Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble
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Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble

Lawrenceville, NJ | Established. Jan 01, 2004 | SELF

Lawrenceville, NJ | SELF
Established on Jan, 2004
Band World World



The best kept secret in music


"Multi – Cultural Fusion of Arts"

The deep-rooted inclination of our species to harmonize our collective foot-tapping and head-bobbing to the rhythms of the music around us, especially when that music is accompanied by the vibrant theatrical elements of dance, transcends cultural differences and unifies us. In an era where students sit next to one another and silently text instead of looking into each other's eyes, a powerful live performance can focus our collective vision in a way few other experiences can. This is beyond the typical all-eyes-front-and-center daze that we find ourselves in at the movie theater; this is an awakening of our... - Dynamo Press

"Meet the Energetic Groove Merchant!"

Interview on Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble
How was the troupe started and formed?

Groove Merchant grew out of a project at a local university. In 2004, I was involved putting together and annual belly dance showcase and decided to have live music for some of the choreographies. Dave Merritt put the arrangements together for me and we recruited some musician friends and spouses of some of the dancers to learn the music for this show. We performed, it went well and it seemed everyone was interested in continuing, so we did. The ideas grew, dancers cross-trained to play percussion and the ideas continued to grow. We celebrated our 10-year anniversary in 2014.

What style of dance does Groove Merchant do?

The music guides all stylization choices, so thankfully, there are no limitations. We’ve put together sets that are straight up Arab night club/dinner club cabaret, we’ve performed full out street beat compositions from New Orleans. We’ve been inspired to dig deeply into folkloric music of North Africa and find the commonalities with West African dance & music. Sometimes we go straight up traditional and sometimes we blend the roots of things for a new form. One term I’ve heard describe us is Bedouin Funk. I think that’s a good fit but it still only describes part of what we do.... (see link) -

"Fusion Meets Funk"
Fusion Meets Funk in the Drum & Dance Learning Center Showcase
by Erica Rosenfeld

As a spectator of the Drum & Dance Learning Center’s seasonal showcase held in September, it was difficult not to wish oneself on stage and part of such an infectiously enthusiastic group of performers. With their high energy and incredible versatility, these dancers and musicians took on a surprisingly diverse sampling of musical traditions from across the globe, paying homage to elements of rhythm and movement originating in regions as vastly separated as the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Even so, under the artistic direction of Kim Leary and Dave Merritt – both experienced teachers and performers at the Drum & Dance Learning Center and responsible for its founding – the fusion was seamless and highly engaging.

Staged in the close and intimate setting of the Academy Theater in Bordentown, N.J., the separation between the performers and their audience was barely noticeable, affording an excellent view of the colorful costumes, complex choreography and spirited drum work regardless of one’s seat in the house. Among the highlights of the show included a mesmerizing veil dance entitled "Bir Demet Yasmin", featuring seven dancers who floated gracefully on and off stage in varying formations, each carrying a brightly colored veil so thin it seemed to hover effortlessly in the air after every motion. Another particularly engaging number was "Dundunba", “the dance of the strong men,” a traditional percussion rhythm from Upper Guinea in which the drummers took turns playfully showing off their skills in solo improvisations against a steady background riff. Many of the numbers also featured collaboration between the dancers and the musicians. "Bomba", a famous musical style from Puerto Rico, was one of these, in which three of the dancers flirtatiously engaged the drummers using a series of gestures and movements.

Guest performances by Audrey Davis and Patricia Irizarry-Berreto contributed additional flair to the showcase. Davis, a long time devotee of African dance and culture who has performed at numerous venues including the PNC Arts Center, helped choreograph "Sunu", an exciting, high energy dance originating in the West African country of Mali and performed with gusto by a handful of dancers and musicians. Davis was also featured in an energetic solo called "Mandijiane", a traditional coming of age dance typically reserved for girls on the brink of womanhood in West Africa. Irizarry-Berreto, a native Puerto Rican who studied under The Cepedas, one of the most prominent folkloric dance families in Puerto Rico, was the choreographic mastermind behind "Bomba." Like Davis, she also performed a solo number called "Plena", a graceful yet fast-paced folk dance used to spread important information among the lower classes in Puerto Rico.

