The Bamidele Dancers and Drummers Celebrate 35 Years with YAMA!
Feb 24, 2022
The Bamidele Dancers and Drummers have been bringing joy and empowerment to the young people of Massachusetts since the early 80s, and enjoying every second of it. Before moving to Florida, ensemble director Marilyn Sylla balanced being a prestigious dance lecturer at the 5 colleges in Western MA with performing for YAMA prior to moving to Florida. Her partner, Sekou Sylla, a world renowned dancer, got his start with Les Ballet Africains, the National Dance Company of the Republic of Guinea. Their extensive talents and positive energy have brought audiences to their feet with their incredible performance program Wongai! Rhythms of West Africa, Brazil & the Caribbean, and they have provided myriad opportunities for young people to deepen the arts learning with their mask-making, dancing, and drumming workshops and residencies. Now visiting artists on YAMA's roster, we were delighted to have the chance to chat with Marilyn from her beautiful home in Florida about her 35 year experience with YAMA.
What has been a highlight of your time with YAMA?
"The joy on kids’ faces. The kid who was a straight-C student looks like an A+ student during a residency: dancing, singing, and participating proudly. They’re standing taller, they’re smiling, their chest is out because they found what they can do and do well. And then other kids look at that particular person in a totally different light for the rest of the school year.
Those are the stories…the experiences, for me, that are just invaluable. To know that you are touching kids in such a special way, especially for the ones who need it the most. You leave blown away…feeling as if we've made a difference in someone's life. That makes a difference in our lives as well."
What surprises you most about this work?
“One of the things that surprises me is how much I continue to enjoy doing this work all these years later. To think that it's been 35 years…it has gone by so fast, incredibly fast. What also is surprising (not so much surprising as wonderful) is that schools continue to be open and Young Audiences continues to grow the roster with such a diverse group of artists offering such a variety of art forms from dance to music to theater to storytelling…you name it.
I can remember when the roster was much smaller, and it seems to continue to grow and continue to keep artists employed. That's what’s surprising and wonderful.”
What is your wish for the future of arts education?
"What I would like to see for arts education is that it becomes a standard, integral, and respected part of the curriculum in every school. That's what I’d like to see happen. In some countries, in Sekou’s country Guinea, West Africa, artists are respected. They are supported by their government. The arts are part of the curriculum. My father was in the military, so I grew up in a lot of different places. I started school in Japan and…the arts were part of school. It wasn’t something separate, it was part of what happened during your school day.
So, I would love to see that…that every child grows up having access to the arts in school. It just enriches the whole experience…because you're able to satisfy and teach the kids who are academically strong and the kids who aren’t. Everyone can find their way and build as if they're a part of something in school. That's what I like to see happen across the board. The arts are just there…as important as math or science or reading."