Professional dancer, choreographer and master drummer Etienne Cakpo lives to dance and inspire the love of movement in others. Originally from Benin, West Africa, Cakpo teaches and performs African dance. He came to Seattle 12 years ago and formed the dance company Gansango Music and Dance, a multicultural group of international dancers and musicians who present traditional and contemporary dance and music from West Africa. When forming the company, Cakpo took advantage of the variety of arts Seattle has to offer.
"There are African dancers in Seattle who practice traditional styles, but there are very few contemporary African dancers here," said Cakpo. "This has pushed me to collaborate with artists who have really different backgrounds—jazz musicians, modern and ballet dancers, and ethnic dancers and musicians from other countries. I love that cultural exchange."
He teaches weekly dance classes with devoted students of all ages and is an instructor with Seattle Theatre Group's Dance for Parkinson's program, which offers dance classes for individuals with Parkinson's disease and their caregivers. His impact in the community can be felt in all corners of Seattle.
"I was a woman over 50 and a stranger to West African dance. Nonetheless, I was welcomed with patience, compassion and an utter lack of judgment," said Carla Dimitriou, a student in one of Cakpo's dance classes. "I learned quickly that Etienne has a reverence and a love for the movement that is contagious; it permeates his classes and his students, even students like me who have no aspirations or illusions about becoming a professional dancer."
Cakpo received a grant through the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs' CityArtist Projects program, which provides funding for individual artists to develop and present their work and supports different art forms in alternate years. With the award, Cakpo presented two performances of Mikwaabo ndú Benin (Welcome to Benin), a lively performance of traditional dance and music showcasing a range of ceremonial, social and ritual dances and rhythms.
In 2011, CityArtist awarded nearly $200,000 to 43 individual artists working in the performing arts. Individual awards averaged $4,545. Many of the projects will culminate in 2012 and are expected to involve nearly 400 artists in more than 160 events across the city.