December Artist Spotlight: Kenna-Camara Cottman

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Our December featured artist is Kenna Camara-Cottman, also known as Ms. Kenna.

Q:  What is your art form?

A: I am a Black American Griot - that means I use dance, drum, song, and story to pass on the history and culture of my people.  I'm also a dance educator - because I believe that teaching is an art.

Q: How does teaching your craft to youth affect your own art?

A: Educating is a part of my art.  Being a griot, or an oral historian, is all about passing on the rhythms, the dances, the stories, the songs, the essence of the culture.  Some of my best contemporary dance has been created with students, or as a result of interacting with special groups of kids.  The youth, with all of their energy and questions, are what feed my creative process.

Q: Will you share a piece of advice for aspiring drummers/dancers/storytellers?

A: I think it is a good idea to start with your own culture when you are looking for source material.  That way, when you share your art, you are sharing a part of yourself, and your passion will show through.  Understanding your own cultural perspective will ensure that you are sharing authentic rhythm, movement and history.  From a solid cultural foundation, you will then find the opportunity to explore the differences, and the connections that other cultures can offer.

Q: By the end of a week with you, what are 3 things you hope most students have learned?  

A: 1. Africa is a continent with thousands of diverse cultural groups and dozens of countries.  Africa is not one thing.

2.  It's ok NOT to be color blind.  I want them to see my blackness, and to recognize their own.  I am a Black American and my people's experiences cannot be erased and our contributions to the world will be recognized.

3.  How to do the running man correctly. (a popular Hip Hop dance from the late 80's)

Q: What does being a COMPAS artist mean to you?

A: I'm so proud to be a part of the COMPAS tradition of bringing art into the schools.  When I was in Junior High I had a COMPAS artist do a writing residency at my school.  I wrote a story that I remember to this day and I still have my copy of the COMPAS Anthology, "The Midnight Butterfly Sings" [where my story was published]. To think that now I am one of the COMPAS artists that help to awaken the artists in the youth of my's a great honor.