Melvin Deal's got something to stomp about: This weekend, his African Dancers and Drummers celebrate their seventh anniversary and begin a new year of energizing and enlightening the local dance scene.

Lst night marked the start of a four-evening dance fest over at Deal's Georgia Avenue studio. Tributes and accolades flowed like wine, and then came the meat of the party: the dancing.

Eno Washington, a newcomer to the troupe, began with "Prayer for Survival," a solo that the late Percival Borde (one of the great performers and teachers of African and Caribbean dances) had choreographed for him. Moving his muscle-bound, superbly controlled body through a wild assortment of stop-and-start jabs, thrusts, handstands, skitters, somersaults and kicks, he managed to project both the tension of a hunted victim and the pride of a fierce warrior.

Akua Femi's Ethnic Ensemble trod a more formalistic path with their performance of vignettes from Femi's "A Night to Remember." Accompanied by poetry and a jazz trio, the three dancers employed a modern dance vocabulary augmented by tension-filled limbs and faces.

Finally the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers themselves launched into the premiere performance of "Bata Suite," a dance of challege, boasts and community spirit. The women jived, the men strutted. Knees, hips, elbows, shoulders took on lives of their own, goading the dancers into ever-increasing bouts of joyous movement.