Written by Elise Glaser
As three different drums begin to beat in Diola style, eight students follow their choreographer Dallo Yayefall onto stage while clapping traditional West African instruments to the beat.
The students create a variety of formations on stage, at one point developing a circle in which pairs of dancers or single dancers enter in the middle and perform their own dance to the beat of the fellow dancers’ instruments. Their rhythmic dance is mesmerizing to watch—due equally to the perfect rhythm of the drummers, the nimble feet of the dancers, and the joyous smile on Dallo’s face.
This dance is one of the many performances of DanSix: Mobilities, a dance performance featuring a variety of faculty choreographers and student dancers. One of those choreographers is Yayefall, a visiting professor at Colorado College, who was born and raised in Senegal.
This dance is, surprisingly, Dallo’s first choreography for CC. Dallo first moved to Colorado Springs eight years ago to live with her husband, whom she married seven years prior to moving. She began teaching dance at the Casa Verde Common House in 2010. One night while performing in a dance for African Night, a production in Colorado Springs, Patrizia Herminjard (an artist-in-residence here at CC) recruited her. She has been working at the school for the past five years teaching the West African Dance and Traditional Music adjunct.
Before her life in Colorado Springs, Dallo lived in the southern Casamance region of Senegal in West Africa. She grew up in the Diola tradition, where dance was a huge part of the culture. “Dancing is in my blood,” Dallo explained. “Every major event in the lives of our people is celebrated with dance.” Dallo grew up dancing and drumming and explained that drumming ceremonies are a huge part of African entertainment where everyone is invited. As Dallo stated, “Everyone can dance.”
Dallo’s background is clearly reflected in her choreography for DanSix. Dallo explained that the Diola tradition isn’t the most popular form of African dance, but it is the one she knows best and is most comfortable choreographing. Dallo explained, “I want people to know who I am,” in reference to why she didn’t choose a more popular form of dance. She enjoys teaching her own culture, so that students can learn something from her home. In Dallo’s eyes, “when [the students] dance, it looks like I am home.”
The dance itself has many reflections of Diola culture with Dallo’s own creative spin on some dances. She stated that a section of the dance is based off of a popular Diola infant naming ceremony; however, she created a lot of the moves herself. The drumming as well is also traditional to Diola culture. Bringing her culture to life in the dance wasn’t always easy for Dallo. She didn’t have access to Diola instruments, so the instruments seen in the hands of the dancers are actually traditional West African instruments. As well, Dallo stated that, “It was hard for me and the drummers to work well together because the drummers were trying to learn something they didn’t know.” Regardless of the obstacles, all of those involved worked hard to bring Dallo’s vision to life.
The Diola dance can be seen tonight or Saturday in Armstrong, as well as a multitude of other dances put on by a diverse set of choreographers and students. Dallo’s dance is not to be missed, and Dallo herself said, “I’m so proud of myself for putting this piece together.” This piece is not only the Diola culture brought to life, but a representation of Dallo’s spirited and musical childhood.