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What the African folktale 'The Dancing Granny' teaches us about hard work

Actors in the Dancing Granny
First Stage
The Dancing Granny poster

Every gardener knows: critters can be your worst enemy when trying to grow food. But most wouldn’t expect a snake to be a part of the problem. That conflict between gardener and animal is at the heart of The Dancing Granny. Onstage until March 6, the show is a collaboration between First Stage Children’s Theatre and Ko-Thi Dance Company — celebrating African folklore through African dance and drumming.

Actor Marina Murphy plays the dancing granny, also known as Anika, and Samantha Montgomery is the director. They share an inside look into the collaboration between First Stage and Ko-Thi.

Before taking on the role of the dancing granny, Murphy says she had danced with the Milwaukee company that explores African dance styles before.

Murphy says infusing this story with African drum dances was amazing. "I'm still learning the technique through Ko-Thi, thank goodness, but the movement and the ability to just feel the drums and and go with it — this in my spirit," she says.

As a director, Montgomery acknowledges that the collaboration between Ko-Thi and First Stage allowed her to go back and explore her own background and experience with the dance company from when she was younger.

"The collaboration worked out pretty well. It was educational. It was enlightening. It was, for me, spiritual energetic. It just really motivated me to create and to want to share more of their tradition with the audiences," she says.

Actors in The Dancing Granny
Paul Ruffolo
From left to right: Kiomara Thompson, Marina Murphy, DeMar Walker and Genevieve Gaertner in "The Dancing Granny."

As for the story of The Dancing Granny, Montgomery explains, "Dancing Granny is African folktale. And, I think, it's important to remember that when you think of African folktales, and you think about spider Anansi, he's always trying to teach you something.

She continues, "Granny is working hard to till her land in order to have something to eat and we see spider Anansi taking from the garden. It's about community working together and putting your best foot forward."

The show is mostly for children, and Murphy says she's hoping they will take away how important hard work is.

She says it's OK to have fun while you work hard and wishes the audience feels that energy as well.

"The biggest theme of this piece is hard work in really ramping up your work ethic, when you want something done or you have a goal, you can't just take from people or take the shortcut. You'll also teach yourself by learning some things, so don't be afraid to work hard," Murphy says.

It's important to add that people can accomplish more when they work together, Montgomery adds.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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