The Team: Liberation Academy 2.0
The Leadership Team
Sarah Crowell is an unapologetically Black, queer dancer and choreographer who has taught dance, theater, mindfulness, arts integration and violence prevention for over 30 years. She performed and toured with multiple dance companies for 15 years, including Impulse Jazz Dance Company in Boston and the Dance Brigade in San Francisco. She also co-directed the dance/theater company i am Productions!
Sarah is the Artistic Director Emeritus at Destiny Arts Center in Oakland, where she served in different capacities for 30 years. She founded and co-directed the award-winning Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, which was the subject of two documentary films. She is the recipient of many awards including the KQED Women’s History Local Hero award and the Bay Area Dance Week award. She is a four-time finalist for a Tony Award for Excellence in Theater Education.
Sarah believes passionately that movement must be part of all movements for social change.
Kara Mack is a choreographer and creative director with an expertise in African diasporic music and dance. Recent credits include Coming to America 2 (Assistant Choreographer) as well as Freeform’s Good Trouble. Other notable credits include assisting industry-leading choreographer Fatima Robinson on Kendrick Lamar’s iconic performance at the 58th Grammy Awards, Busta Rhymes’ performance at the 2021 MTV VMA’s, and the upcoming “The Color Purple” movie.
Other television credits include co-choreographing Chance The Rapper’s performance on Saturday Night Live as well as projects with the NBA, Disney, NBC, and Fox and being Margot Robbie’s movement coach for the movie “Babylon”. Kara is the founder of AFRICA IN AMERICA®, which serves as a primary resource for professionals and participants of African diasporic music, dance, arts & culture in America. Her passion and expertise have led her to teach all over the nation including the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Kara was also an artist-in-resident at the renowned theater of Hearts; a Los Angeles based non-profit organization focusing on reaching at-risk youth through the arts.
As a dancer Kara has performed on several award shows including The Grammys, NAACP Image Awards, The BET Awards, and The Billboard Music Awards.
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.
Master Dance Leaders
Susana Arenas Pedroso
Susana Arenas Pedroso is an internationally recognized Cuban Folkloric and popular (i.e. social) dancer. Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, Ms Pedroso began her career in dance at age twelve, studying at La Casa de Cultura de Matanzas and at Cojunto Folklorico Nacional in Havana. She danced professionally for seventeen years in Cuba with popular, folkloric and theatrical performing groups, including Tierra Virgen, Alafia Ire, Oche Olorun, Oriki, Clave y Guaguancó, Oba Wemilere, Rumberos de Cuba, and Raíces Profundas. Since her arrival in the United States in 1998, Ms Pedroso has performed and choreographed numerous pieces that have been exhibited throughout the United States, Mexico, Cuba and Hong Kong with companies such as Omo Ache, Omo Oddara, Ban Rarra, Ire Ile, Alayo Dance Company, Las Que Son Son and Obini Ashe.
In 2004 Ms Pedroso established Arenas Dance Company, a company that has expertise in both folkloric and popular Cuban traditions. Arenas Dance Company has experienced much success under Ms Pedroso’s direction and has performed at venues such as Dance Mission Theater, ODC, Palace of Fine Arts, Chico State, Yerba Buena, Herbst Theater, Stanford University, San Jose Jazz Festival, Healdsburg Jazz Festival at the Rave Theater, Laney Theater, The Great American Music Hall, and La Peña Cultural Center, to name just a few.
In 2005, Arenas Dance Company produced the evening length show, Yo Soy Cuba (I am Cuba) in San Francisco. This performance was enthusiastically received and sold-out all performances and was remounted in 2006 for an encore (sold-out) run. Dancer José Barroso even received an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for his performance in the 2006 production. Other celebrated works include Arenas Dance Company’s Dos Aguas, which received an award for Best Choreography from the SF Ethnic Dance Festival. More recent works include Eso si! (2019), which celebrated Pedroso’s 20th year in the United States, and Ada Ara (2022), which paid homage to the strength of Cuban women. Arenasdancecompany.com
Kanukai Chigamba started dancing at a young age with her family in Harare, Zimbabwe. She learned to dance at biras, all night ceremonies, where she would watch older dancers and learn their moves. Soon, she started dancing with her aunt’s group, the Mhembero Dance Troupe, performing traditional Zimbabwean dance at weddings and local clubs until 2010 when she moved to Oakland, CA. In Oakland, she continued dancing with her family in the group Chinyakare Ensemble, performing traditional Zimbabwean dance around the country. She has performed at events such as the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, Zimfest, Monterey Bay Reggaefest, and the Africa Day Celebration in Washington DC. Kanukai met some of her closest friends through these dance events, and she began to collaborate with other dancers to learn other styles such as Congolese, West African, Pantsula, and Kwaito. Kanukai believes dance is a wonderful way to learn to communicate, share cultures, and make new friends, and wants to share what she’s learned with others.
