As the 20th anniversary of Afrochique —  a club supporting women interested in learning and performing African dance — approached, incoming executive board members envisioned how they could celebrate their predecessors while expanding the club’s lasting legacy.

The club previously competed in local dance competitions with fellow University of Maryland African dance team Diazporić. Afrochique’s administrative co-president Naahdia Mundi said reflecting on this time inspired the club to bring a similar platform to younger performers.

“We thought that it would be really nice for high schoolers to have that same opportunity to really just show the community their talents and love for their culture,” the senior public health science major said. “Growing up as minorities in predominantly white areas or just areas that didn’t have as much representation for us, we wanted high schoolers to have something to look forward to in regards to African culture.” 

This vision came to life Saturday night during Afrochique’s presentation of  “The Next-Gen: High School ASA Dance Battles.” Dynamic performances by teams from Howard and Prince George’s county schools ignited Stamp’s Student Union’s Hoff Theater in a celebration of culture, heritage and youth creativity.

Dancers from Eleanor Roosevelt High School, DuVal High School, Largo High School and Reservoir High School combined with Hammond High School competed for a cash prize in four rounds: creative, traditional, tag team freestyle and captain vs. captain. 

“This is a new event for us,” said Chelsea Amadi-Emina, who heads the club’s outreach committee. “We’ve never really hosted an event as a team, so we were learning as we were going on about it.” 

Amadi-Emina, a senior information science major, added that outreach and promotion for Next Gen was done primarily by Afrochique, and that organizing and focusing on community engagement was a huge learning experience for the group.

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Throughout the night, each team demonstrated their musicality, versatility, innovation and stage presence for the packed theater. The groups’ pieces featured multiple genres including globally popular styles such as trench and amapiano.

Ranging from Roosevelt’s AfroSync team smoothly swiping votes as hot pink masked robbers to DuVal High School embodying community members punishing a womanizer for his antics, the creative round allowed full storytelling and genre control for the performers.

Following the creative round, the teams changed into traditional garments to showcase the culture and rhythms of Ghana, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon for the next round’s competition.  

Mundi said that following this presentation, she hopes Afrochique can continue to host the event annually and cultivate a love for African culture and dance across Maryland and nationwide.

“Doing the behind the scenes work and checking in on the highschoolers, we can already see that they have been putting in research through this [tradition] round specifically,” Mundi said. “That’s very wholesome knowing that they’re spending time to understand the traditions of other cultures.”

The showcase extended beyond the competition by featuring a myriad of local talent. Next Gen had performances from African DMV musicians like Yungseriki and Meka Luxx as well as dance groups Diazporić, Dem’ Raider Boyz Step Squad — a nationally recognized all-male step team from Greenbelt — and Afrochique themselves taking the stage to perform. Pop-up food and clothing vendors also served attendees before the show and during intermission. 

The anticipation to declare a winner continued to grow, but the high spirits of the room never wavered. Competitors and attendees bounced energy off each other in every performance, filling the room with unbridled school pride and excitement for the competition. 

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It was this energy that encouraged DuVal High School senior and competitor Vierdonie Toto to push through and excel with her team.

“This is my first competition, so it’s definitely a first time experience and I loved it so much,” Toto said. “It was definitely a lot of work, me and my team, we were stressing out but literally at the end of the show, we really did that.” 

The battles grew fierce as the evening progressed, with the final two rounds featuring freestyle performances from selected dancers and their captains. In groups of four, performers had to think fast on their feet to match the genre of a selected song. 

After each team’s captains competed in the final round of battles, the room grew quiet as lights dimmed and phone cameras went up. It was time to announce a winner. With bated breath, the room erupted in cheers when DuVal High School was crowned the winners.

Toto, still elated from DuVal’s win, encouraged others to keep pushing towards their goals no matter how hard the work can get. 

“We really came a long way and I’m so proud of my team,” Toto said. “I can’t believe that we won, like wow.”