Like many American citizens with African ancestry, I have (at least) an indirect connection with the region of West Africa. Whether historic, symbolic, or current, my cultural heritage echoes the crashing waters of the shores, the sensory stimuli of the interior, and the enduring legacy of the people. As a child I learned traditional dance forms – ballet, tap, gymnastics, lyric – and so I felt I had a connection to the Thiossane West African Dance Institute. Nothing was further from the truth and nothing, still, could have prepared me for the brilliance I was to witness.
As I passed through the double-doored entrance of the Lincoln Theatre in the Spring of 2014, there was a deliberate chaos that enveloped me. Ushers, dancers, family, friends, and spectators all buzzed through the lobby with heightened anticipation. It was the type of excitement that one experiences when she will both witness and be a part of something great.
I took my seat and was greeted by attendees as they entered the theatre and communed with each other. They seemed to exchange knowing glances while I was still uncertain of just what was about to happen. We all settled into our places and readied – or braced – ourselves for the show.
Bright, colorful lights ushered Suzan Bradford-Kounta onto the stage. An image of grace, Suzan’s smile fell over the crowd like a warm embrace. She was preparing us for a mutual exchange of energy so we had to give back just as much as we were being given. This mutual exchange was more than performance etiquette – it was our metaphysical cost of attendance.
The lights dimmed and a burst of sound filled the space. The men were calling our attention. “Listen! I see you, you are here!” Their rhythmic drumming took over and we all fell in sync. Our bodies, our hands, our feet, our hearts all seemed to drum at the same cadence.
Like visions, the women began to glide on stage. Their wardrobes were filled with color and texture so rich it made my teeth hurt! All shapes, sizes, ages and walks of life floated effortlessly across the stage with meaning.
I felt a sense of loss when the show ended. We had developed such a sense of community and belonging that night and I didn’t want that feeling to end. Fortunately, my memory of that first performance lives on and has been recreated several times over.
Tyiesha Radford is a Columbus native who enjoys reading, writing, and listening to music. A graduate student in African American and African Studies, she hopes to one day publish her work and become a teacher.