At DanceAfrica, the Enduring Power of Love

Not every love story has a third character, but in the case of N’Goma and Normadien Woolbright, there was one, and he was a force of nature: Chuck Davis, who brought African dance traditions to the United States and founded the DanceAfrica festival. It was his idea that the couple — his friends and colleagues — would marry on the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music at the annual festival in 1983.

“Life is love,” Davis says in a video shot at the wedding, crossing his arms across his chest before reaching them broadly to either side. “Love is all.”

The wedding was a lavish occasion, but it was more than a theatrical staging of a ritual. DanceAfrica, the vibrant festival now in its 47th year, is as much about building and honoring a community as it is about showcasing artistic forms. Personal moments like the Woolbrights’ marriage ceremony are part of its texture.

Davis brought the couple — N’Goma, 80, is a drummer and Normadien, 71, a dancer — together by bringing them into his world. They have been involved with the festival since its inaugural presentation, first as performers and now as fixtures behind the scenes. At DanceAfrica, N’Goma is a stage manager; Normadien is assistant stage manager.

N’Goma first met Davis while working for the New York Transit Authority. Davis’s musical director worked there too, N’Goma said, and he “wanted me to come down to a dance class with him because I told him I played the drums. I went down to play and Chuck said, ‘Welcome aboard.’”

A DanceAfrica wedding: In 1983, N’Goma, middle, and Normadien, right, got married onstage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.Credit…BAM Hamm Archives
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