During his senior year at Atlanta’s Emory University as an African studies student, Kokayi Postell decided to study abroad in Ghana. It wasn’t long before he fell in love with the country’s rich culture, warm people and especially African dance, and extended his stay.
Now a dual Ghanaian and American citizen, the Sausalito resident decided to bring what he’s learned stateside, by teaching and performing African dance.
Over the past few months, he’s taught and performed at RoCo Dance in Mill Valley and Marin City’s Rocky Graham Park and hopes to continue to find ways to teach adults and kids alike throughout Marin and in the greater Bay Area.
Postell, who taught Pan-African history, creative arts and dance therapy to special education youth in Ghana, is a paraeducator at Archie Williams High School in San Anselmo. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Q What drew you to African dance?
A It’s liberating because it’s the relationship between the dancer and the drummer. It’s not about who does it right or wrong, there’s no first place, it’s let’s all dance together. And it usually involves smiling, so you feel happier afterward. There’s a story usually around the dance, and these stories can teach things like gender equality and respecting nature. There are lessons in all of these dances and songs affiliated with them. I really feel like it can bring people together. That’s what we are missing, communal events, all of us participating in something.
Q What got you into dance?
A When I was very young, I used to be the kid who danced and sang for my relatives. I was really outgoing and really into dance and performing, and I still am. I went through a shy phase when I was battling scoliosis during middle school and high school. I became insecure in my body and self. Then I had spinal fusion surgery in high school and from that point, my confidence started to increase. Before going to Ghana, I had a lot of insecurity, a lot of anger and confusion all based on being a person of color living in America, being born in the South. I had a lot of things I needed to detoxify from, and African dance really gave me a chance to heal, to have a new relationship with my body and connect with others.
Q Did performing African dance feel different for you?
A Yes. At university, I did stepping and was in hip hop groups, but it wasn’t until I came to Ghana that I went deep into African dance. I felt it was one of the main binders with me to the people. Initially, I couldn’t speak much of the local language but getting into the dance it was like a language, an understanding. You could read so much about a person from their body language and their movement. It’s a community communication in movement.
Q How did you learn about it?
A I was there through the Council on International Educational Exchange and they gave us a small introductory dance course and it was like, I want more of this. This feels good. I enrolled in the general education class for students in Ghana who wanted to learn dance and all the associates kept saying, “You’re good. It comes naturally. You move like a Ghanaian.” They took time with me and I got to do it right. I created community through dance and that’s what sustains me, teaching dance.
Q What struck you about Ghana?
A When I first went, it was like there’s something about this place that is connecting with me. The way I feel in my body is different. I am smiling more. I am more social. People are looking me in my eye, it’s no ill feelings, no resentment. That’s why I created a business, RetroRoots Tours, putting together tours in Ghana that allow people to experience the culture of Ghana, and is heavily dance-based.
Q What’s your dream?
A Ideally, my drummers and I would just be teaching cultural dance all around the county, in Marin schools and elsewhere. And then to also go to Ghana to learn new dances as well as other West African countries. There’s still a lot I have to learn. And get people from Ghana to come and experience America, to have a cultural exchange, and have them experience things to bring back to their country.
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