Once people learn that Mona Estime-Amira is a native of Haiti, she often can't even put on hand lotion without being asked whether she's practicing voodoo.
"They see me taking a bottle out of my purse and rubbing something on my hands," she said, "and they say, 'What are you going to do to me?' "
Estime-Amira, a dancer, and her husband, John Amira, a drummer, performed Monday night at Western Maryland College's Baker Memorial Chapel, courtesy of the Evelyn C. Mackenzie Endowed Fund.
The money goes to artists who come to the school and not only perform, but hold discussions with students, said Jon Seligman, who teaches percussion at the college and sits on the committee that brings in musicians.
"The idea is to see these artists as people, not as these things that come on stage, do what they do, and leave," he said. "This is not something you would normally think of, Carroll County and Vodoun. But this is 1999, and the world is getting smaller and smaller every day."
Before their performance at the hall, the Amiras, who live in New York, held seminars for students and explained the meaning of their dances and answered questions about their religion, Vodoun, often referred to in the United States as voodoo.
"Vodoun means spirit. The term refers to all spirits that are worshiped," Amira said. "It's not drastically different from Catholicism, but there are spirits in Vodoun, but in Catholicism they're referred to as saints."
The Amiras said they are often asked the same kinds of questions as they travel. Do they drink blood? No. Do they practice cannibalism or devil worship? No. Do they sacrifice animals? Yes.
"It's a celebration," Estime-Amira said. "The food is eaten afterward. Basically, it's a blessing."
About 45 people attended the performance, many of them students in the classes visited by the couple earlier in the day.
Barbara Schmitz of Sykesville, who comes to events at the college about once a month, said she was curious because all she knew about Vodoun was the stereotypical dolls with pins stuck in them.
"The ads said it would dispel negative myths, so I'll have an open mind and see what it's all about," she said before the show.
Between songs, the Amiras -- who were joined by drummer Luis Rojas and dancer Sabine Toussaint -- explained the relationships between the drumming and the dance. But they did not discuss their beliefs and, although audience members were given opportunities to ask about it, no one did.
Audience members did participate in the dancing.
Estime-Amira made seemingly impossible moves. Her body arched and undulated as if she were a wave in the ocean. Later, she shook as if an electrical current had entered her foot and worked its way up to her arms and escaped from her fingers, which were pointed at the sky. At times, she nearly floated across the stage, her feet lightly touching floor.
Several volunteers joined the dancers on stage, including three students -- freshmen Nykole Tyson and Lamont Wilson and sophomore Carl Taylor -- who had attended the seminar earlier.
"I don't think I could ever move my body like that," Tyson said of Estime-Amira. "It's like there's an energy around her."
Pub Date: 3/31/99