Teaching West African Cultures and Traditions Is My Livelihood
The guiding principal for me is, “Hwendo na bua” which in my language, Fon, means, “Our culture and origin will not disappear.” I grew up in Benin; a small country in West Africa. In order to maintain strong family ties, and pass on history, values and traditions, my mother would bring her children together for stories before bedtime. One important way in which West African traditions and cultures are being preserved is through the art of vivid and exciting storytelling. Furthermore, I was exposed to traditional ceremonies during frequent visits to my mother’s home village of Ouidah. I loved the drumming and dancing, and even as a child, I absorbed the significance of the rituals as well as their pageantry. I embody the spirit of the original intent of the dances and costumes.
Teaching people to sway their hips, wave their arms, and pound the beat is what motivates me to keep sharing these incredible cultures and traditions. My youthful experience with the folktales of West Africa and its animals, customs, and beliefs lets me spin my audience into magical lands filled with colorful sights and sounds. I connect drums, dances, and songs into a single story; the patterns and colors of textiles and details of costuming are critical to my telling of the tale.
I bring the traditional culture and arts of West Africa to groups of underserved, largely African-American young people in Nebraska and western Iowa and help them to appreciate the value of African culture and African people. It is what keeps me going every day. In traditional West African cultures every aspect of life has a specific dance and music to accompany the telling of the story. That is why learning traditional West African dance and music is to simultaneously learn and embrace all of a given culture. I speak many languages such as: Fon, Yoruba, Mina, Goun, French, and English, but I need no language to communicate. Instead, I dance. When dancers put on a costume, we show who we are; in doing so, I demonstrate the similarities and the differences among the world’s people.
In March 2012, the authenticity of my voice, my leadership skills, my passion, and the impact of my teaching earned African Culture Connection and me the Governor’s Arts Award in Heritage Arts and national recognition as one of twelve winners of the prestigious 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award presented in November 2012 at The White House.
Charles Ahovissi began his dancing career in 1984 when he joined the National Ballet Company of Benin, West Africa. He left the National Ballet in 1987 and joined the Super Anges Dance Troop that toured extensively throughout the world performing and teaching traditional African dance and music. In 2000, Charles relocated to the United States. Since moving to Omaha, Charles has taught and performed at many schools and organizations as a Nebraska and Iowa Arts Council teaching artist. He has also conducted on-going public classes in dance and drumming in connection with the UNO’s Moving Company at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In 2006, he co-founded the non-profit, African Culture Connection, to be able to reach more schools and organizations in and around Nebraska and Iowa. He received his Associate’s Degree in Arts & Liberal Arts, from Metropolitan Community College and is working on his Bachelor’s.