The Central Avenue Dance Ensemble will present on online performance A Night at Club Alabam in celebration of “Juneteenth” with choreography by: Paulette Brockington, Chandra Chase, Gary Roberts, Sharon Sandor, Chester Whitmore and Ron Parker. Originating in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on June 19th to mark the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. It is commemorated on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865, announcement by Union Army general Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been announced a little over two years prior, but Texas was slow in informing and freeing its 250,000 slaves.
What is Club Alabam? “A Night at Club Alabam” is a vintage nightclub floor show (using modern video technology) composed of the following: Singers, Chorus Girls, Tap Dancing, Vernacular Jazz Dances, Vaudeville Acts, Ballroom Dancing, and Exotic Dances: Arabian Sword Dance (with dancing girls!), Flamenco (with live guitarist!), Mambo Caliente, and Tango Milonga (with live pianist)
Here is how the Central Avenue Dance Ensemble explains the story behind Club Alabam:
“In 2016, the Los Angeles Ford Amphitheater presented its largest vernacular jazz dance concert ever: “Chester Whitmore – Lord of the Swing”. This was a live variety show inspired by the Big Band era of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, directed by and starring members of the Central Avenue Dance Ensemble as well as tapper, bandleader, dance historian and multi-talented performer extraordinaire: Chester Whitmore He has since then been officially recognized as “The Lord of the Swing”.
In the fall of 2018, the California Museum of African-American History (CAAM) presented an historical retrospective on “Central Avenue”. From approximately 1920 to 1955, Central Avenue was the heart of the African-American community in Los Angeles, with active rhythm and blues and jazz music scenes. It was known as the West Coast Harlem. And it’s most famous and grand nightclub, Club Alabam, was known as the Cotton Club of the West Coast.
Chester Whitmore and the Central Avenue Dance Ensemble, a dance group dedicated to educating the community on Black vernacular jazz dance history through performance re-enactments, presented a Central Avenue dance retrospective during the exhibit. Clips from that event, the most well attended and well received of the series, can be found HERE.
The Central Avenue Dance Ensemble presented a similar show the following year at the historic Dunbar Hotel (on Central Avenue) during the Central Avenue Jazz Festival. The Dunbar (right next door to Club Alabam) became the center of the Central Avenue jazz scene in the 1930s and 1940s. It hosted Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Lena Horne, and many other jazz legends. The Dunbar Hotel was the location for many of the top names in African-American entertainment when they visited Los Angeles (then a segregated city).
And just a few weeks after that (November 2019), Chester and members of both the Central Avenue Dance Ensemble and the LA Swing Dance Posse were featured on the local Los Angeles CBS affiliate station show “2 on the Town”, celebrating, through dance, the historic Leimert Park District, another Los Angeles African American center of business, art and culture.
Thus, was born the idea of a vintage Cotton Club style nightclub floor show revue. The idea is to take the audience back to the 1930s and 1940s, before DVDs, VHS Tapes, YouTube, Netflix or even regular TV, when most people only got to see live dance shows by going to clubs and the theater. Most of these productions would be variety shows, entertaining audiences with a wide variety of performance styles.”
A Night at Club Alabam will take the viewers back to an era that no longer exists by revealing dance and performance styles that perhaps they have never experienced. These styles are, however, the origins of many dance styles we see on TV, stage, and screen today.
As an added plus, the evening will include two dance historians scheduled to provide historical context as well as answer Talk Back questions during the program. Their names are: Frank Ross, director of the National Black Dance Museum and author of “Soul Dancing: The Essential African-American Cultural Dance Book”; and Paulette Brockington, dancer, choreographer, instructor and director and founder of the American Lindy Hop Championships.
This event will also feature some of your beloved performers: John Acevedo, Erica Blake, Nic Canada, Chandra Chase, Bill Freeman, Pamela Hart, Lola Jeffery, Yulia Maluta, Suryany Misrayim, Vel Omar Syed, Gary Roberts, Aisha Qaasim, Sharon Sandor, Madeleine Schmidhauser, Reginald Thornton, Noelle Tinturin, Beatriz Eugenia Vasquez, and Ron Parker.
WHAT: A Night at Club Alabam!
WHEN: June 19, 2021 at 1 pm (PDT)
WHERE: Online event
TICKETS: Please click HERE.
Please Note: The recording of the show will be available on demand (24/7) to all ticket purchasers for up to 14 days after the event. So, if you cannot attend the live event on the 19th, you will still be able to watch it for the following 2 weeks at your leisure.
For more information and to visit the Central Street Dance Ensemble website, click HERE.
To view a very informative short story (by Ralph Story) on Central Avenue, click HERE.
Written and compiled by Jeff Slayton from a Central Avenue Dance Ensemble press release.
Featured image: A Night At Club Alabam – Photo courtesy of Central Avenue Dance Ensemble