By Stacy M. Brown
After years of living in other cities and overseas, Adalia Ellis came home to Florence and founded the community hotspot, Aroha Afro Latin Dance, at the Healing Arts Exchange on West Palmetto Street.
Ellis noted that Aroha Afro Latin Dance is the result of lots of hard work, learning, and love. The Palmetto State native blends her love of teaching with her love of dance by offering classes in Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, Cumbia, and Merengue.
“I have received lots of opportunities and blessings from people, particularly the elders in my Faith community, and I believe to whom much is given much is expected,” Ellis stated.
“I always knew I would come home to do my part to move our community forward. My first reason for coming home was to be a part of grassroots education efforts being undertaken by Baha’is living here. My second reason was to diversify the arts community by offering dance classes and events that feature Afro-Latin dances such as Merengue, Bachata, Salsa and Kizomba,” she said.
Aroha Afro Latin Dance provides a positive space for those who desire to participate in the art of dance while enjoying an experience they can remember for years to come, Ellis noted.
Just as Salsa is a vibrant mix of different cultures, we mix tempo and various styles of Latin dance to provide a good time to those who enter our doors, she said.
“I cannot describe the joy that teaching and dancing bring to my life. I love seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter that learning an art form can evoke,” Ellis said.
“I view dance as a whole person wellness activity. It is great physical exercise. It is great for mental acuity. It releases dopamine, which is a hormone that brings happiness, promoting heart, and soul health.”
There’s a variety of reasons Ellis said clients have mentioned for attending Aroha.
Those reasons include relieving stress after a long day of work; fulfilling long-held dreams; to meet a partner or connect with a loved one, or even to overcome grief like divorce or the death of someone close.
“They also want to do something that allows them to reconnect to who they are outside of work, parenting, and being a spouse,” Ellis stated.
While some might think it’s challenging to learn, Ellis notes that under the direction of Aroha’s excellent instructors, many find it surprising how easy it is to learn.
“Most of the time, it’s so easy that people complicate it. The dances I teach are rooted in the African diaspora and are a blend of African, Native, and European musical and social dance influences,” Ellis added.
“Most of them, except Kizomba, which originated in Angolan, is derived from slave work dances and music. The dances I teach are unique in that you share the movement with a partner, and they are meant to do socially.”
Ellis continued, “So the emphasis is on being social and participating. The space I create is meant for people to dance with one another, whether they know each other or not. This creates a sense of community and encourages friendships. These dances also draw on the importance of healthy relationships between women and men. They both have a role to play in the partnership, which requires trust and respect for boundaries.
Ellis began teaching at the Soule Café in 2017.
At the time, about 15 people would come for lessons every two weeks. However, once school was in session, there were very few participants.
“What I have had is a steady stream of people coming to classes. Sometimes only one. Sometimes there are groups,” Ellis said.
“I have to admit that there have been times I wanted to quit. I think something people don’t realize is that if you want to see something remain available, you have to support it.”
“There is a reciprocal energy transfer that happens between offering a service and people accepting it. Luckily, in those moments I was ready to throw in the towel, I would receive a message from someone encouraging me, get a request to do a performance, or teach a gig or new students show up.
“For me, the money is not as important as the people, and if the people show up, I know what I do is of value. Because people have been showing up, the future is exciting.”
Ellis recently acquired her own studio space, which allows her to offer a broader range of dance classes and other projects.
She has developed and began teaching a course on the History of Afro-Latin Dance and Music at Francis Marion University – one of very few of its kind in the United States.
“I am so happy that Dr. Tuttle of the Honors Department allowed me to offer it. For their course final, the students will be performing at FMU’s Arts International Festival on April 18,” Ellis said.
She’s also hosting the second annual Convergence Symposium on March 28, which focuses on using the arts as a means of healing, education, community building, raising awareness, and history telling.
Ellis will partner with Mingle of the Pee Dee and receive financial support from the Florence Regional Arts Alliance to offer the unique event, which includes The Afro Latin Soiree at Soule Cafe.
To sign up for classes, visit www.ArohaAfroLatinDance.com.
For those seeking regular updates, they can like and follow Aroha Afro Latin Dance on Facebook and Instagram. They can also join the Facebook group, Florence Latin Dance Family.