Note: This inspiring story was written by ACE English student Diadie Bathily. Dance was the common joy he experienced through difficult circumstances growing up in Africa and ultimately opened up the opportunity for him to come to the United States. Diadie often says, “dancing saved my life.” Diadie’s work with students can be viewed on his website at www.afrikylolo.org. His story has been selected to be published by the Florida Literacy Foundation later this year.
By Diadie Bathily
My name is Diadié Bathily (JAH-jay-bah-chee-LEE). I was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa. I have danced my way from cities and villages in Africa to the United States. But my life has not always been filled with dance and joy.
As a young child, my father took me to Mali, to live in a village with my uncle. The result was a difficult childhood. I did household chores and worked on the family farm while the other children went to school. I would enjoy getting away and playing in the mountains with the baboons.
Early on, I developed a love for dance. However, I was severely punished by my uncle. My family belonged to the occupational status group called “hòron”. With a very old tradition, they are extremely reserved and my dancing violated their morality code. For me, dancing provided physical and mental benefits and reduced my depression and anxiety. I danced at weddings and holiday festivals. Wherever drums were playing I was there!.
One day, my family came for a visit. For the first time, I met my parents and my siblings whom my uncle never told me about. When it was time for the family to return to Côte d’Ivoire, my older brother, Daouda, who loved me as his newfound brother, hid me in the back of the family’s truck.
During the journey, I became frightened and began to cry. My father told the driver to stop and got out to discover he was aiding a “fugitive”. Fortunately, we had traveled too far to return. I was going to Côte d’Ivoire where more surprises awaited. Sadly, my father left me with his second wife. She lived in the city and spoke French, Soninké and Bambara. She made her children eat with a knife and fork. I, like other villagers, ate with my hands. I was repeatedly punished for my table manners. Unable to fit in, my father sent me to live with my mother in Yamoussoukro. With a connection to family, my foundation was strengthened.
In retrospect, I realize that all things, good and bad can come together for the better. While frequently displaced, I was exposed to various dance styles in West Africa, expanding my training. I acted and danced in local theater troupes and later, organized and choreographed my own shows with local dancers.
Word of my skills as a dancer spread. I began teaching courses locally which connected me with a student, who referred me to teach African dance workshops in Montbeliard, France. A few years later, someone I met there invited me to come to the United States to contribute to a curriculum about African dance for K-12 students at the University of Missouri, St Louis. The rest is history.
During the COVID pandemic, my studio had to close and I chose to move to Tallahassee because I already knew people in the city from having taught a master class in African dance at Florida State University and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.