Mzuri Dance is a for purpose dance, music arts facilitation service. We provide professional performances, classes and workshops specialising in African music and dance. We are a social enterprise, creating access for all, learning from indigenous cultural practice to bring people of diverse backgrounds together in skill sharing and culture sharing for social equity.
In 2021 we registered a not for profit organisation Mzuri Dance ArtisTree Fund Inc to provide free dance, education, wellbeing, and 'pathways to employment and micro business' programs for women and young people facing barriers to participation.
Ayel Akot an emerging artist training and working with Mzuri dance for 10 years talks about her early years at Mzuri Dance. Ayel talks about seeing Suzie Watts teaching programs at Yarra Housing Estate and how they began collaborating with footage of Ayel and Suzie in the early days with Mzuri Children's dance group training session in action.
Mzuri artists performing in the Mzuri Dance band clips include - Mari Bagnath, Tariro Manatsa, Batsi Mongoma, Caitlin Griffiths, Sally Coldham, Randy Borquaye, Mpaphi Nfandizo + final clip of Suzie performing with King Bell + Soukous Ba Congo at Premier Gala for Diversity Week In Melbourne.
Mzuri Dance creates performance art, building capacity with artists and young people in Melbourne and working towards social equity through the arts.
We facilitate creative and culturally appropriate dance and music immersion for all people with a process that welcomes a performance outcome to create opportunities for people of all backgrounds to connect and share culture, stories and voices so they can be heard and seen.
We facilitate new opportunities for skill sharing and culture sharing between diverse communities through weekly dance classes for women and children.
We focus on levelling the playing field - creating access to the arts for vulnerable and marginalised communities for social equity, opportunity and change.
We provide engaging, relevant and creative workshops and performances that draw on music, voice, dance and performance as a medium for health and well being, cultural expression, social cohesion and personal learning.
Suzie Watts is a practicing artist and teacher specialising in African regional music and dance and who loves bringing people together through the participation of music, dance and story. After a childhood dedicated to learning dance after school ( Utassy Ballet School) and joining a breakdance crew in her teens, Suzie graduated from Rusden Deakin with a B.Ed in Dance and English and underwent extensive dance and music training and professional touring in Africa, Europe and America. In 1995 Suzie founded Mzuri Dance a performing arts group that channelled all her projects. At the same time Suzie worked as a VCE dance and drama teacher at Canterbury Girls Secondary College for 10 years while also teaching at the CAE, GATEways and choreographing and directing musicals for many primary and secondary schools across Melbourne for 20 years including Dance Director for the Victorian Schools Spectacular.
In the last 15 years she has focused her dance and music programs with Fitzroy Yarra Estates children, women and local resident and artist Ayel Akot and continues to be mentored by African Community Leaders ( ACFA) and musicians since she was invited to train in traditional Angolan ballet by Patrice Lamumba in 1989 (-incredibly the training with Patrice Lamumba was also at the Fitzroy Estate!)
She facilitates creative workshops and performances inspired by her training in classical, folkloric and contemporary dance, yoga, trauma informed practice, breathwork and meditation, as well as regional and contemporary African arts as a medium to forge respectful relationships between people, for people’s sense of belonging, cultural expression, social equity, health and wellbeing and personal learning.
A snapshot of highlights of Suzie’s performances include Womad with King Bell and Soukous Ba Congo from which they were awarded APRA Best Live World Music Act, Community Opening Ceremony of Commonwealth Games, Bangarra Theatre support, Premier Gala for Diversity week, MCG Boxing day cricket, Opening for Melbourne International festival, Arts Centre + Hamer Hall performances.
Ayel Akot is a Melbourne based artist, dancer and educator. Ayel migrated from Africa when she was nine years old and spoke no English. She doesn’t want to talk about the violence, hardship and guns, she is here to show you how to dance with confidence, speak your mind and celebrate the small things.
Through Ayel’s perspective culture is immediate, pride is important and supporting your community happens regardless. In Ayel’s practice as a visual artist, textures and silhouettes are used with simplicity and sophistication to tell stories about the artist’s life specifically and the human experience at large. These narratives are about heritage, connection and triumph. The intuitive patterns that flow if you listen.
Ayel has been a leading artist and teacher at Mzuri Dance alongside Suzie for more than 10 years. Ayel has contributed to Mzuri Dance mission to create access to the arts for vulnerable and marginalised communities for social equity, opportunity and change.
Ayel’s collaborations with Suzie include facilitating a Life Skills Homework Club at Fitzroy Estates for 4 years with ACFA African Communities Foundation Australia forging partnerships with City of Yarra, Yarra Libraries, Centre of Multicultural Youth and Australian Communities Foundation. Ayel workshops and performances with Mzuri Dance and Afrovival include Black Harmony Day supporting Kutcha Edwards Multicultural Arts Victoria, Opening for Big West Festival, African Music Cultural Festival, Viva Victoria, Hawthorn Football Club Family Day, Werribee Zoo, Sidney Myer Music Bowl performances and many more.
"I believe in strong leadership and social skills and the ability to be flexible, energetic, creative and take initiative where appropriate.
"I have empathy with, and an ability to gain the co-operation and assistance of a range of people, in particular young people and am so passionate about connecting with them through exciting cultural arts projects that convey a message or explore an idea as we all need to connect and have so much to express.
I also love teaching the children and facilitating womens wellness programs with Suzie at my own community in Atherton Gardens Fitzroy. They have so many idea's and are really needing to connect again after the year of Covid and being in lockdown in the towers." Ayel Akot
Listening to my heart.
some anecdote's from Suzie's early life
leading to Mzuri Dance
Music and dance has been at my heart since I could walk and talk. Mum took me to see The Australian Ballet at the Palais Theatre, I was 3 years old and it was like a thunderbolt. My first dance and song composition was in year 2 and by year 3 I was choreographing the year 4's. I found dance making a great way to connect with people in my primary school years and I eventually relied on it at Secondary too. I was completely obsessed with Ballet, Contemporary, Jazz, ( 6 days a week training after school) and eventually Michael Jackson. ‘Sweet Feet’ was my breakdance name at the City Square and our crew was 'The Chewy Sisters'. I joined the traditional Peruvian dance of Victoria because my bestie was Peruvian Australian and I experienced my first cross cultural African dance training with a cotton-fields slave song and dance that translated “well my arse is bigger than yours”. I was then invited to join Sambole Traditional African Ballet Company by Patrice Lamumba ( Collingwood Footballer Harry Lamumba's Father) and our first performance was at St Kilda Festival. I had won 1st and then 2nd place the following year in a Dance Australia Ballet Teacher workshop choreography competition in the City of Melbourne and was very much an aspiring choreographer by my late teens. If you are still with me and interested to know more of my story, click on boxes below..
Mzuri Dance create, practice and engage on the lands of the Wurundjeri people and we wish to acknowledge them as Traditional Owners. We would also like to pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and Aboriginal Elders of other communities.
Mzuri Dance acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and acknowledges and pays respect to their Elders, past and present and emerging.
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