TAMPA — There is an explosion of energy and movement on certain weeknights in West Tampa. Shoeless dancers stomp their feet as they move across the dance floor and drummers pound out vibrant eats and rhythms.
Natalie Jackson leads the students in a variety of traditional West African dances. She demonstrates the movements, then watches as the students perform the moves while she claps the beat. Jackson doesn’t take a moment to catch her breath during the high-octane classes.
“It’s very rewarding to share African culture and dance,” said Jackson, who by day is a kindergarten teacher at Mitchell Elementary in Tampa. “I love dancing. African dance is my favorite. The drums are so melodic, and it’s spiritual.”
The African dance for children and adults is one part of a larger program created by two West Tampa sisters who say they want to use their successes to give back to the community where they grew up and saw their mother thrive.
Five years ago, Sydel LeGrande and her sister, Sybil Johnson, formed an arts outreach program called the Taproot Community Cultural Center to connect with youths and adults through dance, painting, theater, poetry and music. Taproot is under the umbrella of the nonprofit Fruit of Glory Ministries created by LeGrande.
“We want to have a cultural voice in the community,” said LeGrande, a family practice doctor in Tampa.
On Tuesday and Thursday nights, Taproot provides free classes in African dance for children and adults. The center also offers drumming classes, and there are modern ballet and zumba classes on Saturdays for a fee. The organization has plans to add ballet and salsa classes.
From June 9 to Aug. 1, Taproot Community Cultural Center will host a summer program called Summer Sizzle, for children. The classes, which will cost $50 a week per student, will include painting, drawing, sculpting, music and poetry with an emphasis on the Harlem Renaissance.
“I like to do innovative things and bring the arts to people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to learn,” said Johnson, the director of Taproot Community Cultural Center.
Johnson holds a doctorate from Florida State University in theater. Now retired, she has taught locally at Hillsborough Community College and St. Petersburg College. Internationally, she has taught theater at American Samoa Community College and the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.
“I’ve always had a heart for the community and for kids who maybe wouldn’t have an opportunity,” said Johnson, 63, who lives in West Tampa.
Johnson is working on making Taproot Community Cultural Center its own nonprofit and separating from the larger organization, Fruit of Glory Ministries, an urban ministry that assists people in the area. The move will allow Taproot an opportunity to seek more grants, Johnson said.
Taproot has operated from several locations in Tampa, but for the past year it has been in the heart of West Tampa, 1917 North Howard Ave., where the group has been more visible.
“Our whole purpose is to continue to serve the community, to be more effective in the community we’re serving,” said LeGrande, 56, the founder of Taproot Community Cultural Center.
LeGrande funds and support Taproot Community Cultural Center through her medical practice.
“I have to do my part,” LeGrande said. “Someone has to be a part of the solution. God has blessed me, so it’s important to me to be a blessing.”
LeGrande said she’s inspired by her mother, Sybil Barnes, the first black woman who worked as a speech therapist with the Hillsborough County School District and who later became an administrator with Hillsborough Community College, LeGrande said.
Taproot Community Cultural Center can be contacted at (813) 642-7224 or at www.taproot communityculturalcenter .com.