Black woman dances on the street with headphones in.


The Reason I Dance: Emancipation

Aug 1, 2022

Freedom means different things to a lot of people. But when you have to continually fight for it, it shows up with a heavy price tag. As a descendant of enslaved Africans, I understand that well enough. The day I read a news article where the House of Commons declared August 1 as Emancipation Day, I was elated, saddened and pensive all at the same time. What did this mean for me and my community going forward? Will I see a change how others react to my Blackness?

I wonder if I will still be subjected to silence when I speak about the evil perpetrated against Black people back then and the injustices I face now. Would this acknowledgement of the atrocities committed against my forebearers build a bridge where I can engage in critical conversations for my own healing?

E.M. Uzoamaka writes about when her daughter’s teacher showed up to school in Blackface. Unfortunately, it wasn't the first time she experienced racism at her school.

As I reflect on what emancipation means to me, I realize that I want to teach my children a part of our history that I have taken for granted over the years. And that is to dance. In the Afro-Caribbean community, dancing is often seen as vulgar and degrading. Some even see it as too sexual to be socially acceptable, which is why I was careful about when and where I did it. When I discovered that my ancestors used to dance, that movement was part of my story, my reluctance to move to the rhythms slowly changed.

"I emancipate myself through the art of dance."

My people used dancing as a way to communicate and transcend through their suffering. They danced to celebrate a birth; they danced around plantation campfires at night to convey the feeling they couldn’t express verbally; they danced to garner hope for another day. And when the fires of slavery were extinguished and its ashes laid to rest, they danced to celebrate their freedom.

Today I dance for my healing, health and mindset. I dance to teach and educate my children about the richness of our culture that helped our ancestors through the darkest times in our history. While others may see this as another act passed in Ottawa to officially acknowledge a day within the Black communities in Canada, I see this as an opportunity. Now is the time to engage and teach others about the significance of why we dance, and the mental freedom it brings. I emancipate myself through the art of dance.

While the atrocities committed against my ancestors are forever etched on the glass of time, I look past those stains. I see how they persevered and stayed resilient through movement. My children are learning that dancing is a part of who they are. And that there are actual health benefits from the act of moving their bodies to music. Now they aren’t surprised when I am cooking and winding to the beat of sweet Caribbean music, or rocking slowly to the mesmerizing beat of the conga drums.

True Daley organized the family-friendly Walk Against Racism to bring the community together and create a safe space for students to share their experiences with discrimination.

For this year’s Afrofest and Toronto Caribbean Carnival, I’ll be celebrating more than a festival. I will be re-enacting the movements of survival and the unheard moans of hope. I will embody the willpower to dance in the face of adversity and the freedom to be treated and seen as equal in this society.

If you happen to see me dancing on the streets of Toronto this summer, it's my way to emancipate myself from the world’s injustices for a day. My ancestors have set an example and there is no better way to celebrate a new chapter of our history in Canada than to take a moment to dance.

Happy Emancipation Day!

Article Author E.M. Uzoamaka
E.M. Uzoamaka

E.M. Uzoamaka is a three-time published Barbadian Canadian author, entrepreneur, parenting and lifestyle expert and well-being facilitator. As a vegan enthusiast, she sits on the Queen Victoria Black Student Success Committee as their food and well-being coordinator; she along with the group are the recipients of the Urban Alliance 2021 Racial Justice education award. When she isn’t facilitating, she can be found on Instagram @chic_coffeedence_vegan sharing healthy family-friendly meals and treats.

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