Sankofa Dance Theater performs West African dance for library

Sankofa Dance Theater took to the stage Tuesday evening at St. Paul's United Church of Christ for a tour of West African culture that included music, song, dance and history as part of the Maryland Humanities' annual One Maryland One Book festival.

The performance at the Westminster church — hosted by the Carroll County Public Library and partially sponsored by One Maryland One Book — was meant to reflect the One Maryland One Book selection "Purple Hibiscus" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The 2003 novel follows Nigerian teenager Kambili and her older brother Jaja who are sent from their controlling father's home to their university professor aunt during a military coup.


Dorothy Stoltz, director of community engagement with the Carroll County Public Library, said they were looking for new ways to expand the One Maryland One Book programming. During One Maryland One Book, people across the state are invited to read the selected piece while participating in author talks, group events and more. Stoltz said the idea for a dance performance came up, and the library reached out to the Sankofa Dance Theater.

Sankofa Dance Theater was founded in Baltimore in 1989 by Kibibi Ajanku. She said at the time, there were no resources in the traditions of African dance and drumming, a need she quickly decided needed to be filled.

The troupe splits its goals between offering a resource for training and activities for children, teens and adults in the community, while also offering a face of professional excellence for African dance. She said over the past 2 1/2 decades, these goals have continued to be vital for the community.

"This is a nation that very soon, by the year 2040, will primarily be a majority people of color," Ajanku said. "And quite honestly, in the arts sector, the leadership usually is about 3 percent. That's not a hard stat, but it plays itself over and over again across the nation. This is a way to bring balance to that."

During the performance, the group embraced a storytelling format offering audiences an introduction into African culture and history through music and movement. Stoltz said they hope to incorporate these kinds of extracurricular and educational events in future years' One Maryland One Book programming.

"We love books and love the benefit to reading fiction," Stoltz said. "But this is a way to supplement that and give it a flavor of the world in which these characters live."

Ajanku said she hopes people came away from her troupe's performance with a knowledge and passion for these traditions.

"I hope they feel engaged," Ajanku said. "I hope after seeing us perform that barriers are lessened and empathy will rise up, and they'll greet the world with smiles."