Performer uses songs, dance from Africa, South Pacific in one-woman show

January 20, 1995|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

The Gypsy Dance Bringer appears onstage with a song in her heart, a cymbal in her hand and a basket on her head.

But she is not a Gypsy, nor does she perform Gypsy dances.

Inspired by the ancient Middle Eastern tradition of introducing music and dress to other cultures, Maria Broom performs the songs and dance of Africa, the Far East and South Pacific in a theatrical and educational show.

Ms. Broom will perform at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Jan. 29 in Smith Theatre at Howard Community College for the Candlelight Concert Society's Performing Art Series for Children.

"The word 'Gypsy' comes from the Egyptians who left their country and went to Europe to bring their dance and song and colorful outfits," said Ms. Broom, who added that she "always had an affinity for the ancient Egyptians."

The Gypsy Dance Bringer is a character in a one-woman show that takes audiences to different countries and continents in 50 minutes. "It's a theatrical piece," Ms. Broom said. "She talks, asks questions, sings and changes costume."

A barefooted Ms. Broom, dressed flamboyantly in layered red skirt, yellow and red pantaloons and gold-decorated veil, opens the show playing the zils, a North African finger cymbal.

"It's something American children never see close-up, a woman with a basket on her head, bells on her ankles, barefoot," she said. "I am a novel curiosity, something out of a dream."

Her performances change culture as quickly as she changes costume. In view of her audience, she will don African robes or a Hawaiian grass skirt, describing each piece.

A professional dancer and educator, Ms. Broom developed the multi-cultural program six years ago for Young Audiences of Maryland, an organization that provides educational entertainment to schools as part of the Maryland State Arts Council's Artists in Education program. She has also been invited as guest artist for Young Audiences of Virginia.

"The show includes geography and social studies, and is participatory," she said. "I ask questions. I ask about continents and oceans and countries."

In fact, the show has become one of Young Audiences most requested programs.

"She's incredible," said Pat Thomas, executive director of Young Audiences. "She's one of our premier artists. We keep doing the Gypsy Dance Bringer because it's so popular.

"It's her presentation and personality. She brings a unique approach to the way she talks to children. She's a Maryland treasure."

The 45-year-old Baltimore native was recognized for her work two years ago when she was presented the 1993 Eubie Blake Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts.

A former television news reporter who has performed in Baltimore's avant-garde theater and appeared in two Hollywood movies, "Clara's Heart" and "Black Widow," Ms. Broom began her multi-faceted career at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore as a student of dance theater.

The daughter of a 30-year Baltimore kindergarten teacher, Ruth Bond of Columbia, she graduated from Morgan State University in 1970 with a major in elementary school education. She also was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study dance for a year in Berlin.

After her studies, she worked for a year as a flight attendant for Pan-American Airlines. During a stop-over at Miami International Airport in 1972, Ms. Broom's flight crew was interviewed for a story on airport security by the Miami television news station, WPLG-TV, an ABC affiliate. Members of the camera crew were so taken with Ms. Broom that they suggested she audition as a reporter.

"They liked my voice and my presence," Ms. Broom said.

One month later she was hired as a general assignment and arts and entertainment reporter.

The next year, she transferred to WJZ-TV, the ABC affiliate in Baltimore, as a consumer affairs reporter. After reporting the "Public Defender" and "Consumer Power" features from 1974 to 1977, she returned to dancing.

"Media wears you out. It was a lot of pressure," she said. "I always wanted to dance. So I quit and have been dancing ever since."

That year, Ms. Broom opened the Kinetic Pleasure dance studio in Baltimore, but closed it for two years to study international dance at UCLA. She returned to Baltimore in 1980 to study dance therapy at Goucher College.

In 1985, she traveled to the hills of Kohala in Hawaii to study Hawaiian dance, staying until 1987. There, she was offered the role in "Sister, Can I Speak for You?," a one-woman play about six historical black women. The show, produced by the African American Drama Company in San Francisco, brought her to Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., for rehearsals and a six-month tour.

After two years, she returned to Baltimore to teach dance at local colleges, including traditional Hawaiian and ethnic/jazz dance at the Peabody Institute for three years, and yoga at Maryland prisons.

"The inmates liked it," she said. "A lot of them were into fitness. It was relaxing, it gave them time to focus."

For the last five years, she has been the host of "44 Minutes," a weekly Baltimore City cable talk show sponsored by the Mayor's Office of Cable and Communications.

Locally, she performed for two years with her ethnic dance company Dance Wahini at The Mall in Columbia. In June, she will perform, for a second year, a variation on the Gypsy Dance Bringer at The Columbia Festival of the Arts.

But it is her work in the inner-city schools that brings her the most gratification.

"There is so much love and affection coming back from the children, it's overwhelming," she said.

"Even these hardened children are touched by the bells and sweet smells of incense, and are eager to listen to the stories. If you can make them drop their jaws, then you've succeeded."

The Candlelight Concert Society's Performing Art Series for Children will present "The Gypsy Dance Bringer" at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Jan. 29 in Smith Theatre at Howard Community College. Tickets are $6. Information: 715-0034.

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