Master teachers to head to West African community dance and drum class Friday |

Master teachers to head to West African community dance and drum class Friday

The Steamboat African Dance & Drum Ensemble and Steamboat Dance Theatre present community drum and dance classes with master teachers Djeneba Sako and Vieux Traore from Mali, West Africa, on Friday in Library Hall at the Bud Werner Memorial Library. Sako is pictured here as a performer who travels the world to teach at various workshops and festivals.
Courtesy Photo

If You Go...

What: Community drum & dance class with master teachers Djeneba Sako and Vieux Traore

When: Drums from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and dance from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 18

Where: Library Hall, Bud Werner Memorial Library

— West African Dance is not just a dance. As the drum-established rhythm picks up, tales of culture and heritage unfold.

“You dance to the spirit of it,” said Nicole Idzahl, originally a trained ballerina before she became involved with West African Dance, which she has done for 17 years. She also teaches this form of dance at Colorado Mountain College. “The West African dance and drum teachers embody spirit that is their culture — how they eat, talk clap, etc., there is a whole other dynamic and joy that they bring. It’s not just doing a dance; you learn about why you are doing that movement, what it’s all about and where it’s from.”

The Steamboat African Dance and Drum Ensemble and the Steamboat Dance Theatre will present a community drum and dance class with master teachers Djeneba Sako and Vieux Traore, from Mali, West Africa, on Friday at the Bud Werner Memorial Library’s Library Hall. The drum class portion is from 6 to 7:30 p.m., followed by the dance class with live drumming from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

“The Dance doesn’t exist without the drum,” said Jennie Lay, adult programs coordinator for the library who is also part of the Steamboat African Dance and Drum Ensemble and Steamboat Dance Theatre. “I love this sense of community that this dance creates, and the fact that the drum and dance depend on one another is part of what makes it so beautiful. It creates this incredible energy that is just so much fun.”

Sako was born in Bamako, Mali, where she started her journey with music and dance at age 5. At age 11, she started dancing professionally with the Bienal District Troupe, where she remained for eight years. According to a news release, this troupe won the National biannual Dance Competition four times in a row. Sako then went on to the District of Bamako troupe for another eight years and toured internationally. Currently, she travels and teaches at conferences, workshops and festivals as a highly recognized Malian dance teacher in the U.S. and one of the few female teachers of this form of dance.

“I love music and dancing, and I love teaching other people,” Sako said. “It’s my life.”

Traore, a master djembefola/dununfola and experienced drum teacher from Bamako, Mali, began dancing and drumming at the age of 9 and was trained in both traditional and modern rhythms from Mali. According to a news release, he was a member of several professional troupes in Mali, including Troupe Sewa, Troupe Districte de Bamako and the renowned group, Babemba.

“These dances have old stories behind them, and we are so lucky to have teachers who can share that with us first-hand,” Lay said. “This is way better than just looking up how to do it on YouTube.”

Referring to the Steamboat Dance Theater performance of the West African dance number, Lay said it was stylistically closest to West African Guinea dance and that this weekend’s workshop will be another style of Mali.

It’s a style Lay and Idzahl said is grounded in big arm and hip movements and honors all body types.

“This style of dance has taught me to embrace every single part of life,” Idzahl said. “It’s taught me that, through hard times and good times or whatever you may be going through, dance can be that vessel to celebrate life.”

Lay said there has been a resurgence of West African Dance during the past few years, and workshops such as this weekend’s have begun to occur more often. Idzahl said she now teaches a weekly West African dance class with live drums from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays. On May 4, Lay said, there will be another workshop with a special guest teacher.

For Friday, dancers should plan to dance in bare feet and wear comfortable clothing. The cost for each class is $15, cash or check at the door. No pre-registration is necessary, and both classes are suitable for all experience levels.

“Come with an open heart, a big smile, and everything else will be taken care of,” Idzahl said. “There’s nothing to be nervous of, really. Once you start, your smile will get bigger and bigger.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

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