Morro Bay dancers featured during Juneteenth

The Central Coast Rhythm and Dance troupe from Morro Bay was part of the annual Juneteenth festival in San Luis Obispo on June 15. (Photo by Camas Frank)

SAN LUIS OBISPO   As of January 2019 the Central Coast Rhythm and Dance troupe have been meeting on Wednesday evenings out of their new home in the Omni Studio at 698 Morro Bay Blvd.

Working under variations on that name for about 18 years they’ve had several teachers, most recently Mory Bangoura from Guinea, in West Africa, but as, long time group member Bruce Ogilvie explains, members and teachers have come and gone as life gets in the way.

Still, Jenny Appell said, she’d been thrilled to step in teaching what they’ve learned to newcomers, of all ages, at the group’s weekly meetings and at events such as the recent Juneteenth Celebration and Wellness Fair in San Luis Obispo.

“There is a lot of joy in being allowed to share this dance style and celebration,” Appell said, noting that the rhythms can be picked up fairly quickly by all ages, as was demonstrated during their showcase on June 15 at the SLO Veterans Memorial Building.

The point of their activities, Ogilvie said, is to share the traditional stories and dances shared with them as faithfully as possible, which was why they were happy to be called on for a second year to perform at the Juneteenth festival put on by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) SLO County.

It was also the second year an event was formally organized by the NAACP in San Luis Obispo for the commemoration of June 19, 1865, the day when 2,000 Union troops arrived on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The historic occasion took place two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had given slaves in the rebelling South legal freedom under Union law.   On the day that became known as, “Juneteenth,”  U.S. Army Gen. Gordon Granger, read his orders to the City of Galveston, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

It was six months after the end of the war.

In the County of San Luis Obispo, event organizer Cheryl Vines, chapter secretary for the NAACP, said the commemoration this year was much larger than their first in 2018, and they were able to show official recognition with a proclamation from the County Board of Supervisors honoring the occasion on the third Saturday of June.

“It’s all about freedom,” she said, noting that being aware of health and happiness go hand in hand with the joy of being free to choose your own destiny.

The County of San Luis Obispo’s Behavioral Health Department teamed up with the NAACP for the Wellness Fair; included in addition to music, food, entertainment and vendors this year, a panel discussion was held on, “Healthy Living: Body, Spirit and Mind.”

While themes were applicable to all, particular attention was paid to the stresses and challenges faced by minorities in the community.

One of those stresses, said longtime Morro Bay resident Julia Meyers, was in not knowing all of the cultural elements important to one’s heritage. Though a celebration adopted through large swathes of the country after the Civil War, Juneteenth only became known to California after the Dust Bowl brought farmers from the American Midwest. She, in turn, learned of its history from the visitors that call Morro Bay a weekend home from Fresno and Bakersfield.

“There are a lot of connections we don’t think about,” she said.

The African Dancers have a schedule online at: afrodance.net

And future events through the NAACP are listed at: naacpslocty.org

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