Sitting Down with Lesole’s Dance Project: A Better Block Night Preview

This Art Lives Here coordinator had a great opportunity peek in to the inner workings of Lesole’s Dance Project and see how they are putting together their programming for Better Block Night. Check out this interview with the masterminds behind this incredible local group and see how they do creative placemaking every day in Mount Rainier, MD.

What is Lesole’s Dance Project?

We are Lesole’s Dance Project (LDP), a professional dance company grounded in Southern African heritage who uses innovative choreography and an indigenous/contemporary movement vernacular to engage cultural exchange through touring, education and performance. The company has performed nationally at the National Museum of African Art in Philadelphia, Cincinnati Playhouse in Ohio, Michigan State University, and The Harris Theater-Dance Africa Chicago and in the Washington DC area at Dance Africa DC-Dance Place, University of Maryland, Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Internationally, the company has toured the Tarapacá region of Chile, presented by Dance-Forms Productions 64th Annual International Choreographer’s Showcase.

LDP has been improving economically challenged communities across the globe by supporting youth development through the arts. In August 2009, LDP launched its International Edudance Program in the townships of Sebokeng, South Africa. Over the past two years, through our generous volunteers, donors, and sponsors, we provided scholarships to more than 50 at-risk students at elementary schools in the DC Metro area   at no cost. These students were able to engage in cultural exchange after-school program activities and increase awareness of dance as a vital educational tool available to everyone.

What will LDP be doing on Better Block Night?

We will be presenting Revolutions! a community engagement public performance experience that activates the Mount Rainier Roundabout at Rhode Island Ave, Perry St. and 34th St. through MUSIC, DANCE and DRUMMING. The six public space enclaves connected by crosswalks and surrounding the roundabout, will be populated with artists, drummers and dancers who will perform call and response rituals throughout the 6 – 9 pm Better Blocks Project. Revolutions culminates with a moving story, a public procession twice circumnavigating the Mount Rainier Roundabout that evening leading to a dance party @ Ubuntu Nankama Studios at 3802 & 3804 34th St. right off the circle.

Our main activities are:

  • Public dancing and drumming around the traffic circle
  • Transform our Ubuntu Nankama studio store front windows into gallery showcases.
  • FREE dance & drumming workshops at 6:30 and 7:15 and an 8:00pm “Rehearsal”
  • 8:30pm activate Mt. Rainier Traffic Circle with Community Dancing, Drumming & Music.
  • Document the experience with video and new media for interactive storytelling.

What drew LDP to Art Lives Here?

The freedom of the idea really, the challenge to us was what can we do with what we have right now to create something in the built environment and that was fun. We asked ourselves what does it mean to be a Southern African Dance company that explores black culture in Mount Rainier, in the the Gateway Arts District. We’ve been here for 10 years working in the schools and public performances but we really wanted to do something about where we are right now as a company and physically where we work. And we wanted to get to know our neighbors. So we took a look around us and the traffic circle just seemed obvious. We did some research and saw that Rhode Island Avenue  U.S. Route 1 (US 1) is the easternmost and longest of the major north–south routes of the United States Numbered Highway System, running from Key West, Florida to Fort Kent, Maine. When the streetcars were running there was the District Line Station at Rhode Island and 34th St. This location has been a corridor of stories  and passengers for long time and we wanted to tap into that with our own stories and to encourage our neighbors to tell their stories as well.

We thought, what would happen if people would walk or dance around the “traffic” circle if they didn’t have to BE somewhere. When people meet in a circle, everyone occupies a front-seat and everything is interconnected. In In African traditions the “Ring Shout” is a sacred ritual that combines singing with rhythmic shuffle – dancing performed in a counterclockwise-moving circle, in which the participants call to the ancestors for guidance and appeal for open communication within the community.

And a Roundabout is a traditional European design of a circular intersection in which road traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island. In traditional African culture and spirituality, the image of the circle is a prominent feature that permeates all departments of life. The circle is also a symbol of inclusion and interconnectedness with all creation and the completion of a circle is a Revolution. So in creating Revolutions!  we hope to inspire  a meditation on what it means to come full circle as a community.We want to have a call and response rapport with our people.

We also wanted to play with the concept of  the word “revolution.” It has become almost a parlor game in African American culture to come with the next catch phrase riffing off the Gil Scott Herron “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Yes we tried, the closest we got was Revolutions! will be Dancified. Not gonna work. Maybe we should crowd source it.

What does creative placemaking mean to LDP?

According to the US Census, Mount Rainier has an African American population of 62% and with the establishment the Gateway Arts District as a destination for artists to work and live, history and experience indicate gentrification tensions may arise. With Revolutions!, LDP strives to juxtapose this function of cultural transmission, of European design and African ritual, creating a dynamic exchange opportunity where neighbors and business owners, artists and everyday people can engage to define a community’s identity and sense of place. Public congregation has served as a vital cultural rite and civil right in the lives of people of for centuries. Social interaction and en-masse collaboration in the production of music, song and dance provides a means for the purging of cultural barriers. There is no doubt that when the individual body joins a multitude of other individual bodies to form a collective body, an increase in some kind of power happens. The Power of Place.

