by Shamaar Thomas
The “Cake Walk,” an event fondly remembered from Wa Na Wari’s cofounder Elisheba Johnson’s childhood, is getting a 21st-century makeover. On April 4, the nonprofit Black arts center Wa Na Wari will celebrate its fourth birthday and host its first Cake Dance event at Washington Hall in Seattle. Accompanied by Northwest bakeries, such as Tom Douglas, the cake dance is not only a celebration of Wa Na Wari’s presence in the Central District since 2019, but also a moment to capture Black joy, Johnson says. As a Black artist and curator for Wa Na Wari, Johnson says she is excited to bring back a tradition with a history of growing community ties. In doing so, the event aims to carry out Wa Na Wari’s vision of preserving Black culture and art in Seattle.
“There is such a history of Black folks taking their circumstances and flipping the script,” Johnson said. “Even when you look at foods that were cooked when Blacks were enslaved and how they grew it within their culture. This can be said about many dance forms in Black history.”
The event may seem like any other modern-day cakewalk, where you walk over numbers until the music stops, hoping to have your number called to receive a cake; however, Wa Na Wari is also inviting local and national Black dance artists to perform and teach their respective crafts, taking tap, the Lindy Hop, and Chicago-Style Steppin’ to the dance floor and inviting participants to join.
For featured dance professionals Cipher Goings — artistically known as Cipher Divine — and Breonna Jordan, the event is more than just an opportunity to showcase their dance talents; it’s also a moment to reflect on and celebrate Black culture.
Divine, a Central District-grown tap dance artist featured as one of the performers at the event, says the Cake Dance is an opportunity for people to remember the past, connect with their ancestors, and carry them into the future.
Divine says he is excited to bring tap dance, a form of dance that inspired new dance forms that we have today, like hip-hop, to the event. Tap dance allows him to express himself in spaces around people with the same passion while adding his modern flavor, which is “a win in itself,” he says.
“This is an important event for people to witness Blackness and its greatness,” Divine said. “Through art, through conversation, through community, and through joy. It’s a celebration of the world’s history, and I think everyone should come, not only to learn about Blackness, but to learn more about themselves in relation to Blackness.”
“I believe that the Cake Dance represents the resilience of Black people,” said Jordan, a featured swing dance artist and teacher from New Jersey. “Throughout history, Black people have always used art as a way to flip the script, to express ourselves, to survive.”
Jordan and swing dance were not initially dance partners; when a college friend introduced her to it, it caught her eye but was forgettable. She later became interested in swing dance once she moved to New Orleans, where she met a coworker who brought her to a Sunday swing dance event.
“I fell in love as soon as I walked into the room,” she said. “The difference between the two experiences was live music. The New Orleans swing dance scene is unique in that we almost solely dance alongside living, breathing musicians. That shared energy is really something special.”
The inviting music culture in New Orleans warmed her heart to swing dance, an energy she hopes to capture at the Wa Na Wari Cake Dance.
“Events like the Cake Dance help us preserve Black art forms and celebrate how far we have come,” she said.
The Cake Dance will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4, at Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave., Seattle. Register for the Cake Dance on Wa Na Wari’s Eventbrite page.
Shamaar Thomas is a freelance journalist, aspiring to be a full-time reporter/writer in the future. Graduating from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in diversity, Shamaar is excited to continue uplifting community voices with his articles. Washington grown, Shamaar hopes his journalism contributes to positive social change in the Pacific Northwest.
📸 Featured Image: Akoiya Harris, Nile Ruff, and Maven dancing at Wa Na Wari during their “Return” event. (Photo: Bruce Tom)
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