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African drums beat new rhythms for Endicott dancers

Posted by Amanda Stonely  October 4, 2011 10:00 AM

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GCNS Greg Coles.jpg

Greg Coles performs at Harborfest with his students of Girls Inc. in Lynn, MA.

BEVERLY, Mass – Even as a student at Harvard Business School and a business consultant after graduation, Greg Coles’ first love has always been singing, drumming and dancing. “I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t dancing,” he said.

On Saturday, Oct 8th the 50-year-old dance instructor will be teaching an African Dance workshop at Endicott College and is bringing his drums. The workshop is part of a test run for introducing an African dance course at Endicott in the near future. “It’s still in the works,” said Nicole Sao Pedro, 28, Coordinator of Dance and Head coach of the Dance Team at Endicott. “But this workshop is for students to be introduced to African dance, to more cultural dance.
 
While attendance of these workshops is required for Endicott’s dance students, Saturday’s event is open to the public for a $5 fee and dancers of all levels and abilities are welcome.

“The nice thing about African dance,” said Coles, “is the group tends not to be very homogenous.”

Last month the Performing Arts Center at Endicott offered a workshop in Bollywood dance with teachers from the Navarasa Dance Theater in Somerville, and in the past has hosted ballet workshops with instructors from the Boston Ballet School. “Every semester we do workshops in genres we don’t offer here,” said Sao Pedro.

Coles has been teaching dance, drum and singing since 1997 to students of all ages and backgrounds at schools, athletic clubs, restaurants and churches. He currently teaches part time at both Tufts University and Salem State and also offers adult Latin dance classes at Beverly Athletic Club. His weekly schedule includes Latin and Salsa dancing at Rockafellas Restaurant in Salem.

“I have been doing Rockafellas for a few years,” he said. “We've been featured on the Billy Costa show and have had tons of fun. Between 40 and 70 people show up either to take classes or social dance.”

In terms of gender, however, the diversity of his dance groups end. “More women dance than men,” Coles said. “In my class at Tufts, I have about four guys.”

Born in New York and raised in Connecticut, Coles began dancing and singing when he was a child and joined his first professional group at age 12. Though he worked as a business consultant after leaving graduate school, he said he was snapped back into the artist industry.

“I found myself dancing with beginners and showing them how to do the moves,” he said. Soon, found himself teaching as a career.

Coles’ interest in African drumming and dancing began at Harvard when he met Sidi Mohamed “Joh” Camara, a drummer and dancer from Mali, West Africa, who was teaching at Harvard and other Boston schools. Hearing Coles play, Camara asked him to join his company, Troup Sewa.

“Then, every day, I was drumming in Cambridge,” Coles said.

Camara currently resides in Boston where he teaches a semester dance and drumming class at both Boston University and Harvard University. Though Coles now lives in Marblehead, he and his old teacher still maintain contact. “I’ll go to Cambridge and drum for his class, and he’ll come to mine here,” Coles said.

Having started his own dance business in 2005, Coles is interested in the connection between Latin and African dance. “African dance is at the root of the tree,” he said, “and the fruit is Latin dance. Strong root, sweet fruit, same tree.”

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