Inspired by an elementary school teacher who did many shows and told stories about Africa, Debbie “Awa” Glasper always had positive feelings about Africa. In addition, in high school, Debbie saw a performance of an African Dance Group at her school. So inspired, enlightened and excited was she, there and then Debbie decided that dancing was what she wanted to do. Since then, she has traveled to Senegal and Zambia to learn more about things African and most especially dancing.
For “Awa”, (means the first wife in Senegalese) dancing has become her connectivity to Africa. For Awa, it encompasses the lifestyle, culture, traditional dress and storytelling that are all important parts of dancing and everyday life of her African ancestors.
In dancing, Awa is continuing the heritage that she feels she has been deliberately disconnected from. African dancing is her tool to bring the message to the people to keep the culture alive and to encourage more “things African like the drums.” Awa conducts dance classes for the public every Saturday at the City of Phoenix Community Center, Eastlake. She is dedicated to the point that these classes are offered free and they are endorsed by the city and other community organizations.
The drumbeat calls and Awa listens. The drumbeat beckons and Awa dances. In all her dances absolute respect is given to the drums. The same respect is given to all the materials from which the drum is made. A ritual is performed to seek permission to make a drum from a tree and an animal. Besides dancing, the lady of dance considers her family her greatest achievement. “I am the mother of two and the grandmother of a three year old,” says Awa. “I am really pleased with the relationship I share with them. Therefore my message to young people is to keep in mind it is not so much how you respond when things are going well, but to look at how you respond to problems and how you handle the adversity as opposed to just despairing.”
© Lyda Y. Harris
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