Ayoka troupe reviving African dance festival

Brandy Tyler-McIntosh, a former lead instructor with African Caribbean Dance Theater, is now leading the Ayoka Afrikan Drum and Dance.
Photo by Michael A. Cork/MACORK SOLUTIONS

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

 Since its inception, the Ayoka Drum and Dance troupe has made a lot of appearances around town. Most recently at the Soul of Southside Evening of Remembrance.

Their performance was captivating. Some found it surprising that they exist.

It wasn’t the first time that the troupe sprung up on an audience.

“We are hoping our presence in the community brings us out of the shadow,” said Brandy Tyler-McIntosh, who helped to establish the group. “We have been in a lot of spaces where people are like, ‘Oh.’ 

“It’s been that kind of response.”

Their next event is a big one that they hope will familiarize the community with their existence, although it won’t feature a show. The event is the Ayoka Afrikan Dance Festival during June 8-10 at FSU School of Dance. 

The festival will focus on workshops and classes for dancers and drummers. The instructors are from across the country but they represent cultures of Guinea and Senegal, Tyler-McIntosh said.

Opening day of the festival starts at 11:30 a.m. at Strikers Youth Art Complex on South Munroe Street. The June 9-10, sessions will be held at FSU School of Dance, located at 130 Collegiate Loop. Each day begins at 10:30 a.m. 

 “Right now we’ve got to build the festival,” said Tyler-McIntosh. “We’ve got to make sure that people know that Tallahassee is back on the map to do the festival.”

Ayoka Afrikan Drum and Dance is an offspring of the African Caribbean Dance Theater that Marcus and Jevelle Robinson operated for more than two decades. The couple closed the doors following their final presentation of the Florida African Dance Festival in 2018.

A little more than two years later, some former ACDT dancers sprung up with the name Ayoka Afrikan Drum and Dance. Growth has been slow but steady, with a current list of about 15 dancers and five drummers.

The Robinson couple remains a go-to resource. In fact, putting on a dance festival wouldn’t have happened without consulting with the Robinson’s, Tyler-McIntosh said.

“We are not trying to start something outside of them. We all were raised in that company,” she said. “We get advice from them and pick their brain.

 “We would have never initiated or move forward without having their blessings.”

When the Ayoka troupe was formed, they rehearsed outdoors on a grassy area in Railroad Square but it has since settled in the same building where the Strikers Dance Ensemble practice. The relationship with Strikers started with a group text message that connected Tyler-McIntosh with Strikers founder Shepiro Hardemon.

It turned out that they knew each other in South Florida before coming to Tallahassee.

“It’s just been wonderful that he (Hardemon) has been able to allow us to plug into his normal scheduled program,” Tyler-McIntosh said. “It’s just been great because we have been able to collaborate and do things together.”

Having a floor designed for dancing to practice makes rehearsals less stressful, said Tyler-McIntosh.

“Everyone is very, very comfortable opening up and giving 150 percent in terms of all the dances we’ve been doing,” she said. “Now we can do different kinds of dances that would have less of an impact on our bodies.”

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