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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bare feet bounce to international beats in Vannie tradition

By Jessica Smith
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Caren Calder, 63, demonstrates West African dance during one of the annual Barefoot Dancing events on the lawn of the Van Cortlandt House on July 17.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Desmond Howard, 20, on a djembe drum.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Sandra Marshall, 53, participates in Caren Calder’s West African dance.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Phillip Williamson, 60, on the songba drum.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Caren Calder dances away.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Mirella Bajana, 38.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Caren Calder on the drums.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Ethan Guzman, 7, Isis Guzman, 14, and Robert Nissim, 56.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
There are two more concerts in the Barefoot Dancing series this summer.

It was a family affair at Barefoot Dancing in Van Cortlandt Park on July 17. Not only were parents and children out dancing and picnicking, but instructor Caren Calder had members of her own family drumming and dancing along with her.

Hosted by the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy, Barefoot Dancing has brought different kinds of dance instruction and performance to the Bronx for the last two decades. The program, which moved from Wave Hill to the borough’s biggest park six years ago to accommodate growing interest, invites people to kick off their shoes and enjoy an evening of dancing and live music while the sun sets. 

“It’s a little fun, a little bit of culture in the neighborhood,” said attendee Elizabeth Dworakowsi. “My favorite was the Israeli dance last year, and I love the salsa.”

With a rotating array of styles every summer, last Thursday night focused on west African dance. While families set up blankets on a lawn near the Van Cortlandt House Museum, Ms. Calder and her daughter, Crytal El, began their lively instruction with some basic moves. Ms. Calder said her daughter is her “favorite dance partner.” 

Another of Ms. Calder’s family members, Desmond Powers, played one drum while their close friend Phillip Williamson played another. Their group is called Indigo Arts, and describes itself as a family-based company providing music, dance and storytelling based on African tradition.

“We’re so lucky to have Caren Calder here,” said Margot Perron, president of the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy, who started Barefoot Dancing. “She just has terrific creativity. It’s been very exciting partnering with Lotus.

Lotus Music and Dance, which Ms. Calder has been affiliated with since 1997, holds multiple ethnic dance classes in their midtown studio. Their partnership with Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy has brought even more dance teachers and styles into the mix.

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