". . . All day long you've been waiting to dance . . ."
Ten girls sashay out onto the stage, stamping their feet, snapping their fingers, waving their arms to a peppery, syncopated beat.
"Hel-Lo To You . . ." they shout in unison.
Twirling, tap dancing, cartwheeling, clapping out their infectious rhythm, they are some kind of cheerleaders. They are terrific. Compared to them, conventional pompon-waving cheerleaders are as the Minuet compared to the Hustle.
They are exhilarating. They are Now. They are black.
"You have talents you don't know about," dancer Melvin Deal told the audience at Woodson Senior High School in the far Northeast."Understand your cultural heritage, use your past to develop yourself for the future."
Deal and his African Heritage Dancers and Drummers had just given a demonstration of dances from Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria. Later he would audition young people for an ambitious and exciting program: the Neighborhood Dance Experiment sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
That was where the girls from Evans Recreation Center came in. They performed, along with solo dancers and drummers and other groups ranging from elementary grades through their high school, so that Deal could judge their potential for African dance.
Later this month we will take maybe 60 of these cheerleaders, ballet students, jazz and disco dancers and acrobats and compose African dances for them, performing first at Woodson Jan. 27 and 28 and then in February, Black History Month, touring the city's schools with them.
This is only the first of five such programs to take place around Washington: In March Michael Malone's D.C. Repertory Dance Company will showcase the young talent in Ward 8; in April the Capitol Ballet will move into Ward 4; in May Jan Van Dyke and Dancers will organize a chance dance at Kalorama Park in Ward 1, and in June the Dance Exchange headed by Liz Lerman will invite performers to join a work called "Memory Gardens" in Ward 5.
The whole idea belongs to Nancy Pittman, the D.C. Commission's dance coordinator, who hopes to start Washingtonians dancing all over the place.
"Right up through the early '60s a lot of black people were resisting the dances and costumes and the rest of it," Deal said. "But it got better - and then we had Alex Haley. And now there's a generation of kids who were born in the '60s and grew up proud of their African heritage."
He wants to show how the everyday dancing of his charges, in cheerleading and jiving in the discos, even their calisthenics, relates to the ancient forms based on the movements of cranes and giraffes and trees.
One of his Nigerian dances features men with straw boaters and canes cakewalking for all the world like old-time Broadway hoofers: a pattern picked up somewhere along the line, perhaps from Latin America, generations before Maurice Chevalier.
Now the drummers, including two Senegalese guest artists, Aidoo Mamadi and Abdou Kounta, set up a complex, insistent, ever-changing beat. A call for volunteers. Twenty students rush to the stage, join the professionals with improvised frugging and strutting. The audience cheers, screams with delight. Arms wave, feet stamp. Teachers look worried. A dancer [WORD ILLEGIBLE] some bumps and grinds, gets a great, full-throated shout . . .
It beats school any day.