Kolaam Dance is a a group of teaching artists led by Senegalese artist Idy Ciss. The group performs workshops and performances in schools throughout the Chicago area. The educational objective is to teach students dance and rhythm, and elements central to life in west Africa.
Kolaam’s primary program is the STORIES project, a cultural exchange program for students in the Chicago area and Thionck-Essyl, Senegal. STORIES is centered on developing students' problem solving skills and critical thinking through elements of storytelling, west African dance, drumming, and friendship
The STORIES Project
Senegal is home to a number of ethnic groups who celebrate, mourn, and commune through their individual dances and drumming rhythms. In West Africa, “Learning to play the drums and to dance is like learning to walk and speak,” according Idy Ciss. These art forms are central to the identity of the cultures within the country, and express humanity in the most beautiful, powerful ways.
Most Americans have limited exposure to the breadth of experiences in West Africa and the continent of Africa in general. Likewise, many in Senegal have a limited view of who and what make up the United States. Most often, the thought is that everything is better everywhere in the U.S. Like Americans’ assumption that all of Africa is “the bush”, many in Senegal have the notion that our entire country is as it appears on television shows--beauty and wealth everywhere.
The STORIES Project key goals are to teach youth about the complexities of the world and to persist in solving problems. This education will be received through exposure to new ways of life and experiences that counter inaccurate cultural assumptions.
Kolaam Dance will work with American students at St. Francis Xavier School in Wilmette, Illinois over a semester. In conjunction with a Story Elements Unit in Literature, 6th grade students will create a story, which the Kolaam artists will set to West African choreography, drums, and narration.
Cross-Cultural Student Connection
To maximize this experience for the students, they will virtually connect with students at Ecole Mambouna DIATTA in Thionk Essyl, Senegal. The students at each school will develop relationships by email, and show their story/dance via skype or another communication tool while reflecting and discussing similarities and differences in aspects of each story.
The STORIES Project Staff
Idy Ciss comes to us from Senegal. He credits his grandparents with his natural dance ability. From the time he was five years old, the people from his village loved to watch him dance. He credits the love and support of his family and neighbors as the catalyst which led him to the field of professional dance. Idy is also a teacher and singer of traditional African songs. His professional debut was with Les Ballets Africans Kolaam Serere. Formerly a full-time member of Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago, Idy now consults for the company and teaches at Northwestern University, Columbia College, and Old Town School of Folk Music.
Mark Steele has been involved in community and real estate development for over 25 years, developing community-based projects, in the US, the Caribbean and East Africa with an emphasis on integrated design and sustainability. Mark has been heavily influenced by the cross cultural environment of the south side of Chicago and Hyde Park area, where he was raised. In 2012 he founded an NGO called Maji Masafi Initiative, an organization committed to the education and empowerment of women in Kenya through the development of clean water resources, health and hygiene education. Kolaam Dance Productions is a natural extension for his work in Kenya. He has been involved in the African dance community in Chicago for the past several years and has traveled to Senegal to learn the language, dance and drumming that are central to the culture of West Africa. Mark is an active Rotarian and worked as professional musician for 10 years, playing everything from gospel to jazz to orchestral music.
Kimberly is currently a Sixth Grade Math and Literature/Language Arts Teacher for St. Francis Xavier School in Wilmette, Illinois. She began her career in the field of dance funding at New England Foundation for the Arts with the National Dance Project, for whom she organized funders, artists, and special initiatives in the dance field while managing distribution of grants. She obtained her Master’s Degree in Education at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, specializing in the integration of the arts into general education. She worked as Education Director and a grant writer for the Cypress String Quartet in San Francisco before earning her Master’s Degree in Teaching from National Louis University and beginning her career as a teacher.
Carrie Thomas joined the Chicago Jobs Council as Associate Director in 2008. Now as Executive Director, Carrie works with partners across the city, state, and country to advance CJC’s mission. She juggles staying abreast of policy changes, listening to the needs of the workforce field, and identifying the barriers to employment where CJC can make a difference inthe lives of un- and underemployed job seekers. She also provides leadership and support to the multi-talented staff that keep CJC’s work moving forward. Prior to joining CJC, Carrie spent ten years advocating on behalf of low-wage job seekers and dislocated workers in Minnesota. Her work has always been oriented towards justice and opportunities. Carrie’s motivation is simple: as her friend Kris says, “people should be able to eat and live indoors.” Ask Carrie about mosaics, West African dance, and the animals of Instagram she follows.
The owner of Bea2B Service, Beatrice Weiss is a degreed professional with over 20 years of accounting experience and international business management. She was instrumental in setting up the operation for a Swiss machine manufacturer who expanded from Europe to the U.S.A. Her personality combined with her strength in analytical and organizational structures led her to specialize in accounting management and consultancy for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Beatrice, a native of Switzerland, not only approaches business needs with a dedication for details, state of the art procedures but also with a multicultural attitude and a personal touch. When not working Beatrice spends her free time taking African dance and drum classes. She has travelled to West Africa numerous times to learn about the culture and the dance. She supports the African Arts and Dance community in various ways.
Monimia Macbeth is a dance/movement psychotherapist in Chicago, IL. She received her Master’s Degree in dance/movement therapy and counseling from Columbia College Chicago. Monimia spent her first three years in the mental health field working in residential treatment for children and adolescents who have experienced severe trauma and women suffering from eating disorders and substance abuse. She currently works for Communities in Schools of Chicago as a Student Support Manager in Chicago Public Schools. Her passion for youth stems from her roles in facilitation and leadership within youth development non-profit organizations in the greater Chicago and South Florida area. Outside of her work in the mental health field, Monimia is a performing company member of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, and teaches African dance to children and adults for Muntu around the city. Monimia’s life work is to support youth globally; as she works to achieve that goal she continues to invest in her community supporting youth as a clinician, mentor, teacher, and advocate.
We are grateful for your donations that will support the STORIES Project and related programming for Kolaam Dance.
Saturday, July 20th
2853 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60618