing power of Haitian dance culture, while also furthering the important work of cultural transmission. With the goals of preserving, sharing, and reflecting upon Haitian dance, KB Minokan in 2020 also signaled Guerrier’s commitment to the vital imperative of continuing the legacy of his ancestors.

I see Kriye Bode/KB Minokan as enacting a practice of rasanbleman – a Kreyòl concept embedded in Vodou culture that Haitian-American anthropologist, feminist, and performance artist Gina Athena Ulysse has theorized as a particularly Caribbean act of gathering: coming together to build, worship, work, and stir transformation12 . As previously stated, Haitian dance derives its aesthetics, philosophies, and cultural values from Vodou, Haiti’s Afro-syncretic religious complex forged in the context of colonialism and enslavement. Vodou has long been maligned first by European colonizers and then carried through in entrenched colonial mentalities that deem African-based spiritual practices as negative and backward. More recently, scores of Evangelical Christians who espouse fervent anti-Vodou zealotry publicly characterize the religion as satanic devil worship and wrongly scapegoat Vodou and its practitioners as the source of Haiti’s ills13 . Both Vodou practitioners and Haitian dancers contest such detrimental misguided forces, and battle every day to creatively survive under duress. The continued instability of Haiti itself also makes pursuing dance as a student, a teacher, a choreographer, or a performer extremely difficult. KB Minokan made visible some of the many Haitian dancers who persevere, continuing to make lives as artist-culture workers who cultivate meaningful spaces for Haitian dance in Haiti and its many diasporic locales. 

It is crucial to note that Haitian dance is a richly layered art form, practice, and repertoire. True to Africanist aesthetics, any “dance” is also a rhythm with related songs, philosophies, spiritual principles, and historical memories. Each dance is a complex orientation to the world that shifts and sediments new meanings depending on context. As such, no single sentence or definition can encapsulate what any dance is or means. In this essay, I record the ways each dance artist conceptualized the significance or meaning of the dance they were teaching during their specific KB Minokan workshop, as well as their pedagogical and choreographic methods for imparting such information. What I hope this does is demonstrate the sophisticated potentiality of the Haitian dance repertoire, how it comes to mean and matter in specific cultural moments. This work also paints a picture of some (but by no means all) of the artists working in Haitian dance today, from iconic foundational dancers to younger choreographers, and many from generations in between. The reservoirs of Haitian creativity and knowledge I encountered during this festival inspire me to share a glimpse with you.

Moved by the galvanizing power of KB Minokan I respond to Guerrier’s call with this written piece. This essay arrives from my experience as a participant attending all of the KB Minokan events. I am a white Jewish American scholar who has been dancing with Haitian dancers and researching Haitian dance culture for over fifteen years. A number of the KB Minokan artists I knew well, others I met for the first time during the event. I have participated in most of Guerrier’s Kriye Bode events since 2007, and I draw from not only my own experiences during the 2020 festival, but the knowledge, investments, and relationships I have accumulated over years of moving with and alongside Haitians. My writing here emerges from a combination of “field notes” jotted down during and after each class, my own kinesthetic memories of dancing with each artist, and information gleaned from conversations I held with Guerrier and some teachers after the festival14 . While this account is surely partial, my hope is that it offers an invitation to encounter the moving work of these artists, testifies to the multilayered teachings Haitian dance puts into motion in our current global context, and enters this event and these artists’ names into the digital-historical record—a small gesture toward a gap Haitian dance artists desire to fill. 

Bwa Kayiman: Commemorating and Activating Revolutionary History

KB Minokan began on August 14, 2020, a date that marked the 229th anniversary of the Bwa Kayiman gathering, purposefully coordinated with this historic ceremonial Congress of African descendants who had been forced into enslavement and transplanted to colonial Haiti. In August 1791, enslaved and maroon (self-emancipated) peoples who originated from distinct places and cultures in Western and Central Africa came together to collectively unite across their differences, denounce the brutalities of enslavement and colonialism, and risk everything to fight for their independence. Now known as a Petwo Vodou ceremony, Bwa Kayiman stands as initiation of the Haitian Revolution (1791 – 1804), a rebellion led by enslaved and formerly enslaved African peoples who established the nation of Ayiti, The First Black Republic. This history ignited the festival’s opening night.

Leading the first dance class, Guerrier streamed live from Fit4Dance, a Brooklyn studio owned by one of his students, Laci Chisholm. Since COVID-19 lockdown, Guerrier had been teaching from his home in Astoria, Queens; six months with neither a dance studio nor live drummers. During the class, Guerrier’s energy and expansive physical movements bounded through a long-missed spaciousness of the studio, fueled by the sonic accompaniment of his musicians. He began with a fast-paced Ibo, the dance of the proud and defiant Ibo peoples originating from [what we call today] Nigeria. The Ibo were renowned as a fierce peoples who, rather than enduring enslavement, boldly resisted and took their fates into their own hands, jumping off the bows of slave ships or walking into the ocean waters to return to ancestral homelands. In addition to expressing fierce defiance, Ibo also celebrates the triumphs of the Haitian Revolution with movements that break through chains and slice through the air with force. Guerrier insisted we manifest the proper energy in our practice with him. After one run of the choreography he exclaimed, “You are not ready to fight! Come on. It’s August 14. You have to fight.” And we were encouraged through many repetitions of the movements to evoke this determined energy.

Guerrier’s alignment of movement with intention, history, and purpose extended from Ibo to his teaching of another warrior dance, Nago. In the spirit of Guerrier’s last name, French for ‘warrior,’ he has affinity for this strong dance of Ogou, a dance of courage and resolve. When the pandemic lockdown continued in NYC through the spring, Guerrier moved his teaching online. Characteristically seeing the challenge as an opening for transformation, he used the opportunity of Zoom to teach theory and history as well as focus on one specific dance/rhythm as a series of classes—something he is unable to do under the constraints of his usual NYC commercial classes. For the first 4-week series, Guerrier chose to teach Nago, instructing his students in the rhythm’s basic components, the deeper meanings encoded within the repertoire, and his own inventive Nago choreography. Significantly, Guerrier tied his teaching of Nago to the current moment which was calling for us all to fight the life-threatening, activity-stopping virus. For the opening class of KB Minokan, the importance of continuing to practice both Nago and Ibo became even clearer in the context of the anniversary of Bwa Kayiman and the continued need to unite in the fight against racial injustice.

Peniel Guerrier, center, at the start of his first class, joining the drummers after many months apart

Following class, Guerrier and his Haitian community collaborators staged Uprising, an event live-streamed from Fit4Dance that inaugurated KB Minokan. As the invitation stated:

We have inherited the souls of our ancestors and with that we take on the responsibility of preserving and pursuing the beliefs that they so fearlessly fought for. KB Minokan is a collective of artists all fighting to uphold the traditions of Haitian culture through music and dance. On this night, we initiate the blessings of love and unity.

Uprising was at once a ceremony, an integrated multi-media presentation and live performance, and an education through two scholarly talks. Uprising grounded the KB Minokan festival in Guerrier’s integrated mission of spiritual service, community building, artistic creativity, cultural promotion, preservation, education, and social transformation. 

The evening commenced with a moving video featuring most teaching artists, each in their own embodied way, clapping the triplet base-rhythm of Yanvalou and calling Ayibobo! an exclamation of praise, of spirit, of presence. “I am here in recognition of spirit.”

Marie Lily Cerat, a Haitian scholar, educator, and co-founder of Brooklyn-based relief and advocacy organization Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, then welcomed us with a framing of Kriye Bode in the context of the times. Cerat described Kriye Bode as a "dance spiritual retreat," underscoring the power of Haitian traditional dance to help us comprehend and activate in our current moment. As Guerrier connects the healing work of his teachings beyond the space of the dance classes, this moment was no different. Planned to coincide with Bwa Kayiman anniversary, Cerat stated, this event harkens that historical moment in which "our African ancestors took that vow to no longer accept" enslavement and oppression. Cerat reminded us that Haitians all over the world celebrate Bwa Kayiman annually, most notably in Brooklyn where community leader Gran Bwa (Deenps Bazile) has for the past 25 years been gathering people for ceremony each August in Prospect Park15 . KB Minokan aligns with this tradition and in 2020 brought it into the virtual realm.

Amanda Mulea, Guerrier’s partner who gracefully managed all the technology and logistics for the festival as well as the Uprising livestream, then transferred our view to a video of renowned Haitian singer James Germain operatically calling an opening song-prayer for the spirits of Minokan that proclaims a desire for transformation, Anonse zanj nan dlo bako sou miwa … nan lavilokan, kreyòl mande chanjman…. (Announcing the spirits that reside under the water and behind the mirror, in the location of Minokan, Creole [language/people/culture] demands change). This invocative prayer typically sung in Vodou ritual practice drew forward the important transformational work Guerrier was initiating with KB Minokan, “The Great Calling” of spiritual resources as well as community power from locations far and wide. 

