Feeling the rhythm

Ayo Mouzon

Photo By Larry Dalton

Ayo Mouzon dances to the beat of a different tune—at least in comparison to many other dance and exercise instructors in the area. Mouzon has a passion for African dance and music. She has taught African dance in various cities all over the state, teaching people of all ages and from all walks of life how to appreciate and practice it. She has settled in Sacramento and teaches at the central YWCA on Saturdays from 11 a.m. until noon. She also makes occasional appearances and performances throughout the city, instructing and inspiring others of the dance that “invigorates the mind, body and soul.”

What is African dance?

African dance is very natural and very relaxed. The thing that people often see in African dance is that it is energetic. And they often say, “It’s overwhelmingly energetic!” But the steps from the dances are really quite healing, especially if you do them at a normal pace and not a fast pace. Enjoy the steps; get the medicine that’s in the movement out of the dance. It’s something you can do for your whole lifetime. If you’ve ever seen pictures of Africans dancing, you see that all ages are dancing. They’re not saying, “Oh, I’m too old to do this dance,” because the drums—you hear the drums—and it just makes you want to get up and move—naturally and normally. That’s what it is. It’s about capturing something that is natural and that is normal. It’s for anyone who loves the drums, not just for African-Americans. That’s why my class is for all ages, from five to 75.

When did you start teaching African dance?

I’ve been teaching since 1974. I taught based on what I knew at that time. I had always enjoyed dancing in high school, but when I met African dance—which is the way I put it—it just took my life over. It was the source of expression that I had always been looking for. The main thing that I really enjoy is being a service to the community wherever I am.

What type of people take your class?

Right now we have some children, but mostly we have adult ladies coming. They want to get back into a fitness routine ‘cause summer is coming and people are going to be more body conscious because they’ll be shedding the jackets and coats. They know that they’ve been sitting around all winter and here it is time to get moving again. The class is really zooming. We just recently added drums in February. The people really like the drums. The class kind of evolves from what the community shows me that they want. We have positive music—the type of music that you don’t normally hear. Music that will inspire you.

Tell me about your performances.

I do African songs and dancing with audience participation. What I do is I share African songs I have learned since 1974. It’s an ongoing thing I’m always studying. My focus is on self-esteem and children take to these songs like ducks to water. The songs have so much energy and power in them because they date back to the 15th century. It’s awesome. The words are so energizing because they come from our African ancestors. Africa was the cradle of civilization. This is why I say our African ancestors. That’s where the first mother was, in Africa. So that’s what makes us all related. We’re all family.

Why the focus on self-esteem?

I know that we all suffer from poor self-esteem every single day. If you don’t have a healthy self-esteem, people can come at you from all ways. I remember living in L.A., people had really bad attitudes there [laughs]. You may even go to the bank and the bank teller may treat you in a negative kind of way. You can be all happy and that can just put a real cramp in your day. You question, “Why would she do that to me?” One of the songs I like to sing goes:

“I love myself so much

So I can love you so much

And you can love me so much

And I can start loving you.”

And I have other African songs that you just get such a good feeling from singing the song that you start feeling good about yourself.

Any plans for the future?

I want to reach out to the foster care system because, of course, there are a lot of African-American children in the foster care system. They get no exposure to their Afro-centric culture. And this would be a great way for them to get that exposure through the dance, through the music, the drums and from coming together and learning the songs.

What truly inspires you?

African dance. The main thing it does is it enhances the quality of your life. To be able to jump around and move around like I’m in my 20s, and it’s really because of the African dance and the style of the dance. Even when I go jogging I walk and I do some of these movements when I walk and jog. I’ll walk, I’ll jog, I’ll skip. And I’ll do some of the music. It always draws people in and they say, "What are you doing?" And I tell them, "I’m African dancing!" It just makes me love life. It keeps me young. I feel young, like I’m in my 20s—mentally and physically.