Nadia Dieudonné is a talented choreographer, dancer and teacher who began dancing at an early age. By the age of 12 Nadia was performing with well known Haitian folk singer and activist Mrs. Myriam Dorismé. Nadia’s innate talent as an Afro-Haitian dancer grew stronger in 1990, as she began to travel back to her homeland to research and study the origins, purposes of Haitian dance and its connections to Africa. Today, after more than 15 years of dancing and performing, Nadia is known as the best Banda dancer outside of Haiti. Her expertise comes out of her diligent study of the folkloric heritage of Haitian dance. She honed her skills by attending several Lakous (communities that preserve and practice specific Vodou ceremonies) in the countryside and dance schools in Port-au-Prince. She also has been guided under the tutelage of the renowned school of Haitian dancer Viviane Gauthier along with independent study with various esteemed folkloric dancers and dance companies.
As part of her commitment to preserve her culture, Nadia founded in 1994, Nadia Dieudonné & Feet of Rhythm, an Afro-Haitian dance company where she creates, develops and fuses the traditional Vodou dances with her unique contemporary style. The group has personified Haitian pride by performing at cultural events worldwide including the Wasshoi International Dance & Music festival in Saki, Japan; Brooklyn Museum of Art; several cultural festivals in Canada, Downtown Dance Festival in Battery Park; Summer stage-Central, Prospect Bark-Band shell, Bryant Park, The African Heritage Guggenheim Festival, The Dance Theater Workshop/NYC, Schomburg, Lincoln Center-Out of Doors and Jacobs Pillow.
Nadia has been a teaching artist since 1995, were she has taught youths within the public schools, community based organizations, and daycare centers throughout the Tri state. Nadia has conducted adult master classes at many prestigious institutions such as City College-San Francisco, State University-San Francisco, Lincoln Center-NYC, Jacobs Pillow (assistant to Jean Leon Destiné)-Boston, Lincoln Center Mid Summer Night Swing- NYC, The Katherine Dunham Dance Institute-NYC and Alvin Ailey NYC(substitute dance instructor). Presently she pursues her M.A in Dance Education at New York University.
Nadia has performed with Masters in the field, such as Haitian icon Jean-Léon Destiné & his Afro-Haitian Dance Company, and the acclaimed Dinizulu African drummers, singers, and dancers. She has also danced with Ballet Djoniba, Charles Moore Dance Theater and Forces of Nature. As a solo artist Nadia has been commissioned to perform throughout the US and abroad—Canada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Holland, Japan and Trinidad.
Just recently HaitianBeatz.com conducted this interview with Nadia
HB- What was the spark that first keyed your interest in traditional Haitian dance, and where and when did you begin to dance?
ND- I always had a natural ability to dance. As a kid I danced in my elementary school talent shows where I created my own choreographies and costumes. Church was another outlet where I was able to explore and express my talents.
HB- Who were your mentors?
ND- Haitian folk singer and activist Myriam Dorisme was my mentor during my early years in dance. During my adult years Haitian icon Jean Leon Destine became another one of my mentors.
HB- What was your regimen, and how did you achieve what you did?
ND- Its simple practice, practice, and practice! When I first began to realize that I had a naturally ability to move my body I took many dance groups to study, train and develop dance techniques where I fortunate to work with outstanding dancers such as Smitty, Jean Claude Lorier and Lionel Synsir. When I discovered Lesley’s dance studio in Manhattan I went crazy! I took as many Haitian and West African dance classes as I could. In the early ninety’s I decided to go back to Haiti to study and research dance. I took folkloric dance classes in many studios in Port-au-Prince and I went to the countryside to research traditional Haitian dances from various lakous.
HB- It is often said that Haitian traditional dancers, don’t like to wear shoes. When hanging around the house, do you wear shoes, go barefoot, wear socks or wear slippers?
ND- I am always cold so at the least I wear socks around the house.
HB- What is the hardest dance to you?
ND- I don’t have a dance that was particularly hard to learn however Wangol is my least favorite dance and rhythm.
HB- Tell us about your job as a dance instructor. What are your responsibilities and what is a typical day like for you?
ND- I teach elementary school children during the day and during some evenings and weekends I teach Haitian folkloric dances to children and adults. I was a teaching artist for many years where I taught dance in many public schools, daycare centers and universities throughout the tri-borough and New Jersey through organizations such as LEAP, Putumayo, Global Arts to go and Brooklyn Arts Council. Presently I am pursuing my M.A in Dance Education at New York University.
HB- What do you like most about teaching?
ND- I like the fact that I can share my talents with others and help them to develop their inner talents. What I love most is working with children. My favorite age groups to work with are the Pre-K children (age 4). I love their eagerness to learn and to try new things. The sky is the limit!
HB- Why do you think people come to learn from you?
ND- Most adults take my dance classes as a means to stay fit, however a handful of them are already dancers and they come to classes to enrich their dance vocabulary and technique in Haitian folklore.
HB- Are most of your students men or women? And why is that?
ND- Most of my students are mostly females. I find that women are gatekeepers of most cultures. Another thing I observe is that a lot of male dancer from Haiti usually give up on dance when they get to the United States because they are disappointed when they realized that dance does not offer a lot of money.
HB- How often do you teach?
ND- Right now I teach my adult dance classes on Sundays from 12-1:30 pm @ Embora Wellness-900 Fulton Street between Washington and Waverly.