Anything else you want to tell the Gateway Arts District?

Revolutions is conceived in spirit and in scope of strengthening partnerships with Joe’s Movement Emporium and our neighbor Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio. We want to build upon existing community assets in the Gateway Arts District and the Better Block Project’s mission to bring creative energy to the entrance of Mount Rainier; LDP will fertilize existing seeds, sow creative possibilities and encourage greater participation in the local creative economy. Through our creative process we at LDP intend to involve as many local partners as possible and to make relationships that matter.

In using the Mount Rainier Roundabout, we continue what Bus Stop Bangladesh Artist Monica Jahan Bose’s Art Lives Here project did last year, which is to create innovative uses of public spaces that are accessible to everyday people. We hope this a tradition that continues!

Thanks for talking to us, LDP! We can’t wait to see you in action on Better Block Night, April 25th from 6-10 pm around the Mount Rainier Circle. First time visitors stop by Mount Rainier City Hall at 1 Municipal Pl, Mt Rainier, MD 20712 for a map and list of activities! Remember this event is family friendly and dog friendly. Bring your friends!

Announcing Mount Rainier Better Block Night Activities!

bb hyattsville life and timesIt’s almost here! Better Block Night returns to Mount Rainier, MD with a juicy line-up of fun, free, family friendly events to get you out and about walking the streets of this incredible community. Many local businesses will keeping their doors open late and offering up some tantalizing specials for one night only. Local artist gems from around the Gateway Arts District will be popping up in front of Mount Rainier City Hall, around the Mount Rainier Circle, and even in a campaign office throughout the evening. Check out our list of events here, and remember, it’s not to late to get involved! Email or call Neena at or 301-699-1819 to see how you can be a part of Better Block Night 2014!

Better Block Night Activities: It’s all FREE!

Art Lives Here Creative Placemaking Events

Lesole’s Dance Project: 6 – 10 pm
3802 34th St, Mt Rainier, MD 20712

Join Lesole’s Dance Project for an evening worth of dance and drumming. Workshops will be held at 6:30 pm and 7:15pm to teach community members African dance and drum basics to put into action during an 8:30 pm parade. An after party starts at 9 showcasing the beautiful new storefront improvements of this incredible local gem.

Kenny George and Patrick McDonough: 6 – 8 pm
3310-3378 Rhode Island Ave, Mount Rainier, MD 20712

Art and gardening mix beautifully in a temporary installation of reincarnated planters with chard and hops and window treatments on the vacant building at the corner of Perry Street and Rhode Island Avenue. View Kenny’ s Mount Rainier Sears Home-inspired beer labels and Patrick’s chard planters. Then head over to Urban Eats to taste local brews.

Urban Eats Arts & Music Café: 6 – 10 pm
3311 Rhode Island Ave, Mt Rainer, MD 20712

Urban Eats will host local brewers for a beer swap and tasting of Maryland’s finest home grown hops from 7-10pm. Outside, Aruraag Pendyal will play a reincarnated piano, rescued from a landfill resting place by local piano restorer Jonah Blaustein and painted by local artist Nehemiah Dixon III. Another piano prime for reincarnation will on 34th Street for the community to contribute their own mark-making inspiration.

Krista Schlyer’s Ecology: 6- 10 pm
4213 34th St. Mount Rainier, MD 20712

Join Schlyer and host MD State Delegate Candidate Jimmy Tarlau in his campaign office for an exhibit of images and photo collages designed to help viewers see and know the Anacostia River that runs through the very heart of our communities. This pop-up exhibit evokes consciousness of time and place as it is felt in the watershed, the seasons of life, from summer, winter, spring and fall, to the seasons of vitality, abuse, neglect, and recovery. Light refreshments will be served.

Community Mosaic 6 – 8 pm
3310-3378 Rhode Island Ave, Mount Rainier, MD 20712

Beloved Community Mosaics is a group of local artists and activists providing opportunities for community mosaic projects. Their mantra, “We believe that every individual needs to feel loved, to be a part of a community, and to have opportunities to express themselves through art.” The group will provide a family-friendly, hands-on arts activity on Rhode Island Avenue.

Performances and Activities

BOOMscat Powers Hoop Jam: 7 – 8:30 pm
1 Municipal Pl, Mt Rainier, MD 20712

The Peace and Body Roll Duo of BOOMscat and hula hooping star Noelle Powers pair up for a jam session at City Hall Plaza. Stop by early for core building lessons in hooping and stay to experience how music should always be enjoyed, through movement. and

Community Forklift: 6 – 8pm
Corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Perry Street West

Family-friendly craft table will have reclaimed items to make new treasures.

