Interview by Jane D’Angelo, Executive Director of OhioDance
Suzan Bradford Kounta is a dancer, instructor and choreographer of traditional West African dance. She was an Adjunct Faculty member at Antioch College and Ohio State, and guest artist at Denison. She serves on the board of OhioDance, Ft. Hayes Advisory and the Near Eastside Roundtable. She is the first General Manager of the Lincoln Theater. Suzan is President of Thiossane Institute and Artistic Director of its West African Dance Company, since its inception in 2000 with her beloved husband, Abdou Kounta. Thiossane will perform a celebratory dance for the B.R.E.A.D. Festival of Arts and Community on Saturday, Oct. 21. They will provide instruction of authentic dance and music of West African Culture with audience participation.
Jane: Can you tell me something about the founding of Thiossane Institute?
Suzan: Thiossane was founded in 2000 with my husband Abdou Kounta. He was a master drummer with the National Ballet du Senegal in West Africa. My role was to teach the educational and cultural enhancement of the African Diaspora. Our focus in the beginning was children and youth development training in African dance and music. We branched out to the adult population because of the desire from the community. We later started a performing company.
Jane: How has Thiossane evolved over the years?
Suzan: We currently have an outreach program in schools, after school programs and area colleges. We perform in Columbus, surrounding communities and throughout Ohio. In May of 2017 we travelled to perform at the Alvin Ailey Dance Center in New York City. Our company currently has 16 members; six drummers and 10 dancers.
Jane: You serve as the general manager of the Lincoln Theater, you serve on many boards and you are a dancer, instructor and choreographer of Thiossane. How do you juggle your many roles?
Suzan: I have a love and passion for dance. It is a vehicle, the universal language for education and the entertainment of dance. I remain a student of dance so that I continue to grow. I manage the company and choose dancers with passion and ideals similar to myself. I empower my company to take on leadership roles, and assist with the management of the company. I am fortunate to have an ideal job as general manager of the Lincoln Theater. I am able to maximize my potential. I have a fantastic supportive board that allows me to be creative. At the Lincoln Theatre we have a mentorship program. We have mentored over 60 artists from a variety of art forms. This is important to be able to pass these skills on to future generations.
Jane: What projects are you currently working on?
Suzan: I am teaching African Diaspora at The Ohio State University Department of Dance. I am choreographing an African and Caribbean dance for a group of students that will travel to Brazil to perform and study in the spring.
Jane: What are your greatest achievements?
Suzan: Thiossane has grown to be in the position of sharing the cultural enhancement of African dance and music through performance and educational programming. We plan to travel with the company to Senegal and Brazil to study and perform. Our company members all have high school degrees, and 85% have college degrees. This year we gave three scholarships to students.
Jane: Can you tell us what B.R.E.A.D. Festival goers will expect from your performance and audience participation?
Suzan: They will learn the richness of the African culture through narration and authentic performance. They will learn kinesthetically through audience participation. This correlates with the theme of BREAD, Bake • Reconnect • Educate • make Art • celebrate Diversity.
Jane: What do you appreciate about living, working and making art in Columbus?
Suzan: I was born and raised in Columbus. Artistically it is inspiring and easy to juggle home, life and art making. Columbus is affordable. Artists collaborate willingly, arts councils are supportive and therefore the arts thrive here.
Thiossane performs at 6:30 p.m. at the B.R.E.A.D. Festival of Arts and Community on Saturday, Oct. 21. The festival takes place from noon to 9 p.m. in Historic Dublin, with multicultural music and dance performances and instruction throughout the day.