“Being an artist and a teacher is a deep calling. I do it because I love it from the bottom of my heart all the way up.”
A teaching artist for almost 30 years, Alseny has been immersed in the music and dance of his native country, Guinea, West Africa, since he was seven. He trained and performed as a dancer, drummer, and acrobat.
What led you to be a teaching artist?
Teaching is my passion, vocation, and lifeline! Ever since I started training, I taught what I knew to the younger kids in my neighborhood, creating a small folkloric group of dancers and drummers, and organizing friendly competitions with other kids in nearby neighborhoods. When I became a principal dancer and lead drummer, it became my responsibility and privilege to train new recruits to our company. When I came to North America to perform, teaching was a way of cultural exchange and meeting new people. When I finally moved to the U.S. permanently, I was hungry to share the joy and passion of the drumming, dancing, and culture from my homeland, as well as to keep that tradition alive for myself.
Students learn best when they are engaged and having fun. I love giving my students a challenge, but always use interactive games and exercises that build skills step by step. I also believe that using humor and silly antics throughout class keeps students relaxed and receptive.
My drum classes are conducted in a circle so that everyone can see and hear each other and feel like they are on the same par as their peers, not behind or in front of. The rhythms I teach are polyrhythmic, which requires active listening and harmonizing skills. Dancing requires students to flow together at the same time, while respecting the space bubble that exists around each dancer.
There are big differences in the way students in Guinea learn and the way American students learn. Because music and dance are such an intrinsic part of the culture in Guinea, we learn them more instinctually. Here, I had to learn to be patient and break down parts and steps little by little. In Guinea we “sing” or hum the drum rhythm or clap our hands, instead of counting 1, 2, 3, 4. I still do sing or hum the music, as well as count, because it is important that students understand the direct connection between drumming and dancing, and use the music as a guide to feel the rhythm with their bodies.
There is a great deal of pressure that comes with living in America. I’ve learned that being flexible and adapting to situations at hand is a big part of the artists’ path.