Before moving to Chestertown, Hope Clark worked as a dancer and choreographer in New York City.

By Peter Heck |

Chestertown, MD―Lalibela is a town in Ethiopia where up to 45,000 tourists come every year to see its 13th-century rock-carved churches. The town is a UNESCO heritage site, and was one of the earliest places in the world to adopt Christianity.

Chestertown resident Hope Clark, a professional dancer and community activist, poses for a photo with Marta, a 10-year-old circus student in Ethiopia whose father passed away during Clark's visit there last fall.

Chestertown resident Hope Clark, a professional dancer and community activist, poses for a photo with Marta, a 10-year-old circus student in Ethiopia whose father passed away during Clark’s visit there last fall.

Now, Chestertown resident Hope Clark hopes to give the tourists even more to appreciate. Clark, a professional dancer and community activist, is working with the Lalibela Circus and Dance Associations to create a self-sustaining performance at the Lalibela Circus and Cultural Show Project, so the performers and the community can better support themselves.

Clark said she was introduced to the local culture by the Lalibela Eco-trekking Co., which took her on a trip last fall to the mountainside near Lalibela, where remote communities live without electricity. There, more than 12,000 feet above sea level, she taught children gymnastics in the fields with their animals and learned about the challenges accessing education.

Clark was also introduced to the local circus school in Lalibela, where she exchanged teaching techniques on the dirt floor of a stone building with just a couple of lights. The circus emphasizes acrobatic and tumbling skills along with teeter-totter and juggling. It also performs traditional dance, she said in a phone interview Monday, Jan. 25.

Recognizing the need for support, she thought a show could be created about Lalibela’s history, culture and community. With all the tourists coming through town, “This could be a path for economic development that uses their cultural heritage as a means for income,” she wrote in an email describing the project.

Dance is a significant part of the culture of Lalibela, Clark said. “It’s a perfect form to tell stories about real community issues,” she said.

Tourists usually get to see traditional dance primarily in restaurants or clubs, as a form of entertainment. The dancers will often invite the audience to join in with them. But very few of the local dancers can earn enough to live on from their performances, she said. Nor do the circus performers have any regular income at all.

Clark said the Circus School and the Lalibela Minister of Culture and Tourism agreed that creating a show for the community’s benefit was a good idea and joined her in a campaign to raise the money. Clark said the UNESCO community cultural center in the town, where the show will be performed, is a good medium for a presentation on the local culture.

Clark said the presentation would also include important elements of everyday life in Ethiopia, such as the traditional coffee ceremony, an ornate presentation that is very dance-like in its movements and formal structure.

“For me, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime and something I think will be really wonderful,” Clark wrote. She said she is going into the project very carefully, “with open eyes and mind,” to show how art and tourism together can benefit the community in Lalibela.

Clark launched an online Indiegogo campaign where anyone in the world can contribute. Google “Lalibela Circus and Cultural Show” or visit igg.me/at/LalibelaCircusCulturalShow to see a short video about the project, and the budget details. As of Jan. 27, the campaign had raised $4,529, about 30 percent of the initial goal of $14,954.

There is also a Lalibela Circus Facebook page.

Before moving to Chestertown, Clark worked as a dancer and choreographer in New York City. While living in Chestertown, she worked with the African American Heritage Council to create a re-enactment of the Decoration Day Ceremonies originally performed by members of the Grand Army of the Republic. She also served as director of the Local Management Board in Kent County where she created a 2012 needs assessment and was the lead navigator to implement the Affordable Care Act in the five Mid-Shore counties.

Source: MyEasternShoreMD.com
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