Ninaj Raoul, Haitian community organizer, advocate, co-founder of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, and member of Haitian roots performance group Kongo, then blew the conch shell, an instrument used by maroons (Africans who self-emancipated from slavery) to communicate across vast distances and organize revolt. The conch sounds Haiti’s revolutionary history and serves as an important instrument in Haitian music. It heralded the start of a live performance with music by Yatande Boko, Jean-Marie Brignol, Oneza Lafontant, Fito Poitvien, and Renald St Juste. All were dressed in white. Clearly elated at this long-awaited opportunity to perform together, the musicians' joy wove through their singing and drumming. The dancing began with Yanvalou, Guerrier elegantly entering with subtle, expert articulations of his spine and arms, dancing to honor Legba the guardian of the crossroads, Danbala and Aida Wedo the paired serpent spirits who embody African wisdom and renewal, saluting all those who came before him alongside those assembled with him. Yanvalou is Vodou and folkloric repertoire’s dance-rhythm that begins, opens the way with humility, concentration, and meditative movement. Guerrier invited Mulea to step away from the computer and join him; dancing together they activated ceremony. 

Haitian historian and scholar William Leslie Balan-Gaubert then gave a short lecture on the political history of Bwa Kayiman from his home office in Chicago. Balan-Gaubert stressed that the gathering was a “Convention,” a term which Haitian scholars use to denote the strategic politics of the event. While the importance of Vodou’s spiritual resources was taken into account, Balan-Gaubert made sure we understood the historical importance of organized action that led to African descendants abolishing enslavement and achieving independence from colonial rule. He impressed, Bwa Kayiman “birthed a political revolution accomplished by men and women of flesh and blood, not only the intervention of supernatural entities.” Balan-Gaubert discussed how debates waged in academic, religious, and public arenas about the spiritual dimensions of the uprisings and other details of the events “distract us from the fact that Africans organized and freed themselves.” The fact of organized political resistance contests racist and dehumanizing characterizations of the Haitian Revolution as sporadic, incidental, or spontaneous16 . Rather, “It is high time we give our African forbears the credit they deserve: the enslaved people of Saint Domingue [colonial Haiti] who took their lives into their own hands.”

To close the evening, we returned to the Brooklyn dance studio. The musicians played a few more songs, relishing in the occasion of proximity and shared vibration. Finally, Guerrier led the group in a procession to the altar table and they sang for Gran Chimen, guardian of the crossroads between life and death. Calling for recognition of departed souls, Guerrier called out the names of the dead—important Haitian cultural figures who have transitioned recently as well as over the past decade. Those named included Azor, Herve Maxi, Fritz Joliquer, and Pierre Desrameaux. Legacies of the past coalesced with the urgencies of the present, charging the events—and work—to come.

Opening Weekend: Foundations and Legacies

The festival’s first weekend featured four classes with five artists, a mix of dancers who were leading figures in the 20th century formation of folkloric dance performance and pedagogy (Louines Louinis and Edwidge Duverger), and younger dancers representative of three paths the form takes as it travels with Haitians in different contexts: contemporary choreographers living and working in Haiti (Linda Francois), first generation Diasporic Haitians working both in Haiti and the U.S. (Jean Appolon), and second generation Diasporic Haitians working outside of Haiti (Cindy Belotte).

Workshops began streaming from Montreal with Haitian dance icon Edwidge Duverger, affectionately called Manmi Roche, in a class co-taught with Cindy Belotte. In the early 1980s, Duverger worked with African American transplant to Haiti Lavinia Williams to develop the first professional dance training program at Haiti’s National Arts School in Port-au-Prince, Ecole Nationale des Arts (ENARTS)17 . Duverger was instrumental in devising the now-standardized curriculum and methodology for teaching Haitian folkloric dance. In her breakdown of the folkloric technique at the start of the class, Duverger noted that most folkloric dances have four basic steps that align with 4 rhythmic variations. Yanvalou has four basic steps, Mayi has four basic steps, Djouba also has four basic steps. Another common aspect of the dances is their connection to different elements of nature. Duverger informed us that in her teaching at ENARTS and beyond, she had to separate folkloric dance from Vodou because of the entrenched stigmas held against the religion. Even though “nou tout se ayisyen, nou konnen vodou a se namn nou” (we are all Haitians and know that Vodou is our soul), many Haitian people do not [choose to] recognize the significance of Vodou. The teaching of folkloric dance and its related rhythms, songs, and philosophies-in-motion have necessarily had to develop in the public artistic realm separated from their sacred origins and meanings due to biases against Vodou’s African-derived spiritual practice. Importantly, each KB Minokan teacher in their own way brought forward the spiritual undercurrents and sacred meanings of the dances in an effort to repair this historical severing. At the same time, the artists emphasized the contemporary relevance of this repertoire to mobilize energies and teachings for our current times. 

We saw this when Duverger’s co-teacher Cindy Belotte took over and explained Yanvalou. Belotte is a Montreal-born Haitian cultural advocate who grew up immersed in Mapou Ginen, her family’s Montreal Haitian performance and cultural group founded in 1973. Belotte took on a leadership role in Mapou Ginen ten years ago, now serving as Artistic Director of the school section of the Dance Troupe. In the class, Belotte framed her teaching of Yanvalou as “Yanvalou for today,” a practice to regroup, validate humanity, find introspection, and feel every sound vibrating from the drum in and through one’s body. Speaking as a Haitian living in Montreal and doing the hard work of sustaining Haitian culture in a diasporic enclave, Belotte expressed that for her, matching the essence of the rhythm-dance to one’s contemporary existence in the moment is fundamental to survival. Perhaps sparked by the weekend’s mid-August timing, Belotte urged us to understand that Haiti is the mother of all revolutions.  And this, she noted, is the message and call of Kriye Bode Minokan—calling everyone to come together and participate in the regeneration of culture.

Belotte, supported by three of her Mapou Guinen company dancers, guided us through a warm-up and then taught choreographies for Yanvalou and Mayi, two foundational dances of the folkloric repertoire drawn from the Rada family of sacred rites18 . In folkloric conception, Yanvalou and Mayi serve as companion foundations – Yanvalou a meditative opening dance of bent-kneed humility and spinal undulations that travel through the body, and Mayi a fast dance that ushers through transitional energy with feet pounding the floor in fast triplets, vigorous shoulder bounces and chest articulations, and movements that sometimes evoke harvest or a galloping horse. Belotte developed the choreographies under the guidance of Duverger, but used her own pedagogical methods to teach them to workshop participants. From a Montreal studio with an orchestra of drummers, Belotte’s teaching of Duverger’s Yanvalou choreography progressed through the four rhythmic variations: a single step, a step-touch double step, a triplet step, and a kase turn step in four. The spine moved through multiple planes and interpretations of Dambala’s serpent nature, the snake spirit often evoked in waves through spine and arms. The live drumming powered our synching of movement, rhythm and intention, and drove up the energy of the class. To close, the drummers transitioned to Mayi, and Duverger was called to join the group on the dance floor. Belotte referenced Duverger as “a monument in herself.” The accrued knowledge expressed by Duverger’s adeptness at Mayi’s subtle yet vigorous pulses in the sternum, shoulders and pelvis motivated the cooking up of a heated and celebratory energy for the last few minutes of class.

Edwidge Duverger [front right in purple] joins Cindy Belotte [front left] and her dancers for Mayi. The author, her niece and her nephew hover in the corner rectangle

That afternoon, Linda Isabelle Francois streamed her class from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, backed by members of her dance company Xpression. Francois trained professionally in Haiti, and for 22 years studied, and then performed, taught, and eventually co-directed at the school/company ARTCHO, led by contemporary Haitian dance choreographers Jeanguy Saintus and Jean-René Delsoin. Now Francois directs Xpression, a strong leading female voice for independent choreographers and performing artists in Haiti. Notably, as she clarified for me in a conversation after KB Minokan, the company name Xpression uses the “X” to symbolize how their dance and performance work applies pressure on the system, breaking open and building new dance-culture infrastructures for artistic expression in Haiti. At the same time, across arenas, Francois aims to educate the Haitian public on the intellect and disciplinary rigor integral to dance; something she finds is not broadly understood. In Haiti, dance is not regarded to be a substantial professional endeavor and thus people don’t invest in nor recognize the value of work in the cultural sector (not so unlike the United States, but exacerbated by socioeconomic precarity and colonial legacies). Francois makes explicit: dancers are doing the work and they have a message to share.

Francois started her class with an acknowledgment first of her gratitude to be included in what she called this “great adventure” with Haitian teachers from around the world. She aligned KB Minokan’s act of webbing, connection, and coming together with the first weekend’s August timing, commemorating “one of the most important moments in our history, Bwa Kayiman, that led to our independence.” And while technology made it possible for dancers from around the world to take class “in” Haiti, and with Haitian professionals, the technology posed some difficulties. Francois had drummers with her to accompany the class, and even though they had rehearsed the sound with Guerrier and Mulea over Zoom beforehand, at the moment of the workshop, the algorithms kept silencing their tones. After some trials, Guerrier and Mulea decided to play recorded music for Francois instead.

