Photo depicting a group of individuals performing a ceremony to bless a new space.

‘Honoring Black Resistance’: Northwest Tap Connection and Union Cultural Center Will Share a New Home

by Victor Simoes

Two long-standing cultural and educational hubs for the Seattle community, Union Cultural Center (UCC) and Northwest Tap Connection (NWTC), will continue their contributions to the South End’s dance and art scenes in a new joint location on the corner of Cloverdale and Rainier Avenue after being awarded with the Strategic Investment Fund

The future location is at the site of the old New Star Mini-Mart, which closed in 2019. UCC’s and NWTC’s new home is part of a 22-unit affordable housing complex built by Mt. Baker Housing Association. 

The Strategic Investment Fund is a grant offered by the City in response to unequal displacement pressures. The fund helps businesses and organizations buy land, ensuring that their rich contributions to culture and community stay rooted in their neighborhoods.

Founded in 2010, UCC hosts a variety of classes based on the traditional dances and music of Brazil, West Africa, and Puerto Rico, such as dance-like martial arts performed by the FICA Seattle capoeira group. NWTC is a 20-year-old urban-dance studio specializing in rhythm tap, as well as jazz, ballet, and other styles. The two organizations were connected by Matthew Richter, interim executive director of the Cultural Space Agency

“Matthew was the matchmaker,” said Leika Suzumura, director of UCC. “He wrote this email and was like, ‘Hey, what do you think about writing for this Strategic Investment Fund grant, along with Northwest Tap’s Ms. Melba, to buy a space in Rainier Beach?’ I instantly thought that would be amazing. And then, we started writing the grant. And then got it.”

On Nov. 20, UCC and NWTC held a Blessings event at the new space to celebrate their new partnership. The date was also significant because in Brazil, Nov. 20 is Black Consciousness Day, which honors Zumbi dos Palmares, the last leader of Quilombo dos Palmares, in Pernambuco. Quilombos were fortified settlements of slaves that escaped plantations; these settlements endowed particular social and internal organization. Zumbi is celebrated as a symbol of Black people’s resistance to oppression. Melba Ayco, founder of NWTC and known as “Ms. Melba,” explained that blessing ceremonies are a long-standing tradition. When NWTC enters a new space, it has a blessing ceremony inspired by Gullah Geechee and Brazilian cultural traditions.

“This event is intentional in that we are putting our blessings literally into the future of the space and bringing that energy and our ancestors along with it,” said Suzumura. “We are honoring the Black resistance against oppression.”

Photo depicting two individuals wearing all white clothing performing Capoeira.
Union Cultural Center celebrated the new space with a traditional performance of capoeira, a Brazilian cultural expression comprised of elements of martial art, sport, popular culture, dance, and music. (Photo: Nii Okaidja)

Together, the organizations are seeking to create a hub for the Rainier Beach community — a space to share experiences and identities and offer individual education in opposition to what is offered in institutionalized spaces, explained Ms. Melba. 

“I think I’m so happy because I don’t have to fight with coexisting in a space where I’m constantly saying, ‘You are not looking at it from the lenses of Blackness, but you’re looking at it from the lens of institutional life space,’” said Ms. Melba. 

It is only when people reject the idea of classic institutionalized education, which regularly ignores individual complexities, that we will start seeing progress and change in narratives, explained Ms. Melba.

Construction is scheduled to begin on the new location, at the beginning of 2023. Next year, the organizations plan to host another cultural event centered around the Brazilian Carnival, the period of three days prior to Ash Wednesday dedicated to celebrations, dances, parades, and popular revelry. UCC and NWTC expect to move into their new home in the first semester of 2025. Until then, NWTC and UCC will continue to offer classes at their current locations.

Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.

📸 Featured Image: On Nov. 20, Northwest Tap Connection and Union Cultural Center blessed their future new space in the Dunlap neighborhood with music and a ceremony. (Photo: Nii Okaidja)

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