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Heritage Month Celebration Latin American Culture

At the USDA with the Traditional Music Society's Samba group playing

25 September 2008
United States Department of Agriculture, Kansas City, Missouri


Traditional Music Society: Trio Tropical - Pablo Larosa, Gary Helm, Bird Fleming
Traditional Music Society's: Trio Tropical - Left to right: Pablo Larosa, Gary Helm, Bird Fleming

Salsa with Michelle Cain and Victor Mabu
Salsa with Michelle Cain and Victor Mabu
Traditional Music Society: Trio Tropical - Pablo Larosa, Gary Helm, Bird Fleming
"Traditional Music Society: Trio Tropical" Pablo Larosa, Gary Helm, Bird Fleming
Welcome message: Jaime G. Martinez, Chairperson Hispanic Council
Welcome message: Jaime G. Martinez, Chairperson Hispanic Council
Guest Speaker: The Hispanic Culture - Thomas Alonzo
Guest Speaker: "The Hispanic Culture" Thomas Alonzo
Gary Helm - Trio Tropical
Gary Helm - Trio Tropical
Pablo Larosa - Trio Tropical
Pablo Larosa - Trio Tropical
Bird Fleming - Trio Tropical
Bird Fleming - Trio Tropical
Argentina Tango and Samba: Peter Theoharis, Eleanor DaCosta
Argentina Tango and Samba: Eleanor DaCosta and Peter Theoharis
Dance Finale: Judi Field and Victor Mabu
Dance Finale: Judi Field and Victor Mabu
Michelle Cain and Victor Mabu leading a quick lesson in salsa
Michelle Cain and Victor Mabu leading a quick lesson in salsa
Samba: Peter Theoharis and Eleanor DaCosta
Samba: Peter Theoharis and Eleanor DaCosta


Tractors, Security and Presentations

So you would expect what, tractors, at the department of agriculture? Well maybe, but I'll bet they can't get past the airport-like security barriers and metal detectors plus xray machine at the door. I was so amazed that when the security officer asked me what I was there for I repliled, "To shoot people." Oh, No! Did I really say that? He looked at me.

So I went to clarify that I meant shooting with cameras. But you know how when we say "NOT something or other" we tend to not hear the "not?" Well, as I am thinking "NOT gun, cameras," with some alarm I heard my mouth say, "Gun." Oh, I did correct that fast. Just glad these were Kansas City officers, not Boston cops who go bonkers for flashing lights.

Anyway, we had persons with the heritage month culture show escort us back to the presentation area. A nice, big, clean, pleasant assembly room with integrated audio-visual systems. In fact, they have a terrific AV department and Nicole and myself got a cook's tour of their AV facility. Nice equipment too. Very up to date with Canon HDV cams, Premiere editors and disk duplicators. They can record conferences and presentations right from the back work room.

Oh, I meant to mention my own background regarding those tractor expectations. While I wasn't raised on a farm, my stepdad was so I had a lot of farm-time visits as a kid not to mention that we always had some acreage south of town (Columbus, NE) with stream, horses, pole barn and tractor (Ford 8N, small-farm small tractor). His father worked the land with mules. Not until his brother, Uncle Bud worked the farm, did that change. Bud was the one who introduced mechanical methods to the farm. I still remember, as a small kid the wood stove, outdoor toilet and old crank-handle phone (were are talking early to mid-50's yet). I also remember when they got electricity and Aunt Lil had to adjust to an electric stove, and Bud would show off each larger Farmall (International Harvester) or John Deere tractor and the ever larger plows, discs or harrows the newest tractor could pull. So, I wasn't really thinking of an urban setting, complete with security entrances. Not for an ag offices. I can only imagine what they would have thought had we shown up with squirrel guns (what we used to call 22s) so we could walk the wind break looking for squirrel meat or a 410 shotgun looking for game birds.

So, okay, after the cook's tour we come back to the assembly room and set up cameras in the center, right along with the USDA cameraswhile Trio Tropical (Bird Fleming, Gary Helm and Pablo Larossa) are getting the sound to work. Everyone recording the event. Programs were handed out and later I scanned in the program for the bottom of this page (below).