Francois began with Yanvalou. Considering the wide array of dance techniques she has trained in, Francois related to me, “I always go back to the Yanvalou. It’s a soft way and a hard way to start Haitian dances. Yanvalou is so rich. You can always bring people into the culture through that dance.” While teaching in the workshop, Francois explained Yanvalou calls out to nature: the snakes, the ocean, the rivers, the water. She began with a type of dancing-walking meditation that interpreted Yanvalou foundations: as you take one step forward wide arms sweep up in tandem with an unfurling spine and torso opening to the sky, then with the next step arms sweep down, torso folding inwards as the arms descend; repeat. I remember being moved by Francois’ powerful elegance-in-motion for this movement, her surge upward with controlled yet ascending energy, her float down simultaneously light and weighted. As we flowed in this practice, witnessing Francois and then lines of her dancers coming forward with the sweeping gesture, we hear Francois advise: “You need to be as light and gracious as you can be. It looks light but you need to stay connected to the core. Put energy in the middle. Bring that energy from the ground to build you up again. Put an explosion into the movement. Branchman, sincerman…” Branching the arms out, with sincerity. Embodying paradox. Francois closed the class with Rara “to heat things up.” Rara is a dance performed during Carnival and the Lenten season, which articulates gouyad (circling and accenting of the hips) and good feelings—something welcoming, Francois said, that everyone could relate to. 

The third class of KB Minokan’s opening weekend featured Haitian dance legend Louines Louinis. Louinis was part of the first generation of young dancers making their lives as professional performers in the late 1940s, and was a member of the first Haitian national folkloric performance troupe initiated by the government and directed by Jean-Léon Destiné for the 1949 Bicentennial Exposition in Port-au-Prince19 . Louinis migrated to New York City in the mid-1960s to pursue studies in dance, performed with numerous dance giants of the time, began teaching in American universities in the 1970s, and still to this day dances, performs, and educates about Haitian dance traditions with Louines Louinis Haitian Dance Theater20 . It was indeed a special opportunity to participate in a workshop with such an important figure, and Guerrier acknowledged this. Affectionately welcoming Louinis, Guerrier remarked: “The power of this man, I don’t know what to say. Mister Louinis, you represent Haitian culture, I have a lot of respect for you. Respect, respect, respect, respect21 .” Before we started dancing we put our elbows together for a moment of prayer, readying for the blessing of Mister Louinis’s class. As we quieted and went inward, Louinis broke into song, saluting and acknowledging the Vodou lwa (spirit, diety) Legba (“the one who holds the key”) to open the way for receiving such blessings.

Louinis began with a solid warm up that was clearly part of a long-established teaching and physical practice that moved our bodies through all planes and focused on balance, coordination, flexibility and isolations. Then, Louinis launched into Mereng (Merengue), a folkloric dance based on the popular social dance of the 1940s22 . Louines related to me in a conversation after the event, Mereng is a very strong dance. There are three Mereng variations—slow, medium and fast—and it is a dance that as long as you respect the basic steps and foot-hip coordination, you can improvise on top of that base. Louines demonstrated in his teaching how the folkloric Mereng repertoire consists of many creative iterations. Louinis delivered a lively series of movements that elaborated on the basic foot patterns with oppositional hip and arm movements. Stunning us all with his energy and stamina, Louinis strung together long sequence after long sequence without stopping. His choreography brought us traveling through multiple directions around our individual spaces, finding playful sway as feet, arms and hips articulated different accents in the music through multiple levels in space. 

As we all tried to keep up with Louinis’s specific choreographic elaborations, we delighted in the rare opportunity to witness such a legend performing. KB Minokan artist Sherane Figaro related to me later Louinis’ teaching style “was like having a class with my father [who was a dancer in Haiti.] The song he picked and the way he danced, it was like my father, ‘Follow me with this!’ I could see myself, a child in Carnival. At times Louinis' wife and artistic partner Lucrece Louisdhon-Louinis would step in to take over instruction and demonstration, embodying a parallel elegance in her dancing of the choreography. The full class closed with expression of gratitude and admiration for both of them, many of us laughing at the way Mister Louinis schooled us with such relaxed stamina and dancerly aplomb.

Lucrece Louisdhon-Louinis and Louines Louinis teaching from their home

The weekend closed with a high-energy class taught by Jean Appolon. Appolon has lived and worked as a beloved dance teacher and choreographer in Boston for decades. In 2006, Appolon initiated an annual return to Port-au-Prince to teach a summer dance intensive, which in later years came under his umbrella organization Jean Appolon Expressions/JAE which works transnationally23 . In his class, Appolon taught Mayi, the fast rhythm that compliments Yanvalou. Appolon prefaced the movement practice by telling us that he teaches folkloric dance, but Vodou is the foundation that underscores both his teaching and “what helps Haitians understand who they are.” To deny Vodou inside of the dance is to do a disservice to the culture, Appolon stressed. Vodou is part of Haiti’s root culture and it must be acknowledged in order to move forward whole. 

Mayi for Appolon is a grounding dance that connects him to his ancestors. He stated, the dance of Mayi, which means corn in Kreyòl, dances the act of pounding dried corn into fine flour with one’s feet. A triplet in the feet executed in a number of patterns evokes this history, drawing a connection to Haitian agricultural practices, which also animated a number of other movements in the choreography like driving down a tall wooden pestle to pound the corn, or stamping a path through the fields. Throughout the class, Appolon reminded us that the energy must have a strong intention: “really smashing the corn but not forcing the feet into the ground” in a way that would cause injury. One has to maintain balance between effort and ease. The pounding has a technique to it, and the energy of hands, feet, and torso must be clearly understood through one’s embodiment. “When you go down, you go down for a reason. When you come up, you come up for a reason.” As he often does in his teaching, Appolon would also at times invoke our current moment, exclaiming when we shimmied our sternum and shoulders—Appolon’s domain of prowess—“shake that Corona out!”

To close, Appolon made space for questions and conversation. He began by noting his memories and connections to some of the elders and other dancers in the Zoom space—Edwidge Duverger and Florencia Pierre, who taught him when he was a young student at Viviane Gauthier’s school in Port-au-Prince, and Pierre’s daughter Djenane St Juste who as a youthful dancer appeared in a famous music video and inspired him as well. It was clear these women were happy and proud to see Appolon’s teachings. These moments of intersecting histories and details of memory were the first of many shared amongst dancers of different generations and across the virtual space throughout the festival. For those inside networks of folkloric dance transmission, Kriye Bode renewed old connections, activating them for the present moment. For others learning about these critical figures in dance for the first time, the trans-generational aspect of the gatherings gave a sense of Haitian folkloric dance’s accumulated histories animating multiple trajectories in 2020.

Dancing Ibo: Revolution, Defiance, and Ancestral Pride

The festival brought together individuals from different generations who each illuminated the rich diversity in Haitian dance history and contemporary culture. Through the varied ways each artist physically moved through the repertoire and taught the dances, artists demonstrated how Haitian dances—and their associated rhythms, philosophies, and historical memories—take on new and varied meanings depending on who is teaching, their training and pedagogical investments, as well as their personal positionality, location, and vision for the world. This was perhaps most notable in the teaching of two dance-rhythms specifically—Ibo and Nago, which were the dances most often taught during KB Minokan. Four teachers taught Ibo and three teachers taught Nago, not including Guerrier who taught both Ibo and Nago in his own opening class as I mentioned above. Guerrier made clear why he chose to teach those dances the evening of Bwa Kayiman’s commemoration date: as practice to manifest, fortify, summon energies to fight. Under the guidance of the KB Minokan teachers, these rhythm-dances accrued significance in other ways.

Daniel Desir directs Tamboula Ethnic Dance Company in Chicago, where he has been based since 1999. Desir is not only an experienced educator and dancer, but also a chef, who with his wife runs his own Haitian Restaurant, Kizin Creole. Demonstrating the entwinement of his life and work in multiple aspects of Haitian cultural labor, Desir taught class from the restaurant, with his whole family dancing with him. Desir began his class with a warm up and movements of Afro, a less commonly taught dance with a clear and slow-paced rhythm, and movements that range from angular walks to steps that glide or brush across space, punctuated by a steady forward-accented contraction of the chest and arms. Desir then shifted to Ibo, leading us through movements almost non-stop, as he and his family danced progressions across their space for the hour. Teaching to a recording of Ballet Bacolou’s big band orchestra led by Jean Jean-Pierre24 , Desir’s style reminded me of premier Haitian folkloric troupe Ballet Bacoulou’s repertoire that prioritizes long lines in the arms and legs, a smooth sweeping through space, and a vibrant, unrushed presentational style that matches the full sound of the accompanying big band. Here Ibo danced a regal elegance that required fully extended energy in the limbs and a lifted chest.

