CHUCK Davis's cell phone is ringing; his office phone is ringing, and he's trying to focus on an interview. "I'm trying to do 15 things at once," he says with a laugh. "I'm a true choreographer."
Certainly. Yet his greatest accomplishment is not so much what he puts on the stage with his African American Dance Ensemble as what he's inspired in the streets, alleys, outdoor arenas and open-air marketplaces around the country. Davis established the first DanceAfrica festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1977. This celebration of African dance sparked a trend.
Ten years later, with Davis's help, Carla Perlo at Dance Place hosted Washington's first DanceAfrica festival. Year by year, more festivals have sprouted up around the country, in such cities as Chicago, Miami and Minneapolis.
"I'm the great-grandpappy," Davis says. "It's more than fantastic because we have kids whose parents were pregnant with them and dancing on the stage, and now they're going to graduate from college, and they're all from the DanceAfrica family."
Davis started with a simple concept. "The whole idea is to celebrate the dance companies in America who are still carrying on the traditions or are being inspired by the traditions born and fostered on the continent of Africa."
Each festival, though, tailors its offerings to the specifics of the community. This year at Dance Place, in addition to African-influenced companies such as Sylvia Soumah's Coyaba Dance Theater and the Gambian Music and Dance Ensemble, there will also be performances by the Smooth and EZ Hand Dancers and DC Showbiz Kids, illustrating the link between African dance and African American social dance.
Starting Monday, Dance Place offers a raft of classes in African dance and drumming by such practitioners as Moustapha Bangoura of Les Ballets Africains, as well as in the movement technique of prominent American anthropologist Katherine Dunham, who researched African and Caribbean dance. Davis drops in next weekend to serve as griot, or storyteller, at the festival's gala performance.
Then he's off to another town, another festival. Is there any end in sight? Davis doesn't miss a beat. "I beg your pardon?" he jibes. " 'Scuse me? No -- it continues. It's growing."
DANCEAFRICA -- 12th annual festival of African dance and music, with master classes and Afrocentric marketplace, Monday through June 13, at Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. Gala performance June 12 at 8 at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium, 2455 Sixth St. NW. All-day performances June 13 at Dance Place, noon to 9:30 p.m. Call 202/269-1600.