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Performer shares culture, tradition with Americans through African dance

Djeneba Sako moved to the U.S. from Mali, West Africa, more than 20 years ago to share her passion for African dance.
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Posted at 10:15 AM, Feb 09, 2023

DENVER — If you follow the sound of drums from the unassuming corner of Bayaud Avenue and Cherokee Street in Denver, you'll soon feel like you've been transported 6,000 miles away to Mali, West Africa.

Abdoul Doumbia and his sister, Djeneba Sako, came to the United States from Mali decades ago to share their passion.

"African dance, it's something very important," said Doumbia.

The two teach African dance and drumming classes at the Hannah Kahn Dance Company. The joy that comes from sharing their culture is contagious.

"I really fell in love with the style and the culture," said Sarah Egolf-Tarr, who has been taking classes from Sako for the last 10 years. "It's really empowerment, expression of emotions, and also just a real great workout and a source of joy."

"If I'm dancing, my body happy. My mind happy. I forget everything, everything. That's my medicine," said Sako.

In class, Sako doesn't say much, but her students will tell you the impact she's making in the studio is loud and clear.

"Djeneba is a powerhouse. She's a firecracker, as you can see. But she's also humble. She is so knowledgeable, she's got wisdom. She is a queen, and she should be revered," said Leah Porter.

Porter has been taking classes with Sako on and off for the last 20 years. She says she sought out African dance because it's in her blood.

"My lineage is Nigeria. Of course, I am born and raised in Denver. So I just needed to touch and feel any part of that that was available to me as a resource here," she said.

Despite the dancer's background, all are welcome.

"Any color. White, Black. Welcome to African dance," said Sako.

While learning African dance as a beginner isn't easy, Sako hopes people come in, take off their shoes and try.

"Because you come for different culture and learning and tradition. You'll be happy," said Sako.

This article was written by Danielle Kreutter for KMGH.