Kúkátónón has grown into a professional performing arts organization through the talents and dedication of the teaching artists who share their love of African dance and music with the children who participate as members of the Troupe.
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Dana Shephard is the Artistic Program Manager of Kukatonon. Born and raised in NE Portland, Dana is committed to her community, and strives to enrich the lives of others through music and self-expressive dance. Dana entered the world of professional dancing as a core performer for the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet Company, with whom she toured locally and internationally for 12 years. She is a core member of Sebe Kan Drum and Dance.
Dana teaches and choregraphs west African dance, and was trained in hip-hop, jazz and ballet. She founded the High Steppers Drill & Dance Team through the Blazers Boys & Girls club, and co-founded the Urban Arts Dance Company, where she served as the Artistic Director for over 7 years. She regularly conducts community dance workshops, and donates her choreography and time to schools and charitable organizations.
Ne’nee’ke’teh and Kúkátónón’s founder, Mrs. Manyongai-Jones was born and raised in rural Liberia, where she was taught traditional dance by the village elders. She completed her B.S. in Education and Health and an M.A. in Multi-Cultural Education. For 25 years she taught at Woodlawn Elementary School.
Mrs. Manyongai-Jones transitioned from her position as Kúkátónón’s Artistic Director at the end of June 2016 into a new contracted role called Ne’nee’ke’teh (Heart That Cares) in October 2016, to provide culturally authentic guidance and mentorship to the children in the dance troupe during Kúkátónón’s 10-month program and performance season.
We are grateful for the 30+ years that Mrs. Manyongai-Jones has dedicated to teaching dance to children.
Hakim Rashad Muhammad
A drummer for Kúkátónón for over twenty-five years, Hakim is a Portland native who has been playing percussion since the age of nine. He received his training in West African-style drumming from Senegalese master drummer Medoune Yacine Gueye (aka “Papa Dame”), and traveled to Dakar to immerse himself in the cultures and traditions of African drumming. Back in Portland, he performed with the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet.
Hakim has played for Jefferson High School African dance classes for over twenty years, and for the last fifteen, has been spending his summers playing and teaching at Camp Caldera and YMA (Young Musicians & Artists). He currently teaches a class in African Drumming at da Vinci Arts Middle School, and has his own youth drumming ensemble, Baramakono. He also finds the time to dance with Sebe Kan, a local dance troupe started by his good friend and fellow drummer Sekou. He is a Hip-Hop artist and producer, and a former member of the rap group the U-Krew. In 2012, he and his fellow U-Krew band members were inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.
Derrell Sekou Soumah Walker
Derrell Sekou Soumah Walker is a talented dancer and drummer from Portland, Oregon. Sekou has performed with some of the greatest artists to ever come out of Guinea, the internationally acclaimed Les Mervelles D/Afrique, Balandougou Kan, and Les Ballets Africans. In his effort to bring Guinea’s rich culture of music and dance to the Northwest, Sekou continues to teach and organize tours for himself, as well as his teachers annually, traveling throughout the Northwest, California, Idaho, and Montana.
Catón Lyles is an accomplished Pacific Northwest artist who is a night club and concert favorite. As both a musician and actor, Catón has engaged and enriched his community with his performances. He has been featured on national and international television.
In 1986 Catón received a gold record award for co-writing “You Put Me in a Trance” for Nu Shooz on Atlantic Records. He has worked as a musical sideman in many genres, from jazz to gospel, new age to R&B, rock to big band, salsa to performance art. Catón currently performs with a number of local bands, including Afincando and the Roseland Hunters.
For over 30 years, Catón has been a dance accompanist, working with school districts, dance educators, and world-renowned choreographers. He specializes in traditional West African and Afro-Cuban styles of hand drumming, and was the accompanying and lead djembe drummer for nearly 20 years with the internationally acclaimed Northwest Afrikan American Ballet.
Catón has served as an adjunct faculty member with many colleges and youth organizations, among them PSU, Reed College, the Grace Institute Art Camp and Friends of the Children. At present, Catón is a paraeducator working with special education students for Portland Public Schools, and is a faculty member with Young Musicians and Artists and Caldera. He is a founding member of Kúkátónón.
Mari Kai Juras
Kukatonon is thrilled about our partnership with The Portland Ballet, through which we found our Kukatonon Ballet teacher, Mari Kai Juras.
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Mari received her young training at Portland Youth Ballet with Chris & Lynn Tabor and under the early tutelage of Diane Zink and Tresa Cooper. Mari’s professional training includes Ballet Austin, Texas and Alonzo King Lines Ballet Training Program, San Francisco. She continues to expand her dance knowledge working with local dance companies, Skinner|kirk Dance Ensemble and Eowyn Emerald and Dancers. In August 2016, Mari performed at the 2016 International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Mari began her teaching career under the Pedagogy program in Austin, Texas under Ballet Austin. After completing the program she continued to teach for Ballet Austin in the studio and in their outreach program. When living in San Francisco, she joined the Alonzo King LINES Ballet outreach program, traveling to local schools to teach ballet and contemporary. Since moving back to Oregon she continues to teach at many studios; working with students of various ages, covering creative movement to adult classes in Ballet, Jazz, Modern and Contemporary.
Mari has performed original works by Uri Sands, Iratxe Ansa, Lauren Edson, Katie Faulkner, Gregory Dawson, Banning Bouldin and Yoshito Sakuraba. Additional experiences include Launch with Northwest Dance Project, Atlanta Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, and Lemon Sponge Cake.