I’m basking in the glow of this morning’s rare two hour session with live percussion at Balance Studio.
It’s been three years and eleven months since the last time that Caxambu, Denny Stern and Will Matthews have been able to join me for such a unique collaboration. I’ve missed them so.
Since this is not exactly an RSVP event and winter illnesses are definitely a thing, I didn’t know who all would be able to show up and dance. Today was extra special with some folks coming from far, some in for the first time in years, one brand new today. So much love and generosity in that space.
I had thought I might weep when we started as I have missed this kind of offering so much. Instead, I put on my ankle bells and listened for where we would start. Having such a long history with these wonderful musicians, it felt like a fine conversation we simply picked up in the here and now. Hearing the acoustic tones of instruments I love being played by people I love and respect so deeply was a revelation in responsive listening.
It’s always fascinating to watch a room full of beautiful individuals find some kind of communion in movement and rhythm.
This is something that deserves much more reflection and its own writings.
In one of the breaks, I asked the musicians to introduce some of the instruments. Will, the natural teacher, described the origins and composition of bougarabou and dun-duns he had and how all the drums we had today are specific woods with origins in West African, Afro-Cuban and Haitian traditions and have cow hide heads which makes for the deeper warmer tones that are so suited to melodic percussion. Denny then took up the theme describing the pentatonic marimba (wood), the congas (wood/hide), the iron in the bells, his handmade shakers made from candy and food tins, Caxambu carried the theme describing the gourd resonator on the berimbau and how the wire that attached the two ends of the wooden bow was from one of his tires. The bongos (wood hide. metal) belonged our beloved Mohammed Shaibu who passed.
Bringing in wood, hide, iron, gourd, seeds, all these essences are the physical elementals that resonate so deeply in sonic action and in spirit.
The one thing we all forgot was to take any pictures. As with many of the best things, it was real and now it’s in the ethers.
It was a very good day.
I am in awe.
This is my basket of handheld instruments.
When I first started teaching in the style I’ve evolved with over the past several decades, I inherited a class from Kristi Rudolph at Physical Culture that featured live drumming every Sunday. As this beloved class slowly became my own, I was discovering instruments from all over the diaspora of African percussion and was curious about creating something more cross-cultural and improvisational in lieu of interpreting traditional rhythms and songs. It was an amazingly foundational, bountiful time for me in terms of exposure to music from Africa both on the radio (KCMU with John Kertzer and WonLdy Paye) and in local bye gone clubs. I was studying dance with wonderful teachers from Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria and Brazil. It was the late 1980’s early 1990’s in Seattle. I wanted to honor them and do something different in what I could contribute to Seattle’s percussion and dance communities.
Every Sunday for many years, musicians and I collaborated for these dance classes. Who all has come to play deserves its own story as some of the best in Seattle are a part of it.
While I dearly love curating recorded music mixes and broadening folks’ exposure to some of the depth and breadth and wide ranging expressions of Africa and the diaspora, I’ve always felt the live music collaborations to be the keystone of my dance work. I set the space and musicians ahead of time. From there, based on who comes to dance and which directions the enegies of the sound and movement go, the rest of my movement guidance and where the musicians go is all improvised. It’s hard to describe how edifying it is to be in a room of willing participants making that magic happen in real time.
Our last live music session was in February 2020. Covid closures hit hard. After things started to open up, available spaces that meet the basic needs of accommodating the sound volume of live percussion, a large enough space with a good enough floor at desirable times have been much harder to find. And, frankly I’ve been working weekends at the job that supports my teaching life because that’s how I have guaranteed income.
I’ve been waiting for some kind of ground swell or sign to start back up in whatever iteration might be conjured now.
Recently I was presented with a really rare opportunity to have two hours on a Saturday at Balance Studio, where I’ve been happily teaching for almost ten years with my schedules set around the days and times the owners themselves need. I jumped on it and then realized MAYBE the musicians who had been the rock steady base before Covid might be available?
