West Siders learn African dance, history

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Brightly colored sarongs and the beat of a drum fill the room as Austin residents trickle in for Sankofa’s weekly African dance class.

The Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center offers a variety of classes, but every Friday night you can learn the history behind African dance while taking a beginners’ course.

“I’m trying to get my certification as a group fitness instructor, so the owner is letting me start each class with a warm-up exercise,” said Daryl Davis, who retired in December from a government job and longed for something fun and active.

“This is a great class for people of all ages,” she said.

The African dance class shares the history of West African dances like manjani, funga and kuku. The dances signify celebration and the rights of passage, and are performed during weddings, festivals and special occasions.

“It’s really all about the young people, and giving them a chance to express who they are and help them into adulthood,” said Stacia Crawford, co-owner of Sankofa,  5820 W. Chicago Ave.

“Everyone is really at ease and doesn’t feel self conscious here, and that has a lot to do with the atmosphere and instructor.”

“I came to Sankofa because the West Side of Chicago doesn’t offer African dancing,” instructor Regina Perry-Carr said. “The South Side is saturated with different classes. I want to introduce something new to this community.” Carr started dancing when she was 3 and began teaching as a teen.

“My mom was a dance instructor for 12 years at the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park, and I begged her to let me teach,” said Perry-Carr, who trained with Najwan Dance Corp. and is a member of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago.

Dancing helps participants stay in shape.

“This class helps combat the obesity in our community, which helps prevent things like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease,” Crawford said.

Marion Norwood, a kindergarten teacher at Longfellow Elementary in Oak Park, brings her daughters to class.

“This is a great way to spend time with my girls and get some exercise,” Norwood said. “I like that African dancing is accepting of different body types. I think that gives my girls a great message about being themselves.”

Norwood enjoys seeing her daughters – Xiomara, Adia and Asha – involved in a positive activity.

“The Friday schedule is perfect for us. Class isn’t too late, so we have time to spend with each other after.”

Offering these kind of classes is important to Stacia Crawford and her husband Malcolm, who run Sankofa.

“My husband grew up in this community, and we watched it deteriorate. You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I watch it crumble, or can we do something about it?’ So that’s what we’re doing here, we’re helping our community youth.”

Classes are held from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and cost $60 for six weeks.  Call 773-626-4497.

Click here to watch a video of the class.

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