In short, the Drum & Dance Learning Center’s showcase was fresh, innovative, and executed with obvious passion and enthusiasm. The unique blend of cultural influences from around the world and the fusion of traditional dance and drumming into a single performance made for a truly sensuous experience of color, sound, and movement while simultaneously conveying a deeper message clearly at the heart of the Drum & Dance Learning Center’s philosophy: namely, that all music carries a cultural significance well beyond its entertainment value. By bringing this significance to life and acknowledging its importance, the Drum & Dance Learning Center produced a highly memorable show that resonates well beyond the confines of the stage on which it was performed. - unbound:


DANSA - Released November 2014
Celebrating Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble's 10 Year Anniversay



The earthy roots music of Groove Merchant Drum and Dance Ensemble has been described as Bedouin Funk.  The New Jersey based group’s repertoire includes original compositions that dig deeply into ethnic roots music as well as offering a tasteful blend of traditional music.  Groove Merchant’s nomadic inspirations are from the Near East, West Africa, New Orleans and beyond with two things in common; the funky bottom and respect for roots of the music and cultural traditions.

Groove Merchant is much more than drummers who play while dancers dance.  A large portion of the group’s repertoire integrates musical arrangements played by dancers and drummers alike.  There are blurred lines between dance corps and musicians.  “We all cross train musically”, says Dave Merritt, Groove Merchant’s co-director.  “In addition to making the music visual, the dancers play integral arrangements on finger cymbals and various instruments that complete the compositions.  We have some straight up percussion pieces but honestly the energy is highest and feels best when were all on stage together.” 

2014 marked the group’s 10 year anniversary and 2015 saw the release of the debut cd, 'Dansa'.  “We are really proud of the cd but it’s really only half the story of Groove Merchant Drum and Dance Ensemble”, said co –director, Kim Leary. “I think we were able to genuinely capture the energy of live performance with dance in tracks like Avalon and Reda’s Drum.   Other choreographies are on deck to be created and performed live with the tracks “Naseem” and “Open & Close”.

Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble has a very diverse fan base and has been featured at venues such as The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, Princeton University’s Frist Theatre, Paramount Concerts on the Beach as well as national dance festivals, local community events and many others.  

Current Members: Kim Leary; Dave Merritt; Donna Manalo; Chris Engleman; Donna Sullivan; Naylon Larane; Jo Wall; Sherida Turner; Pete Musgrove;  Ed Ashton; Aliya Khan & Jeff Tryon. 2/28/17

Select List Curated shows:
  • Raven's Night, The Birchmere, Alexandria, VA 2015- Groove Merchant 
  • NY Theatrical Belly Dance Conference 2013 @ DROM (NYC) - Groove Merchant - "Higher"
  • Roxy & Dukes's Belly Dance Night 2013 (NJ) - Groove Merchant - "Tabla";"Higher" & "Drum Solo"
  • Dena Steven's "Spice Box" 2013 @ Bickford Theatre (NJ) & Players Theatre (NYC) - Groove Merchant debut of "Thyme Clock"
  • Mile's Copeland's Belly Dance Superstar's "Club Belly Dance" 2012 @Open Arts Theatre (NJ) - Curated show and performance with Groove Merchant - "Get to Work by Nine" & "Avalon"
  • Mile's Copeland's Belly Dance Superstar's "Club Belly Dance" 2012 @Arundle CC Theatre (MD) - Solo "Tabla" & Groove Merchant - "Avalon"
  • NY Theatrical Belly Dance Conference 2011 @DNA (NYC) - Groove Merchant - "Get to Work by Nine"
  • Austin Belly Dance Convention 2011 (TX) - Groove Merchant "Avalon" & "Raks al Assaya"

Band Members