Dancer, Choreographer, Black American Griot
Kenna-Camara Cottman has been learning about West African dance from her family and community her entire life, taking classes from Patricia Brown, Morris Johnson, Djola Branner, and other Minnesota African dance legends like Mama Busara Whittaker and Paulette Cousins. Kenna has been trained in Sabar Dance in the Gambia by Koto N'Gum, artistic director of Baato Askan Wii Cultural Dance Troupe, and other West African artists, such as William Atchouellou and Henriette Gbou of Cote D'Ivoire, Fode Moussa Camara and Mouminatou Camara of Guinee, Zalika Reid of Jamaica, Backa Niang and Muse Sarr of Senegal, and Francis Kofi and Christian Adeti of Ghana. Kenna started teaching West African dance after getting "the nod" from Youssouf Koumbassa, a master dance artist from Guinea. Kenna has travelled to the continent of Africa three times, and is the recipient of a 2012 Jerome Travel Study grant to study Griot culture in Senegal.
‘Ms. Kenna,’ as she known to her students, teaches Hip Hop and West African concert dance at the University of MN and at the TU Dance Center in St. Paul. She is on the performing/teaching artist rosters of the Cowles Center, COMPAS, and teaches West African and Hip Hop dance in statewide workshops and residency programs
Kenna has completed several choreography projects such as “Prime” for James Sewell Ballet Works (2010) and “Crayon Crowd Control” for the University Dance Theater 2013 Spring Concert. She choreographed “Earth Soul Sky” for the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists’ J-Term 2014, and “Debbie Allen says take a seat” for the Southwest High School Dance Company 1.
Kenna is the curator of African Nights at Patrick’s Cabaret (2010-2013) and Black Choreographers’ Evening (2003-2005). She has performed the work of Ananya Chatterjee, Roxane Wallace, Leah Nelson, and April Sellers; all Minnesota dance artists with national and international recognition. Kenna received a SAGE award for her dancing in Pramila Vasudevan’s Momentum presentation of “F6” at the Southern Theater in July 2013, and Angharad Davies’ ‘Pretend’ at Red Eye Theater’s Isolated Acts Festival in June 2013.
Kenna has presented her contemporary work in various ways such as “KATZ + THUGS” at the Walker Art Center’s Choreographers’ Evening 2011 and “mbokka lakka kenna backa” at 9x22 Dance Lab at the Bryant Lake Bowl. She was commissioned for the Walker Art Center’s Momentum in the Garden in August 2013, and supported by the Jerome Foundation for the new work “TAKK”.
Kenna performed her choreography in “Surface Tensions” with the Ways Ensemble in December of 2012. The Ways Ensemble is composed of her father Bill Cottman, and "Auntie" Beverly Cottman, using image, sound, story and movement to create performance. Kenna’s children, Yonci and Ebrima, are young artists and musicians performing with Voice of Culture Drum and Dance. For 2014, the Ways Ensemble will support a new project entitled: “DISTURBANCEs:The Game of Life”
Kenna-Camara Cottman is the Artistic Director of Voice of Culture Drum and Dance; an association of young artists who are dedicated to the preservation of West African arts and culture. Since 2008, Voice of Culture has created and performed contemporary drum and dance, and studied, performed and taught traditional West African drum and dance in the Twin Cities community and beyond. Voice of Culture’s next project is a free community concert in North Minneapolis in August 2014. Voice of Culture has trained and performed with African artists such as Patrice DeLemos, Backa Niang, Fode “Lavia” Camara, Sekou Conde, Fode Seydou Bangoura and Alioune “Muse” Sarr, and Idy Ciss.
Kenna-Camara Cottman earned her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Minnesota in 2002. Through 2004, she was a full time teacher in the Minneapolis Public School system, teaching elementary school in classrooms on the Northside. Her first teaching job was at Franklin Middle School in 1998. During these years she taught kickboxing at the local YMCA, given dance lessons to small children at local dance studios such as The Art of Dance, Hollywood School of Dance, and area churches. She created and taught an arts curriculum that included dance at Harvest Preparatory School, an AfroCentric charter school in her community. She attended college at Hampton University and the University of Minnesota from 1992-1996. With her BA in Education, she worked for Upward Bound at the U of MN for two years. During these years she studied West African dance at national conferences and locally with artists like Patricia Brown and Morris Johnson. Kenna participated in the dance program at North Community High School under the guidance of Colleen Callahan from 1988-1992. With Ms. Callahan, she performed throughout Minnesota and at dance festivals in Utah and California. During her middle and elementary school years, she acted in Children’s Theater productions Madeline and the Gypsies and the Troubles: Children of Belfast. Kenna attended Fuller Young People’s Theater and the CTC Arts program, taking dance from Patrick Scully. Her earliest arts memory is that of playing a role in a production of Medea, as one of her murdered children.