Michelle Cain had organized the show. She is also a regular social dancer on the Kansas City scene along with friends Victor Mabu, Peter Theoharis and Eleanor DaCosta and Judi Field (another of the USDA workers).

The USDA building in SE KC (off of 63rd street) is pretty large with a lot of employees. This show was put on by and for those employees. And they really worked on it, this wasn't some quick book report. Tom Alonzo had a very well prepared piece on Hispanic culture with many historical and cultural notes.


The USDA Program (scanned from the printed program)

Heritage Month Celebration Latin American Culture

"Getting Involved: Our Families, Our Community, Our Nation"

Jaime G. Martinez, Chairperson Hispanic Council

Guest Speaker:
"The Hispanic Culture"
Thomas Alonzo

Musical Performance:
"Traditional Music Society Trio Tropical"
Bird Fleming, Gary Helm, Pablo Larosa

Latin Dance History:
Bird Fleming

Dance Demonstration:
Victor Mabu, Michelle Cain

Argentina Tango and Samba:
Peter Theoharis, Eleanor DaCosta

Dance Finale:
Victor Mabu Judi Field

Closing Remarks:
Jaime G. Martinez, Chairperson Hispanic Council

Marsha Young,
EEO/CR Special Emphasis Program Manager

Musical Performance: Traditional Music Society Trio Tropical

Velton Fleming, Gary Helm, and Pablo Larosa collaborated to form the band, "Traditional Music Society Trio Tropical". Velton (Bird) Ellington Fleming, originally of Washington, DC, developed a desire to study and play music in his fifth grade band class. After learning the recorder, C concert flute, and clarinet, he decided to play drums. Rightfully so, drumming fit in perfectly with the rhythm and blues and Latin music that were so much a part of his parents' household-his mother is African-American and his father is of Puerto Rican decent. His parents could not afford to purchase a drum set, so he settled for bongos instead.

In his latter years of high school, he began observing Hispanics playing their traditional music in the community parks. It was during this time he met Simbo Goodman, an African drummer and subsequently his first instructor. By the age of 20, Bird Fleming was proficient in a variety of African and Afro-Cuban instruments: congas, bongos, bells, shakere, and the djembe drum. But his studies were far from complete. Soon after this period, he began playing with such notables as a Babatunde Oluntunji, Melvin Deal, Frank Colon (presently with Manhattan Transfer), and Gil Scott Herron.

In the 1970's, Bird's career led him to San Francisco, where he continued to perform. But most importantly during this time, he began studying the sophisticated intricacies which form the basis for traditional hand drumming. Concepts such as hand technique, rhythmic theory, apart playing, and poly-rhythms were all essential to his studies. While studying with Baba Darru, Marcos Gordaon and C.K. Kedzepko in San Francisco, he became well versed in three major styles of traditional drumming: African, Afro-Cuban, and Brazillian.

Bird Fleming moved from San Francisco to Kansas City in 1981, making Kansas City his home. Since that time, he has performed and taught traditional music in schools, community centers, and universities throughout the metropolitan area. In addition to teaching and performing, he is the founder of Manos, New Village, and Maus do Samba, three folkloric ensembles performing locally. Mr. Fleming is a former member of BCR, a local, original music world beat band.

Bird's most recent and cherished project is the formation of The Traditional Music Society, an arts organization devoted to multi-cultural education. This organization, composed of musicians and dancers sharing a similar background in folk music, has developed a program which teaches different cultures through music and dance.

Though his musical travels have ended in Kansas City, Mr. Fleming's career continues. He considers himself fortunate to be able to maintain his studies with teachers Augustine Romero from Cuba, Abu Bukar from West Africa, and Moacyr Marchini from Brazil as well as continue to perform.

