Arts and Entertainment

African performing arts ensemble to present workshop and performance on March 25

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Roots of Life, an African performing arts ensemble that is a collaboration between the Penn State School of Theatre and the State College Area School District (SCASD), will present a free community workshop and performance, “A Dream Conceived in Truth Can Never Die,” on Sunday, March 25, at Mount Nittany Middle School. The workshop, appropriate for all ages, starts at 3 p.m., and will include instruction in West African dance and drumming. The Roots of Life performance at 3:30 p.m. will feature dance, drumming, dialogue, and poetry.

Roots of Life includes youth in elementary, middle and high school and is led by Kikora Franklin, associate professor of theater and dance at Penn State, and Debra Daggs, gifted and learning enrichment teacher at Mount Nittany Middle School. They established the ensemble in 2009 as a way to build on the popularity and success of their previous SCASD African dance workshops.

Since then, Roots of Life has performed at the Penn State Forum on Black Affairs annual Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet, various Centre Region elementary and middle schools, retirement homes, and community events. The ensemble is open to all students in grades four through 12.

“We wanted to continue the momentum from our original performances and workshops and decided to form a company of students that would meet consistently and perform throughout the community. The students collaborated and came up with the name Roots of Life,” explained Franklin. “It is a unique organization in that it is open to students from across the district at all levels. We do not require any previous experience, and all students have the opportunity to perform.”

One of the ensemble’s goals is to give students a non-competitive space to freely express themselves. “We want to give them an opportunity to use their own ideas, voices, and wonderings to devise and create performance material, as opposed to working from a pre-written or already-published script,” said Franklin. “This, I believe, gives value to the student’s own creativity and imagination.”

Franklin noted that Roots of Life also teaches students about a cultural and artistic tradition from a diverse perspective—West African dance and drumming—and helps them to understand how those cultural and artistic expressions are a part of America’s culture, both past and present. “We incorporate a lot of black history into our productions because it is a lens that is often overlooked or set aside for a specific time of year. We purposely integrate this history and these themes into our programming as a necessary educational component for all students.”

She said she hopes that attendees at the Roots of Life workshops or performances experience the freedom and joy of the student performers, while being inspired to think about the world differently. “I hope they are perhaps inspired to act to make a positive change in the world, whether that be at home with their family, in their local community, or in the world.”

Roots of Life is sponsored by SCASD Learning Enrichment, parents and donors, with additional support this year from Penn State’s Center for Pedagogy in the Arts and Design (C-PAD) and Center for American Literacy Studies (CALS). Roots of Life hosts workshops and auditions each fall in late October/early November. For more information, contact Debra Daggs at  

Last Updated March 20, 2018