They said yes. And we’re on.
I can’t wait to be with them and the dancers who show up to contribute their beautiful attunement to the mix. Click here for joining us January 27, 2024
Often in my Wassa Dance newsletters I include a link to a song that has resonance for me.
Right now with all in the world and the end of this year, this is one of them.
Everything is Recorded – Mountains Gold – featuring Kamasi Washington, Ibeyi, Wiki, Sampha and a brief appearance from Quincy Jones. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWCh1qlNth4
1/27/24 3:45 pm. Postscript: What an amazing time we had this morning! Thank you all who were able to attend. It was a feast of love and powerful vibrations.
After way too long, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to offer a special live music dance session with beloved musicians Caxambu, Will Matthews and Denny Stern featuring cross-cultural percussion and our unique collaborative vibe.
Saturday January 27, 2024
418 N 35th St
Seattle WA 98103
$25 – Cash, checks and Zelle
Day of contributions to musicians appreciated!
No one turned away for lack of funds.
I was working with my web guy David at Real Basics today and mentioning how we just started being completely in studio without Zoom options for the first time since the pandemic closures in August (2023). And how great it is to have folks gathering again to dance together. This is a very powerful thing. David said, “That’s a big deal! You need to share that!” He’s right.
I am so grateful to owners Aileen and Daniel of Balance Studio for the tremendous dedication and efforts they put into keeping dance offerings available through the pandemic closures and beyond. And to my students who hung in there on Zoom and in the many iterations of cautious in studio options. It’s stunning to realize it has been less than 4 or so months where all the activities of Wassa Dance are in person.
Here’s to it!
We had a glorious time at Madrona MindBody Institute and plan to do it again!
Happy update! We are over $1,500 now. Thank you to all.
We had a wonderful session this morning with more dancers than I expected in this season of holiday plans, travel and sickness. And best of all, we’ve raised $1,440 so far!
Our last session of 2023 on
Saturday December 30, 2023
will be a thank you for donating to
While donations are welcome through the end of the year at least, please donate prior to the event on Saturday if possible so we can acknowledge how we’ve done that morning. You don’t have to attend to donate, and though I hope you do, you don’t have to donate to attend.
The folks at Facing Homelessness have made this very easy for us and when you donate to their 501-c3, you can choose which of their projects you’d like your money to go to.
I’m very grateful to have the living situation I do. And know the care and support of family, friends and our beautiful extended dance community. Thank you for joining me in contributing to material kindness in our city with this project.
I hope to see you on this celebratory dance floor!
Wassa’s Savory Dances for Autumn
October 13-15, 2023
Madrona MindBody Institute
at Fort Worden
Port Townsend, WA
IT WAS FABULOUS!
Join us for a weekend immersion in movement and music dedicated to the richness of our individual and collective experiences. Each of the three daily sessions offer the invitation to come as you are and go deeper into what calls to you through embodied listening, with guided contemplative and lively movement that is sourced daily with some of the best music the world has to offer.
All levels of fitness and experience are welcome.
$230 for the weekend
Spaces are limited and first come first served
Single sessions available by request
Email Lara at firstname.lastname@example.org for registration, payment options, cancellation policy, any questions or requests.
Our preliminary schedule is:
Friday 10/13: 4-6 pm
Saturday 10/14: 1-4 pm
Sunday 10/15: Noon – 3 pm
One of the sirens’ calls that first got me into teaching dance was the notion that I could make my own mixes with all this new to my ears music that was coming my way. From the continent of Africa especially. This excitement along with needing to structure a mix along an aerobic hear rate curve was very compelling.
I spent a lot of time counting the beats per minute of pieces and hours and hours getting a set just so in the cassette form.
Then came the CD format. Faster but still needing to have all the physical materials on hand to make something happen. Once it was burned, it was done.
Now I can make and rearrange mixes as fast as I can think of or explore a new song.
