The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Uniting through movement

Kaleidoscope students learn about western African dances and music with in-residence artists

Monday morning, the students of Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science were gathered in the gym for a performance by Anchorage-based Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska. The performers will be in-residence at the school for two weeks, joining classrooms, holding community events and promoting cultural literacy.

During Monday’s kickoff, they played drums, danced and led the students in song — teaching them phrases in Swahili. Sankofa Director Misha Baskerville said Monday that the group’s purpose is to promote cultural awareness and unity.

“We’re different, but we’re not so different. We all have our own differences. It’s great to embrace your identity,” Baskerville said. “Our differences make us unique.”

That cultural education is the foundation for Sankofa, she said. Sankofa means “go back and fetch.”

“Reflect upon your past in order to have a progressive future,” Baskerville said.

During the two-week residence, Sankofa performers will teach five classes each day at the school, with further related learning happening outside of those sessions. Kaleidoscope students will be learning about the drum, its history and its uses, as well as dances from the western parts of Africa, including Ghana and Senegal, Baskerville said.

“We like that region because the movements are high impact, fun and engaging.”

A connection will be drawn between the history of the dances and contemporary urban movements, she said.

In addition to the school programming, two public events will be held at the school featuring the Sankofa Dance Theater. On Thursday, the group will lead a free community class in Kaleidoscope’s gym from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., where they will teach some of the songs and dances.

Next week, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. on March 31, the last day of the residence, Kaleidoscope students will hold an “informance,” sharing what they’ve learned with the community, including a song created by Sankofa for Kaleidoscope.

This year will be Sankofa’s second residence at Kaleidoscope, following a weeklong event in 2019. Baskerville said they were scheduled to return to the school in 2020, but plans were stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Sankofa was able to return.

“Eventually, we’ll be visiting all the schools in Alaska,” Baskerville said. “That’s our goal.”

Baskerville said she formed Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska along with her brother Johnnie Wright III because they saw a lack of representation for Black culture in Alaska.

Bringing their programs into schools is about increasing understanding in the students for their peers and for others in the community, she said.

“Connecting with the kids on that level and that energy is just so fulfilling,” she said. “It’s so rewarding and it reaffirms the purpose of what Sankofa is here for.”

For more information about Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska, visit facebook.com/SankofaAlaska.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Misha Baskerville sings for a crowd of students during an opening performance by Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Misha Baskerville sings for a crowd of students during an opening performance by Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska sing for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska sing for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Johnnie Wright III sings for a crowd of students during an opening performance by Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Johnnie Wright III sings for a crowd of students during an opening performance by Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The members of Sankofa Dance Theater Alaska perform for a crowd of students during an opening performance at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai, Alaska on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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