It’s not only her African origin or her childhood in France that separate this choreographer from others at Pierce College; her enthusiasm, outlook on life and the gleam in her eyes set her apart.
Born in the village of Kribi, Cameroon, Joelle Manga, 28, spent the first five years of her life surrounded by music, dancing and laughter. She recalls having dance competitions with other children in her neighborhood and getting spanked for dancing inappropriately.
“That didn’t stop me,” Manga said. “When I’m little the conversation is too old for me to understand. But the dancing is timeless. I grew up quiet. Dancing was a way to express myself.”
Expressing herself through dance has brought like-minded people into Manga’s life. Out dancing one night in 2008, she met Audrey Nkonda, whose father also hales from Cameroon, while her mother is from France, where Manga lived with her father between the ages of 5 and 14.
“When we dance, it could be anywhere,” Nkonda said, explaining that they dance in clubs, at home or anywhere they happen to be. Their common origins, passion for dance and the fact that they both speak French secured a lasting friendship.
Nkonda is confident in Manga’s skill as a choreographer.
“She’s gonna do amazing,” Nkonda said. “I have a dance education. Joelle doesn’t have that, so she dances more from her heart instead of technical.”
Although she has not been back to Cameroon since she was 5 years old, Manga’s informal dance education is rooted in the style of the Kribi women as they turned a long walk for vegetables or water into a time of laughter and dancing.
“They always started with singing,” Manga said. “If we had to walk eight miles, there would be jumping around.”
It is the dancing of Manga’s grandmother and the other village women that have inspired the piece of choreography that Manga is currently teaching to the six male and 11 female dancers she cast at recent auditions for Pierce’s Fall Dance Showcase, which will take place in mid-November.
Manga’s boyfriend, first-semester Pierce student Zach Gottlieb, 21, supports her by going to her shows. Though not a dancer himself, he said he has tried to learn her moves. While his attempts have been unsuccessful, his admiration of her talent is steadfast.
“Her piece will always be the best piece to me,” Gottlieb said. “What she brings–her style and charisma–far exceeds everyone else on the stage. They save her [piece] for last.”
Manga said the last dance she choreographed was just for fun, but this coming piece is special, as she is hoping to transfer to California State University, Los Angeles in the spring.
“If this is my last semester at Pierce, I wanna go out with a bang,” Manga said.
At CSULA, Manga plans to pursue a degree in Criminal Justice, because she wants to fight human trafficking. Though this field does not include dance, Manga said she knows that dance will always be a part of her life.
She even found a way to incorporate dance in her five-year Airforce career that ended when she became a mother to her now-4-year-old daughter Leanne and decided that motherhood was more important.
“No matter where I go, there will be dancing,” Manga said. “If it’s not there, I’ll bring it.”