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 email@example.com 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
This is a copy of what I sent out today:
Hello Beautiful People!
I hope this finds you well and safe.
So much has been and is changing in and around us.
Now that we are in Phase II of Covid 19 activities, I have the opportunity to go back into Balance Studio (and can bring one person under 65) to offer online sessions on Zoom.
I’ll send another email in the next day or so with specifics & details after I go into Balance Studio to learn the early ropes. Big ups to Aileen and Daniel for the powerful ways they have kept their mission with dance and culture going during these challenging times.
As I step back into teaching it is very important for me to honor and acknowledge how profoundly my creative life has been inspired by music and cultures from Africa and its diaspora. This love has brought me beautiful powerful experiences, teachers, friendships and collaborations. I have visited Brazil and studied in Mali and those experiences continue to be great influences for me. From the start, ihas not my intent to present what I offer as an “African” dance class or to be an authority on cultures outside my own. That’s not possible. There are very good dance teachers here in Seattle that are African, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, Cuban and more, who work hard and their wonderful offerings are available to you!
As a lifelong student and teaching artist in Seattle, I see my role as sharing what I learn and am inspired/challenged by from deep wells of my privileges, inspiration, examination, ongoing dialogue, truth seeking, re-learning history as a citizen of the world, spirit sources and movement studies as a springboard for people to experience a taste of for themselves and offer resources for how to go deeper with the music and movement that speaks to you.
As white person whose life has been so enriched by cultures outside my own, it is important for me to advocate for African and Black arts and artists and social justice. When we dance, we dance. I will also be putting together more resources to be shared on my website and finding the best way to share the music I use and putting that in the context of where it comes from.
I’ll be back in touch as soon as final details are in place for our online July experiment.
Wassa Dance lives in solidarity with all who are devoted to the necessary work of creating true social justice in our world.
Back in the late 1980’s when I was a student at Physical Culture Fitness Studio, there was a Sunday class taught by Kristi Rudolph with live African percussion. That was the most exciting class of the week to take. And, at the time, it was one of the few places drum students (most of whom were white) could come and play along the great African percussionists who were living here. It got to be quite a scene where sometimes there were almost more drummers than dancers (and the rooms always packed). Congas were slowly being replaced with Djembes as THE chosen drum. Eventually the Senior living center across the street filed a city complaint about the “volume of noise that was disturbing to the residents’ well being”. That was the end of that era.
Right around that same time, Kristi moved on and I was chosen to take over the class. As a new teacher, I had very big shoes to fill and needed to find ways to make these classes my own. Because of the trouble with our neighbors, I ended up moving the Sunday class to a much smaller studio in the top of the building what was the Ballard Firehouse night club. A core group of dancing friends helped me decide to not make the class be a drum jam session for aspiring players and focus instead of some of the beautiful acoustic instruments I was just learning about. I had musicians friends who were very happy to experiment with their beloved berimbaus, mbiras and kalimbas, balafon, pandeiro, agogos and smaller hand drums. And our cross-cultural improvisational collaborations began.
I’m remembering all this as I think about the last live session we had in February of this year at our new home in the Taj Yoga Studio. That turned out to be very special. One of my most beloved teachers and friend Won-Ldy Paye made a surprise visit while in town for an artist residency. Few things could have made me happier than to have him there that day. There were students who are brand new to my work, students who had heard of Won-Ldy and some long timers who had danced with him a project we got to be part of for Seattle Art Museum’s exhibition “Long Steps Never Broke a Back” (more on that another time), or when he lived here and taught classes. Some of my favorite musicians to collaborate with were there too. It was a good good day. One that refueled and inspired me and seems all the more important now that all the studio in town are shuttered indefinitely and it is hard to know how long it will be until anything like that is safe to do again.
Dear Friends and Students,
Wassa Dance classes are on our regular schedule for now. We are trusting in folks following best practices for both self-care and community well being. Dancing in community is a beautiful thing and we are grateful for every day this happens, especially now. If you are feeling sick or vulnerable, please stay home and take good care.
If we need to deviate from our regular schedule, I will post here, on Wassa’s FaceBook page, and send out an email via Constant Contact.
If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Please know that Balance Studio is very pro-active in keeping our dance space clean and sanitized. Here is an excerpt from them:
As the spread of COVID-19 continues throughout our area, we are closely monitoring advisories from King County and Washington State Public Health. At Balance Studio we are taking measures to frequently disinfect doorknobs, light switches, water dispenser, bathroom, studio equipment and all other areas frequently touched by both instructors and students. We recommend washing hands or using a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer before entering the studio and before leaving. Bring a change of clothes to change into after class if you do floor exercise. Remember to not only prevent contact with the virus but boost your own immune system by eating a well balanced meal (with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables for their immune-enhancing capacities), get plenty of rest and avoid stress as much as possible. Below are a few reminders and links for more resources. As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
- Stay at home and away from others if you are feeling ill.King County Department of Health:https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/communicable-diseases/disease-control/novel-coronavirus.aspxWA State Department of HealthEPA-Approved Disinfectants:
My holiday break comes late this year. I'm very pleased to have these wonderful women stepping in to keep you dancing while I am away:
Monday 1/6 - Becci Parsons
Becci brings her beautiful wit, wisdom and love of movement coupled with her many years of Feldenkrais practice.
Wednesday and Friday 1/8 & 1/10 - Janelle Campoverde
Janelle shares her love of Brazilian movement and music along with her great insights in Feldenkrais technique.
Saturday 1/11 - Kine Camara
Kine carries the legacy of her father Ibrahima Camara's mastery of traditional Senegalese dance and percussion to the next generation along with her studies in Afro-Beats style.
Monday 1/13 - Becci Parsons
Wishing you a brilliant new year
full of fulfillment, joy and lots of dancing!
We had a glorious time! Here are just a few shots from this beloved and successful fundraiser. Many thanks to our beautiful musicians, Caxambu, Denny Stern, Thierno Diop, Shemayim Elohim, Jay Braverman and Lance Lu. And to all who participated and contributed to this event.
We've raised close to $3,000 so far which translates into business loans for 45 women and their families in rural Kenya.
It's not too late to donate.