It started out easily enough: Against a leisurely drumbeat, about 30 women stretched their limbs in the Coppin State College gymnasium, taking their cues from dance instructor Assane Konte in a series of simple moves.
Just 45 minutes later, the frenetic pace put the average aerobics class to shame.
Hopping, their arms whirling, the women were doing their best to keep up with Konte, who didn't appear to be breaking a sweat.
Konte, artistic director and founder of the Washington-based KanKouran West African Dance Company, led an hourlong "master class" at Coppin yesterday, teaching steps from Mali and Senegal to students and other Baltimore residents.
The 70-member KanKouran company -- made up of members from the United States, Africa and the Caribbean -- performed last night in Coppin's James Weldon Johnson Auditorium.
"It's the best exercise," said Konte, a Senegal native who described himself as "almost 50."
"It keeps me young, honey," he explained.
The school offered a similar class with KanKouran last year.
"There was such an overwhelming response that we asked them to do it again," said Edna Simmons, an instructor in health, physical education and dance at Coppin.
With the aid of four drummers, Konte led his barefoot charges in an extensive warm-up of stretches, bends, squats and leg lifts. While many of the students dressed in gym sweats and tights, others wore brightly colored skirts and headwraps made of West African-patterned cloth.
Wearing a tank top and loose, patchwork pants with flowing sashes, Konte demonstrated progressively complicated moves with precise vocal commands: "One, two, three, jump! One, two three, jump! Yes, very nice."
The beat accelerated and Konte's students lined up behind him in three rows. Following him like eager ducklings, they flapped their arms, leaped forward, hopped back, and thrust their chests in time.
After an hour of nearly nonstop dancing, most were glowing with sweat, savoring the effects of a good workout.
"It was fun. It was very energetic," said Lauran Powell, a Coppin State freshman. "It burned a lot of calories. The drums are cool."
Baltimore dancer Shakoorah Dailey-Sharief echoed Proctor, pronouncing the class "excellent."
"Assane was one of my very first dance teachers back in '87. I go over to D.C. every chance I get and dance with his class," Dailey-Sharief said. "It's just good, mentally as well as physically."
Though novices are often intimidated by the complexity of the moves, that feeling usually disappears once they begin dancing, Konte said.
"I think it will teach them a lot about themselves," he said. "Really, it's like a therapy."
Pub Date: 1/31/99