Friday, December 19, 2014

Dancing toward self-empowerment and cultural pride with New American Africans

Concord, NH youth dancing during New American Africans after school program

Twenty teenage Congolese boys kneel on a Concord community center floor performing synchronized dance movements with their eyes trained on their instructor, Thierryne Dusabe. There are giggles and serious faces and singing. The group instinctively breaks from their routine to shout improvisational chants, words, and sounds. To an English speaking listener, these outbursts in the Congolese & Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda are indecipherable except for the clear feeling of joy being sung into the air by these Concord youth. If you follow the sound of giggles and laughter, a group of teenage girls can be found in the bathroom practicing their coordinated moves into the mirror. Each week from Tuesday through Friday dozens of Concord’s Congolese, Burundi, and Rwandan youth participate in an after school program offered by New American Africans, a nonprofit organization. NAA Director HonroĆ© Murenzi says that the primary goal of the afterschool program “…is to help our students to catch up to their peers and promote high expectation for themselves. NAA offers an after school program that strives to link families with their child's academic success as well as to reinforce cultural strength and pride.”

Dancing during New American African's after school program
Concord, NH youth dancing during NAA's after school program
Youth focus on after school academic help Tuesday through Thursday, and on Friday they learn traditional Congolese and Rwandan dances. Murenzi shares, “We are committed to supporting opportunities for children and families to come together in community activities that not only reflect their own cultural perspectives, but that also expose them to diverse (and similar) approaches to expressing cultural perspectives through dance, music and the arts. These are traditions that reinforce a strong sense of community pride and sense of well-being” The program aims to give students a greater sense of self-worth and confidence in their ability to overcome academic challenges that arise from cultural and linguistic barriers. The program involves parents and young adult role models in sharing and celebrating traditional culture. 

The youth are practicing the traditional dances of Ikinimba and Igishakamba, Umushayayo/ Umushayagiro, and Intore, that are performed during weddings, ceremonies and important cultural events. The youth will perform in a community wide cultural celebration in the spring. 


New American Africans (NAA) is a self-supporting community group for refugees living in New Hampshire. Through African leadership, NAA develops strong immigrant communities that reflect diverse cultural perspectives by promoting collaboration, equity, resilience and opportunities to thrive with dignity and respect.

Thierryne Dusabe: Traditional Burundi dancer Thierryne Dusabe grew up in Rwanda and attended the College of Medical Technicians, Gitega in Burundi where she participated in the dance group Inyange. She was later resettled at the Zaleka refugee camp in Malawi where she joined a Burundian traditional dance group Imanzi that performed in weddings, and cultural shows. Dusabe is currently a student at Nashua Community College studying nursing.

This program is supported in part by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts