America is a country that is defined by its diversity. However, most people wonder what real diversity looks like. We usually define it as a culture that embraces all races and genders. Saturday this reporter saw authentic diversity at the Malonga Casquelourd Center in Zakariya & Naomi Diouf’s West African Dance class.
Zakariya, who is from the Congo, and his wife, Naomi, who hails from Liberia, have dominated the African Dance scene in the Bay Area for over forty years. Zakariya teaches three classes at Laney College and Naomi is a dance teacher at Berkeley High School.
However, it is in their dance classes, open to the public, that you see the true fabric of America: little children go across the floor first with their designated teacher Antoinette Holland, then comes the master teacher, Ibrahima Diouf who is Naomi’s son, leading America personified; Male and female, young and old, French, Chinese, Filipinos, Latinos, African-Americans, Anglos and Africans, plus-sized women and the athletic follow him in rhythm with the drum, united.
Plus-sized women have mastered the art of West African dance in a culture where they are often marginalized as symbols of beauty. Here, they shine above the other dancers as their graceful bodies seem to embrace the movement more soulfully and deeper than the rest. They are magnificent to watch!
Zakariya Diouf is also the founder of the Diamano Coura Dance Company, which he established in 1974. “My company is the only performing African Arts company in California that provides a unique event where people can come and appreciate different African cultures under one roof. We annually, provide “a living Diaspora” where the audience is exposed to different dance styles of West Africa: Mali dance is movement that expresses movement from people who live on the savannah, a place of high grass, therefore upper body movements are emphasized; Congolese dance is ”earth dancing”, and Guinea and Senegal dancers are forest dancers where most of their movement is emphasized in intricate foot movements.”
March 13th, Diamano Coura Dance Company will be performing at the Malonga Casquelourd Center. Before the performance, the Diouf’s have invited the public to join their diverse family by participating in a variety of workshops beginning Thursday, March 11th and Friday, March 12th from 5:30 to 10:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday morning at 10:00 am.
The Saturday night concert will feature a marketplace beginning at 6:00pm where the pubic can partake of Liberian food while viewing a variety of African art and artifacts from artisans representing the Bay Area, Atlanta and Chicago. There will also be a viewing of the film “Sabar”, a movie made in Oakland about a hip hop dancer who doesn’t know her roots are from Senegal. It’s a movie about self-discovery and love.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com or Marcus Books. To purchase tickets by phone call 510-733-1077. Reserved seating is $30.00, General Admission in advance is $20.00 and at the door $25.00. Drums are a powerful form of communication, they reach the soul of people, and invite then to dance and celebrate. They call all people, and that’s as it should be.