Guest Speaker: Thomas Alonzo

Thomas (Tom) Alonzo is a veteran of the United States Air Force with 31 years of Federal Service. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Tom was raised in Kansas City, Kansas and considers himself a native Dot (Wyandotte County) and Kansan. Tom spent nearly 9 years in Florida, Arizona, Texas, California, and Hawaii before returning to the Heartland to make it his permanent home. Tom has been employed by the IRS for 22 years and is currently a Management and Program Analyst for the Accounts Management Directorate of the IRS's Kansas City Campus. Tom is a past Chairperson for the Federal Executive Board's Hispanic Employment Program Managers Council and Past Hispanic Employment Program Manager for the IRS's Kansas City Service Center. He has instructed a number of Diversity classes for the service center, was a trained mediator who worked with management and employees in his Agency's Alternative Dispute Resolution program and was a class instructor for the IRS Front-Line Manager's Leadership Course, which took him all over the country. Tom enjoys traveling, exploring other cultures, reading, and being a part-time organic farmer.

Dance Demonstration: Victor Mabu and Michelle Cain

Victor Mabu was born in Cameroon, Africa. While his dad was completing his PhD at Oxford University (UK), Victor at the age of 13 began visiting Europe, developed an interest in travel, learning about different cultures, and languages. Victor left Cameroon in 2000 after completing a Bachelor's degree in Botany and traveled to Germany where he received his Master's degree in Agricultural Science from the University of Freiberg. In 2001 he started teaching the basics of Salsa dancing Cuban Style, mastered the dance, then moved on to teach at higher levels.

Victor, also known as DJ MV is not only a Salsa instructor, but also a DJ for Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, and Cha-cha. In 2002 during his studies at the University of Hohenheim (Germany) he began learning how to be a DJ, he progressed, and his parties became very popular with people of the salsa scene in his local area as well as other cities. His music keeps the dance floors busy wherever he plays and the people happy all night long.

In 2004 Victor moved to London to work and during his stay in Europe he welcomed the chance to travel to other countries for tourism and dance instruction. The peak of his DJ career was in London where he played popular venues such as Bar Salsa, the Latin Palace, La Finca (Clock work bar), two breweries, and other organized salsa parties. He started teaching LA-Style Salsa-Crossbody and also dances New- York Style Salsa. Victor places emphasis on technique and clear execution of moves in his work at all dance levels. He feels dancing is not only executing moves, but also feeling and interpreting the music with your partner.

He thinks it is important to know at least two dance styles to be able to dance with many different people and stresses the fact that some songs are written for only one particular dance style.

In December 2006 Victor left London and came to the United States to live and work. After teaching in Germany, the UK, and France he is currently teaching at the Bella Studio of Performing Arts and the City in Motion School of Dance. He provides entertainment at many private and corporate events in Kansas City and other neighboring cites. Private or group lessons as well as DJ services are available. For more information, contact Victor at 816-729-9735 or bye-mail: vsal sai nfo @gmail.com.

Michelle Cain is with the Kansas City EEO & Civil Rights Staff. She has been studying Salsa dance for 5 years and currently takes dance lessons with Victor.

Argentina Tango and Samba:

Peter Theoharis & Eleanor DaCosta, Peter T. (for short) was born in Istanbul, Turkey and currently is a U.S. Citizen. His education encompassed Business and Archeology. By profession, he is now retired as a Hotel Director and Club Manager. Peter's interests cover dancing, sailing, and travel. He speaks a total of 7 languages and shares his life's philosophy of, "Know thyself and nothing in excess."

Eleanor DaCosta was born and raised in Jamaica where dance is the focal point of social life. She tells us that she has danced reggae and a few Latin rhythms for as long as she can remember. In her teens she started training in modem dance and later performed for several years with the National Dance Theater Company of Jamaica. After moving to Kansas City in the 90's, Eleanor took her first class in ballroom dancing. Those classes covered a number of Latin dances that were new to her, including Argentine Tango. Eleanor said, "I dance regularly and passionately, and hope to dance to my grave ... and then some!"


Dance Finale: Victor Mabu and Judi Field

Judi's formal dance training is in ballet, modern, and jazz. She danced professionally in a modern dance company back in the 80's and 90's. After a brief 16-year break from dance, Judi rediscovered her passion and love for dance through social Latin dancing. She took her first salsa lesson in 2006 and has been hooked ever since. Judi supports her dance habit by working as a statistician for Hallmark.


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