The WE WIN Institute Griot Invasion of north Minneapolis at Bethune Park inspired incredible dance and movement from WE WIN Institute youth.
For 10 weeks, under the leadership of Kenna Cottman, students learned the history of the Griot and the role of the dance Griot. A griot is an African storyteller.
Students learned how dance was a part of the liberation movement of people of African descent throughout the world. They also learned how to use movement as a way of giving voice to their feelings and events going on in their communities.
Cottman has been dancing, studying, teaching and community organizing in the Minneapolis area for more than 20 years. Her main area of focus is Black dance, with an emphasis on West African and hip-hop dance and culture. Cottman dances for Pramila Vasudevan/Aniccha Arts, teaches at the TU Dance Center, curates non-traditional performances and creates her own contemporary work.
The ultimate communicator: African dance
By Kenna Cottman
African dance has played an important role in the culture of African people.
Much more than entertainment, dances communicate emotions, celebrate rites of passage and help strengthen the relationships between members of the community.
Captive Africans were taken to the United States and prohibited from performing most of their traditional dances. The importance and spirit of dance were not stopped by these restrictions as African slaves found ways to adapt their dancing and continue their traditions in secret. They made changes to their dances; such as shuffling the feet and moving hips and body because they were not allowed to lift their feet. Because of importance of dance in the daily life of Africans, many who were enslaved continued to use dance as a way to keep their cultural traditions and connect with their African homeland.
WE WIN students have learned about the tradition through a dance and song called Lamba. The history of Lamba goes back to the old Mali Empire in the 15th century when Timbuktu was a center of learning, trade and culture. The songs in Lamba are giving honor to the Griots, called Djali in the Malinke language. The dance is composed of flowing movements and head snaps rolling through the spine. The rhythm has many parts which assigned to each drum create a complex polyrhythm that should be recognizable to those in the culture. The children learned each essential part of the rhythm for the djembe, doundounba, sangba and sangbani.