HB- How many students are enrolled, and how do students come to be in your class?
ND- My class size range from 20-25 students
HB- Are the students all highly motivated?
ND- Yes they are.
HB- What is their inspiration?
ND- I believe that each student’s inspiration comes from their own personals reasons. They take classes for physical, recreational or educational purposes. I hope my love and commitment to dance will serve as an inspiration for them as well.
HB- What do you think is involved, what are the keys to achieving the highest levels in Haitian traditional dancing or in any art?
ND- Begin true to your craft is the key to achieving the highest level in any art form. By this I mean studying, practicing and researching what you want to do.
HB- What makes a great dance teacher?
ND- A great dance teacher must have patience and is someone who can teach people how to use their body as tool to communicate without using words
HB- Does dancing have an impact in one’s health?
ND- Yes dancing has a positive impact on one’s physical and mental health. One thing for sure is when I’m under a lot of stress dancing is the one thing that helps get my mind right. And I’ve been told that I have a youthful body (LOL!)
HB- Talk a little about your dance company "Feet of Rhythms 's" current and upcoming productions.
ND- One particular production that Feet of Rhythm is really proud of is a show called “Heritage” which is a 90 min dance and musical production that depicts Africans journey to Haiti and their resilience to abolish slavery.
HB- Does Feet of Rhythms have a particular style or direction as compared to other dance companies?
ND- It is my mission is represent Haitian dance in a professional and theatrical manner without losing the essence of Haitian traditional dance while fusing my own artistic vision and dance style.
HB- Why do you think when talking about Haitian culture many seems to think it’s all about the music?
ND- I feel the music is a universal language and people are more receptive to music. Nonetheless Haitian culture is comprised of its music, dances, foods, religions, art and way of life.
HB- How important do you think traditional Haitian dance and roots/racines music, is to the value of our culture?
ND- Traditional music and dance play a vital role in our culture and it the foundation of Haitian folklore dance and Racine (Roots) music. Naturally you can’t conduct a Vodou ceremony on stage but artists can use the very bases of these movements with their own style and vision to present one aspect of Haiti’s culture through dance. This is what we call folkloric dance and the same go for Racine (Roots) music it’s basically the fusing of traditional rhythms and songs with modern rock, pop, and reggae( more or less).
HB- Do you think one can use Haitian traditional dance as a forum to uniquely communicate as an art?
ND- Yes, this is what inspires me to create my choreographies and productions. For example in Heritage I use dance to tell the story about Haiti’s journey from slavery to freedom.
HB- What do you think is the level of audiences' knowledge and appreciation of Haitian traditional dance?
ND- It’s sad to say that not many young Haitian people today appreciate the beauty of Haitian folkloric dances as the older generations did. Most young people would send $35 or more on a Konpa party rather than supporting a Haitian cultural event. Some people who go to Konpa events think negatively about traditional dances and music. I can recall when I was doing Heritage for the second time and because I had a photo of me doing the fire dance, many Haitian people responded by wanting me to remove them from my mailing list claiming that they did not want to attend a “Vodou” event. Perhaps if there were more cultural events being produced this might give the young Haitians the opportunity to be more aware and appreciative of Haitian dances.
HB- How do you see the future of Haitian traditional dance?
ND- Traditional dances will not change because it’s found within the traditional ceremonies that still exist in Haiti. However, I find that we are losing a lot of traditional dance influences within the Haitian Folklore because artists are opting to let jazz, ballet and modern dance forms be heavy influenced in their style.
HB- How popular is the Haitian traditional dance outside Haiti?
ND- Haitian folklore is quite popular especially among non Haitians. I’ve traveled to teach perform and represent Haiti at various international cultural festivals throughout the U.S. and aboard and Haitian dance has always been well loved and received.
HB- Where do you see the Haitian traditional dance movement over the next few years?
ND- As I mentioned before a lot of artists are choosing to fuse Haitian dance with other dance styles making traditional dances less dominate in Haitian folklore. Another important factor that will contribute to the decrease of Haitian dance is that not enough Haitian parents are enrolling their kids into culturally based programs. Presently I conduct a children’s dance company and cultural program called Feet of Rhythm Kids however not too many Haitian parents support my program.
HB- What kind of dance do you respond to most strongly now?
ND- I love them and all depend on my mood.
HB- Do you still like to go to clubs and dance socially?
ND- Yes for sure however I don’t do it as much as I used to. I find now that I like going to more cultural events to support my fellow artists.
HB- Describe for us the highest moment of your life as a performer?
ND- In my dance career I went through various phases and each phase contributed something positive in my development as a dancer. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many seasoned dance companies (Jean Leon Dance Company, La Troupe Makandal, Forces of Nature and the acclaimed Dinizulu African Dancers and Singers) accomplished internationally music bands (Rara Machine, Jepthe Guillaume &the Tete Kale Orchestra, and Arrested Development) and in high profile events such as the Rolling Stone Voodoo lounge tour, Summer stage with Tabou Combo, and Papa Jube and the Wasshoi Festival in Japan. I must say my first performance in was an awesome experience. I was elated for weeks after my trip.
HB- Any final words?
ND- Stay true to yourself and your dreams. At first many people thought I was wasting my time with dance but my love, passion, and commitment to dance has opened so many doors for me.
HB- Thank you Nadia for this very informative interview!