Nadia Dieudonné and Cynthia Karaha are cultural sisters, a complementary duo heart and soul of the dance troupe Feet of Rhythm (F.O.R.) kids who will represent the Haitian community in the annual West Indian Day Junior Carnival Parade. And, the troupe is the only all-Haitian children’s group participating in it. Dieudonné is the artistic director, choreographer and dance teacher and Karaha is the troupe’s co-director, manager and visual director.
Feet of Rhythm was founded in 1995, but it was 2001 when the children began to participate in children’s carnival parade. The two founders persevere in recruiting dancers, providing dance lessons for their choreography and design the unusual parade costumes for the F.O.R. kids who dance the entire route.
This year’s “Zopope” (puppets / dolls) theme is a creative departure from past years’ traditional themes. “Our costumes are meant to look like dolls, and the movements for our performance mimic dolls, almost puppet-like,” says Karaha.
There are four thematic sections: Tipope (little dolls), Kongo (wind-up dolls), Rara puppets (for ages 13-17) and Majonjon for boys.
“Forty children have signed up, but there is still time and room for plenty more,” says Dieudonné who has been dancing and teaching dance for years. After her 2000 choreography collaboration with the Trinidadian mas camp Cage Productions, she decided to team up with Karaha for a Haitian children’s presence in the Junior Carnival.
Designer of the troupe’s costumes, Karaha has been designing clothes since she was a child in Haiti. Four seamstresses from the Haitian community start sewing at the beginning of the summer to complete the designs. To control costs, volunteers help the directors to add embellishments such as the headpieces. “And my mom Jeanne Dieudonne helps a lot with sewing and other production needs,” says Dieudonné.
“Our costumes are $125-$150, more reasonable than a number of other groups. It would be great if we had financial support so that we could include more children who financially can’t participate.” Dieudonné adds, “We even have a Feet of Rhythm Go Fund Me link.” Karaha muses, “I love what I’m doing and my dream is to have more than 100 kids.”
Children take up to 10 classes, this year at Fit4Dance on Utica, to learn the steps, and equally as important, to get to know each other. “By parade time, they feel confident, know their routines and have made friends,” the dance teacher observes.
As for the greatest joy? “It’s the smiles on the children when they’re in their make-up and costumes,” beams Dieudonné. “They’re filled with such pride, strutting down the street, so happy to be participating in something just for them.”
Karaha adds, “On that day they’re announcing to the world their cultural heritage and they’re celebrating being Haitian. At the end of the parade, they’ve been transformed by pride.”
There is still time to register children 2-16 years old with the Haitian theme: “ZOPOPE” (puppets/dolls). For workshop and costume purchase, call Nadia 646-283-8775 and for volunteer sponsorship, in-kind or individual donations call Cynthia 917-972-9197.