Rhythm and joy

By By Cressa Perloff and By Cressa Perloff

By Cressa Perloff

Go to a typical American celebration, and you’ll probably stand around eating, talking to a few people and hearing background music.

Go to a typical West African celebration, however, and you’ll dance with all the other guests to live drumming.

Two weeks ago, Sept. 25 through 29, students at the U’s modern dance department were privileged to learn some of these dances from renowned West African dance teacher Youssouf Koumbassa. Hailing originally from Guinea, West Africa, he and his master drummer, Fod Bangoura, flew in from New York to have a residency at the U and teach workshops at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center through Repertory Dance Theatre’s community classes.

Koumbassa currently teaches West African dance all over the world, but he started small. He has been dancing since he was 5 years old. Around age 7 or 8, he left his family to live with another-an occurrence he said was not uncommon in Guinea. When he was 12, he left home completely to learn dance at a more serious level.

“Before, my family didn’t want me to dance. They wanted me to have a regular job,” he said.

But when he started traveling as a professional dancer at age 15 and began making money, his family came to accept and even love his career choice. In the face of poverty, Koumbassa’s dancing was his family’s only source of income.

Koumbassa toured for 13 years. Now, he tours around the United States, teaching the African dance form. He returns to Guinea two to three times a year to bring Americans to study West African dance and to visit his family.

During his residency in Salt Lake City, Koumbassa taught energetic dance classes aided by Bangoura and other guest drummers. In each class, he taught two to three traditional dances, which express joy and embody a connection to the earth. Bangoura led a number of drumming classes at Rose Wagner as well.

Koumbassa also taught a full-length choreographic arrangement to approximately 15 modern dance majors. The piece will be performed at various promotional events for the dance department as well as during its spring dance company performance.

Nonetheless, Koumbassa said, “African dance is like American dance-it’s for everybody.”

West African dancing is meant to be communal dancing and it was not originally intended for stage performing.

“It’s coming from us, but it doesn’t belong to only us; it belongs to everybody,” Koumbassa said.

For more information on Koumbassa and West African dance, go to www.westafricandance.com. For more information on Repertory Dance Theatre’s community classes, go to www.rdtutah.org.

Cressa Perloff

Guinean dance teacher Youssouf Koumbassa and master drummer Fod Bangoura instruct a group of modern dance majors in West African Dance at the Marriott Center for Dance in late September.