Food and Drink

Party Time Liquors: 6 – 8 pm
3307 Rhode Island Ave, Mt Rainier, MD 20712

This local Rhode Island Avenue wine and spirits store will open its doors for a wine tasting. Meet your neighbors and sample some vino.

Island Style Ice Cream: 6 – 9 pm
3829 34th St # 2, Mt Rainier, MD 20712

Be sure to stop by this community favorite ice cream shop and experience Jamaican-inspired flavors like rum-raisin, guava, grapenut, ginger and stout. The shop will extend their hours to 9 pm and offer special discounts for one night only.

Circle Deli and Grill Friday Fish Fry: 6-8 pm
3405 Rhode Island Ave Mount Rainier, MD 20712

Circle Deli owner Intisar opens her doors late for an outdoor Friday Fish Fry right on Mount Rainier Circle. Delicious discounted eats available from this independent, local-owned eatery for one night only!

Arts Focused Shopping

Mon Cheri Haitian Fine Arts: 6 – 10 pm
3301, Rhode Island Ave, Mt. Rainier, MD 20712

This local art gallery opens it’s doors for a fine arts reception where visitors can sample light fare and consider the owner’s collection of paintings and sculptures by artists of international acclaim as well as contemporary artists on the rise. All the works are for sale.

Art Iz Gallery: 6 – 10 pm
3311C Rhode Island Ave, Mt Rainier, MD 20712

The Art Iz Gallery Lounge is a space for artists and art lovers. A collective of artists, art makers, tattoo artists, hair stylists, and fashion gurus will have samples of special made Art Iz crab cakes available and a special trunk sale discount on all merchandise including furniture, paintings, jewelry, clothing and more!

Trunk Show Luxe Boutique: 6 – 10pm
3311C Rhode Island Ave, Mt Rainier, MD 20712

Part of the Art Iz collective, this amazing boutique offers new, but discounted clothes and accessories. During an open house, explore their collection and consider their personal shopping services.

Revive Community Acupuncture: 6 – 8 pm
3808 34th St, Mt Rainier, MD 20712

Revive is part of a grass-roots revolution in acupuncture and healthcare. Stop by for light refreshments and an opportunity to learn how acupuncture can improve your wellness at their affordable sliding rate prices.

Ani Kasten Ceramics: 6 – 10 pm
3815 34th Street, Mount Rainier, Maryland 20712

Stop by the ArtBar for wine or coffee and check out the work of local ceramic artist Ani Kasten, Sarah Nikitopoulos and Elle Brande.

Adinkra Cultural Center: 6 – 10 pm
3804 34th Street – Mt. Rainier, MD 20712

The Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio is small performing arts studio with a focus on African diasporal cultural arts, health/fitness and community development. Stop by for an open house and experience the drum and dance classes they offer.


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Opening the Open Studios Tour Door: An Interview with Tim McLoraine

Art Lives Here got a chance to chat with Tim McLoraine, one of the great minds working on the Gateway Arts District 10th Annual Open Studios Tour coming up on May 10th.

What is the Open Studios Tour?

The Gateway Open Studio Tour is a one-day arts festival featuring the rich creative fabric that stretches across the Gateway Arts District of Prince George’s County Maryland. On May 10th, we’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of this unparalleled event! From 12-5pm, the public is invited to explore the wealth of artist studios, galleries, and other creative spaces that line the one and a half mile stretch of Route 1 from Mount Rainier to Hyattsville. And from 5-8pm, artists and visitors are encouraged to gather for an after-party and opening receptions at the Gateway Arts Center in Brentwood.


Why should people come?

For people interested in art, creativity and community, the Gateway Open Studio Tour provides a unique opportunity to get immersed in a place where artists and arts organizations have established a friendly and supportive network. Come and visit with the artists in their workspaces, see the creative process up close, even purchase art directly from the makers. Spend time in the galleries and arts establishments, learn about their classes and programs, enjoy their exhibitions.

What is different about the Open Studios Tour this year?

The 2014 Tour will feature a few new sites and venues from previous years. Ceramic artist Ani Kasten has opened her beautiful new studio and gallery space, Artbar, just off the traffic circle on 34th Street in Mount Rainier. Artbar is also home to artists Elle Brande and Sarah Nikitopoulos. The Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center has opened it’s new gallery space in their North Brentwood location just up Rhode Island Avenue from the ezStorage Studios. Members of the Hyattsville Community Arts Alliance, traditionally showing at Franklin’s Restaurant, will have a group show at the artDC Gallery located in the EYA development in Hyattsville.


What are you most excited about the Open Studios Tour?

What gets me the most excited about the Open Studio Tour is two-fold. It’s seeing friends, neighbors and frequent visitors to the Arts District coming together to relish and celebrate what makes this area such a special place. And then it’s hearing from first time visitors the genuine surprise they experience when seeing the range of talent, creativity, and the shear numbers of people and organizations that have put down roots here to devote their time and energy to the arts.

open studios tour website

Learn more about the Open Studios Tour! Click here.