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Last Dance of "Mama" Fatou N'Diaye-Davis

Farewell Performance of Silimbo 2011
Farewell Performance of Silimbo 2011
LIsa Leake, photography

Saturday evening, January 8, 2011, marked the final performance of “Mama” Fatou N’Diaye and the company she founded in 1981, “Silimbo D’Adeane,” at least with her as its full-time artistic director in the City of Cambridge. As master dancer, choreographer, and cultural arts educator for over 30 years in African and the U.S., she returns to her roots in Senegal this week to continue her work in a warmer climate.

Having begun her professional career at age 17 in her native Adeane, Senegal, Fatou N’Diaye rose quickly to stardom, performing in the Daniel Sorano National Theatre of Dakar, “National Ballet of Senegal,” traveling with the president of Senegal on official visits to countries – including China, later in popular television productions, with special appearance in “L’lle de Diama,” (Michael Douglas), and as a featured role in WGBH-TV Basic Black (documentary on dance’s healing power in cultures around the world). (

Moving to the U.S. in 1991, she toured most major cities with “Silimbo,” then organized La Adiyana Bamtamba Courocoto, West African Dance and Drum Conference, 1996. She received grants from the NEA and D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, supporting her art in the Washington locale. Mama Fatou has taught in Boston, Cambridge public schools, at Harvard University, the French Library, and countless community and arts centers throughout Massachusetts and the entire country.

Her mission, as mentor and dance historian, is to bring all levels of dancers to the stage, helping to spread the culture and craft of her Senegalese dance, drumming, and songs pan-nationally, through workshops, conferences, weekly classes and company rehearsals, so that the folklore and traditions of Senegal, in their original forms, can be shared.

Passionate to the core, she instills the love of her rich heritage, enabling each of us through understanding of Senegal’s rituals, ceremonies, and daily living events. Learning through her is easy because she tells the story behind the dance, ensuring that we understand the meaning behind the movements, the drumming, and songs sung in her native language.

From a personal perspective, as one of her students and company members of “Silimbo,” I must point out that Mama Fatou is much larger than any of her accomplishments. With her wide, inviting smile, penetrating eyes – perceptive, wise, and compassionate, her polished skin – inviting and warm, and deep, honey-toned voice, we are reassured from the moment Mama steps into the dance studio.

Her appearance is one of respect and awe, always composed, professional, direct, intuitive and able to pull diverse ages and backgrounds together. Like mother earth, her wholesome, centered-ness, like the Feng Shui “nourishment,” provides solidarity and a foundation for all living elements and beings, of which there can be no harmony or life in its absence (

Or like the proton – positively charged, subatomic particle – which resides in the nucleus of the atom – the basic unit of all matter, she is stable, indivisible, “uncuttable” – attracting and bounding the other particles through an unseen electromagnetic force (

Fatou N’Diaye-Davis speaks the universal language and art form called “Love.” She embraces arts for humanity, fellowship, inclusion, and wields an undying resolve to spread the word of dance from the Diaspora to people everywhere. Her enchantment with life, people, and performing arts is contagious, bounding free from any barriers that the unenlightened should attempt to orchestrate.

Her leaving is all but unbelievable, and its reality has surely not resounded at the deepest level. I cannot speak of life and dancing without her without exuding an enormity of gratitude and emotion. All’s I can really do is wait in joyful contemplation of our next meeting.

With MUCH LOVE and GRATITUDE to Mama Fatou N’Diaye-Davis.

Please visit her here:

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