Daniel Desir and his family dancing in their Chicago Haitian restaurant, Kizin Creole

At the end of his class, surrounded by colleagues and former teachers, Desir reflected, “Growing up in Haiti, I didn’t have any information about Haitian dance. That is what we are missing: a place where people can go and learn about the history of the dances, the names of the great dancers, the main teachers. This is one thing that we are missing. You can go online and type ‘ballet,’ for example, and find tons of information. But for Haitian dance, what do we have [in terms of publicly accessible information]? We have all of these dancers from around the world. We need to put ourselves together and create some sort of library of Haitian dance. What do you think?” People unmuted themselves to confirm this need and the chat lit up with affirmations: “We need la Maison d'Haiti.” “Totally agree!” “A library of Haitian culture.” ”Yes! We need to document and share the information.” Certainly Guerrier’s initiative is doing the work of embodied transmission and preservation. I state Desir’s call here to amplify this need and desire for further documentary efforts in commitment to Haitian cultural artistry25 .

New York-based African American dancer Pat Hall taught Ibo in her class the next day. In New York City, Hall trained and performed professionally with Jean-Léon Destiné’s Afro Haitian Dance Company, as well as Lavinia Williams, and later worked with Frisner Augustin’s Troupe Makandal. Hall teaches a popular weekly Afro-Caribbean dance class in Brooklyn, and her pedagogical and choreographic style draw from the many dance influences, vocabularies, and studies she has pursued over a long career. Hall also brings forward her own identity as an African American woman deeply invested in teaching dances of the African diaspora. Introducing Ibo, Hall informed us of the significance of the dance for her as an African descendant with family history in South Carolina and New Orleans. Drawing connections between diasporic experiences produced by the horrors of the Middle Passage and brutalities of enslavement, Hall highlighted the ways Ibo people boldly acted against bondage. Said to have walked from the slave ship into the water and back to Africa, Ibo peoples said NO to a life of enslavement, particularly at the point of Igbo Landing on coastal Georgia. The dance, Hall explained, is symbolic of both being held in chains—at times with shackles on the wrists and ankles—but of greater implication for her, enacts the breaking of those chains. Most importantly, she said, the dance is about determined pride, existence, and humanity.

Hall’s choreography powerfully materialized these ideas. The Ibo sequence commenced with an initial bent-over triplet step circling around clockwise for two counts of eight, in which the wrists tightly circled in toward one another over two sets ending in a concerted bursting apart. Other sequences had us enacting movements that brought the wrists together then exploded them open, or manifesting a strong torso with corresponding flexed arm gestures. While some of these were classic steps from the standard Ibo repertoire, other movements elaborated core Ibo movement-concepts by adding affective expression physicalized through posture and gesture. Some of the Haitian artists witnessing the class virtually applauded Hall on the powerful choreography through typed comments in the chat and verbal accolades at the end of class. Louinis, who Hall had worked with many years ago, unmuted to give a special commendation. Teaching from a Brooklyn dance studio, Hall was supported by dancer Sheila Anozier and drummers Tiga Jean Baptiste, Jean-Marie Bignol, and Steve Deats—all wearing masks to prevent viral spread. After class when the others had left the studio, Hall took her mask off and found some deep breaths as she said parting words of thanks to the group. 

Pat Hall and Shelia Anozier fiercely dancing Ibo in masks, Brooklyn, NY

Pat Hall’s teaching made clear how the stories encapsulated in Ibo resonate across broader Black diasporic experience. KB Minokan participants in other classes had the chance to also experience how the dance was integrated and embodied by Haitians in Haiti. The following weekend, Brusma Daphnis taught Yanvalou and Ibo from his studio in Port-au-Prince. Trained at ENARTS, Viviane Gauthier’s school, RMT Academy, and the Haitian American Academy of Ballet and Arts, Daphnis directs Haïti Tchaka Danse, which names both a 29-years strong dance company and studio for dance training. Two of his company dancers participated in the class, demonstrating their fluency in Daphnis’ movements.  

Before diving into a non-stop series of progressions across the tile floor of his small rectangular studio space, Daphnis shared context for the Yanvalou he was about to teach. This dance is one of purification, he told us through Guerrier’s English translation. It speaks of the four elements and you can see this in the ways the body moves. The body translates the ocean through a prayerful undulation, and also the movement of a snake. Drawing connections to Yanvalou’s meanings in terms of Vodou worldview and practice, Daphnis noted that when people wear white and blue, they are signifying water and the spirit Agwe Tawoyo, god of the sea. When people wear white and green, they are celebrating Danbala and Ayida Wedo. When all are dressed in white, the ceremony is an invocation or welcome for all spirits. (We saw this in action during the Uprising ceremony-performance.) 

Broaching the subject of teaching about and sharing Haitian culture with foreigners, Daphnis stated and then Guerrier interpreted, “Haitian culture teaches about nature, all the elements in the culture are integrated. Like in other Black cultures, you find everything here. And as we share, it becomes a bridge for us to get together, to come together. We can share in valuing this together.” Then to prepare us for the transition to dancing, Guerrier stepped in to say that “in dance classes in Haiti, just as in Vodou ceremonies, people just keep moving—they don’t stop to talk about it. Learning takes place in the midst of participation, connecting to the rhythms, the drums, the feeling…. Each person will move differently, but just follow and feel the beat and enjoy.” This class demonstrated for participants the Haitian pedagogical emphasis on the doing, drawing from Africana epistemologies centered on the slow osmosis and absorption that happens in the act of embodied learning.

Brusma Daphnis leading his dancers at Haïti Tchaka Danse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Powered by his drummers in the sunny space of the studio, Daphnis cycled through many classic Yanvalou movements, familiar to me from taking classes with different teachers in Port-au-Prince during my fieldwork time. A number of these demanded deeply bent knees and a body centered low to the ground, all while continuously rippling the spine, shoulders, and arms. His style of teaching left room for dancers to interpret his movements as made sense to their own abilities, and the two company dancers offered models for moving within his offering but also in their flow with the drummers’ music streaming across cyberspace. About halfway through the hour, Daphnis moved from Yanvalou to Ibo, taking only a pause to name the new rhythm. As the drummers began to play the invigorating music, Daphnis led us through movement variations in which arms and legs sliced through space, declaring resistance to bondage through physical assertion of liberated limbs propelled by a strong bouncing torso. Here we were not verbally instructed in Ibo’s meanings, but were called to feel them for ourselves in the doing of the dance. 

Two KB Minokan artists were former students of Daphnis and company members of Haïti Tchaka Danse: Sherane Figaro and Evens Clercema. Figaro later told me how emotional it was for her to see Daphnis teaching in her old studio, moving in such a familiar way, and being both connected and distanced from that space, time, and experience. “Once again, I can acknowledge the privilege that I had. To be born in Haiti, and to dance in Haiti, with Brusma. I was there. When I saw him dancing the Yanvlaou, I said, ‘Okay. He’s not getting old.’ I saw myself at Tchaka, spending every weekend there, missing family dinners because I was at dance. I was saying thank you, thank you, thank you. I couldn’t even speak after class.” Figaro has been living in Montreal for all her adult life, making her way as a choreographer, educator, and performer in Canada. For Figaro, who left Haiti to cultivate Haitian cultural spaces elsewhere, the hour spent moving alongside her Haitian teacher activated an acknowledgement of how fortunate she was to study in Haiti, to have that connection and depth of experience. For diasporic Haitians, as well as for people of African descent and those interested in Haiti, these opportunities to dance with Haitian artists on the ground, moving alongside them in an experience of embodied witnessing, were invaluable windows into Haitian practice in this contemporary moment. 

Another Ibo class live from Haiti came to us the final weekend of the festival, when taught from his home studio in Cap Haitien, a historic city in the north of the country. Lamisere grew up dancing in Petion-Ville [suburb of Port-au-Prince] with established touring folkloric company Ballet Bacoulou d’Haiti under the direction of the troupe’s founder Odette Weiner, as well as training in classical ballet and jazz with Regine Mont-Rozier Trouillot, Nathalie Trouillot Dalzon, and Fenol Jean-Jacques. Lamisere spent over a decade in New York City teaching dance and building his own company, and then returned to Haiti in 2008. Since then, Lamisere has sustained Dance to Save Lives, his dance school and holistic educational program, as well as his professional touring company HaitiDansCo. This work took root during his 6 years in Jacmel, a seaside town in the south of Haiti, and in 2018 he moved to the north. 

