Liberation Academy 1.0 (Read about our pilot semester held in 2022)

THE LIBERATION ACADEMY held a pilot semester January-June 2022.  Read about the pilot semester below. Then check out Liberation Academy 2.0 for our Aug 2023 – February 2024 offerings!

A free series of round table discussions, music & dance workshops, and films for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) dedicated to freedom. 

Presented by Dance Mission Theater and funded in part by the Dream Keepers Initiative.

Directed and curated by Ellen Sebastian-ChangSarah CrowellKara Mack,   Bongo SidibeJoti Singh, and amara tabor-smith.

ASL Interpretation and Closed Captioning available.

Please note that registration for the Academy is now closed. We will start a new Academy Session Fall 2022. Keep your eyes peeled for details. Please read about our current Academy in the meantime (see below)!


This Liberation Academy was conceived to restore the intellectual scholarship, spiritual wisdom and creative richness which resides historically in Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color collective oral and underground traditions.

In these critical times we will use our critical theories to rescue ourselves as critically vital to our healing, survival and skill building towards Liberation. We choose to intersect all the siloed knowledge-based projects (ethnic studies/ feminism/ gender/ housing/ medicine) based in resistance movements begun in the 20th Century and revive them as critical (vital and necessary) collaborations. Yes WE WILL BE CRITICAL – as in critical to each other’s freedom, well being and survival.
– amara, Bongo, Ellen, Joti, Kara, and Sarah  (Liberation Academy Leadership Team)

The Liberation Academy

  • asserts that Black and other artists/creatives of color exist as architects of wisdom and world building
  • reclaims the idea of scholarship and wisdom
  • dismantles the idea that if it’s not written down, it’s not real
  • seeks to decolonize ideas and bodies
  • uplifts Black and other artists of color across time as crucial to social justice movements
  • sees dance as a metaphor for navigating the world
  • sees rhythm and movement as a metaphor for coming into synch with one another



The round tables will be curated and hosted by the Liberation Leadership Team (see bios below).  They will break the old paradigm of the traditional panel format to include meditation, movement, group reflection, and showing of music and dance works related to round table themes. Round tables will also feature time for teaching and conversation around the cultural and historical aspects of the art forms and practices being shared.

The teaching and conversational elements of each round table will be generative, and the moderators will create an environment where all participants will be guided to share their wisdom in ways that create community rather than experts.

Round table participants and moderators will be dancers, dance makers, artistic innovators and culture-keepers of color who use movement to tell stories, communicate the power and savvy of communities of color, and embed their work in social justice and transformation.

Round table sessions will also include screenings of short dance films that connect with round table themes, and that feature dancers, choreographers and filmmakers of color who push boundaries, open minds, and honor the sacredness of BIPOC artistic legacies in movements for social justice.



The music and dance workshops will happen live (as well as live streamed for virtual audiences) and have a direct connection to the panel that happened that month.



January: The Power of African Arts in Decolonization
Virtual Round Table: Tuesday, January 18 4:30-6:30pm PST
Live/Livestream Workshop: Sunday, January 23 11am-12:30pm PST (Due to omicron, this workshop will help only online, without the in-person option)
Learn more…


February: Polyrhythmic Life in the African Diaspora
Virtual Round Table: Tuesday, February 15 4:30-6:30pm PST
Live/Livestream Workshop:Sunday, February 20 11am-12:30pm PST (Location: Zaccho Dance Theater, 1777 Yosemite Ave)
Learn more…


March: Space to Move: Strategies for Stewarding Dance & Performance Spaces
Virtual Round Table: Tuesday, March 15 4:30-6:30pm PST
Virtual Workshop: Sunday, March 20 11am-12:30pm PST (March’s workshop will be online only)
Learn more…


April: The Body as the Drum: Tap, Body Percussion & Bharatanatyam
Virtual Round Table: Tuesday, April 19 4:30-6:30pm PST
Live/Livestream Workshop: Sunday, April 24 11am-12:30pm PST (Location: Destiny Arts Center)
Learn more…


May: blood/Labor/Liberation’s Laughter
Virtual Round Table: Tuesday, May 17 4:30-6:30pm PST
Live/Livestream Workshop: Sunday, May 22 11am-12:30pm PST (location TBA)
Learn more…


June: Rise Up: Youth, Dance & Justice 
Virtual Round Table: Tuesday, June 21 4:30-6:30pm PST
Live/Livestream Workshop: Sunday, June 26 11am-12:30pm PST (location TBA)
Learn more…



The Liberation Academy is open to ALL BIPOC regardless of dance experience. This is not just for trained dancers.  All movers and shakers are welcome.  We recognize and uplift all beings as movers and shakers.



The Liberation Academy organizers understand that removing the obstacles to our freedom requires discipline and commitment.  Therefore, in order to take part in any of the Liberation Academy sessions, participants must commit to attending ALL Liberation Academy round tables, workshops and film screenings.



