Sankofa dance theater teaches traditional African culture to fireweed

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska spent the last week with Kindergarten, first and second graders at Fireweed Academy for an artist residency at the school, teaching them traditional African dances and percussion, as well as songs and vocabulary in Swahili to encourage community and trust.

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska, established in 2017, is an Anchorage-based African dance and drumming group that strives to teach all ages the importance of cultural diversity, unity and education. .

“We have a strong emphasis on bringing cultural diversity to Anchorage through the arts and have accomplished so much during this time,” the Sankofa website states. “Our mission… is dedicated to spark a renaissance of cultural creative arts throughout Alaska. We strive to inspire sparkle in our community, regardless of age, through art, music, dance and literary works as vectors of animation, cultural exchange and unity.

As the weather delays reduced the team’s time with the Little Fireweed students, Johnnie Wright III, company director at Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska, said the kids really enjoyed the lessons they learned every day.

“We teach them the meaning of things that they can take with them, and they can use it not only in class, but they can take it and use it in everyday life,” Wright said. “We teach them to play the drum; they have fun having the instruments in front of them and hitting them and making a bunch of sounds, but they’re doing really great. They keep the pace. We also teach them West African dances and different styles of dancing that they have fun with.

Amelia Lee, a freshman at Fireweed Academy, said her favorite part of the residency was learning to dance and sing, and that she hopes she can continue to do so in the future.

“I learned to use a drum and to sing and dance, which I really love,” Lee said. “I want to keep doing this.”

Todd Hindman, director of the Fireweed Academy, is grateful for the Artists in Schools program which brought the Sankofa Dance Theater to Little Fireweed to enrich the school’s regular arts education.

“The Sankofa musician and dancers were able to provide students and staff with a cultural and artistic experience that we have never experienced before,” said Hindman. “We had the opportunity to discover the culture of West Africa and appreciate its music, dance, language and values. ”

In addition to classes for children during school, the Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska and Little Fireweed hosted a celebratory performance with students and their families at Homer High School on Friday, December 10, to show what they learned during the week and why it matters.

“(The) performance will involve pretty much what we’ve been building and reviewing with the kids all week,” Wright said. “We will also give this information to parents so that they can understand what they are singing and where the movements are coming from.”

Each level was able to show off their new dance and percussion skills, as well as the vocabulary they learned every day.

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska has been incorporated into the Fireweed Academy as part of the Artists in Schools residency program, supported by the Alaska State Council for the Arts and the Bunnell Street Arts Center.

Kasha Smith-Poynter, General Manager of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska, said she was delighted the group had the opportunity to share West African dances and languages ​​with the children and was proud of the quality of their interaction with information.

“You work with such energy and such honesty that makes the ship so humbling and fulfilling,” said Smith-Poynter. “That’s why we love to do it – because it’s a way to have unlimited time and information with young people and just give of yourself. It’s great because they are full of energy.

“We just got into elementary schools and they’re so hungry,” Smith-Poynter continued. “We can start them now by showing them this cultural enrichment and that there are other cultures and diverse groups with whom we can be more of a community. It is less about seeing each one for our differences but (for) our similarities. ”

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska hopes to visit more schools and community organizations throughout the state of Alaska to share their work. For more information on Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska, visit https://www.sankofaak.com/home.

Contact Sarah Knapp at sarah.knapp@homernews.com.

A Fireweed Academy preschool keeps pace with the performers at the Sankofa Dance Theater on December 9. (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska teaches the Kindergarten class at the Fireweed Academy how to perform traditional African music during their residency on December 9.  (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska teaches the Kindergarten class at the Fireweed Academy how to perform traditional African music during their residency on December 9. (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)

Kasha Smith-Poynter leads the first graders in their dance on Friday, December 3 at Homer High School.  (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska teaches the Kindergarten class at the Fireweed Academy how to perform traditional African music during their residency on December 9. (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)

Little Fireweed students sing their welcome song during the Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska graduation show on December 3.  (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska teaches the Kindergarten class at the Fireweed Academy how to perform traditional African music during their residency on December 9. (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)

Two first graders drum with the Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska during their end-of-residency performance.  (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)

The Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska teaches the Kindergarten class at the Fireweed Academy how to perform traditional African music during their residency on December 9. (Photo by Sarah Knapp / Homer News)


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