Kaleidoscope students learn about diversity through drums, dance

Jan 15, 2019


Elementary students at Kaleidoscope in Kenai are learning African dances and songs this week from Anchorage-based Sankofa Dance Theater.
Credit Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

Tolerance and understanding of different cultures can at times seem to be in short supply, especially in such highly partisan times as these. But a dance ensemble from Anchorage is working to change that with a weeklong program at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai that’s bringing culture to the kids through music and dance.



Elementary classes at Kaleidoscope were taking turns in the gym Tuesday morning, learning dance moves and songs in Swahili. Their teachers this week are from the Sankofa Dance Theatre in Anchorage, who are visiting as artists in residence. But this is more than simply a demonstration. This is a cultural experience.


Kasha Smith-Poynter is Sankofa’s managing director and principle dancer and she’s been sharing African culture through dance for years. She says it’s one of the best ways to foster a broader sense of community between cultures.

“Every culture has a drum, so we can bridge that gap through drumming. So the kids get to do drum circles. Every culture has some type of celebratory dance… Everybody has a way of celebrating their traditions and their culture. We bring that all together in a program and let kids be creative and express themselves...and identify these things that they didn’t know they had inside themselves and then help promote that and foster that so we can build a better and brighter future through our kids.”


“This program is called ‘Jamii’. It means community in Swahili, which is a widely spoken language in Africa. We created for this specific program; this is our first elementary school, so we kind of got to play around a little bit and match their energy. And then to do that with such a powerful message and mission to help build and foster a better community.”

The whole idea is to take away some of the mystery of a different culture. In doing so, Smith Poynter says when kids are older and see bias and discrimination in the world, they’ll have some tools to challenge it.

“Before they get out in the real world and get super jaded about things, and everything that’s political and everything that’s dividing us, we’re like ‘no, let’s eliminate that and have them go out into the real world with a positive energy and a sense of community. Alaska’s really, really cool because we do come together in a way that I don’t think you see anywhere else. So, it’s kinda easy,” she says with a laugh.

“We’re getting ready to go to East Anchorage High School and they speak (dozens) of languages there within the school. So to see such a change, even from the time when I was dancing until now, and the opportunities that the kids have to learn, we want to be able to expose them to that, own that, take pride in that and then go out in the community and build it.”

Students will continue rehearsing throughout the week and bring it all together for a finale performance Friday afternoon.