Beat of Africa’s rhythms |

Beat of Africa’s rhythms

Dan BurkhartDancers take part in a lesson during the Congolese Dance and Drum Workshop on San Juan Ridge Sunday.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

For 23 years, the Congolese Dance and Drum Workshop has promoted world unity. For 18 of those years, the workshop has taken place at Nevada City area camps.

After a three-year stint in Chico, the 10-day workshop returned Friday to Nevada County – at the Encompass Conference and Retreat Center on San Juan Ridge for the first time.

“Nevada County has been very supportive of us,” said Malonga Casquelourd, the workshop’s founder and artistic director, on Sunday. “Plus, it’s a good location.”

A former lead dancer with the Congolese National Dance Company, Casquelourd moved to California in 1974 to teach at Stanford University. He now teaches dance, drums and African folklore at San Francisco State University.

“The purpose of this Congolese workshop is to bring people together, learn about each other, lose stereotypes, and gain more respect for each other,” Casquelourd said.

Fourteen teachers offer daily classes in dance, drumming, singing and kalimba (thumb piano). At night, workshop teachers and students exchange stories and participate in discussions around the campfire about African and U.S. culture.

“So far, I’m pleased to see so many people of different nationalities come together, play music, and dance,” Casquelourd said. “Most importantly, they bring their children. Some children are coming all their lives. They become family.”

The same Congolese workshop, presented in Maui, Hawaii, for six years, will be in a Paris suburb July 5-14, 2003. Casquelourd said the workshop was the first of its kind in the United States; today, similar workshops are held throughout the country.

Casquelourd sees the workshops as a means to attain peace.

“The reason we have all these (world) problems today is people don’t understand each other. People need to come together,” he said. “We have doctors, engineers, cab drivers here learning about each other. It’s a good place to be. We have to start somewhere; this is our approach to unity.”

Of the 101 full-time students enrolled this week, workshop organizer Cai Sorlien says about 25 percent are from Nevada County. The rest are from Northern California, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, New York, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Hawaii and Washington, D.C. About 75 percent of participants return each year.

Sorlien, a longtime area African dance teacher, has an ongoing mailing list of about 200 students from western Nevada County. His African dance classes at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center are canceled this week so his students can attend the workshop.

“The people who come here are excited and eager to learn with master teachers,” Sorlien said. “This is my soul food, what feeds my soul.”

Call 292-0159 or check out for workshop class schedules and information. Each class is $15.

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