LaFonda Thompkins, a tall, slender and reticent sixth grader, smoothed out her yellow polka-dot dress and adjusted her tie-dyed headband. As the drumbeat of the Kpanlogo picked up, so did she, falling into the rhythms of the Ghanaian dance with gusto.
The walls of the auditorium echoed with the drums as LaFonda and her schoolmates snaked onto the floor, showing the fruits of a two-day workshop on West African culture at the Walker-Jones Elementary School at First and L streets NW.
The dance, performed with the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, is part of the Concerts in Schools program, a project of the Washington Performing Arts Society in cooperation with the Friday Morning Music Club.
For 20 years, the program has brought to schoolchildren "a diverse variety of performing arts -- instrumental music, dance, voice and heritage programs," said Betryce Prosterman, director and one of the program's.
Concerts in Schools, which started with 50 performances in 1966, gave 870 concerts last year, according to Prosterman. About 120 local artists go to schools in the metropolitan area annually to perform concerts, workshops and festivals.
Funded by society membership dues, fund-raising activities, grants and individual donations, the program has an annual budget of $170,000.
The money goes directly toward the artists' salaries, said Prosterman. The society absorbs the administrative cost, with the music club acting as the artistic arm -- designing auditions and evaluating performances.
All the programs are free, with a varied menu to please those whom Prosterman calls "the truest indicators of what is acceptable . . . they're very blunt" -- children.
LaFonda described the workshop with one word: "entertaining."
Stacey Sims, a small fifth grader, symbolized two cultures, dressed in a green tartan plaid skirt, white ankle socks, penny loafers and batik headband. She said she learned some "basic facts of Africa" -- about the languages, mode of dressing and dances of West African people. "I liked the movement of the dances . . . . They move their hands and feet differently," Stacey said after performing the show's two dances -- Kpanlogo, a celebration or social dance, and Go-Go, a social dance that originated in the District.
As Stacey snaked, prepped and whopped to music similar to that of Go-Go Master Chuck Brown, her Go-Go dance movements were somewhat like those of Kpanlogo.
The dances are similar, said Melvin Deal, director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, who has performed with the program since its beginning.
Describing himself as a "socially conscious" artist, Deal said he tries to convey to the students how similar the two cultures are. It's a normal custom for schoolchildren to get together after school, play music and dance, said Deal. In Ghana, a similar custom exists. After the work is done, Ghanaian people get together and dance. The only difference is there are no audience members in Ghana. Everyone joins in.