I’ve been a dancer for my entire life. My mother was a dancer in her younger years, so I credit most of what I can do to her. My father is from the island/nation of Trinidad & Tobago. If you’ve never been there, you wouldn’t know that dance is a BIG part of the culture. You put these two people together and you get me!
From a very young age, I’ve always been fascinated with rhythm and movement. I was one of those kids who would go out and “dance” just to get the elders something to talk about at family events! While I was in high school, stepping was my introduction into the performing arts (shout out to my Nu Gamma Psi family!) Through college, I flirted with the idea of being a performing artist. It wasn’t until I got to Washington DC, where I first saw the Kankouran West African Dance Company that I knew I had the potential in me to do something AMAZING! Kankouran offered me a place where I could grow as a dancer. It also offered an environment where I could also grow in a certain level of cultural awareness of the African Diaspora. Some people would claim that KanKouran was the “Ellis Island” of the African Dance experience. This was very important to me because I was blessed to be given the opportunity to visit Senegal as a young adult. Once you go back to any country in Africa as an African American, it changes you. That change left me thirsty for knowledge. I learned my initial concepts of initiation, marriage, war and spirit THROUGH the dance. For most people, it was exercise, but for me, it always deeper.
My thirst for knowledge went even deeper once I was introduced to Dr. Sherill Berryman-Johnson. It was her guidance that really pushed me outside of my own individual experience, and in doing so, forced me to see how my responsibility to the greater whole of my people was critical! She was always big on getting me to understand that sometimes the only way to grow is by making the mistake. You don’t grow if you don’t try. As an African American man, this was a very important concept to learn because the world around you can crush your spirit with ease. The minute you do something out of the “norms” of society, your hopes, dreams and aspirations can and will be crushed. Dr. J Passed away almost 4 years ago, but it still feels like yesterday. Her effect on my life as a teacher and performer are immeasurable!
My first trip to Senegal was back in February, 1996. It would be 16 years before I ever returned. A lot of that had to do with me finding a home in KanKouran (where both the Artistic and Musical Directors were both from Senegal). The other part had to deal with the need to study dance from an anthropological, ethnographical and pedagogical perspective. Studying under Assane Konte and Medoune Gueye gave me a foundation that most performers would envy, but I needed to take it a step further if I was going to take it to the next level as an educator.
The most critical piece to teaching dance is understanding who you are dancing for and why you are dancing. The connection for me was finding the essence of the movement of any dance and translating that into something palatable to the African American experience. As an African American, our history in America is intertwined with slavery. There is no getting around that, however what we need to do is go PAST it! We have to go further than the Trans-Atlantic slavery experience and go back to our foundation. Our foundation is Africa. There are many ways of doing this, however my approach and methodology is focused on rhythm, tradition and movement.
My trip to Senegal in 2012 gave me a whole new perspective towards dance AND education. Senegalese dance has always been my favorite West African dance form, but that trip to Senegal gave me the foundation I needed to take my teaching to another level! The knowledge (and blessings) I obtained while I was there has been very helpful in shaping all of the programming that I do as an educator and a performer.
Four years later, I stand at a new phase, getting in a graduate school program leading to an MA in Dance Education!
The foundation is there!
The information is there as well!
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