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The convergence of culture
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The CHOSEN is a song and dance group comprised of six children ranging in ages from 5-12 years old who are in the care of AOET Uganda, representing the thousands of AIDS orphans.  Debuting in 2003, Chosen has achieved acclaim across the globe, having performed a diverse repertoire of song and dance throughout many districts in Uganda, Kenya and the United States.

The choir’s performance is breathtaking as they sing Christian songs of joy, adoration and praise in five different languages including English, Luganda and Zulu (South Africa).  The group performs professionally arranged music from Uganda along with creative and choreographed dance steps.

Dressed colorfully, the choir captivates the heart through music and dance. We view this team and its performances not simply as entertainment, but also as ministry. We have seen many people recommit themselves to the Lord after watching the children perform and hearing the message in their music. We have seen lives changed, and so we are not only looking to touch those within the but everyone who listens to their music.

Last Saturday, our parish festival witnessed the coming-together of dancers from three distinct, but related, worlds. It happened between 3:00 and 4:00 pm, the hour of Divine Mercy.  Like a constellation of bright-shining stars, this in-gathering of melody, movement, and color en-fleshed in dozens of youth from different cultures lifted my spirits and renewed my optimism.

A group of orphans from Uganda had come to Stockton for two weeks of presentations.  Ranging in age from 10 to 12, they’d been sent to the USA to remind us of the African crisis and to request prayers and sponsorships.

Tipped off by a friend, I invited the group to come at the most convenient time, which proved to be 3:00pm.  Meanwhile, we’d already scheduled our Mexican dancers for the 2:30-3:00 hour.  “Raices Mexicanas,” according to Maria Valdovinos, their director, is a non-profit dedicated to promoting Mexican heritage through the regional dances they so beautifully perform.

But a third group was just arriving from Fresno.  “On Point” is a hip-hop and funk dance ensemble of remarkable skill.  I’d at first wondered who that super-tall smiling black guy with the black top hat could be.  Turns out he’d be the first to move.  This collection of races, sizes, and experiences-in-life had been scheduled to begin at 3:00pm, with the Ugandan kids at 4.

“The children have already eaten,” their local guide and organizer told me.  “We’ve got to make sure they finish on time to make their 6:00 program.”

The orphans, dressed in black pants and white decorated tops, stood there in polite silence.  No doubt they’d hadn’t been accustomed to entering large halls where other performances were already in progress.   Not wanting for the opportunity to pass them by, I coaxed them up in front of the crowd of nearly 300.  The smell of food and the sight of so many people of so many cultures must have been a systems overload for them.  But once they found their places on the floor in front of the colorful dancers, they hardly moved.

One of the greatest vicarious delights of any parent is watching a child see and experience something for the very first time.  I believe that’s what was happening with those kids last Saturday afternoon.  The expansive dresses spinning around girls with stomping feet, the boys with clanging swords and acrobatic moves, the circular rotation and surging in and out of color and shape and sound must have reached those kids in an entirely new way.

Then came a most remarkable coincidence.  Our organizer hadn’t planned for the Chosen Ones to be preceded immediately by the Fresno group, but due to their scheduling, it happened just that way.  Although the particular style of this tight, disciplined troupe evoked images of industry, mechanics, and the age of robots, its origins were still largely in African traditions.

If I couldn’t believe how good On Point was, I wonder how the Chosen Ones felt, seeing this remarkable genre in person for the first time in their lives. Their eyes froze on the sophisticated movement. They smiled widely.

But the real treat was watching On Point take their turn to sit it out.  Piled together on the floor, they were delighted to see the spontaneous, seemingly effortless, at times humorous, and unapologetically happy dancing of kids who combined the wildness of instinctive movement with a remarkable ability to do it all together, all exactly at the same time.  Add to that their Christian spirituality and the call to join them in prayer, and the result was a very moving experience indeed.  I turned to see many wiping their eyes.

Sometimes we take culture, dance, and our own particular heritage all too lightly.  People of the past weren’t simply looking for entertainment.  They weren’t about just killing time.  Much less were they using rhythm, music, and lyrics as a way of pulling people down, or of getting what they wanted.

Even the most pagan of ancient dances communicated the fundamental human need to keep in touch with our origins, with the universe around us, and with the most meaningful aspects of human existence.  By maintaining our dialogue with these traditional cultural expressions, we not only step into the shoes of our ancestors, but we also remember things vital to our own lives today.  And doing it together means bridging the seemingly infinite distance between the egos of those who live in a modern isolation.

I called Maria Valdovinos and the On Point directors last night.  I wanted to tell you more about them in their own words.  Maria was immersed in a family gathering, and On Point were out performing another gig.   So at the end of this article, I’ll tag on information about them from their websites.

As for me, I’m looking forward to yet another coming-together.  Already making plans to return to Africa October 2nd, I was overjoyed to learn that the Chosen Ones live near the border of Kenya.  The student I sponsor in Nairobi had already invited me to Ksumu, his homeland.   Just a few hours and we’ll be in Uganda.  Then I’ll proceed on to southern Kenya, where my brother Douglas organized a cultural festival for the Massai.  I would have liked to have been present then, but it happened the same weekend as ours.

Yes, we do live in a small world.  It gets closer together as we grow in our ability to honor, enjoy, and even to embrace a wide diversity of cultures.
Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Parish, Stockton, CA (Written Aug. 21, 2009)