Helping People

Arts program connects kids to Haitian roots

The class dances together in time to the music played by, Samba Maalik (right) and Master drummer Matisou Legba left during a Tradisyon Lakou Lakay dance class at the Little Haiti Culture Center in Miami.
The class dances together in time to the music played by, Samba Maalik (right) and Master drummer Matisou Legba left during a Tradisyon Lakou Lakay dance class at the Little Haiti Culture Center in Miami. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Moving to the sounds of Haitian drums, Weiselande César stretches her arms above her head, and then instructs her dance class to do the same. For most girls in the class, the choreography is difficult to learn and foreign.

César’s dance style borrows from the Caribbean, African and Spanish Folkloric dances that influence Haitian dance — like Rara, a dance performed during Easter Week for Haitian Carnival.

"You guys are starting to get it," César says.

Every Friday night at the Little Haiti Cultural Center’s studio space, César meets with a group of girls to demonstrate the beauty in Haitian folklore. When César, a dance instructor and public school teacher, asked a colleague, Myriame Pierre, at Toussaint L’Ouverture Elementary School about the perception of Haitian culture, she said the two shared the same sentiment: Too many people either had negative views, or a general apathy.

“Everyone is Haitian on Haitian Flag Day, but after that, no ones wants to be called Haitian,” César said. “Too many people get scared and associate our culture with vodou.”

César and Pierre said they started the nonprofit Tradisyon Lakou Lakay to help change the cultural perception — with Haitians and non-Haitians alike.

Since 2004, TLL has offered dance lessons and programming rooted in the arts. The two women later added workshops, lectures, a class on Haitian Creole and a computer literacy course. Every month, TLL instructors hold a youth engagement study circle where students debate topics of concern, like civic engagement, crime, policing and education.

Roxana Barba, a projects administrator at Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural affairs, said that when TLL first applied for the quarterly project grant to fund Spring Fest, a weeklong program for students during spring break, the department’s review panel saw an opportunity to reinvigorate culture in Little Haiti.

The grant, Barba said, “is serving a community that’s learning about its roots.” Since 2103, the county department has awarded TLL $4,000 to $6,000 each year.

“They’re a really good fit for our program,” Barba said.

Sandy Dorsainvil, the center’s managing director, said the center has expanded a lot of programs since the Caribbean Marketplace reopened last year.

She said second-generation parents like herself want their kids to be able to to communicate with grandparents and Creole-speaking relatives.

“As Wynwood continues to get saturated and the Design District continues to expand, we have to be the ones to keep the Haitian footprint alive,” Dorsainvil said. “Although Little Haiti is evolving, Tradisyon Lakou Lakay keeps us grounded in celebrating Haitian art.”

Getting Involved

Dance classes are held at 6 p.m. Fridays at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, 212 NE 59th Terr. Contact Weiselande César at 786-344-4376 or yanui@tllakayinc.com.

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