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Arts Group Teaches African Drumming and Dance in Bedford-Stuyvesant

By Paul DeBenedetto | March 4, 2013 3:19pm | Updated on March 4, 2013 4:37pm

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — With decades of experience in dance, music and peformance art under their belts, a group of performers in Bedford-Stuyvesant hope they can bring different types of art to a community in need.

The Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation is a nonprofit organization that teaches African dance and drums alongside other forms of dance like tap and hip-hop to kids and teenagers in Bed-Stuy.

"People don't have to go to Manhattan to get it, or they don't have to go to Downtown Brooklyn," Executive Director Kofi Williams said. "They could be right here and get some great instruction, have great energy, have just a great time."

Now the group is celebrating a brand new location at 1803 Fulton St. with a grand opening the weekend of March 31 to properly introduce themselves to the community.

"Our biggest reason for staying in this community here is because it's so underserved," said Williams, 34.

Williams, who said he's been a drummer his whole life, helped start the Asase Yaa African American Dance Theatre in 2001. He and a group of colleagues, including his brother, Yao Ababio, 37, wanted to bring their own point of view to the stage, Williams said.

"We just wanted to try something new," Williams said. "We were all around the same age and had kind of grown up together, so we had our own experiences and thoughts that we wanted to just share."

The dance company has performed across the country, including the Moore Theatre in Seattle and the Harris Theatre in Chicago, Williams said. Last year the group performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's DanceAfrica event.

After four years of performing, the group started getting approached by parents looking for children's lessons. The group's schedule was too rigorous, Williams said, but they carved out time during the summer for a six-week camp to teach kids dance and drumming, as well as arts and crafts, martial arts and archery.

Children also learn about diasporic art and how it connects to culture. For example, last year children danced to the musical Sarafina! while also learning about apartheid in South Africa, said Rubie Williams, 31, Kofi's wife and a director at the camp.

"[We're] attempting to bring that aspect of the diasporic art to professional stages and to a wide variety of people," she said. "The art community in Bed-Stuy is really developing, and we're really excited to be a part of it."

The camp proved to be so successful that last year the group opened their doors year-round with a new dance school. After initially sharing space at P.S. 35 and I.S. 265, Asase Yaa finally settled into their new storefront in January.

Teachers at the school have performed at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the couple said.

At this month's grand opening ceremony, the group is throwing a party for local teens, and inviting local artists, politicians and business owners to enjoy food and Asase Yaa performances. They hope it can help them further extend roots in the neighborhood, and reach even more people, Rubie Williams said.

"We're trying to help the community in kind of a holistic way," she said. "As a youth, you still have a voice, and you can make a difference by being productive and positive people in your community."