Visiting professor teaches Comets West African dance

Surjaditya Sarkar | Mercury Staff



On Feb. 22, as a part of UTD’s iWeek, Cassandra Hines — a master teacher in West African dance — introduced Comets to a West African celebratory dance known as tiriba.

Hines fell in love with African dance when she took an elective course during college, which led her to pursue years of further training and choreography. Her journey began with the Milwaukee-based KoThi dance company, where she trained under the founder, Ferne Caulker-Bronson. Hines also studies under her master teacher, Moustapha Bangoura, a highly celebrated Guinean dancer and choreographer.

“They are very instrumental in my [dance] journey,” Hines said. “It’s very important to respect those who gave you the information or those who give it to you.”

West African dance traditionally requires people to dance barefoot, which Hines recommended for students. She also donned a patterned lapa skirt, which may vary in length depending on a woman’s age and is normally worn during dance conferences or planned dance events.

The tradition of West African dance is continued through a variety of conferences and events across the United States and around the world, allowing dancers to share their love for the art and learn from each other.

“Tiriba is a celebration dance … wherever you are, if you hear the rhythm outside your window, you can go outside and dance,” Hines said.

Hines said that tiriba is often used to help work and group bonding. This was reflected in the class for UTD students, where the choreography ended with a Bantaba, which is a community dance circle. Hines encouraged students to individually enter the circle and dance to the beat of the drummers, either with the choreography taught earlier in the day or with dance from their own cultures.

Healthcare studies senior Thomas Pham said he was originally was interested in attending because he does hip-hop, which is rooted in West African music.

“It was really interesting to see what fundamentals they rooted themselves in, especially with the rhythm and the music, [and] making sure that you were staying low to the ground, and how [Hines said] that connected to the Earth,” Pham said.

Near the end of the class, Hines asked students to thank the live drummers, emphasizing the strong connection between dance and the rhythm provided by the drummers.

Hines founded the Dallas-based Bahdae Dance Company, which focuses on rhythm and African dance. ‘Bahdae’ means “ocean” in Susu, the primary language spoken in Guinea, and reflects Hines’s upbringing and love for the sea.

“African dance always pulled me through with the rhythm and the dance,” Hines said. “So it’s just been this, it’s become the story of my life. So that’s where I started.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *