This piece appeared in BALANCE STUDIO: BAHIA IN MOTION’S Spring 2013 newsletter. I love the insight Irene brought to my work. Here’s the piece:
Instructor Spotlight on:
Lara McIntosh, WASSA Dance
Lara McIntosh is Wassa.
On Lara’s first trip to Mali, her Bambara hosts gave her the name, Wassa Sangare. Translated, Wassa means “one who acts for joy and fulfillment.” Lara believes this name is a symbol of endearment from her Malian hosts as well as of their trust in her as a source of inspiration for cross-cultural connections through movement and music.
“Wassa Dance is an afro-infused style of movement that I developed and have evolved with on my unexpected path of becoming a movement and cultural educator,” explained Lara. Rather than teach set choreography for her students to follow, Lara provides basic steps rooted in traditional movement. Dancers are then invited to infuse the steps with their own style of expression. Students dance together while enjoying their individual experiences.
Lara, with an extensive dance background, began teaching a popular class called Positive Sweat in the late 1980’s. “I changed the name [to Wassa Dance] to indicate a dance class with a fitness component rather than a fitness class with some moves thrown in,” said Lara.
Lara, a lover of African and diaspora cultures, makes it clear that she does not teach traditional West African dance. “There are so many other people born to or with vast experience of specific West African cannons,” she stated. “My focus is inclusion, universality, accessibility; the pure joy of basic physical forms and the vast realm of music.”
Babatunde Olatunji inspired the beginnings of Lara’s involvement with African dance and music. “His credo of the power and healing of the drum and his appeal to act beyond borders as cultural ambassadors has lain at the heart of my work ever since,” she said
Lara began teaching at Balance Studio (then Planet Earth Yoga) after a long walk with Balance co-owner, Aileen Panke, in the depth of winter. “I was struggling with my then studio situation, trying to cover costs and make a basic living in an economy that calls for wise choices from each of us,” she said. “There was an opening at Planet Earth that Aileen knew about and she encouraged me to take it. It was a perfect little window to jump into. I’m very grateful.”
“I’ve been renting space for my work on and off since 1989 and full time since 1996,” reflected Lara. “I am impressed and delighted with the depth of care and insight Aileen and Daniel bring to the management and program development of Balance. I’m thrilled to be part of a community of educators, artists and healers dedicated to well-being and integrity through their work.”
Much like the free-flowing dance style Lara has created, her path to now has been a one-step-at-a-time surprise. “If anyone had asked me at any point before I was 30 (or maybe even 50), what I would be doing with my life, I couldn’t have imagined this,” she said. “ I am wildly blessed by the opportunity to work with deeply dedicated students, to touch others in less known ways and to do something I really love. Every day.”