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NaZu and Company: Healing the community through dance

Ursula V. Battle | 12/20/2013, 6 a.m.
In 1989, Cori Smith was trying to cope with a tragedy in her young life.
Members of NaZu Dance Company along with drummers prior to performing at one of President Barack Obama’s inauguration ball events earlier this year. Courtesy Photos

— In 1989, Cori Smith was trying to cope with a tragedy in her young life. “My children's father was murdered when I was 23 years old,” recalled Smith. “The things I had to deal with were tough. I went through so many levels of stress. I was just trying to make it through. I needed healing, and had begun to embark on a healing journey.”

According to Smith, the healing that she needed so badly came by way of a dance class offered by Nai Zou Oliver. The Ivory Coast, Africa native is the founder of NaZu and Company. The company is a performing arts ensemble that uses contemporary and traditional forms of dance and performance as a medium for personal healing.

The African Dance Movement/Body Fitness Class is one of two components offered by NaZu and Company. The other component is NaZu Dance Company.

“Life was kicking my behind, and I needed to be restored,” said Smith. “When I went to that class, I immediately felt something. The class helped me to renew myself. I could immediately see that whatever Nai Zou was doing was going to save some lives. My testimony is one of many.”

According to Smith, she began volunteering, and now serves as director of administration for NaZu and Company. She also dances with the company.

“The spiritual connection was so strong,” she said. “I was able realize my vision of helping and uplifting others by helping Nai Zou with his. I want to let others know about the great work that is happening here. It’s something that I want the world to experience. The dance class actually gave birth to the dance company.”

Nai Zou teaches, choreographs, and artistically directs his company with the organizational core belief that all can dance, sing and drum. Members of the dance company and a mixture of experienced, professional, and beginning performers unite as one to share and exchange the cultural richness of West Africa; particularly the Ivory Coast.

Nai Zou is a master dancer and choreographer who has taught in many schools and programs. He has worked with many companies including Nu World Arts Ensemble, Sankofa Dance Theater, Womb Works, and numerous projects.

NaZu Dance Company consists of approximately 20 members who represent all age groups, backgrounds and cultures. They have performed in over 100 different shows over the past four years, and have traveled all over, including France to perform. They also performed at one of President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball events earlier this year.

“Our goal is to dance with a purpose,” said Smith. “We dance to heal. We see the need, and understand what people are going though in the world. We try to draw them away from that into the dancing.”

The African Dance Movement/Body Fitness Class is held Mondays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and is also designed to help adults and children to increase their endurance, flexibility, and improve appearance, well-being, and manage weight and stress.

“You dance and are able to free your spirit,” said Smith. “We have had people waiting for us to get there when we arrive. The class provides an outlet to escape the rigors and challenges of life. It’s an open forum for people to come, heal, release, and to do whatever they need to do to release. It’s a very welcoming environment.”

NaZu and Company is located on St. Timothy Lane in Catonsville, Maryland. On December 1, 2013, NaZu and Company held a “Showcase of Accomplishments.” Highlights from the event include: a performance, the screening of a documentary about the Company, and a question and answer session.

“The purpose of the event was to display who we are and why we do what we do,” said Smith. Future projects include a CD release and a major spring production.

Smith says that NaZu and Company is open to everyone.

“It’s an anointed environment,” said Smith who penned a book entitled “Walking Wounded.”

“We humble ourselves and give ourselves to God. We are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Wherever we go, we go with open hearts. We pray all the time and ask to be used as a vessel to heal the audience and community.”

The African Dance Movement/Body Fitness Class is held Mondays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. until 8 p.m., and is $5 per class. NaZu Dance Company rehearses 8 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.

For more information about NaZu and Company, call 410-205-6298 or visit: www.nazudance.com