SANDPOINT — African masks are a traditional part of a ceremonial costume, used in religious, sacred and social events, and represent spirits of animals, ancestors or mythological creatures.
“They might represent a hero, or a special event going on in a family’s life,” said Melinda Rossman, Homeschool Academy director. “The Dogon people of Mali believe that the mask dance creates a bridge into a supernatural world.”
Dancing to the beat of the drums, wearing handmade masks in the tradition of the African people, Homeschool Academy students and parents took to the stage in the Sandpoint High School auditorium on Friday in celebration of Black History Month.
The production was modeled after the mask dance from Mali, West Africa, with dance lead Robin Getter from the School of Rhythms and Dance. Getter hosted a workshop Wednesday and Thursday for the 40 students and eight parents involved in the production, where they learned traditional African dance and song for Friday’s event, learning to listen and count the drum beats to keep rhythm with the music as they danced. The also each made their own mask during the workshop.
“They learned some history about the dances and Robin’s experiences in Africa — places you can’t go anymore — and just being able to be part of something bigger, something different, something special ... the kids love it,” Rossman said.
Getter said she has been teaching African dance since the 1980s. While she has made a few trips to Africa over the years, she also studies with Africans who live in the United States, she said. It was also in the 1980s when Rossman and Getter became friends, meeting as professional ski instructors in Colorado. They’ve been close ever since. With Rossman running the Homeschool Academy, Getter saw a perfect opportunity to work with her and the kids. She called Rossman up in September and asked about celebrating Black History Month and, of course, Rossman said, “Let’s do it.”
“It is just a real honor and a gift to me to share what I know with Sandpoint,” Getter said.
Rossman was able to tap into a local partnership with the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint as well. Professional drummer Ali Thomas, along with her drum crew, performed the music for the production on djembe and dunun drums.
“Ali Thomas is a very valuable resource for me,” Getter said. “We have studied with similar teachers, but we’ve never met. So we know the same music, and she is awesome.”
With each dance and song, Getter briefly explained the meaning behind it, such as the “Yankadi Makru,” which is a flirtatious dance typically performed under the full moon where villages could come together and the young people could meet each other. The group also sang about a calabash, which Getter said is a gourd the Africans carve into a bowl. When someone says, “Everybody bring your calabash,” she said, that means there is a party going on. The kids sang the song together before getting the audience singing along as well.
Rossman said she hopes to do similar events in the future years, using her partnerships in the local community, as well as her connections out in the world, like Getter.
“It is just such a cool experience to do something out of the ordinary,” Rossman said.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.