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GOREE Drum and Dance

#TraditionsTuesday: GOREE Drum and Dance

A photo of a group of children dancing on stage during a GOREE Drum and Dance performance.The stage thunders with energy as a suite of drummers and percussionists perform intricate rhythms. Dancers add to the sound with the stomps of their feet and excited vocalizations. 

This is GOREE Drum and Dance, a troupe of dancers and drummers whose work is rooted in the traditions of West Africa. Led by husband-and-wife duo Balla and Serrita (NdeyeKhady) Sy, the group has been performing and teaching in the Columbus area since 2009. The Sys have been working in this artistic tradition since childhood—Serrita as a dancer, and Balla as a skilled player of the djembe. The two met while performing with a drum and dance troupe led by Balla’s uncle, and they formed GOREE in 2009.

GOREE stands for “Giving Others Resources, Education, and Empowerment through Drum and Dance.” That mission—to share with others—is clearly an elemental aspect of this art form. West African drumming and dance is inherently communal, with a heavy use of call-and-response techniques. Each class and performance is a community affair, and dancers range from older adults to the tiniest children.

“(West African drum and dance) cannot be about self—it has to be about community,” says Serrita. The audience’s energy is an essential part of building the collective experience, and it is common for audience members to get up and start dancing along, swept up in the moment.

A photo of a GOREE Drum and Dance performanceThe intergenerational aspect of GOREE’s performances are important for Serrita, who was introduced to West African dance at the age of 8, when a dancer, who was a customer at her mother’s shop, offered to teach her. Since then, Serrita has studied tap and jazz, along with the traditional dances of Mali, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Gambia. African dance, Serrita says, is like a heartbeat for all other types of dance and should be respected as its own genre. Its historical significance and influence is clear in the lineage of jazz, liturgical, and even ballet.

“When we perform, we pay homage and honor the ancestors,” Serrita said. “When you are dancing, you are not alone. (When I dance), I know who I am from generations ago.”

Take up the #TraditionTuesday:

EXPAND: Visit to learn more about GOREE Drum and Dance and Directors Balla and Serrita Sy. You can also watch videos from their past concerts and classes here.

EXPERIENCE: Dates for upcoming public performances and classes will be posted on the group’s Facebook page @GOREEdrumdance

EXPLORE: There are myriad West African Drum and Dance Conventions which occur throughout the country. Many of these groups have videos, classes, and more available online for those who wish to learn more about this art form.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Amy Ruggaber, Ohio Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Contractor

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