Goddess of Versatility: Sophomore Zahra Umoja dances into the lead


Photo credit: Dominique Cadenas

Zahra Umoja performing in the “Medusa: Goddess of Control” dance at this year’s Odyssey-themed annual Night of Dance. Umoja has been dancing for five years and started off in various styles such as Jazz and Hip Hop.

At this year’s annual Night of Dance, sophomore Zahra Umoja opened the Medusa-themed number by strutting down center stage in a snakeskin costume. Umoja performed six dances at this year’s show, titled “Odyssey.”

Umoja, who is trained in various dance styles, has been dancing for six years, both at Archer and outside of school.

“I started with styles such as Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Caribbean and African dance, but then I started doing more Hip Hop about two years ago,” Umoja said. “I appreciate every dance style, and my favorite style changes all the time.”

Photo credit: Dominique Cadenas
Sophomore Zahra Umoja performs in “Demeter: Goddess of the Harvest” in the annual Night of Dance. She played the role of the goddess in the African-style dance.

When Umoja came to Archer in sixth grade, she joined Dance Troupe. In eighth grade, she joined Dance Company, and she is currently a member of the dance leadership team.

“I really enjoy my experience in the Archer Dance Troupe and Company,” Umoja said. “In Dance Troupe, I am able to learn dance routines of different styles that will be showcased in the Night Of Dance performance, but in Company, I can learn how to improve my dancing as a whole.”

Dance Troupe Director and teacher Andrea Locke said she noticed Umoja’s “focus, dedication and commitment” from the beginning.

“Zahra studied with actually one of my classmates from college,” Locke said. “When she first came into our program, she was actually a little held back…She was good, but I think with her personality, some people don’t want to show off or show out. She had a lot more than she was giving in the beginning.”

Locke thinks Umoja has “budded” and “let herself go” throughout the years and that is shown on stage.

[She has a] joyful way of dance; she is a top-notch dancer, and I feel like she’s owning it now. The enthusiasm and the excitement has been the added layer over the past year and a half or two.”

— Andrea Locke, dance director

Locke said she was particularly excited about the leader and choreographer Umoja has become.

“We are going to have the festival of dance and she’s choreographing a piece that is so full of energy and passion,” Locke said. “I think all the things she brings on stage she brings in her leadership and support, very non-judgmental but responsible…[she does it] graciously. I’ve never heard her complain about one thing, ever.”

During the showcase, Umoja performed in many of these styles, ranging from jazz in “Odyssey Journey Begins,” and “Medusa: Goddess of Control” to ballet in “Aphrodite: Goddess of Beauty.”

“I think versatility is important, and it is becoming one of my goals for my dancing,” Umoja said.

Her personal favorites this year were “Nike: Goddess of Victory,” and “Demeter: Goddess of Harvest” because they fall under the Hip Hop and African dance category.

“Right now, I’d say Hip Hop and African are my favorite styles because I was recently able to perform really fun pieces in those styles,” Umoja said.

Umoja had a specific role in the “Demeter: Goddess of Harvest” dance in which she wore a detailed costume embellished with beads.

“The African dance celebrates harvest. There are three groups in the dance: the village, the court and the queen or goddess. My role in the dance is the goddess,” Umoja said. “I wore a white top, which was seen as more elegant and allowed me to stand out, while others who were part of the village and court wore colorful tops. While the dance revolved around the goddess, the whole purpose of the dance [was] to celebrate harvest and be happy.”

Umoja strives to continue to take a diverse range of dance classes and improve her skills since she sees dance in her future in some way.

“I’m not sure what I want my career path to be, but I definitely want to continue dance in the future because I love it,” she said. “I don’t think it is something I will stop doing anytime soon.”