Rennie Harris Puremovement, a dynamic Philadelphia-based hip hop dance company, performed at the University of California at Santa Barbara recently. As a college student in Philadelphia, I jumped at every chance my studies would allow me to join their cipher, to explore and celebrate our diverse and rich heritage through dance, spoken word, and theater. Their respect for capoiera and traditional African drumming combined with a distinctly urban edge and sense of urgency mirrored my own artistic sensibilities.
Sitting at the UCSB session, feeling the thumping beats, taking in the acrobatic moves, and fully appreciating P-Funk and Endangered Species took me back a couple years to the sites and scenes of a city overflowing with arts, activism, and energy – back to master classes at the Pained Bride, Mumia rallies at City Hall, DanceAfrica at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Odunde processions to the Schulkyll River, bantubas at the Community Education Center, Penn Relay after parties everywhere, and then – the nostalgia ended abruptly. March of the Antmen had a new message for me, has new meaning as our leadership pursues the individuals responsible for the events of 9/11.
I make no claims to be a dance critic, yet the opening and closing sequences alone held power – a battle scene of soldiers crawling along, hugging the earth contrasted against a group of young brothers perpetrating a drive-by and losing one of their own in the gunfire exchange. Antmen poses a number of pressing questions: why do men often march into war at a feverish pace? What parallels are there between “official” and “unofficial” war zones, between trauma resulting from gang violence and poverty as opposed to trauma resulting from warfare? And Who ultimately suffers? Whether you’re a b-boy, senator, dance critic, and/or peace activists, the question we must all ask ourselves is what role do I play in all of this?
*Michael Coffey is the Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.