I’ve had many different goals with the musical choices I’ve made over the years but exposing folks to some of the vast richness of cultures and expressions from the African diaspora has always been one of the essential keys.
When we were first slowly coming out of Covid lock downs, working with so many restrictions, including dancing in separate taped off squares, masked and 98% virtually, many of the 100+ compilations didn’t feel right. Some sounded too big, some had too many layers of memories for me of big groups and unencumbered spaces, some I thought wouldn’t sound good on whatever home set up people were using to dance on Zoom. I didn’t try to present as if it was the same class as ever with some inconveniences thrown in. And I felt we needed music that was encouraging, nurturing and inspiring to move with in small spaces.
I now have a whole series of those that start with the letter Z (for Zoom).
This winter one of our long time dancers, Nan, who now has dementia, started joining us on Tuesdays. When I know she’s coming, I’ve gone for my most gentle mixes thinking too much stimulation might be harder. Having her there is teaching me many things. One is the kinds of music she most seems to respond to (it varies but definitely pieces with a touch of Latin flavor). And for however small it appears, how deep from within her those movements are. It feels very pure. One of the things I appreciate about her responses too, is how when she gets overstimulated she simply stops and slowly folds herself into a ball on the floor. Or makes her way to the door where her amazing husband helps her sit out for a while until she’s ready for more.
Lately as more people are able to return in person and we can use the whole room again, my curiousity, creativity and musical palette are opening up too.
Last week Ismaila Toure of the great Senegalese band Toure Kunda died. Hearing this reminded me of how their song “Salaly Muhamed” was one of THOSE songs that got me excited to start teaching with my own musical choices. I set out to re-explore some if their work and other songs from that era. That resulted in a mix I made with Nan in mind that also includes Samite, Remmy Ongala, Dorothy Masuka, Thomas Mapfumo, Angelique Kidjo…
The next one brought in more from Toure Kunda, some older some newer, a nod to De La Soul’s catalogue being remastered and released with most of their original samples (and RIP Trougoy/Dave), a posthumous piece from Ali Farka Toure, new Baaba Maal and a Janelle Monae/Seun Kuti collaboration, Kokoko!,Angelique Kidjo and a few more. I wasn’t sure this one was going to fly but it held together in a fresh way. I can’t wait to dance with it more.
In late March 2021 I had my right knee replaced. Before the surgery I had thought I’d be back to dancing and teaching in some form after 6 weeks or so. I really had no idea how deep, personal and profound my healing process would be and how important to go slowly and not push or rush to return to the physical and energetic daily life I was used to.
I also had very little sense of how challenging it had been to maintain a semi-active life with a degenerated joint and dancing alone that way in the studio for Covid time Zoom sessions until that had passed.
I did know from the minute I first set weight my hours old new knee that my world had shifted for the better.
I am most grateful for all the love and support that has come my way in this process. It has been a powerful and beautiful teaching to give over and receive love in action from so many sources during this time.
And I am very happy to report that my surgeon has cleared me to start teaching again!
We’ll start back on September 7, 2021 with regular classes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
For now our sessions will be a mix of in-person participation (masked dancing) and Zoom for those who want to dance from home. Balance Studio takes the utmost care to ensure that the studio is meeting pandemic safety and health guidelines with regular cleaning, proper ventilation and daily symptom checks for all participants and staff.
I look forward and…………stay tuned!
This month will have an unusual schedule for online classes.
We are on our regular Tuesday & Thursdays 10:30 – 11:30 am through April 15.
Check back on our class page for details on the rest of the month and also May offerings as things unfold.
As with so many things during this time of striving to turn the tide of the Covid pandemic, Wassa Dance and Village Volunteers annual Thanks-Giving Dance by Donation fundraiser will not be happening this year. I am very sad about this as it has been one of the great highlights of my year both personally and professionally, and a joyful way to celebrate community and a global consciousness for the past 16 years.