A small crew consisting of one long-time member of Lamisere’s professional company HaitiDansCo and two of his adopted children participated fully with Lamisere in the physically demanding class, illustrating Lamisere’s insistence on incorporating the next generation into dance culture. Lamisere’s style is influenced by his years training and performing with Bacoulou. Very tall with long limbs, Lamisere embodies the characteristically energetic and jazz-inflected Bacoulou style. His Ibo in particular carries forward Bacoulou’s technique with long lines in the body and a springy presentational flair. The Ibo choreography he taught during the workshop maintained key foundations for the standard Ibo repertoire, including the core movement which Lamisere explained is called chire ibo – “tearing apart” – and he also used the Kreyòl kase chenn (breaking the chains) to describe the movements. In chire ibo, the feet and hands are held close together as if bound, and then one leg kicks open to the side and returns as both arms fly out to the side and come back together with the leg, doubling the motion. The knee of the freeing leg lifts up as the foot kicks out, and the torso is either held upright with a pulse in the sternum, or low parallel to the ground bouncing strongly to propel the flight of the arms. One signature Ibo movement Lamisere taught had us swirling in a scooping turn around oneself. With knees soft and one foot planted, the other foot plants out on the floor and the corresponding arm is raised above the head, palm turned out. The bottom arm slices in toward one’s center as the hips mirror this action, curving the whole body around in a quarter turn. Four of these winding steps bring you around to the front, returning to a basic chire ibo side to side. 

As a white Jewish first-generation American who has been studying Haitian dance first as a dancer since 2004 then as a researcher since 2007 in the U.S. and then Haiti, I often reflect on my own positionality and accumulated embodied experiences, considered in relation to Africanist dance forms and the Haitian artists with whom I have worked and danced alongside for many years. Ibo has always been a dance I love to embody, the rhythm moving me strongly as it does for so many others. I grapple with the ways I personally do not share the same ancestral history of racial terror and enslavement as the Haitian and Black American artists who dance and teach Ibo. I have come to understand how my own enactment of the dance teaches me something kinesthetically about history that one cannot find documented in text; aspects of the affective dimensions of the past that resonate not through reading or listening to accounts of the past but in the kinetic performance of certain repertoires. This becomes a pedagogical engagement with Diaspora dances, rather than a consumptive one. However, during Lamisere’s class, after practicing Ibo across the weeks, in the context of the continued urgency of racial justice and Guerrier’s concerted Kriye Bode call to come together, unite, and participate in a shared struggle grounded by Haitian cultural knowledge, performing one particular Ibo movement in Lamisere’s class brought clarity to the lessons this dance teaches me at our current conjuncture. Toward the end of class, Lamisere instructed us in a pivot turn where our arms began above our heads with wrists crossed (as if bound or deriving strength from tense contact), and then the arms swooped down as we shifted weight forward to the front leg and spun around 180 degrees, repeating the same movement to the space in the back, bringing us to face forward again. Here we were breaking through, breaking open, and also crashing through barriers, smashing oppressive structures. The X of Francois’ Xpressions kinetically physicalized. The repetition of performing this movement, cutting through space both in front of us and in back of us confirmed for me the ways we must all enlist in the struggle to chire ibo and kase chenn. And this work is multidirectional, not just oriented to our immediate moment, but to our past and our future as well. Repetition clues us into the practice, endurance, and stamina white people need to build up in our work in the struggle26 . Just as Bwa Kayiman called people from different backgrounds together to fight against a shared dehumanization, so too must we all now find our ways to enlist in the struggle against perpetual and multipronged injustices.

Entangled Histories, Critical Subversions, and the Power of Joy and Love 

The import of Haitian history as transmitted through Haitian dances demands that we understand revolution and resistance beyond militarism. Shirley Sainte brought forward the revolutionary power of beauty and love in her teaching of Kongo (Congo). Sainte began studying Haitian dance in 1980s Brooklyn and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she directs Racine Kreyol Haitian Dance Troupe. Teaching from a sunny backyard with two dancers from her company, Sainte shared that Kongo shows the beauty and grace of the Haitian people, “a people who culminated a culture on the island from many different African ethnic groups.” The music of Kongo, she explained, features a rolling drum break played with two sticks, which harkens French military drum rolls of the 18th century and reminds us of the colonial impact on the development of music in Haiti. Kongo in its folkloric form celebrates love and flirtatious expression. Teaching to the song Carolina Caro, Sainte translated the lyrics that sing, “Everywhere I go I spread Kongo, I spread love.” Sainte elaborated, “Kongo is all about giving it up with the hips.” The hips bring forward one’s power.

Teaching us the choreography, Sainte carefully broke down the movements into their component parts. As a fitness instructor, Sainte has developed clear language for directing the execution of movement, which made it possible for all students to really understand and inhabit her Kongo choreography. Teaching a long sequence of movement that began with a sassy cross-body walk forward into scooping motions and twirls through space, we were encouraged to maintain a consistent sway and rhythm in our hips. The pelvis-in-motion directed many walks, glides and turns. With torso held upright, the arms could spread and offer joy through space. 

Mother-daughter powerhouse duo Djenane Saint Juste and Florencia Pierre also emphasized the power of joy. Both women having recently undergone major surgeries were not up for rigorous dancing, so they focused more on teaching songs and discussing their multifaceted Afoutayi Dance, Music, and Arts Company, based in Minnesota27 . After a beautiful opening with a Vodou prayer and video showcasing Afoutayi’s community culture work, Florencia Pierre guided our learning of a song that taught a lesson of blessings and forgiveness:

Ogou Fè, Fè o Fawo
Ogou Fè, Fè o Fawo
Sa kifè nou byen
Bayo lavi pou nou
Sa kifè nou mal
Wa va padoné yo
Ogou Fè, Fè o Fawo

Saint Juste explained that this song is for Ogou, the spirit of war who is honest and just. In its literal translation, the song calls on Ogou, asking, “Those who do well by me, please give them more life; those who do bad to me, please forgive them.” Certainly, for Vodou practitioners, the song will take on many more meanings depending on context, but in the class it offered a perspective central to Vodou philosophy: balance and complimentarity. 

Saint Juste took over the teaching and, unable to fully refrain from dancing, brought a more lighthearted tone with a choreography for Raboday, a rhythm associated with Carnival and social dancing for pleasure. The first movement required we assume a stance of confidence. With her hands resting in fists on her hips, elbows out and chest open, Saint Juste brought Haitian gendered context to the gesture. She noted that this is a typical gesture in Raboday and in Haitian culture in general, specifically connecting the stance to Haitian women. Saint Juste told us that Haitian culture is a matriarchal culture, and Haitian women are not to be messed with. Saint Juste also added that Raboday was danced as a celebration of Haiti’s independence, so as a dance, it is not just about freedom of the body to move, but a freedom that rang with the historical weight of Black liberation. Saint Juste revealed the historical significance of the outfit she was wearing, made out of carabela—a classic Haitian denim fabric. She told us, this was the only fabric enslaved peoples had access to, but through ingenuity they repurposed it and made it stylish, and carabela continues to be used in folkloric costuming and current fashions. 

The short Raboday choreography was comprised of playful movements that brought the arms through different gestural variations while the hips continuously swayed side-to-side with the fast Carnival-time rhythm. While teaching, Saint Juste accentuated the assertive and communicative power of the hips, similar to Shirley Sainte’s teaching of Kongo. Saint Juste, who researches embodiment from multiple perspectives, connected the hip movements of Raboday to the activation of the three lower chakras. No wonder people enjoy this type of movement, she exclaimed—it literally wakes up parts of your body that are too often stifled! Raboday is a dance for happiness. And the power of positivity underscored Saint Juste’s time with us. Saint Juste also taught the popular song for the mermaid spirit Lasirenn (Lasirenn, Labalen, chapo’m tonbe nan la mer…). This corresponded to The Mermaid and the Whale, a story picture book she authored and published, which narrates this Haitian folktale in four languages28 .

Julio Jean trained with Edwidge Duverger and Lavinia Williams in the first class of dance students at ENARTS in the early 1980s, and also worked as a performer and choreographer for the Troupe Nationale and Herve Maxi’s company before migrating to the United States in the late 1980s. Jean ultimately settled in the New York City area, where he has been teaching Haitian folkloric dance classes and performing for over 30 years. Jean took the opportunity of his KB Minokan workshop to teach a dance that is not often taught in his milieu of the New York City commercial class: Afranchi. The dance is named after the “free people of color” in colonial Haiti [Saint Domingue], and performs their inhabitation of French colonial aristocratic comportment. It is usually danced in couples, holding fans, dressed flamboyantly in colorful European colonial era clothing. Jean noted that white women in particular were jealous of free mixed-race or light-skinned black women who danced this dance well, and Afrachis expresses this confidence while also performing a mockery of colonial ways. Jean noted that Afranchi was transported to Cuba when colonials fled revolutionary Haiti and resettled along with those enslaved Africans they brought with them. In Cuba the dance is called Tumba Francesa29 . Jean also told us that even after independence Haitians danced Afranchi, particularly in the court of King Henri Christophe. 

