Dance & Drum Under the Sun | Interview with Portland Phoenix

Dance Class with Embody the Rhythm – Photo credit: Shannon Bryan

Amidst all that 2020 presents, the constance of the Earth beneath our feet remains.

In an open field next to Back Cove the drums ring out, calling our bodies into motion.  Dancing and drumming with our feet in the grass while clouds pass by overhead has been one of the “silver linings” of the summer.

Dance Class with Embody the Rhythm – Photo credit: Shannon Bryan

A few weeks ago Shannon Bryan from Fit Maine came by our Tuesday class to take photos and send along interview questions for the Portland Phoenix.

As it goes with “getting press” many details we pour our hearts into don’t make it to print, so I’m sharing the full interview plus more of Shannon’s
lovely photos in this post.

Marita Kennedy-Castro of Embody the Rhythm, Interviewed by Shannon Bryan for the Portland Phoenix ~

What do you love about this style of dancing? How would you describe the dance style?

I was first drawn to traditional Guinea Dance w​hen I heard​ ​the rhythms of the drums at a West African Dance festival in VT, 1999. I felt like they called my heart and soul back into my body during some particularly tough times.​

I fell in love with the dances because they connect us with life’s cycles and seasons and build community through honoring shared experience. The rhythms/songs/dances bring people together to celebrate being alive​,​ in relationship with one another and the earth. Dances celebrate births, rights of passage, weddings, planting/harvesting, help preserve history and so much more. 

Guinea’s traditional dances are constantly evolving as they continue modernize with movements that reflect the styles of the younger generations. This keeps it alive and fresh, with always more to learn.

In addition to the mental/emotional health benefits of dancing, the physical benefits are undeniable. While simultaneously a beautiful and expressive art form, Guinea dance and drumming help build and maintain strength, agility, flexibility, balance and grace.

Dance Class with Embody the Rhythm – Photo credit: Shannon Bryan

What do you love about teaching?

Your approach goes beyond choreography and encourages students to know and appreciate the regions and cultures where dances originated.

Why is this such an important part of your approach? 

As a teacher I believe it is essential that I talk about the regions and cultures where these dances originated and to speak to my position in the lineage of my learning.

Honoring the tradition and history is incredibly important in recognition of what too often is perpetuated through cultural appropriation. We lose respect for one another as human beings when we forget the lineage, forget to honor our teachers, and the source of the arts that fill and inspire us.

All over the world traditional cultural practices celebrate the interconnectedness of life through music and dance. Yet due to rampant colonization and the devaluing of traditional life-ways many of us never experience honoring life’s cycles through shared community rituals that include dancing and live music. I believe in bringing these practices back into focus; that the arts have an important role to play in our collective healing and liberation from the illusion of separateness.

As one small step in collective change-making, a percentage of dance class contributions support important social change initiatives both in Guinea and locally. These can be learned about in detail on my website, under the tab, “Movement Medicine for Social Change”.

Movement is truly medicine.
Dancing is incredibly therapeutic for me and I’m inspired by helping others access more freedom of movement in their own bodies.

Dance Class with Embody the Rhythm – Photo credit: Shannon Bryan

Who is welcome to come to class?
(Experience needed? Is the choreography really hard to learn?)

Classes are welcoming and inclusive to a diverse community of students. All ethnicities, all gender expressions​ and ​all ability levels are always welcome. All classes are additionally offered online or by video for those who can’t attend in person.

I’ve designed current weekly classes to suit teen to adult learners​, and generally offer children’s classes separately to better engage ​their energy. However, while classes are being held outside ​​and space is ample, kids sometimes come and dance alongside a parent.

My beginner/foundations class is a great place to start at a bit slower pace, and beginner/intermediate class welcomes movers at all-levels, offering more detail for those who want to take it further. I encourage everyone to focus on feeling the movements, listen to the drums and “fake it till you make it” rather than holding on too tight. More ease comes with time and commitment, and dance is for all bodies.

I offer a preschool/family movement series seasonally, and am a guest teaching artist for schools and universities. I’m developing more online offerings for the months ahead, including seated movement for folks with physical limitations.

Left to right: Janice Erickson, Namory Keita & Jeff Howe – Photo credit: Shannon Bryan

Anything else you want readers to know?

Traditional Guinea dance is inseparable from the drumming that accompanies it, and our drummers are a treasured part of this community.

Since ’03 I’ve been blessed to work with a highly trained and talented crew of drummers, including well-known musicians Annegret Baier and master village drummer, Namory Keita from Sangbarela, Guinea.

Namory  joined this community in 2015, bringing rich cultural representation and becoming our celebrated musical director. ​ ​Together we formed New Moon Ensemble to share Guinea style West African Dance & Drumming through performance. We also host renowned Guinean dance and drum artists to Maine* a few times per year to teach, perform and expand awareness of this beautiful art form.

Both Namory and Annegret are fantastic teachers who offer weekly drum classes in Guinean rhythm​s, for all levels of students. Their class details and links can be found on the homepage of my website. 

Du​e to​ pandemic, ​performances and teaching residencies have been cancelled and artists are doing our best to continue bringing what we love to our communities – Please support local artists, whenever possible.

*We dance in Wabanaki territory – the original people of this land, who are still here. Originally called Machigonne, we call this land “Portland, Maine” under colonization.

Class times, details and registration can be found on the home page at:

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Link to Shannon Bryan’s article, “Move Your Body” which also covers classes with fabulous local dancer and teacher, Veeva Banga, whom I strongly encourage folks to take class with! You can follow Shannon’s inspiring offerings through Fit Maine.

Thanks for being part of this dance & drum community and for sharing your resilience in motion!

Dance Class with Embody the Rhythm – Photo credit: Shannon Bryan

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Drummers with Embody the Rhythm – Photo credit: Shannon Bryan

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Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland, ME 04103 | (207) 200-4834