On Feb. 1, students at New Haven’s Vincent E. Mauro Elementary School clapped and shouted enthusiastically after Konjo!, an African dance troupe at Yale, performed some traditional African dances to kick off the school’s celebration of African-American Cultural Heritage Month.
Konjo! gave two performances at the school, one for younger students from kindergarten to second grade, and another later in the afternoon for the older kids in grades three through five. The troupe danced Manjani, a lively dance celebrating playfulness, youth, and exuberance, and Dundunba, a warrior’s dance to show off one’s strength and ability.
A question and answer period followed the second performance, and the older students were able to ask questions such as whether the dancers danced when they were young and whether their feet hurt from so much dancing.
The dance performance proved an enjoyable experience for both the students and the performers. One second grader said, “I liked it when the girls [in the dance troupe] were playing the hand games.” Many kids waved to the dancers as they passed by, and one dancer recalled being approached for an autograph.
“I always enjoy performing for kids — they’re genuinely enthusiastic about [the dance performance] and they’ll go home telling their parents about it,” Konjo! President Bukola Hammed-Owens ’02 said.
Konjo’s involvement with Vincent Mauro Elementary includes an after-school African dance program taught by troupe member Eliada Nwoko ’02. This outreach program has been helpful in establishing a better relationship between Yale and the community. Sean Hardy, the school’s publicity director, said many Yalies also intern or volunteer at the elementary school.
“Our children love the Yale students,” Hardy said.
Konjo! performed last year at the school as part of its Black History month celebration, but students in kindergarten through second grade did not get a chance to see them perform. This year, the school asked Konjo! to start their series of events so younger students could also see the performance.
Vincent Mauro Elementary School’s theme for its Black History month celebrations this year is World Peace. They have planned a series of speeches, talks, field trips, and other events throughout Feb. to celebrate African-American culture and promote leadership, peace and diversity. The events will conclude on March 8 with a gospel program and community potluck.
Also, Vincent Mauro sent several fifth graders downtown on Feb. 1 to read their poetry to Superintendent of New Haven Schools Reginald Mayo during a discussion on African-American heritage.