The Liberation Academy sessions are free to everyone who completes a simple application and makes the commitment to attend ALL round tables, workshops and film screenings.

Please answer the following questions:

  • Why do you want to be part of the Liberation Academy?
  • What does liberation mean to you?

The application deadline has passed.




Ellen Sebastian Chang’s theater work spans 45 years as a lighting designer, director, arts educator, and producer. She began her professional work at age 19 with the Berkeley Stage Company as light technician; developed her craft as technical director/lighting designer with The Blake Street Hawkeyes; developed her writing/directorial style in the early 80’s with devised site specific works the seminal debut work “Your Place Is No Longer With Us” created in two private homes one in the Oakland hills and later remounted in a Victorian mansion in San Francisco. It told the story of the coming of age of a ten year old biracial girl that the audience followed from room to room in the house as this girl acted out her dreams and fantasies all the while her Mama cooked a real meal of black-eyed peas, mustard greens and cornbread  throughout the performance. The final scene of the walk through performance taking place in the kitchen, where upon the Mama would end the spell of the performance by saying “O, my word, we have guests “ and the meal was served by the performers to the audience.  “Your Place Is No Longer With Us” is published in West Coast Plays and won a Bay Area Critics Circle Award for New Directions in Theater.  “Your Place…” was also one of many location/environmental works created in the 80’s; cofounder/co-artistic director of Life on the Water, a national and internationally known presenting and producing organization San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center 1986-1995. Recent collaborations, HBO production “Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley”; Maya Gurantz “A Hole in Space (Oakland Redux)”; Sunhui Chang and Maya Gurantz “How to Fall in Love in A Brothel”; Campo Santo/Ben Fisher’s “Candlestick”.

Sebastian Chang has collaborated with and directed for:  KITKA, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, Eisa Davis, Youth Speaks, Holly Hughes, Word for Word, Center for Digital Story Telling, Fauxnique, Magic Theater, Lorraine Hansberry Theater, The Kitchen Sisters, Bill Talen, Anne Galjour, Felonious with One Ring Zero, Robert Karimi, and has a 12 year collaboration with Conjure Artist Amara Tabor Smith/ Deep Waters Dance Theater.

As an arts educator: she taught technical direction/design classes at the Urban School of San Francisco;  Playmaking/writing with Magic Theater’s Young California Writer’s Program, Bay Area Public Schools via Young Audiences of Northern California; Curriculum Development with The World as it Could Be (Human Rights in the Arts Education Program). She is  currently serving as Resident Owner Board Member for East Bay Permanent Real Estate CoOperative/Advisor for Esther’s Orbit Room Project/Artist Housing.

She is a recipient of awards and grants from Creative Capital, MAP Fund, A Blade of Grass Fellowship in Social Engagement, Art Matters, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, NEA, Creative Work Fund, California Arts Council,  Mazza Foundation and  Zellerbach Community Arts Fund.


Sarah Crowell

Sarah Crowell has taught dance, theater and violence prevention for over 30 years. She just recently left her position as the Artistic Director at Destiny Arts Center in Oakland, CA where she served in different capacities from 1990-2020, including Executive Director from 2002-2007. She founded and directed the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company from 1993-2020, which has been the subject of two documentary films, and won the National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award. Sarah has facilitated arts integration, violence prevention, cultural humility and team building professional development sessions with artists and educators since 2000, both locally and nationally. She is the recipient of the KPFA Peace award, the KQED Women’s History Local Hero award, the Bay Area Dance Week award, the Alameda County Arts Leadership award, and the National Guild for Community Arts Education Milestone award. She is also a four-time finalist for a Tony Award for Excellence in Theater Education.

Sarah is a retired professional dancer, having performed and toured with numerous dance and dance/theater companies including Impulse Jazz Dance Company in Boston and the Dance Brigade in San Francisco.  She also co-created the dance/theater company i am Productions! She believes that the arts are an essential component of the journey to social justice, especially art forms that involve moving the body. She believes that movement must be part of all movements for social change.


Kara Mack ( is a sought after Creative Director, Choreographer, and dance teacher nationally. Her choreographic works can be seen at Clive Davis’ Pre-Grammy Party, Jonelle Monae on American Idol, Gwen Stefani’s performance of her hit song “Misery” on The Voice, Kanye West’s Easter Sunday Service for Coachella, Kendrick Lamar’s historic performance of “Alright” on the 58th Grammy Awards, and Chance the Rapper on Saturday Night Live. Having trained in all African styles with dance masters from Brazil, Cuba, West Africa and Central Africa, her goal is to master all dances of the African Diaspora; while showing the unity within being so spread apart. As she began to practice these different art forms she recognized that in society these styles are seen as electives and hobbies artistically that in turn force them to fall short of being respected as technical styles. Kara wanted to change this reality and decided to create the trademarked brand, Africa in America® in 2014; a brand that serves as a primary resource for both professionals and participants of African Diasporic music, dance, arts and culture in America. Through Kara Mack’s work, she is determined to change the direction and rewrite the narrative. She utilizes a language, vocabulary, and rhetoric that is relatable in order to bring back a sense of visibility that will cultivate well-rounded artists capable of succeeding through any artistic expression they choose. Kara Mack is also a successful producer/ director. “The Essence” on September 29th and 30th, 2012 premiered two sold-out performances. Choreographed, written, and directed by Kara Mack, The Essence is a unique approach to the retelling of the multiple realities of Africa. For the first time on a Los Angeles stage, dancers and drummers from West Africa, Brazil, Cuba, and the United States united for a single purpose. She premiered her first short film, “Standing on Holy Ground” through Dance on Screen Alabama and has been praised from various film festivals; including Dance Cinema Film Festival.