Antwan Davis is a multi-percussionist that has co-founded the Las Vegas based performance arts company Molodi, performed with the Las Vegas and North American production of Stomp, and tour nationally with Step Afrika. He is actively performing and teaching workshops and residencies in the U.S and internationally. “My passion is people, I love connecting, inspiring, sharing and creating with people.” -Antwan Davis
Antwan has been engaging audiences for 15 years with body percussion and stepping. As a performer, he thrives on breaking down musical and genre barriers through creative, interdisciplinary projects. As a teacher he is enthused by creating community through body music, giving people a different outlet of expression. As an artist, Antwan has expanded his artistic crafts by becoming an improv actor and stand-up comedian. He strives to grow to become a better teacher, performer and person.
Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris
Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris was born and raised in an African-American community in North Philadelphia. In 1992, he founded Rennie Harris Puremovement, a hip-hop dance theater company dedicated to preserving and disseminating hip-hop culture. Voted one of the most influential people in the last one hundred years of Philadelphia history, Mr. Harris has received several accolades, including the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, the Governor’s Arts Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, and an honorary doctorate from Bates College. The London Times wrote of Mr. Harris that he is “the Basquiat of the U.S. contemporary dance scene.” Rennie Harris Puremovement was chosen by DanceMotion USA as one of four companies to serve as citizen-diplomats to tour Egypt, Israel, Palestinian territories and Jordan in 2012. Mr. Harris’ other contributions to Ailey’s repertory include Love Stories (a collaboration with Judith Jamison and Robert Battle) and Home.
Alhassane Camara was born in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa. His mother, Dah Camara, was a dancer. Alhassane has been blessed with the same innate talent. He followed this calling, and by 11 years of age, he was fully immersed in Ballet Tayely in Guinea, studying, and performing traditional Guinea dances. Alhassane continued to excel, not only as a dancer, but as a fully trained musician, knowing all of the musical rhythms of the drums and accompanying instruments of the traditional Guinea dances. He proceeded to become the lead dancer and choreographer of his ballet company.
Adia Tamar Whitaker
Adia Tamar Whitaker, Artistic Director of Ase Dance Theatre Collective, has performed contemporary, modern, and Afro-Haitian dance in the United States and abroad for seventeen years. She performed with the San Francisco-based Afro-Haitian dance company Group Petit La Croix under the direction of Ms. Blanche Brown for three years (1997 – 2000). She has been teaching Afro-Haitian dance workshops and master classes for the past twenty years. Whitaker completed a B.A. in dance at San Francisco State University and attended the Professional Division U.S. Independent Studies Program at The Ailey School. She was a Ford Foundation Special Initiative for Africa Grant recipient, an Urban Bush Women apprentice, and a Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography @ FSU Creative Entry Point Choreographic Fellow. She has also received grants from the Brooklyn Arts Council, The Puffin Foundation, the Hip Hop Theater Festival, and the Jerome Foundation. Most recently, Whitaker completed her M.F.A. in dance at Hollins University and received a 2019 NYFA Fellowship, a John F. Kennedy Center rehearsal residency, and an ODC Theater Technical Residency. Whitaker has performed as a principal dancer with Chouconne Dance Troupe in the Festival De Les Pyrenees and as an ensemble dancer in Nadia Dieudonne’s Heritage. She has traveled to study and perform traditional African dance styles in Cuba (1997, 2000), Haiti (1998), France (2002), Spain (2002), Germany (2002), Brazil (2003), Ghana (2008), Jamaica (2009), New Orleans (2010), and Trinidad (2014).
Production Design Mentors
Stephanie Anne Johnson
Stephanie Anne Johnson (she, her) is a second-generation theatre practitioner whose mother, Virginia Greene (Johnson) worked with the American Negro Theatre. Johnson has been a lighting designer working locally, nationally, and internationally for forty nine years. Locally, she has worked with Cultural Odyssey, Afro Solo, Ubuntu Theatre Project, Marin Theatre Company, TheatreFirst, The Lower Bottom Playaz, and many other groups. Johnson is also a visual artist who has had two one-person shows in San Francisco. Her public and site-specific installations have focused upon the use of light and projections as tools for symbolic and metaphorical examinations of African American history. She has also worked as an electrician on films with Robert Townsend, Pratiba Parmar, and Alice Walker.
Dr. Johnson is a Professor at California State University, Monterey Bay where she is one of the founding faculty members who developed the Visual and Public Art Department when the campus opened in 1995. Her work can be seen at www.lightessencedesign.com.
Chi Chi Okonmah
Chi Chi Okonmah, since moving to the Bay Area, California in 2000 has successfully held management, consulting, and contractor positions for many of the most prominent, rooted and historic Artists, Art-ivists & Arts organizations in the Bay Area & beyond. With almost 20 years of experience in stage & production management for live dance & theater performances, as well as, event planning for multi-day indoor & outdoor events and festivals, Chi Chi’s professional career in the Performing Arts is a true testament to her lifelong love of dance and music. Chi Chi celebrates 20+ years as a Rhythm Tap “hoofer” & enjoys choreographing, dancing & teaching at all levels. Chi Chi has also directed multiple Bay Area stage premieres, and is always excited to co-create with talented and joyous artists!
Dancer, Art-ivist, Entrepreneur, Stage & Production Manager, and Business Arts Consultant who lives and breathes her passion. Learn more about Chi Chi Okonmah by visiting her business website: www.c2orhythmandarts.com