Most dance and exercise classes move to some sort of soundtrack. Cynthia Neeley's African dance class boasts its own musicians.
Live drums set the rhythm for the weekly gathering at Ashland Community Center, which resonates with tribal-inspired sounds intensified by dozens of bare feet on the burnished wood floor. Dancers' hands clap, heels stomp, arms wave, elbows jab, knees lunge, hips sway and torsos gyrate through an hour and a half of full-body activity.
"This is your chance to get it all out," squeals Neeley, hopping up and down.
Neeley, 34, started the class a year ago to release her own pent-up energy. Although she's tried other types of dance — namely salsa and belly dance — the Talent resident brought her love of African-style dance from Flagstaff, Ariz. When she arrived in Ashland five years ago, she found a small community of African-inspired drummers and dancers, all of whom have since moved save Neeley.
"I had to dance," she says.
Drawing on lessons from African teachers and experience with a performance troupe in Flagstaff, Neeley shares some commonplace West African dances, most from Guinea and Mali, set to the region's traditional polyrhythmic drumming. Steps are executed in lines, according to the typical African style, and practiced for an entire month.
"The rhythms are really complex — they've been around for thousands of years," says Neeley.