The Rapidian Home

Grand Rapids native teaches West African dance

Grand Rapids native Jewellynne Richardson wants the community to join the dance through classes at Garfield Park Gym.
Underwriting support from:

Grand Rapids native Jewellynne Richardson, 43, spent eight years in Atlanta learning West African dances such as Kakilambe, a traditional dance that calls on the healing spirit of the Kakilambe during harvest time.

Now she wants the West Michigan community to join in.

Wearing a green headscarf, shirt and a purple skirt, Richardson showed some dancers in Garfield Park Gym, 334 Burton St. SE, the dance. She said the dance consists of many steps, but to start off, dancers learn moves that resemble the planting of seed for harvest. Then they progress to high-energy steps.

Every Sunday, Richardson’s company “West Michigan Jewels of Africa” holds a traditional African dance class in Garfield Park Gym from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cost is $10 per class for adults and $5 for children K-12. Children younger than kindergarten age are free.

“What I am doing here is bringing the traditional African dance and drum, which is different from a lot of dancing that’s going on, and teaching it to the community in hope to develop a drum and dance community right here in Grand Rapids,” she said.

For six months, Richardson has held this community –based activity, in which she said the boys tend to drum and the girls tend to dance.

“I brought it over to Garfield to try to open it up, and to try to get the community support,” she said. “Right now, I’m having little support from the community, which means this: you say you want the art here, but you’re not supporting it.”

Richardson said the community can support the activity by showing up.

Shaunte Paul, 29, shows up. She has been taking classes for a few weeks.

“This is the best thing that I have ever done, and I am learning so much about the African culture that I didn’t know before,” Paul said. She added that Richardson “doesn’t make me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing; she just works with me.”

Paul, who was looking for a way to lose weight after having a baby, said she has lost 15 pounds since showing up.

Richardson said the door is open to all levels of dancers. Her company teaches everyone from professionals to “someone who has never had the experience with any form of African dance training or anything period.”

She developed her dance moves while studying with the Uhuru Dancers Inc., a company that has taught traditional African dance since 1989.

“Uhuru stands for freedom,” she said.

Richardson said she has always had a desire for culture. Before moving to Atlanta, she sought ways to learn more about African culture in Grand Rapids.

“I wanted more culture, and to me the city of Grand Rapids could not give me enough culture,” she said.

When she moved to Atlanta, Richardson said she met the Uhuru Dancers while trying to get her then eighth-grade, 250 pound daughter enrolled in some activity to help her lose weight.

Before meeting the group, Richardson said nobody would accept her daughter.

“It was very heart-wrenching for me to see that no one would accept my beautiful black child of dark skin who is plump and luscious; that she had nowhere to really fit in,” she said. “Then this group said they saw the beauty in her.”

She said the Uhuru Dancers brought in her entire family and taught them traditional African dance.

Richardson said she now dances professionally with the Kuungana African Drum and Dance Company based in Flint, and teaches African dance through the LOOP after-school program in Grand Rapids.

When it comes to rhythm, Richardson said it comes from within.

“The rhythm is the heart beat. The drum is the healing peace,” she said. “The drums, they don’t go along by themselves, they go with dancers, and it’s a language that we communicate with one another.”

Richardson advertises her African dance class as a workout.

“It’s a high-energy workout,” she said. “If you don’t want to dance, it’s good exercise. If you don’t want to exercise, you get a good spirit before you leave.”

“You’re gonna leave feeling good.”

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.