The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

August 26, 2013

How a local troupe is working to share the joy of dance in W. Africa

— Becky Bickford describes the trip she took to Guinea as a transformational experience.

Now, the Johnstown resident hopes some of her friends can find similar joy by traveling to the west African nation.

Bickford and six other Kulani West African Dance members plan to spend three weeks visiting the tiny country in January, immersing themselves in dancing and drumming classes. Before they can go on the adventure, though, the performers need to collect more than $34,000 to cover expenses. So, on Sunday night, the group held a fundraiser, called Dance for Joy!, at Peoples Natural Gas Park in downtown Johnstown.

“I’m incredibly proud of what we’re doing, embarking on this journey together,” said Bickford, who called Guinea a vibrant, kind, open-hearted place. “It’s really significant. I feel it will bring a lot of richness back to Johnstown when we return.”

Bickford will be joined in Africa by Rachel Allen, Holly Lees, Gwen Triplin, Annabelle Johnson, Johnny Bayush and Sandra Cashshaw.

Part of the goal of going to Guinea is to learn more about dancing and drumming and then to share the knowledge.

“One of our ideas about going is just to find more ways to foster unity and community and make connections and create places where people can come together and express themselves in a place of acceptance,” said Allen. “It’s not about perfection, but about creating joy and connecting with people and wanting to make real and authentic connections in the community.”

Along with Kulani, five other dance groups performed during the fundraiser, which was sponsored by Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center and Johnstown Area Heritage Association. They were The Rusted Collaborative, Le Dance Academie, Adrianna’s Arabian Jewels, Praise in Motion and Fitness with a Twist.

“We wanted to bring people together to dance and celebrate and have fun together and also create community through motion and drumming,” said Lees.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at

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