When Sabra Logan moved here from Baltimore in the late '80s, she found something missing. "I didn't see an opportunity for African American children or any children of color to do the types of things that were done on the East Coast," Logan says. "I felt the training, if it was here, was so far out that it wasn't reaching our children, period."
So the long-time kindergarten teacher became a dance instructor, founding Iibada Dance Company in 1989 with four members, each paying $1.50 per class. Today, approximately 50 students take classes at Iibada, which is comprised of two companies: one for children aged 5 to 9 and another for those ages 10 to 18. Classes remain cheap, running $15 each.
"I keep everything as inexpensive as possible because I want it to be accessible for everyone," she says. "I'm always looking for scholarships for folks who don't even have the fifteen."
Ever the teacher, Logan, known to her students as Mama Sabra, stresses the importance of academics to all involved in Iibada; applicants for an internship must have a 2.5 GPA or higher and provide proof of collegiate enrollment.
"You hear, 'it takes a village' - well, this is the village!" Lyn Sigman, a parent who helps with costuming at Iibada, says. "If kids come in and have had a hard day at school, we take a minute with them and then we send them out on the dance floor and we say, 'Take all of that, and put it out there.' It's empowering."
Destiny Casson started dancing with the company when she was five years old. Now 17 and a teacher at Iibada, she plans to attend Howard University as a dance major.
"Iibada has been the most influential part of my life," Casson says. "Not only my dancing life, but in creating me as a person. It's brought me out of my shell and made me the person I am today. It has truly, truly been a moving force in my life." Iibada alumni have made dance their profession in the past by joining the Alvin Ailey Dance Company or founding their own dance companies.
And Mama Sabra is at the center of it all. She hires teachers, choreographers, finds spaces to rehearse in, develops concepts for shows. At rehearsals, she switches between watching the dancers, acting as a mediator between two students, approving costumes for the upcoming show, talking about finances, and leading a prayer, multi-tasking with speed and grace at a pace that would give whiplash to most.
Now working with her third generation of students, Logan is determined to keep things going, despite challenges.
"Having our own facility is the biggest challenge," she says. "Some place to call home. Because my passion is to make sure I am accessible for everyone, it's been a challenge to find the right floors and mirrors and the money to pay choreographers and the rent. Having the knowledge easily available is the most important thing."
Iibada's next production, Glorious: The Redemption, opening this weekend, was inspired by Logan's church life.
"I looked at how everybody goes to church as a regular routine type thing," she says. "There are so many distractions. People tapping on their kids, people winking and flirting, people going, 'giiiiiirl, did you see?' or even folks just passing notes. I wanted to highlight some of those distractive things. We are dancing through a church service." First performed in 2005, Glorious is updated with each performance with new dances and staging.