Steamboat native shares love of West African dance
February 21, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It was as a student at Steamboat Springs High School that Abagail Fritz first discovered West African dance — a passion that would carry her around the world.
It's the percussion, she said, and particularly the power of the live drums that inspired her to fall in love first with the dance, and then with the West African culture. She's traveled to Ghana, Guinea, Senegal and the Ivory Coast.
Fritz returns to Steamboat this weekend to teach an Afro fusion dance workshop Saturday morning at the Depot Arts Center. The workshop is geared toward all levels, and according to the description, “You will practice some foundational dance steps and phrases before learning a short and fun choreography. After a juicy warm-up and some movement repetition, we’ll dive into an energetic dance routine.”
If you go
What: Afro-fusion Workshop with Abagail Fritz
When: 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23
Where: Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St.
She’s making the trip back home to celebrate her mother Jan Fritz, who received the 2019 Hazie Werner Award.
“So, Steamboat lucks out with a couple badass dance classes in the process,” said Jennie Lay, a friend and fellow dancer. “She’s an extraordinary dancer and her classes are insanely fun — definitely attuned to all levels.”
The high-energy dance style requires movement of the entire body and is a form of communication in West Africa, closely connected to history, traditions, community and values.
"It's a way of keeping history alive," Abagail Fritz said. "It's not just entertainment or performance. It's interwoven with the culture."
With the live drums, there’s a resonance you don’t get with a recording, she said.
"As a kid, I had a drum kit and loved beats and percussion," Fritz said.
Dancing since she could walk, Fritz learned hip hop, jazz and tap. Then, watching a dance showcase when she was 14, Fritz first encountered West African dance and instantly found her calling.
In 2017, she danced a Paris stage in front of 30,000 people, as a special guest of Youssou N'Dour, a renowned singer from Senegal. She's performed and choreographed with various artists from Nigeria and is currently working with the lead singer of Zap Mama, from Belgium and Congo.
She teaches regularly in Los Angeles at the Brasil Brasil Cultural Center and has taught classes at the New York Film Academy, University of California Los Angeles and the University of Otago in New Zealand.
Falling deeply in love with West Africa during her first trip in 2005, Fritz said she is drawn to the hospitality and kindness of those countries to which she's traveled.
"They are so welcoming and open to sharing with us," she said.
There's a much more communal aspect to the way they live, Fritz said, that's different than the more individualistic and capitalistic customs of the United States.
Soon, Fritz will begin curating guided trips for other people to learn about dance, music and culture in places like Senegal.
Now, with nearly 20 years of dance training and travel experience, Fritz said she loves bringing back what she's learned in West Africa and sharing it with others.
"I make my classes an experience for people,” Fritz said. “As an instructor, I’m triggering something that people already have somewhere inside of them, and I am facilitating to help bring it out."
And she's particularly excited to share that with her hometown.
Saturday’s workshop will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Depot Arts Center. The cost is $20 — cash or Venmo.