Mukudji, or stilt dance, is a form of West African cultural expression responsible for maintaining and affirming a community’s values through ritual activities, festivals, and celebrations. Nyon Kwuyos or Nyomokwuyas (stilt dancers) are extraordinarily skilled dancers who perform spectacular stunts and movements to live drums. They are the mediums to the spirit world representing spirits that protect villages. Stilt dancing is also found throughout the Caribbean, but is known as Moko Jumbi, an unmasked version of Mukudji, and is done primarily for entertainment. The form requires focus, agility, dexterity, strength, stamina, power, grace, and most importantly spiritual connectedness.
Shaka Zulu is a fourth generation Nyon Kwuyo who was initiated into the stilt dancing society at age 15. There is over 100 years of experience in Shaka’s family between his grandfather, father, himself, and his daughter. Zohar Isreal, his father and founder of the Free Spirit Dancers in New Orleans, was Shaka’s first teacher. Shaka also trained with the late Baba Kwame Ishangi in New Orleans who initiated him into the Elgede mask dance society.
Shaka participated in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2009 with apprentice Latanya Tigner. Their apprenticeship focused on teaching Latanya the history and purpose of Mukudji and the role of the Nyon Kwuyo. Latanya also learned techniques and stunts, the development of characters/personalities during presentations, costume design and construction, as well as stilt construction and maintenance.