Welcome to Africa ... without leaving Pittsburgh.
That's what "Mama" Kadiatou Conte-Forte, artistic director of the Balafon West African Dance Ensemble, hopes people will experience if they check out the second annual Black River African Dance conference.
Friday and Saturday at Pittsburgh Obama, people of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to participate in workshops representing a mix of dance styles from across Africa. A matinee featuring African dance and drum music will take place at 10 a.m. Friday at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater for select schools. The capstone Saturday night will be a performance of "Kiridi -- An African Cinderella Story" staged at the East Liberty venue. The conference also will include a village marketplace.
Bringing this two-day taste of African culture to the city is a "dream come true" for Ms. Conte-Forte, a native of Guinea. She started the Balafon West African Dance Ensemble in Washington, D.C., and transplanted it to Pittsburgh when she moved here about 10 years ago.
"I'm very happy to be in America, to be in Pennsylvania," she said. "I feel that I'm welcome here, that they're supporting me 100 percent."
Through the ensemble, she not only strives to educate people about the richness and beauty of African dance but also its health benefits. Each Tuesday at Club One Fitness in East Liberty she teaches a fitness-centered dance class.
"Dancing heals your soul and makes your body relax," Ms. Conte-Forte said. Also, all the shaking it involves is good for developing stamina and muscles.
This weekend, she invites children through adults, amateurs through expert dancers, to immerse themselves in the dance styles' history and health benefits.
"Mama Kadiatou ... knows how to shake," she said, "so come shake with me."
Sara Bauknecht: email@example.com or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.