Written by Toby Robboy
With Kúkátónón’s gala coming up on May 3, we thought this would be a good time to shine a light on some of the amazing people who, through their tireless work and dedication, help make the troupe what it is. Today we are turning our attention to Lionel Clegg, a Kúkátónón board member who danced with the troupe during his own childhood.
Clegg was a fourth grade student at Woodlawn School when Kúkátónón founder Rolia Manyongai-Jones began teaching dance there. At the time, he says, “there were no groups out there that celebrated African culture or taught us about our heritage.” He adds that “when Mrs. Manyongai started the group, everyone wanted to be a part of it because we were all so interested in learning more about where our ancestors came from.”
In addition learning about rhythm and movement, his time as a dancer with Kúkátónón helped Clegg develop a strong sense of pride in his African heritage. He explains that “at the time, there were not many things being shown on TV that portrayed African Americans in a positive light. To hear and learn about the rich culture and people that I came from was life changing. No one could put me down after that unless I allowed them to.”
It is because of this that as an adult, Clegg feels “it is now my responsibility to pass on the things I learned about African culture to the younger generations.” Having served on Kúkátónón’s board since it first began, Clegg describes Manyongai-Jones as “like a second mom to me.” He hopes for Kúkátónón to one day become a household name. He explains, “We have dreams of creating an African Cultural Center where people can come in and learn about African culture. Not just dance, but music, braiding, basket weaving or anything else related.” He adds that he “would personally love to see this in other states as well, as we continue to grow.”
To young boys considering getting involve in African dance, Clegg says “I would encourage them to try out. I know they don’t see a lot of men getting involved in dance but it is a great opportunity to learn more about this world we live in. It’s a big place, and dance is not just Hip-Hop and ballet.” He adds, “The opportunities that dance can open up are limitless, so come see what it’s all about!”