Features — 05 July 2017 — by Bilal Morris
“AYO DA” TO DANA MARTINEZ & HER DANCE OF LIFE!

The loss of the legendary Garifuna Belizean dancer and artist, Dana Martinez, in the Los Angeles Belizean community has been irreplaceable. Since her death and departure from the Belize artistic scene both at home and abroad, Belizean dance performances have never been the same. Dana brought a new vibe to Belizean dance and performance. She incorporated like no one else did Garifuna dance rhythms into Caribbean art forms that would even make Bob Reneau blush.

Dana was not only a dancer but an awesome musician and percussionist. She carved out a style of dancing while playing the harmonica prolifically, or playing the two-handed Shaka as she glided like a python across her space on the stage. She also did many performances to the drumbeat of Garifuna drums in real time. She was a sight to see, an almost flawless performer, that carried the beat of Africa in her Garifuna bones. She was a spectacular performer who would illuminate the show and bring an audience to its dancing feet.

One of Dana’s most explosive performances came at a Belize Caribbean cultural variety show in 1991 sponsored by the Belizean Los Angeles grassroots organization, BREDAA, at the Veteran’s Memorial in Culver City, California. The two photographs depicted here, in this expose, show her in rare form and artistic brilliance. She was at her most original self in style and form that night and entertained a packed house of Belizean, Caribbean, African, and American fans who had come out to see Belize at its artistic best. Backed up by Garifuna dance beats, Dana stole the show and had her audience dancing to her flow. She was spectacular.

In the studio production of yours truly’s 1994 Andy Palacio musical album called “Andy Palacio” on Kalifa Records, Dana played percussion and Garifuna bass drum, and sang background vocals on the songs, “Roots”, “Jammin’”, “Se Busca”, and “Samina Humei”. She also played and performed in the Belizean reggae band Babylon Warriors in the 1990s after the band switched to Punta Rock. She did all that with the same spirit and energy as she always had before being afflicted with a dreaded brain cancer that finally took her life in 1995.

She had repatriated back to Belize to her hometown of Dangriga in the Stann Creek District where she took her American-born son and enrolled him in the school of Garifuna drumming under some of the best Garifuna drummers of Belize. She left behind in Los Angeles a vibrant dance troupe that was her brainchild, and had done some explosive performances at the Annual Belize Caye Fest in the 1980s and 90s.

Belizean Legends pays tribute to one of Belize’s most outstanding dancers and artists that ever lived, Dana Martinez. And in memorial to the dynamic work she gave Belize, the Los Angeles Belizean community, and the Garinagu in dance and music, we say in traditional Garifuna language: “Ayo Da” (Goodbye, my dear).

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