For 17 years, Rochelle Norwood has deepened her connections with the Africana Dance Ensemble in Ghana. Together, they founded the Africana Village of Peace Project to keep West African traditions alive while promoting cultural exchange. Courtesy photo

For 17 years, Rochelle Norwood has nurtured a parallel life in Ghana. She first discovered the Africana Dance Ensemble while studying abroad. Captivated by the energy of traditional African drumming and dance, she regularly introduced other foreign students at the University of Ghana to the troupe. Together they danced, drummed and made other art, beading and painting, sewing and sculpting. 

Norwood eventually performed for the president of Ghana while traveling with the Africana Dance Ensemble to ceremonies, weddings and funerals. She soon joined their common dream of founding a village dedicated to cultural exchange.

“This Village of Peace, I could never shake it out of my mind,” Norwood told The Sopris Sun. “I couldn’t live anymore without trying.”

When she moved to Carbondale in 2007, “I instantly made connections for the Village of Peace.” Then, five years ago, she purchased three acres along the Volta River for the Africana Village of Peace Project. The land’s caretaker, Aziz Mohammed, assures the village is growing and thriving. 

With help from our local Rebekah’s Lodge, they acquired a canoe, water pump, water tower and polytank, and built a mud hut that sleeps 16. Norwood describes the village as “[a place] where the human can live off the land, drum, dance and create.” There, “living the simple life, yet always giving back to neighbors, towns, villages and the world,” she is constantly reminded that “the more we give, the more we receive.”

She continues to find ways of entwining her love for the Valley, where she co-owns and operates the Redstone General Store, with her community in Ghana. On Sunday, May 15, Norwood will bring a taste of the Africana Village of Peace Project to Carbondale, by live streaming a traditional Ghanian dance class at The Launchpad. A similar session was hosted in April, and both are in partnership with Aspen Dance Connection. 

This time, Norwood will join from Ghana, where she is delivering a $12,000 water filter to the village. Previously, the village boiled drinking water to purify it. Donations made at the class, or at the Redstone General Store, will help to pay for the filter. 

Then, throughout the upcoming school year, the Village of Peace aims to partner with Aspen Dance Connection to bring Ghanian dance classes to schools while collecting donations. They’re calling the project “Dancing for Water.” Thanks to a budding relationship with the nonprofit Potters for Peace, the Village of Peace is exploring the feasibility of building a factory for producing ceramic water filters to benefit surrounding villages. Norwood described the initiative as a direct exchange, “fresh water for the power of dance and culture.”

Aspen Dance Connection Executive Director Fran Page described the partnership as getting back to the nonprofit’s roots. “Our mission for Aspen Dance Connection has always been to present original and world dance,” she said. “I’ve known Rochelle for a long time, she came to me 12 years ago and talked me into bringing Baobao [Foundation] here.” Baobao Foundation, based in Boulder, hosts an annual West African dance festival.

Page is enthusiastic about bringing African dance back into the schools, from Aspen to Parachute. “Now, this idea of being able to do a Zoom class, reaching around the world like this, the other side of the world is real and available to them.”

She continued, “I love African Dance because physically and mentally it’s very integrative. It’s really good for the whole body-mind situation.”

Norwood agreed, “The power of African dance is its enlivening somato flow, reminding the brain and body they’re connected and flowing … connected to spirit and the earth, and community, through joy.”

Join the class at The Launchpad on May 15 from 10 a.m. to noon. You can donate there or via Venmo (@rochelle-norwood). All donations go directly to the Village of Peace Project, building more huts for visitors, planting food crops (including papaya, plantain, banana, cassava and more), purifying water and teaching drumming and dancing in schools.

The Africana Village of Peace Project often teaches African dance in Ghanaian schools. This Sunday, May 15, they will brings those lessons to Carbondale via a live stream at The Launchpad. Courtesy photo