By Andrea Grymes

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The joy of dance coupled with the harvest celebration that signals the beginning of Kwanzaa takes center stage Saturday during a special performance in Queens.

The percussive drumbeat stirs the soul and the joy of dance at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center is equally exhilarating, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported.

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This was the final tech rehearsal for “Kwanzaa Celebration, The Legacy Continues.”

Kwanzaa is traditionally celebrated Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. But this dance performance, returning after last year’s pandemic hiatus, is about more than just seasonal festivities.

“We bring a lot of healing work to the audience, into the community through our dancing. So to be able to go back to having a live studio audience is something that we’ve all been looking for,” said Kevin McEwen, founder & artistic director of Kwanzaa Celebration.

“Kwanzaa, the word is a Swahili word that means harvest,” McEwen explained. “But we’re also talking about the harvest of our human essences, and what is that, that essence of making sure we come together as a community, coming together to make sure that we’re there to support each other, to learn from each other and to grow from each other.”

Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday. It started in the 1960s and evolved as an observance of African American cultural heritage and values.

In celebrating through dance, choreographer Crystal Craigen works to create a harmony through a variety of movement.

“Africa is not a monolith. We’re very diverse people. We’re super spread across the world, but the roots and the source of who we are remain the same. Respect, unity, cooperative economics, working together,” said Craigen.

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Many of the performers are students from Queensborough Community College. Craigen explained that educating these dancers about dance and the meaning of Kwanzaa is as important as learning the steps.

“Traditional West African dance is not just about the choreography, and it’s not just about the movement… You have to understand the people that the movement comes from. Why were these dances done? You know, what was the ceremony, what was the, what was being celebrated,” said Craigen.

“Especially as, like, a young Black person, it’s a very wholesome experience to have because I never celebrated Kwanzaa before. I never knew really much about Kwanzaa, but it was an eye opener,” said student and dancer Vanessa Whyte.

Whyte acknowledged there is an even deeper connection driving the performance this year.

“We’ve had people that had had grandmas pass away, or mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts. And this is, our showing, like, hey, not only is our physical family here, but our spiritual family is here as well,” Whyte said.

Craigen said watching these young artists come together to perform and celebrate has been as joyous as the dance itself.

“Because the goal is we’re striving towards uplifting our people in a space where everyone deserves to be empowered, and everyone deserves to be uplifted. So it’s cool that it’s two weeks ahead of Kwanzaa,” Craigen said.

The joy of dance affirming a timeless concept of Kwanzaa is something that can be carried throughout the year.

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Click here more more information on Saturday’s performance.

Andrea Grymes