The first half of the choreography exhibited European aesthetics in measured triplet steps that glided across space, knee-high kicks forward performed with contained restraint, fanning hands and rigid torsos. The second half, however, the Africanist elements came more alive as Jean instructed us in more lively kicks, rhythmic footwork, and grounded turns with shimmying shoulders. His ability to choreograph these elements into the slow and measured Afranchis rhythm demonstrated Haitian aesthetic ingenuity. As the hour was coming to a close, Jean wanted to switch up the energy and moved to Petwo. Jean proceeded through a rigorous, challenging series of Petwo steps—Petwo being the dance that encapsulates the Bwa Kayiman ceremony and the hot, rebellious energies of peoples fighting for their freedom. If Afranchi represented freed people of color within colonial society, Petwo represented resistance to and the revolt against colonialism. Having performed with Djoniba Mouflet’s West African dance company in New York City for many years, Jean’s style of Haitian folklore at times inflects with upward-directed lift and detailed foot patternings found in Guinean dances, and Jean ended the class with a series of Petwo steps that incorporated West African-styled crossing footwork, direction changes, and weight shifts all in time with Petwo’s firey pulse. 

Julio Jean dancing Petwo, teaching from New Jersey

Dancing Nago, Summoning Determination and Strength

Just as Ibo took center stage for many dancers, three teachers taught the rhythm-dance Nago, mobilizing “the power of Haitian traditional dance genres to reflect and understand our current moment,” as Marie Lily Cerat noted during Uprising. Nago calls forth the Ogou family of lwa, West African male warrior spirits who exhibit strength, determination, and courage. We sang for Ogou with Florencia Pierre, and Guerrier invited in this energy in his opening class August 14th, aligned with Bwa Kayiman and Haiti’s revolutionary history. The three teachers who taught Nago in their workshops all did so with an emphasis on intentionality and mind-body-spirit connection. Rather than focusing on history, in the ways Ibo and some of the other dance classes had, these Nago classes focused on the power of spirit, intention, and ancestors.

Evens Clercema taught Nago from his home in Santiago, Chile. Born and raised in Haiti, Clercema has been living in Chile since 2009, where he directs JAFO América Dance, a contemporary afro-jazz company, and teaches regular dance classes in multiple styles. Clercema brings his strong connection to the Vodou lwa into his teaching, and did so in an open way to set the tone for his class. In welcoming us into practice with him, he asked us all to connect to our own sense of spirituality, to be aware of ourselves in space and our particular environments. “Ask permission for all positive energies to aid in your connection and communication with each other, and drive away all negative energies so that you can connect with spirit and our ancestors.” Clercema then guided us through a short standing meditation in which we closed our eyes, focused on centering ourselves, and opened up our listening. “Spirit, he said, is all that allows us to move forward, to innovate, and to build. And today we are going to connect with Ogou.” And then Clercema began to sing a beautiful song activating the virtual space of connection, saluting first Papa Legba, who opens the way, and then a number of different lwa. Following the song, we were guided to slowly open our eyes and begin in the spirit of community. 

Clercema dances with a strength that arrives through a fluid, stretchy physicality. Nago’s core movement has the arms carving space in front of the chest in two arcs, with the elbows pulling back into right angles as the chest thrusts forward. The cutting motion evokes the machete Ogou utilizes, both sign of his element iron as well as his warrior character. This cutting motion is translated through numerous physical interpretations in any Nago choreography. Clercema’s choreography carved through space as his limbs spread and recoiled in horizontal, diagonal, and vertical planes. We were directed to clear paths in all directions, transfer weight back and forth with a determined heaviness, and reach fists up in a high V as we crisscrossed in long diagonal strides. Clercema used different opportunities in class to encourage us to connect our bodies to our spirits, our spirits to our intentions, and our intentions with the spaces in which we were dancing. He demonstrated laser focus at various moments when his young child toddled around his feet and he remained undeterred from dancing. This refreshing embrace of current realities also affirmed the multi-generational familial inclusivity we had been seeing from other teachers as well. The choreography’s closing movement crossed forearms across heart, chest still vibrating with Nago’s clear downbeats, eyes closed. This outwardly-strong yet inwardly-directed gesture encapsulated the frame of intentional introspective listening for spirit Clercema had set at the start. 

Sherane Figaro taught Nago as a conjuring. Figaro grew up in Port-au-Prince and began dancing with her sisters under the guidance of her father, who was a student of Lavinia Williams. Figaro formally trained with Vivian Gauthier, and then later joined Brusma Daphnis’ Haïti Tchaka Danse. After moving to Canada she drew from what she learned from her Haitian teachers “who put intention and imagination into their choreographies." She developed ESANS technique of contemporary Haitian dance and in 2009 initiated her dance company Aurée Danse-Création. The emphasis on intention and essence came through poignantly in Figaro’s class. She began acknowledging that even though we were all in our own separate spaces, we could create a circle together through shared intention. We worked with the imagery of a fire set in front of us, something we all built, lit, and tended, in order to foment the work we were doing in the class and beyond. This fire connected to Ogou’s elemental property and his power of transformation and healing. 

As we were formulating and locating this fire for ourselves, Figaro explained that the fire could help us create a circle. The fire is set in front of us as focus, at the center of our collective circle as anchor, but also inside of us as compass. “What do we want to bring into this world? What good work are we going to do in our society? KB Minokan is calling us to do this good work, so what of ourselves are we bringing to this?” In the physical instruction, Figaro focused us on putting tension in our arm muscles in order to somatically physicalize the strength of Nago, while still remaining open in the torso. The first move of Figaro’s choreography drew inspiration from Guerrier’s pose captured in the KB Minokan poster image. She had us move through that X-pose to begin the choreography: over a single rhythmic phrase arms began with fists at the heart, reached up to the sky one after the other, then cascaded back down to the heart. Other choreographic elements elaborated on classic Nago movements: arms like machetes cutting through obstacles, grand decisive steps charging through space, a chest strongly pulsing or churning strong energy. Internally, the movements at times sang a calling from the heart, and other times had us planted in place scanning around us with self-awareness. Throughout, we maintained a relationship to our fire with strength, tension and intention, either directing movements toward it, moving around in relationship to its location, or stirring energy in specific ways to forge transformation. Figaro exclaimed at some point, “In each repetition I want to see more of you.” This seemed to encapsulate the basis of her methodology: distilling one’s engagement to the essence of the Haitian repertoire has the capacity to compel a dancer toward fuller potential.

The last day of the festival Laura Beaubrun taught Nago as an ancestral warrior dance to focus presence for present-day battles. Beaubrun, whose parents lead Haiti’s legendary musical group Boukman Eksperyans, is a contemporary artist in her own right. Beaubrun trained in dance at Lavinia Williams’ school and then with Jean-Guy Saintus and Jean-René Delsoin’s ARTCHO dance company, but now integrates dance with other arts in her creative work. Beaubrun’s vision for catalyzing artistic expression and sharing Haitian cultural roots as life-sustaining endeavor draws not only from her technical training but also her upbringing in Haitian cultural milieu and Vodou communities. This perspective surfaced as Beaubrun taught Nago from her home in Lausanne, Switzerland, teaching the dance as necessary preparation, with exactitude in the warrior’s energetic stance.

Beaubrun began class discussing Nago’s background as a rhythm, dance, and cultural philosophy originally from Benin. For Ogou, a family of warriors and ironworkers found in West Africa and across the African diaspora, the dance asserts Ogou’s qualities of fearlessness and courage, transformation and fire. Beaubrun also noted that there are aspects of Ogou that have water qualities as well—something rarely discussed. For Beaubrun, “Nago is a tribute to our ancestors and our roots.” And then, as if in conversation with Caribbean diasporic cultural theorist Stuart Hall who theorized cultural identity as a “positioning,” Beaubrun noted that Nago is a way of “positioning” oneself to life30 . “Ready to fight, vigilance, not compromising in one’s truth, remaining present.” And it was this positioning that we danced. Beaubrun taught a choreography of 8 clear movements that embodied these qualities. From a 16-count jumping step that readied the whole body, to a torso-suspended-parallel-to-the-ground run in place that was a “running somewhere, not outside of yourself but deep inside yourself.” We stood and cut through space above our head, then cut through the clutter as we circled around ourselves. Before we finished with a series of classic Nago walking steps, we dropped low and drew energy from the ground, taking time to be present, physically gathering what we needed, reconnecting to intention, staying true to our mission.

Developing a New Language

KB Minokan culminated with Guerrier’s solo workshop in which he unveiled a project he has been working on for many years: the development of a new Haitian dance language that uses Kreyòl and Vodou concepts to structure physical practice. Seeing how the deployment of French terms in naming steps and movements is part of a broader issue of colonial education in Haiti that does not foster self-determined creativity nor engages the cultural essence of Haitians themselves, Guerrier aims to institute a technical structure for Haitian dance that takes shape “in our own language.” For many years Guerrier has been developing this choreographically through rhythmic phrases that establish foundational exercises for each rhythm, but in this class he revealed some of the languaging for his project. Rather than pas de un, pas de deux (step one, step two; first position, second position) as they are called in French and used by Creole speakers, he names: Pa Danbala, Pa Ayida, Pa Legba, Pa Ayizan Velekete. These steps named after Vodou lwa not only mark foundations for technique; in naming, they also invoke the complex principles and movement inclinations each lwa constellates as integral foundations for such technique. While we received only an introduction to this new practice in the class, Guerrier consequentially launched the project in the presence of a cohort of other Haitian artists, with invitation into the work of building a Haitian-grounded, Haitian-built structure for Haitian dance technique and pedagogy. 

