An organization that fosters traditional dance from the city’s many ethnic groups is taking its work, and the movements and music of its performers, online.


Not even a pandemic can stop the Crimean Tatar Ensemble.

A salient feature of the COVID-19 era in New York is silence. Bustling commercial blocks are quieter and buzzing restaurants are a few notches less loud. Many of us have left behind the daily screech of subway brakes, which is probably not missed. But also gone is the sound of the mariachi bands that once cropped a sequined dose of warmth and cheer into a dreary weekday ride.

In subways and street corners, in clubs and concert halls, New York’s identity is rooted in the music of the ethnic groups that made it a global city (Try to imagine a sepia-toned documentary film about New York without at least a little klezmer music in the background and you’ll agree). The restricted life of the pandemic city has made those sounds a lot harder to hear—and that’s been especially trying for those who dedicate themselves to producing them.

“The pandemic has devastated the cultural sector and immigrant artists are among the most vulnerable members of the creative community,” says Andrew Colwell, the project director and staff ethnomusicologist at the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, a nonprofit that has fostered the sector for years.

CTMD has responded to this crisis by creating Beat of the Boroughs, a series of 54 short programs in which artists from Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Gambia, Haiti, Iraq, Japan, Mongolia, Ukraine, and West Africa and other places perform music, dance, offer stories and talk about how COVID-19 has affected them.

The performances occur in living rooms, basements, parks, or CTMD’s offices and might be filmed by Colwell or through the cell phone of a performer’s friend. The important thing is not the setting but the music. “The combined programs will remain online to serve as a platform for continuous advocacy during the pandemic,” Colwell says. “Now more than ever do we need to support traditional music and dance artists in the City of Immigrants.”

Programs air on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 5 p.m. on CTMD’s Facebook page and Youtube Channel. The Beat of the Boroughs webpage is here.

Here are three recent episodes:

Sidiki Conde

The Crimean Tatar Ensemble

Xiao Xiannian and Julie Tay of the Mencius Society

Michael Yuri

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