World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Afoutayi Dance Company

Dance Origin: Haiti
Genre: Traditional
Title: Simbi Dlo
Artistic Director/Choreographer:
Djenane Saint Juste
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2010

Afoutayi Dance Company educates the Bay Area community about authentic, traditional Haitian dance and folklore. Their performances help raise funds for the JAKA Institute (of Haitian folklore) in Petionville, Haiti. Choreographer and Artistic Director Djenane Saint Juste was born in Haiti and raised in Vodou, dancing since the age of three under the direction of her mother, Florencia Pierre, choreographer, dancer, and mambo priestess. Djenane is also Co-artistic Director of the JAKA Institute, and faculty instructor in Haiti and in San Francisco.  


Simbi Dlo
: Nefertiti Altan, Bonnie Awesu, Jennifer Baron, Sandrine Malary, Mariella Morales, Vanessa Sanchez, Djenane Saint Juste, Mela Amaiya Saunders, Camille Steneck, Aimee Zawitz
Joe Abela (shakers), Jealool Amari (bass), Gabriel Bata (bass), Michelle Jacques (vocals), Preston Justice, Afshin Mokhtari (bass), Zeke Nealy (segond), Florencia Pierre (lead vocals), Jeff L. Pierre (lead drummer), Marissa Roman (bell), Tadd Scott (vocals)

This Haitian Vodou ceremony, Simbi Dlo, has been danced and sung down the generations—from communities in African and indigenous Haiti, to present-day Haitian homes. The dancers pray to Simbi Dlo, deity of sweet (fresh) water:

Please, please mother of love, protect us,
bring water to us and grace us with your presence.

A drummer shakes the ason rattle—a calabash with snake vertebrae—to the four corners, calling various spirits. Then the ceremony summons Simbi Dlo. The Simbi originated in Kongo cosmology, and they are mercurial and unpredictable. They stand outside the peristyle until attracted by their favorite rhythms, symbols, or objects, so every aspect of the dance is designed to please them: the dancers wear white for purity and blue to evoke water; their skirts display Simbi Dlo's magical vèvè symbol; while dancing, they draw the vèvè in corn meal on the ground; their jugs are both symbolic and real receptacles; and the rhythms are especially pleasing to Simbi Dlo, as are the shouted, inspirational words.

In Haiti, sweet water symbolizes love and protection, and it also remains a daily necessity. Haitian-born choreographer Djenane Saint Juste says "In drought-ridden Haiti, girls walk kilometers in the mountains just to bring water back to the home. So water is about generosity: when we share it with you, it is love. Water is community." As in many of today's performances, this dance is an excerpt from a living form of prayer. Every day, Haitian Vodou practitioners beseech hundreds of powerful lwa for help with life’s challenges.

The musicians play rada drums—manman, segond, kata, bass, and bell—connecting traditional rhythms to the dancers as if with an umbilical chord. Djenane stresses the quintessential relationship among drummer, dancer, and spirit: "If the drummer is not good, the dancer will become tired. Only if the spirit loves you will it come to you. The spirit needs an inner beauty, an integrity, so you have to open your body, mind, and heart."

Back to top