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FAMILY | FOR THE KIDS

Steps in Time

African dance class also teaches important listening skills.

July 02, 1998|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Trained in traditional dance at the University of Ghana, and a former member of that nation's National Dance Troupe, Dzidzorgbe "Beatrice" Lawluvi, has been performing and teaching the traditional music and dance of West Africa in Los Angeles since 1990.

This summer, with a grant from the city of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, she and her Valley-based troupe, Zadonu African Music and Dance Company, are offering a weekly series, "African Folk Dance Classes" in two Pacoima locations. Designed for kids as young as 9, the workshops will be held at Pacoima Recreation Center and the Ritchie Valens Recreation Center.

"The workshops are designed to teach the skills, performance traditions and repertoire of authentic African dances from Ghana, Togo and Benin," Lawluvi says. The sessions will culminate in a public performance by the students, accompanied by the Zadonu Company, at the Pacoima center Aug. 30.

Kids who enroll in one of these workshops will find themselves in the tender yet disciplined care of a veteran dance professional.

Starting with the first class, Lawluvi says, "Students will get used to hearing what they are going to be doing [and] what is going to happen at the end of the lessons." In short, they'll have to be ready for the Aug. 30 performance.

The dances she will teach include bawa, a harvest dance, tokoe, a dance for girls that is a traditional celebration of puberty, and agahau, a kind of social dance that has become a feature of church socials in West Africa.

This last dance is the only one in which shoes are worn. Children who attend the sessions should dress to allow vigorous movement.

Hearing what they're going to do, Lawluvi tells her students, means paying close attention to the "drum call," a variety of complex drumbeats that determine what happens in traditional African dance.

"It's the listening, not the watching [for clues from a teacher] that tells us what to do," she says. "For some people, the timing is very difficult," she says, "so we teach each dance step one at a time and how to catch the beat."

And if that isn't a challenging enough prospect for students, Lawluvi points out that only the lead drum in the ensemble will give these cues.

The other drummers in the ensemble, which will play at both workshops as well as at the final performance, must also respond to the lead, and students must learn to distinguish the sounds.

Clearly, Lawluvi does not shy away from challenges, and neither does her daughter, Yeko, a dance major at CalArts Valencia. Yeko Ladzekpo will be one of the drummers--although it is unusual for a female to become a drummer in a West African ensemble.

BE THERE

African Folk Dance Classes, kids 9-13 learn skills, performance traditions and repertoire of Ghana, Togo and Benin, Thursdays, 4-6 p.m., through August at Pacoima Recreation Center, 10943 Herrick Ave., and every Monday, 4-6 p.m., through August at Ritchie Valens Recreation Center, 10736 Laurel Canyon Blvd. Enrollment is free; sessions for older students also available on weekends. Classes culminate in a student performance Aug. 30. Reservations recommended. For reservations and information, call (818) 361-7075.

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