Suzan Bradford-Kounta, the founder of Thiossane West African Dance Institute, on performing and her transformative trip to Senegal
When did you first experience West African dance? My mother was pretty avant-garde, and she exposed us to our culture in depth. I remember as a 7-year-old coming here to the Lincoln [Theatre] and taking a West African dance class upstairs in the ballroom. I'm a product of the King-Lincoln District.
And you had a transformative trip to Senegal. When I was 24, after graduating college, my mother sent me to Africa for three months; she said, "Find yourself." While I was there, I realized I could develop my passion for the development of children using this dance as the vehicle. I really resettled myself in that soil. I came out of there with this idea for my life's work.
Enter Thiossane. When I returned from my mother's trip, I was working with the YWCA, creating dance programs for youth, but I knew I didn't have all the knowledge I needed. So I began to move about the country, talking with and being mentored by African people from all over. This is how I met my late husband. We formed Thiossane together. I have to credit him for all the authenticity Thiossane has; he was the lead musician for the National Ballet of Senegal.
What's a performance like? All your senses will be touched. You will experience a cultural explosion! You will be moved-physically, emotionally or spiritually.
How has it been perceived? It's growing. Initially, my focus was making sure young people were getting a really authentic presentation so that education can happen. As I moved toward creating a performing company, I saw that education was foremost. We can all enjoy what we see in front of us, but to know something about it is crucial. When you learn African dance, you have to learn the people from whom the dance comes.
What does your mom think about all this? She's thrilled. Her experiment paid off.