Person of the Week

Diádié Bathily

Founder Afriky Lolo Dance Company, West African Master Dancer, Instructor, Costume Designer, and Choreographer

I tell the students, “Don’t dance for me.  Dance for yourself.  Say something to the audience.  When you are dancing you are happy.  I will enjoy happiness with you.  But first of all, make yourself happy.”

 1.  What led you to the mission of being a West African dancer, teacher, choreographer, and director/founder of Afriky Lolo?

I knew it when I was already little.  I was dancing in the village and the village was very hard for me because I grew up without my mother, dad, brothers, and sisters.  I was in Marena, Mali, West Africa.  Dancing helped me fill that emptiness that I already had when I was five.  Dancing was like being strong, being able to survive in my village where life was very hard.  Dancing made me happy.  I was so well known in that village that people would ask, “Where is he?”  When I danced, I was in the world that is hard to describe.  Dancing was the happiest time.

Dancing charges my body to face any difficulty in life.  I thought it was amazing that it helped me and I can use it to help other people.  Dance to me is magic.  The more I try to describe it, the more I am wrong because dance is too hard to describe.  There are no exact words.  It is an action you can feel, but you can’t touch. (View some of Diádié’s amazing West African dance photos.)

2.  What does this mission mean to you?

Dance is a way of living to me.  I can be anything through dance.  I have a religion, but dance is almost like a religion.  It is more than just jumping away.  It is an identity.  It is a culture.  It is a way of life.

3.  What was your best day as a West African dancer, teacher, choreographer, and director/founder of Afriky Lolo?

As a dance teacher, my best time of my life was teaching dance to a little boy who was white.  He thought if he danced African dance, he would turn black.  I was teaching in a school and the physical education teacher told me to leave him alone because he never did anything in class.  But I said, “Let me try.”  I asked him, “Why do you not want to join the class?”  He said he didn’t want to be with the rest of the kids.  I told him, “I’m going to leave you alone, but give me only one reason why you don’t want to dance.”  He was protecting himself from outsiders.  He said, “If I do, I will turn black.”  I said, “Yes.  I know.  If you turn black, it will start with your toes.  Then if you stop dancing, your toes will turn back to white.”  He started doing the movement.  The teacher was surprised.  He was dancing even though he had never done anything in physical education class.

He woke up the next morning and said, “Mom, mom, my toes are white!”  Every morning he came in and said, “Mr. Diádié.  My toes are still white!”  Then I told him, “You don’t change color like that.  You are making yourself better.  Don’t stop learning things.  That is why the world is different colors and has different things – to make you better.  You don’t change colors.  That is the way you are.  Go out in the world and learn things.  Change for the better, but you won’t change color.  You are born that way.”  It was good to teach about being black and white.

The mother almost cried because of what the children were learning.  We won because we changed his life in a good way.  The mother said she was sorry, but I said, “You don’t have to be sorry.  We won!”  We opened his eyes to a new world.  He was afraid of something imaginary that he created in his mind.  That was completely gone.  He was more able to receive and was more open to try different things after that.  I don’t know why the physical education teacher told me, “Oh just leave him alone.”  But after that semester, he started doing physical education.  It was hard leaving that school.

4.  What was your worst day as a West African dancer, teacher, choreographer, and director/founder of Afriky Lolo?

My worst day was tough.  I don’t know if it was the worst day or just one of the worst.  One of my worst days was teaching in a city school that was one hundred percent African American.  They had no respect for the teachers.  They thought they knew everything, but they didn’t.  They didn’t follow directions and questioned why they had to do African dance.  Everyone was yelling.  The teachers and students were yelling at each other.  It was very hard to teach the class because I couldn’t handle the kids.  I tried American, French, and African methods to get their trust.  But it was hard because this kind of behavior had been going on for so long and I was only there for only an hour and that was not enough time.

They were not bad kids.  They were just not being handled in the right way.  They were not having the right consequences for doing things wrong.

After that, I went to a prison to perform and teach the teenagers.  One of the kids said, “Mr. Diádié, do you remember me?  I took class with you at the middle school.”  I told him, “If you are in prison, than I was teaching you the wrong thing.  I had no idea you were gong to end up here.  Seeing you in prison, you tell me that I have been teaching you the wrong thing?  If I thought I taught you the right thing, you would have not ended up in here.”  He said that I had been teaching him the right thing, but I said, “No.  You are in prison.”  He said, “No Mr. Diádié.  You are the best teacher.”

I told him, “If I am teaching you the right thing, you have to act right.”  He told me that he wanted to remember all the things I had taught him.  We talked about how important it is to respect elders, get educated, and see where we fit in society.  I told him about where I grew up in Africa, how hard it was, and how important it is to see how lucky he is.  We talked about how I went to school in Africa.  Sometimes at night I had to study in the street because there was no light in the house.  I had to go out and walk, and somewhere find a light in the street.  That’s what I had to do to keep my spot in school.  There were many people wanting, competing for my chair.  There was only one chance for me.  If I didn’t keep up, someone else would get my spot in school.  Pressure is good.  If the kids didn’t value where they were, they were going to end up in prison.

5.  How did you survive your worst day?

It would be hard for me to leave dancing.  Dancing helps me to survive.  Dancing is so powerful.  Wherever I go in the world, dance is needed, but I think it is needed so much as with American students.  American life is so unique, and being able to see kids dancing for the first time – wow.  There is something magic about African dance.  When they are dancing they feel it.

It is hard to describe, but this is where I am supposed to be.  These kids need help.  The adults need help.  The kids and adults need some way to express themselves. In dance, they can talk about humans, animals – life.  They can express themselves by performing life.

Afriky Lolo means African Star.  This describes the dancers.  Everyone wants to be unique.  Everyone wants to be special.  The dancers put it all together and then perform.  Being on stage, dancing shows what they have been working on for so long.  It says to everyone, “Look.  I am special” – but not saying look at me how special I am, but look at me and share my joy, my happiness, and my hard work.  I tell the students, “Don’t dance for me.  Dance for yourself.  Say something to the audience.  When you are dancing you are happy.  I will enjoy happiness with you.  But first of all, you make yourself happy.”  (Note: Afriky Lolo is the name of Mr. Diádié’s dance company in St. Louis, Missouri. (View some of Diádié’s amazing West African dance photos.)