I am so grateful to everyone who has participated in, helped out with and donated to these projects, especially the musicians who have donated their talents and fueled our inspiration to move together so beautifully year after year.
The idea for these events all started for me in 2003 through a conversation I had with my friend and teacher, the late great Lummi healer Beaverchief. He was talking about the emotional challenges every November brought to him and many indigenous people with the illusions around the origins of a holiday he called “Thanks For Nothing”. That made me want to do something different to mark a traditional day of gathering and enjoying bounty. The rest came so easily. One of the dancers in my classes, Shana Greene had started a nonprofit called Village Volunteers and was developing beneficial projects with local folks in different parts of Africa. I already had a studio I rented time from that I could donate, a wonderful group of musicians who I collaborated with every Sunday willing to donate their talents and plenty of good hearted students. Setting the event up so that every dollar raised went straight to the project was easy too. And so we began. I don’t know if any of us realized this would become such a beloved annual tradition gathering between 30-85 multigenerational participants (several years one of our beloved families brought four generations!) every year for the next 16 years raising over $30,000 for mostly micro-loan based projects. So many treasured moments, such loving connections, so much goodness. I remain amazed.
Thank you all and thank you again!
Here is a letter from Shana Greene and an opportunity to donate to Village Volunteers this year if you are able and so inclined.
Thanksgiving mornings have held a special place in my heart for the last 16 years. As the founder and ED of Village Volunteers, I looked forward to Thanksgiving morning as a soul lifting tradition to gather with people to dance, give thanks, and raise funds for specific projects enhancing self- sufficiency in rural African villages.
Lara McIntosh, the Director of Wassa Dance, led attendees in Afro-infused movement accompanied by a talented group of percussionists who raised the level of joy as we danced.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we will not gather at the dance school gymnasium and hug and profusely thank the musicians who show up every year and rock the house. The love is always palpable.
The impact of the donations over the years has been significant in generating income activities that support families and communities’ immediate needs and help invest in the wellbeing of their futures.
The projects that Wassa Dance’s Thanks-Giving Dance by Donation events have raised funds for over the years are still thriving and continue to cycle resources and funds into the communities we’ve donated to. Here are some ofthe projects we have supported over these 16 years:
- A Bee Cooperative
- A Goat Project
- A Chicken Project
- Supplying bicycles for couriers in a remote Maasai community
- Two Textile Cooperatives in Ghana – one making children’s clothes and the other,
providing sewing machines and equipment for batiking.
- A goat dairy run by a girl’s school in Kenya
- Seed saving cooperatives and seed banks
- The Moringa Tree Project that set up tree nurseries for the “miracle” moringa, a tree that has more protein in the leaves than soybean meal.
- Vulnerable women making sanitary pads from water hyacinth (an invasive species) – won a UN Woman Award for empowering women through business
- Two Posho (corn) milling cooperatives, and many microcredit loans for women who prosper as seamstresses, farmers, and more.
Although we cannot be together in person this year, we invite those who have the means to continue our tradition of Thanks-Giving donations.
This year we have chosen to enhance a Women’s Table Banking group. Table banking is a proven method for women to spearhead their finances and experience economic benefits. Each table banking group meets once a week where they place on a table their savings and loan repayments with a small amount of interest. In Kenya, table banking is an organized and calculated means for women to have control over their finances by pooling their money. This savings program is a way for entrepreneurs who work individually to support one another and multiply the fund to include additional women entrepreneurs and second loans.
To donate, click here to access the dropdown menus/programs and choose Initiatives Micro and Social Enterprises development. On the special instructions field, write table banking/Wassa Dance. If anyone would like more information, you can call contact me at email@example.com.
Take care and have a safe and warm Thanks-Giving,
Top rated 2019 Nonprofit – Great NonProfits
5100 S. Dawson St. Suite 202
Seattle, WA 98118
Website Village Volunteers