In honor of Martin Luther King Day, the Carroll County Arts Council will host a workshop and performance by the Baltimore-based Sankofa Dance Theater on Jan. 20.

"We always have a tradition of trying to do something on [Martin Luther King] Day, to make certain families have some inspired conversation around the dinner table," said Sandy Oxx, executive director of the Arts Council. "It isn't always a live show, we have had movies before, but Sankofa is one of the larger draws."

Sankofa Dance Theater specializes in traditional African dance, drumming and song, according to founder Kibibi Ajanku.

"We open with a dance of welcome from Liberia. We explain along our way the reasons why we're dancing," Ajanku said. "We do this in a storytelling format, it kind of flows from one piece to the next and we have audience participation along the way ... We'll infuse some African songs and we'll also infuse some songs out of the civil rights movement."

The performance will begin at 2 p.m. at the Carroll Arts Center and will be free to the public, with seating available on a first come, first served basis.

According to Ajanku, 2014 is the 25th anniversary year of Sankofa Dance Theater and the Jan. 20 performance will also be their first of the year.

"Why not do this in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.? What a wonderful man and icon, the man with a dream," Ajanku said. "We embody our name which is a word from the Adinkra traditions of Ghana West Africa. [Sankofa] literally means, 'go back to fetch it.' That's what we do, we look into our past. When you learn from the past, you grow stronger for today. When you grow stronger for today, you have a more insightful future. You can correct all things by understanding the past."

Oxx said the funding for the event was contributed by Carroll Community College and Young Audiences Arts for Learning Maryland.

Young Audiences Arts for Learning Maryland is a Baltimore-based organization that works to bring local artists into schools and community centers, according to Executive Director Stacie Evans, who said they have been longtime supporters of Sankofa Dance Theater.

"We love Sankofa. They have various programs that help children and families understand about West African culture and they do it through song and dance," Evans said. "They do it in such a way that really engages kids. From the moment they start the Djembe drum, they have them hooked."

Young Audiences Arts for Learning Maryland provided funding for the Jan. 20 performance through their Rural Access for All program, which Evans said aims to help rural areas such as Carroll County cover the added travel costs of bringing in artists from distant urban areas.

Oxx said that finding financial assistance in order to provide Martin Luther King Day programming for free was especially important to the Arts Council.

"We don't want there to be any barriers for people to come," Oxx said. "Since [schools] are closed, we are doing our part to ensure there is programming so that [families] have something to engage in."

Those interested in diving even deeper into West African music and culture can also come to a special West African Dance Class with Sankofa Dance Theater at 11 a.m. on the morning of the performance at the Carroll Arts Center. The workshop requires prior registration by calling 410-848-7272 and will cost $10 by cash or check at the door.

"We celebrate Martin Luther King Day in the spirit of understanding other cultures and celebrating other cultures. So to go beyond watching a performance and to get to go onstage and learn what its like to do some of those dances, it simply enriches the experience," Oxx said. "Kibibi is a really inspiring teacher and will definitely make it work for a 10-year-old as well as a 65-year-old in the same class. I think anyone that participates will certainly not only burn a few thousand calories, but gain more respect for the performers as well."