Guerrier spent time teaching one technical exercise that instructs the body in the rhythmic “greeting” or salutation for Yanvalou. The Yanvalou kase (drum break) to which the movements are choreographed is the first rhythmic component played by the lead drum to commence Yanvalou, and Guerrier has devised a tricky full-bodied sequence to express poly-meter through the body. We spent a good amount of time learning and practicing the movements. First we focused on the footwork, then incorporated the torso, arms and head, but only after Guerrier made sure we could all sing and clap the rhythm ourselves. This insistence on educating students on the rhythmic foundations for dances characterizes Guerrier’s holistic philosophy, and his work to combat mimetically moving without understanding. “The right way” of learning Haitian technique, as he puts it, impresses upon the dancer the integrated components of Haitian repertoires, and ensures one is able to properly perform or eventually teach the dance because you comprehend the rhythm integral to the movement.

In the last part of the workshop, Guerrier introduced Yaya Ti Kongo, a fiery-fast variation of Petwo not commonly incorporated into folkloric dance teaching and performance. Yaya Ti Kongo is played with only two drums and a bell, rather than the three-drum orchestration of most other Haitian rhythms, and is a rhythm from the Vodou lakou [spiritual community enclave] of Soukri Danach in northern Haiti. Again, consistently desiring to introduce something new and take dance culture in new directions, Guerrier shared Yaya Ti Kongo as a unique perspective on the broader Petwo family, and a vigorous warrior dance that could energetically incite and support the revolution we need right now. Petwo, as a reminder to readers, is the rhythm-dance and complex of sacred rites that harken the history of Bwa Kayiman’s insurgent coming together that necessarily ignited the hot rebellious energies and spirits that sustained the Haitian Revolution. In Petwo’s core movement, one foot at a time breaks apart then comes back together in a glide along the ground, feet heavy on the floor as if weighted by shackles yet erupting out of, or despite, their weight. The triplet step pattern undergirds a constant rumbling in the chest and shoulders. For Yaya Ti Kongo, Guerrier taught an expanded choreographic vision of this foundation. The feet glided out in multiple directions with corresponding arm variations: one arm hooks around, both rise up in a triumphant V, both angle down elbows making right angles out to the sides, then flip the rectangle upwards to frame the head. The crisscrossing, brain-twisting coordination needed to execute legs and arms together is characteristic of Guerrier’s choreographic style—one that uses the body to both physicalize the polyrhythmic potentials of the music and, through “vivid body shapes,” puts into motion geometries that speak of sacred principles31 .

To close, Guerrier opened up space for individual participants to contribute their own movements to our collective dance. This circle practice is a definitional characteristic of Africanist cultures, where all are included as participants, and individuals are asked to shine in relation to, and bolstered by, the group. Mulea spotlighted different dancers in our Zoom frames, and we had one final chance to behold the embodied brilliance of teachers and students in their own Petwo and Yaya Ti Kongo movements. Louines kicked off the improvisations. Standing up and from his position as witness he warmed into a Petwo, first subtly with a low stance, shoulders pulsing, then raising his arms to swirl the energy around him first in grand sweeps to his sides, then elbows jabbing forward as his torso lurched front and back inside the rhythm. In another particularly memorable moment, Belotte, who had been tuning in from her car because the class was verging on 2 hours long and she had something else to get to, pulled over in a parking lot, placed her phone in the exact right position on the middle console, and in the rain performed a vigorous, grounded Petwo with a determined smile. The knowledge of this dance so readily available to access in these dancers’ bodies confirms it as a resource to be summoned in these times.

Peniel Guerrier and Amanda Mulea dancing Petwo to close the circle and the event

L’Union Fait La Force: Bridging Distance, Building Together, Healing 

Many of the artists during their workshops as well as in dialogue with me afterward spoke of KB Minokan as an amazing project of sharing and connection. That Guerrier, with Mulea and other supports, had the imagination, determination, and energy to pull such a thing together in such a difficult time inspired many. Linda Francois reflected, “We need more of this, to be aware of one another as a network. We need this coming together to make it. You can be in France, you can be in the U.S., you can be in Haiti…You need that other brother, that other sister to give you that energy to help you make it. L’union fait la force.” Unity is strength. This saying is inscribed on the Haitian flag and is emblematized in Bwa Kayiman’s act, Kriye Bode’s call, and KB Minokan’s efforts. 

At the same time, coming together is an antidote to the isolation, capitalistic individualism, and social divisions that plague our current moment. Vodou at its core is a practice of healing, bringing balance to the self and the community through collective recognition of the sacred within nature, ancestral presence, and each other. The dances derived from Vodou can also serve as potent healing agents. When reflecting on the effects of KB Minokan, Guerrier shared, “A lot of people needed this healing. We don’t even know what people are going through. But they showed up to the workshops, to be in that environment, to help them heal. I had to make that happen. It is part of my mission.” The role dance plays in healing also arose in a dialogue I had with Canada-based Haitian dancers Cindy Belotte and Sherane Figaro. Working with diasporic populations whose cultural ties have been severed, faced with dislocation, anti-Blackness, and everyday violences to body, psyche and spirit, these women conceive of their work in the dance space as not solely physical technical education, but as heavy responsibility: cultural reconnection and active intergenerational healing. Through KB Minokan they registered how other Haitians in diaspora were sustaining their work in similar yet contextually specific ways. 

Each of these 16 dance artists mobilizes Haitian dance as a practice for change and transformation in their communities. They come from overlapping as well as divergent Haitian dance lineages, demonstrating the many paths of this dance genre, and the ways artists today are engaging the depth and breadth of Haitian culture. Repeatedly in KB Minokan sessions Guerrier would tell us, “It’s a community. It’s a family. We have to work together.” The shift to virtual gathering instigated a new mode of unification, of weaving connections, of sharing and learning about one another. Belotte and Figaro were among those who attended every workshop. Figaro shared, “That gathering each weekend was for me like going to a lakou [yard, community space, kin network, place of spiritual practice]. I go to learn, I go to smell, I go to feel other things…” KB Minokan did the important work of showcasing and connecting Haitian artists not only to participants, but to each other. Belotte reflected, “Every single point of KB Minokan was important. It was so beautiful, a big big big experience for me. I grew from [taking each class and learning from other dancers], and I wish for this to continue all the time. Because only we can defend our tradition like that. In the ways we want, and with the tools that we have. So if we’re always going to remain separate, how can we prevail?” All the artists indicated a desire to continue this work. The circle widens.

An ambitious and generous project, KB Minokan was an act of initiation, a new beginning. Haitian dancers have long been fractured from each other by intersecting historical, social, political, and geographic forces. Guerrier’s long term plans envision and galvanize forms of collective commitment, with the ultimate goal of establishing a cultural center and professional school for dance, as well as a structured curriculum for Haitian technique. Desiring to ignite artistic imaginations, instill rigor in embodied practice, and invest in Haitian culture, the work will require a new form of collectivity. “I don’t want to say I—WE,” Guerrier articulated. “I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it for Haiti.” At the core of this endeavor is honoring the roots that constitute the strength and power of Haitian culture, while celebrating the routes of artistic practice Haitian dancers create despite all odds stacked against them. We all stay tuned and readied for what is to come. Ayibobo!

1. back to text

2. On the centrality of dance in Vodou worship, see Yvonne Daniel, Dancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005). back to text

3. Please visit for links to each artist’s bio. back to text

4. For incisive analysis of the U.S. Occupation, see Mary Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation & the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) back to text

5. Kate Ramsey, “Vodou, Nationalism, and Performance: The Staging of Folklore in Mid-20th Century Haiti,” in Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance, ed. Jane Desmond (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), p. 346 back to text

6. For more on the folkloric movement, consult Kate Ramsey, “Without One Ritual Note: Folklore Performance and the Haitian State, 1935–1946,” Radical History Review 84 (Fall 2002): 7-42; and Millery Polyné, “‘To Carry the Dance of the People Beyond’: Jean-Léon Destiné, Lavinia Williams and Danse Folklorique Haïtienne,” in From Douglass to Duvalier: U.S. African Americans, Haiti, and Pan Americanism, 1870-1964 (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010) back to text

7. Ramsey details the history of prohibitions against Vodou and the anti-superstitious campaigns of 1940-41 in The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) back to text

8. Vodou is a term most often used by outsiders to the religion. Those who practice typically refer to “serving the spirits” (sèvi lwa yo). Additionally, many Haitians may abide by worldviews and individual practices aligned with Vodou but might not explicitly claim these as belonging to Vodou religion. The long stigma and active maligning of Haitian Afro-religious practice creates a difficult environment for identification with Vodou. I bring forward the Vodou aspects of KB Minokan and the teachings of the artists to uplift the vital cultural elements and worldview that has long been persecuted, misunderstood, and repressed. For an accessible introduction to Vodou, please consult Patrick Bellegarde-Smith and Claudine Michel, eds. Invisible Powers: Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) back to text