Bongo Sidibe is from Guinea, West Africa where he lived until 2008 when he moved to San Francisco. Bongo studied drumming from master drummer Mamady Keita and was a youth leader in his Conakry neighborhood. As Co-Artistic Director of Duniya Dance and Drum Company, Bongo directs evening-length West African music and dance performances, including “The Madness of the Elephant” about Guinea’s first president, Sekou Touré. He has performed with Joan Baez, Mickey Hart, Cass McCombs, Black Nature from the Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars and appeared in Michael Franti’s “Once A Day” video. Bongo teaches West African drumming with the San Francisco Ballet, Loco Bloco, Ruth Asawa SF School of the Arts, LEAP, San Francisco Arts Education and others. He drums for a weekly West African dance class at Dance Mission, and does many performances for cultural events. Bongo has collaborated with the African Advocacy Network to present the African Arts Festival in 2013, 2016 and 2019. The festival has received support from the California Arts Council, Wattis Foundation, Haas Foundation and others. Bongo has received the Creative Work Fund and San Francisco Arts Commission funds to support his work in the African communities of the Bay Area and focuses on providing paid artistic work for the many Guinean and Senegalese artists that live in the Bay Area. Bongo and his wife, Duniya’s Artistic Director Joti Singh, lead a bi-annual trip to Guinea, West Africa and founded the Duniya Center for Arts and Education in Conakry, where Guinean artists learn marketing, computer skills and English language. Bongo is currently working on “Raices y Révolution” a collaboration with Cuban choreographer Susana Pedroso, about the postcolonial connections between Guinea and Cuba. In addition to being a drummer, Bongo is a vocalist and is releasing his first album in early 2022.

Joti Singh is a dance creator and innovator, sprung from the U.S. American south to parents from northern India. She is the Co- Artistic Director of Duniya Dance and Drum Company. Joti began her dance training in Punjabi circles, carrying through her body the culture that’s in her blood and memory. As an adult, West African dance entered Joti’s purview, transforming her body’s imagination. Through this multilingual body, Joti explores where history intertwines with contemporary continuities of celebration and injustice. She created the performance “Half and Halves,” about the Punjabi-Mexican communities of California with collaborator Zenon Barron. Joti has received support from the Creative Work Fund, the San Francisco Arts Commission, California Arts Council, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, and more. Currently, Joti is creating the piece “Ghadar Geet: Blood and Ink,” about her great grandfather, Bhagwan Singh Gyanee’s role in the Ghadar Party, based in San Francisco in the early 20th century, fighting for India’s independence from Britain.

Joti and her partner, musician Bongo Sidibe, lead bi-annual trips to Guinea and in 2012, opened the Duniya Center for Arts and Education in Conakry. She teaches Bhangra all over the SF Bay Area, including at Dance Mission Theater. Joti founded the World Dance program at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in 2016. She holds an MA in South Asian Studies from UC Berkeley and a BA in English from Reed College.


amara tabor-smith was born and raised on unceded Ramaytush Ohlone land known as San Francisco, and now lives on unceded Huichin Lisjan Ohlone land known as Oakland, CA. She is a choreographer, performance maker and cultural worker who describes her work as Conjure Art. Her interdisciplinary site-responsive performance making practice utilizes Yoruba Lukumí spiritual technologies to address issues of social and environmental justice, race, gender identity, and belonging. Her work is rooted in black, queer feminist principles that insist on liberation, joy and well-being in the afro NOW.

amara seeks to create performance experiences where audience and performers converge in mutual vulnerability and transformation. She is the artistic director of Deep Waters Dance Theater. Her current multi-year project House/Full of Blackwomen created in collaboration with Ellen Sebastian Chang and a collective of artists and activists, addresses the displacement, well being and sex-trafficking of black women and girls in Oakland. She is a 2021 Rainin Fellow, a 2019 Dance/USA Fellow, 2018 United States Artist Fellow, 2018 recipient of KQED’s “Bay Brilliant” award, and a 2017 Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Fellow. amara is currently an artist in residence at Stanford University.


Thank you to the Dream Keepers Initiative for helping fund this work.

Post by DanceMission

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *