Suzan Bradford Kounta
Interviewed at Thiossane Institute, Columbus by Sandra Grady
28 April 2011

The Thiossane Institute was founded by Abdou Kounta, who was born in Senegal to a family that did not have a history of musical performance. To study drums and dance, he first had to overcome family objections, but eventually studied at the National Ballet, where he was selected to perform the story of migration of peoples from the historic Malian Empire to the other parts of West Africa. As part of this performance, he travelled around Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Guinea, and Mali. In 1976, he moved to Washington, DC where he co-founded the KanKouran West African Dance Company. In the mid-1990’s, Abdou moved to Columbus, where he began teaching West African dance at the YWCA, and he garnered a loyal following of students.

In 2000, he formed Thiossane West African Dance Institute, which was dedicated to performing dance and educating Ohioans about West African culture. Performers in the troupe generally have come up through Kounta’s classes. Children join the program through community arts classes and must interview to be included. This institute, now known as The Thiossane Institute, supports two performance companies of both adults and children who appear in schools, in after-school programs, summer camps, and engages in other forms of community outreach. It also hosts a two day workshop in West African dancing and drumming which accepts anyone interested in learning more about West African culture. Although the founder, Abdou Kounta, died in 2011, the Institute continues through the efforts of his widow Suzan, and the commitment of his students who are taking over its legacy of education and performance.

Suzan notes that The Thiossane Institute uses dance to help young people develop as members of their community. Their involvement requires them to develop a set of values and a global view of the world, which makes them more respectful of themselves and others. For their students who graduate from high school, Thiossane hosts a rites of passage performance in which the young person is presented to the community. This performance requires them to demonstrate their maturity through dance, as the preparation for the solo performance requires a significant commitment of time, and the performance requires them to develop considerable confidence.

Despite his family’s initial resistance to music as a profession, Abdou’s nephews and brothers now perform as part of a performance company in Senegal, while The Thiossane Institute continues his work in the Columbus area.

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