9. back to text

10. Guerrier outlined the vision I summarize here, and cite throughout, in a phone conversation we had on October 19, 2020 back to text

11.  I use the Kreyòl spelling Bwa Kayiman, but the event is also referred to as Bois Caiman in French-influenced spelling back to text

12. As Ulysse articulates, “Defined as assembly, compilation, enlisting, regrouping (of ideas, things, people, spirits. For example, fè yon rasanblaj: do a gathering, a ceremony, a protest).” Gina Athena Ulysse, “Why Rasanblaj, Why Now? New Salutations to the Four Cardinal Points in Haitian Studies,” Journal of Haitian Studies 23.2 (Fall 2017), p.69 back to text

13. On the Evangelical presence in Haiti, consult Elizabeth McAlister, “From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History,” in The Idea of Haiti: History, Development and the Creation of New Narratives, ed. Millery Polyné (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013) back to text

14. Quotes are estimations based on notes taken during discussion, during class, or directly after. back to text

15. Short documentary about Gran Bwa’s work sustaining the Bwa Kayiman event in Prospect Park: back to text

16. Michel-Rolph Trouillot addresses how European characterizations of the Revolution “silenced” the agency of the Haitian Revolutionaries because, despite its success happening right before their eyes, African descendants’ prowess eluded Western conceptual and perceptual categories. See “An Unthinkable History: The Haitian Revolution as a Non-event,” in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995) pp. 70-107 back to text

17. Lavinia Williams worked in Haiti from 1953, when she was invited by the government to train the new cohort of professional folkloric dancers, until her death in 1989. See Lavinia Williams Yarborough, Haiti-Dance (Frankfurt: Brönners Druckerei, 1959); and Polyné 2010 back to text

18. Rada names the broad set of rites, ritual practices and philosophies considered the “cool” side of Vodou religious practice, often with strong historical ties to West African cultures. Petwo names the complex of rites that are “hot,” tied to Bwa Kayiman and Haiti’s particular colonial and anti-colonial experiences, as well as Central African Congo (Kongo in Kreyòl) influences back to text

19. For more on the Bicentennial Exposition and its relationship to tourism, development, and Haitian folkloric culture, see back to text

20. You can listen to an oral history interview with Louinis from 2013 as part of the Haitian Diaspora Oral History Digital Collection at the University of Miami Libraries: back to text

21. Each Kriye Bode since 2006 Guerrier honored a number of important Haitian cultural figures, bringing them to participate in the event and during the final performance presenting them with a plaque of recognition. In 2008 he honored Louinis back to text

22. Mereng (or Merengue) carries forward the expressive culture shared across the island of Hispaniola, the land mass Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. The relationship between the two nations is often regarded in the concept “an island divided,” with Dominican nationalist cultural identity highlighting Spanish, Catholic, and Indio heritage—denying the African presence and roots of the culture—this pits Dominicanidad against Haiti and Haitianness, which is coded as Creole, Vodou, and African/Black. The Dominican state has for almost a decade instituted anti-Haitian policies and practice, most notably during the 1937 “Parsley Massacre” of Haitians at the border, and more recently in the denaturalization and deportation of Dominican citizens of Haitian descent. While many Dominicans silence the African-descended presence in their national borders, racial identifications, and cultural practices, the island nevertheless shares a cultural heritage and a long history of entanglement. Merengue points us to this. On history of merengue see Paul Austerlitz, Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997), as well as more recent scholarship, interviews, and music by Austerlitz, much of which can be found online. For more on the relationships between the two sides of the island, consult the rich volume Transnational Hispaniola: New Directions in Haitian and Dominican Studies, edited by April Mayes and Kiran Jayaram (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2018) back to text

23. The summer institute in Haiti has been paused since 2019 first due to instability in the country and then in 2020 due to the pandemic. Appolon hosted a summer institute in Lawrence, MA, in 2019, and then online in 2020 back to text

24. Ballet Bacoulou d’Haïti et l’Orchestre Traditionnel d’Haïti – OTRAH back to text

25. The New York Public Library’s Performing Arts Division and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture hold materials related to Haitian choreographer and performer Jean-Léon Destine, as well as Katherine Dunham and Lavinia Williams, African American women who played important roles in the codification, transmission, and dissemination of Haitian dance. These are technically accessible, but one must visit the institutions and know how to navigate their process in order to access the materials. To date, some available online sources include the following: This visual essay [] from the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive website features documentation of Destiné’s work at The Pillow both early on in his career in the late 1940s, and at a later stage, in 2004. The Frisner Augustin Archive [], shepherded by Lois Wilcken, hosts archival recordings of master drummer Frisner Augustin’s music and videos of his Brooklyn-based performance group Troupe Makandal (mid-1980s -2013). African American dancer choreographer Portsha Jefferson has been documenting her Haitian cultural and creative research in a blog on her company Rara Tou Limen’s website [] back to text

26. While a different context, I see in the stamina and resilience Ibo teaches a parallel lesson to what somatic abolitionist and embodied racial justice warrior Resmaa Menakem refers to as “reps”: the repetition of practice white people need to commit to in the messy uncomfortable work of building up a culture that undoes what he terms “white body supremacy.” While emergent anti-racist white culture cannot appropriate Haitian dance techniques in its reorientations—and Menakem is clear on this—through years of moving with Haitians and in Africana embodied technologies, I posit that dancing Ibo is not “the work,” but it can teach us about how to approach the work. See Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies (Central Recovery Press, 2017) back to text

27. Florencia Pierre’s son Jeff Pierre, a talented drummer and composer, also contributes to the family’s cultural work back to text

28. back to text

29. Anthropologist Grete Viddal has outlined the history of Tumba Francesa in Cuba here [ ] as well as in, Grete Viddal, “Haitian Migration and Danced Identity in Eastern Cuba,” in Making Caribbean Dance, ed. Susanna Sloat (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2010), pp.83-93 back to text

30. Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990) back to text

31. Guerrier’s bio often includes the following text: “Peniel Guerrier draws on his extensive knowledge of Haitian folkloric dance to create original combinations within the different traditional Haitian rhythms. His dances enhance the energy and flow of traditional forms with beautiful, vivid body shapes.” back to text

Works Cited

McAlister, Elizabeth. “From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History.” In The Idea of Haiti: Rethinking Crisis and Development, edited by Millery Polyné, 203-242. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.

Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick and Claudine Michel, eds. Invisible Powers: Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Daniel, Yvonne. Dancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005.

Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” In Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, edited by Jonathan Rutherford. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990.

Jefferson, Portsha. “ashade says…” Rara Tou Limen website and blog. Accessed October 17, 2020.

Louinis, Louines, with Lucrèce Louisdhon-Louinis. “Interview with Louinès Louinis. Pembroke Pines, FL, August 5, 2013.” Haitian Diaspora Oral History Collection, University of Miami Libraries. Accessed October 2, 2020.

Mayes, April and Kiran Jayaram, eds. Transnational Hispaniola: New Directions in Haitian and Dominican Studies. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2018.

Menakem, Resmaa. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies. Central Recovery Press, 2017.

Perpener, John. “Jean Léon Destiné.” Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive. Accessed October 15, 2020. 

Polyné, Millery. “‘To Carry the Dance of the People Beyond’: Jean-Léon Destiné, Lavinia Williams and Danse Folklorique Haïtienne,” in From Douglass to Duvalier: U.S. African Americans, Haiti, and Pan Americanism, 1870-1964. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010.

Ramsey, Kate. “Vodou, Nationalism, and Performance: The Staging of Folklore in Mid-20th Century Haiti.” In Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance, edited by Jane Desmond. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

Ramsey, Kate. “Without One Ritual Note: Folklore Performance and the Haitian State, 1935–1946.” Radical History Review 84 (Fall 2002): 7-42

Ramsey, Kate. The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Renda, Mary. Taking Haiti: Military Occupation & the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

St. Hubert, Hadassah. “The International Exposition of Port-au-Prince, 1949-1950.” Haiti: An Island Luminous. Accessed October 21, 2020.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.

Ulysse, Gina Athena. “Why Rasanblaj, Why Now? New Salutations to the Four Cardinal Points in Haitian Studies.” Journal of Haitian Studies 23.2 (Fall 2017): 58-80.

Viddal, Grete. “Cuba’s Tumba Francesa: Diaspora Dance, Colonial Legacy.” ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America (Fall 2007). Last Accessed May 2, 2021.

Viddal, Grete. “Haitian Migration and Danced Identity in Eastern Cuba.” In Making Caribbean Dance, edited by Susanna Sloat, 83-93. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2010.

Wilcken, Lois. The Frisner Augustin Memorial Archive. Accessed May 12, 2021.

Williams Yarborough, Lavinia. Haiti-Dance. Frankfurt: Brönners Druckerei, 1959.