Intent & Bio

Marita Kennedy-Castro

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Marita has been a scholar of West African Dance since ’99, when she was introduced to the art form through Guinean teachers living in Burlington, VT. She devoted herself to immersion studies in Guinea dance and culture during extended visits to the country, in addition to attending international festivals and classes.

Marita is a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and community organizer. She regularly hosts master artists from West Africa as guest teachers to the Wabanaki territory we call “Maine” under colonization. This is also the land she grew up in, and where she has now been teaching and performing since ’04.

She builds community through collaborative arts production, and performance facilitation. Her work contributes to broadening multi-cultural awareness and interconnection, and illuminating avenues to healing through movement as medicine. She is founder of Embody the Rhythm, visionary and facilitator of Bakunda (We Love), and the artistic director, choreographer and performer with New Moon Ensemble. She completed her thesis in Dance & Performance Art for Healing & Social Change at Goddard College.

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Personal Background & Intent 

I was born in the United States into a family of mixed background with healthy doses of both Irish and Sicilian. As a young girl I studied Ballet and had dreams of leaping until I could fly. It was my first West African dance class in 1999 that really put the air under my feet.

I am enraptured by the movements in Guinea Dance as well as the way the traditions honor interconnection to the rhythms of nature and to one another, celebrating life’s cycles and seasons ~ Something that is intrinsic to many traditional life-ways around the world, yet so often goes forgotten in the culture I grew up in.

Since ’99, I have studied under master teachers from Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Rwanda and Congo, with a primary focus in Guinean dance. It was my beloved teacher, world-renowned master Youssouf Koumbassa, from whom I received the encouragement and blessing to teach and perform.

I share my love for this cultural dance & music with my community to help build appreciation, interest and understanding. I position myself not as an expert, but as a facilitator, an agent and a bridge builder. Together with a committed crew of drummers, I’ve been able to develop an ever-growing community base with which to host master dance and drum teachers from West Africa, to my home territory.

In January 2015 we were blessed to be joined by master village drummer Namory Keita from Sangbarala, Guinea. Namory accompanies weekly dance classes, and teaches drumming classes. He travels to teach and perform around the country and beyond.

In 2015 Namory and I formed New Moon Ensemble – West African Drum & Dance to expand horizons, inspire international study and share our love for intercultural exchange. Many of the talented dancers and drummers I’ve worked with for over a decade are a core part of the Ensemble. Together we build community and inspire international study and collaboration, through the healing power of music and dance. We offer private and public workshops, residencies, choreographed productions and modern community rituals for weddings, graduations, baby blessings, ceremonies and occasions of all kinds.

I highly encourage anyone who’s interested in West African dance to immerse themselves in the traditions. To add motivation, we continue to host master teachers to Maine each year. Together with my friend and colleague Elizabeth Fowler, we’ve brought in Brigitte Ndikum-Nyada, from Cameroon, Theo Martey from Ghana, and from Guinea: Youssouf Koumbassa, Abdoulaye Sylla, Sidiki SyllaIsmael BangouraSeny DaffeSayon Camara, Ismael Kouyate, and Namory Keita.

I received my Bachelor of Arts, in Health Arts and Sciences from Goddard College, with a self-designed major in Dance and Performance Art for Healing and Social Change. I’m passionate about broadening multi-cultural awareness and appreciation, and illuminating avenues to healing through movement medicine.

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