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Artists with a message: Kabuki Dancers bring motivational show to St. John

EDGARD — In 2018, the Kabuki Dancers delivered motivational messages to more than 10,000 children using a unique educational program based in performing arts.

The Acadiana-based group visited St. John the Baptist Parish libraries this week as part of a statewide summer tour. Three break-dancing performers delighted young audiences with uplifting programs titled “Never Give Up” and “Drop the B.E.A.T.,” short for Bullying Ends After Talking.

Dressed in hip-hop attire, the Kabuki Dancers used a combination of dance and spoken word to share positive messages in the interactive performances. Each show culminated in children joining the fun to show off their moves, whether they included cartwheels or Fortnite themed dances.

Group member Terrance Morgan said the Kabuki Dancers started as the Kabuki Kru in Lafayette more than 20 years ago. The group of more than a dozen was dedicated solely to dancing and competition.

Terrance Morgan and Torrez Hypolite perform a skit on the importance of practice and never giving up.

Along the way, the Kabuki Kru started incorporating spoken word and instrumentalists into performances.

The first spark of inspiration for the Kabuki Dancers’ educational programs, initiated a few years ago, came all the way back in 2005.

After Hurricane Katrina, Morgan spoke with a friend who delivered positive messages with a Young Audiences group in Texas.

In recent years, Kabuki Dancers have traveled the state to perform for libraries, summer camps, schools, churches, private parties and festivals. Highlights include performances at Jazz Fest and an appearance in a Super Bowl halftime show.

“Using dance is just what we do, having fun, but our message is always No. 1,” Morgan said.

The first Kabuki Dancers program, “Never Give Up,” was on display for more than 30 summer camperrs at the Edgard Library Wednesday morning. Through the program, children learned the importance of practice and persevering through challenges.

Morgan said the anti-bullying message in the second program, “Drop the B.E.A.T.,” is a heavier topic. However, he said the programs are presented in an approachable way, scaled to the age of the audience members.

Kabuki Dancer Jude Romero teaches children a few of his moves Wednesday morning in Edgard.

“That program has drums, spoken word and us three dancing,” Morgan said. “After that, we created a hip-hop workshop, which we do for Black History Month. This year, we just got awarded a grant for our “Shots Fired” program. It’s about anti-gun violence and school shootings.”

Through the newest program, Morgan hopes to educate young audiences on channeling negative emotions into creative self-expression.

Group member Jude Romero said the children’s responses are the most rewarding part of the experience.

“We used to just do it as dancing, but once we started doing a few shows and seeing the reactions from the kids, I was like, man, that gives you a really good feeling,” Romero said. “We were encouraged to just do more shows with messages that we needed.”

The Kabuki Dancers operate under the goal “reach one to teach one,” according to group member Torrez Hypolite.

“I love the message,” Hypolite said. “I love how it affects the kids. For me, it’s a great feeling.”

Local children share smiles as they participate in the Kabuki Dancers’ interactive performance.

Joycelyn Roussell of the Roland Borne Sr. Library in Edgard said the Kabuki Dancers provide a great opportunity to get children up and moving.

“They’re real fun,” Roussell said. “We enjoy them. The kids look like they enjoy them, too.”

The Kabuki Dancers are part of St. John Parish Library’s extensive summer programming.

Themed “A Universe of Stories” for 2019, the Summer Reading Program combats summer learning loss with literacy and enriching performances to draw young people to the library.

Upcoming Summer Reading programming includes “Look Up to the Stars” with astronomer Kevin Manning; a Capoeira-Brazilian Martial Arts Group emphasizing dance and culture; magical entertainment and face painting with Tammy & Frank; a magic yoyo performance by New Orleans entertainer Matthew Noel; and the L.A. Art & Science Museum Mobile Planetarium.

There will be end of summer reading parties at all four branches, held between July 29 and August 1. See stjohn.lib.la.us for a detailed calendar of events.