COLUMBIA — A Chinese dancer pins her white beaded headpiece as African and ballet dancers stretch against the plush theater chairs in the auditorium of the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. The director, David A. White III, shouts "Places, please," and streams of children and dancers in cultural dress file up the steps to go backstage.
It is the Tuesday night dress rehearsal for the central performance piece of the 16th Annual Columbia Values Diversity Breakfast, and the mix of performers characterizes the theme set out by the event itself.
If you aren't attending the 16th annual Diversity Breakfast on Thursday morning, the celebration will be rebroadcast daily from Saturday to Jan. 23 at 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the Columbia Channel, which is Mediacom Channel 13 and Charter Communications Channel 2.
The feature performance, entitled "Life is a Mystery/Love is a Dancer" showcases over 50 Columbia volunteers ranging from second graders to adults in their late 60s performing the dances and music of different cultures accompanied by spoken word. After only 10 rehearsals, the act will debut Thursday morning at the Holiday Inn Expo Center.
White and co-creator and co-writer Eric Wilson have created their own melting pot. The featured dance styles span the globe and history. Some of the children are learning and performing complicated monologues in foreign languages.
Each of the dance troupes taught the others their respective traditional dances.
"I'm not a professional dancer," said Manasa Ammisetty, a dancer with the Columbia chapter of the Cultural Association of India. "It was very fun learning different styles of dance. We were able to learn to mix cultures."
Wilson said that seeing the different groups dance together was interesting. "You see Indian dancers and flamenco dancers doing the same hand movements. Who knew that they spoke the same language?"
The Columbia Values Diversity planning committee selected White, executive director of the Missouri Theatre, to create the main entertainment for this year's diversity breakfast. White said he decided he wanted to do something unique from the celebration's 15 previous years and recruited local writer Wilson. Together they created the concept and the script behind the performance.
The idea behind the piece, White said, is that "we are all dancing the same dance. Your dance may be different or have some different cultural traits, but we are still using the same spirit and souls to embody it. We are warring within ourselves, as a nation, and as a world. We are living in a broken world. We need to dance more of the dance of love."
This is the message White hopes the audience takes away from the performance at the diversity breakfast.
White said he feels blessed to be involved. "Art is created in a fury and I get to be in the eye of the storm," he said.