Partnership for After School Education

Biography

As an activist, choreographer, professional dancer, performer, and teacher, Aziza’s work has long focused on developing community-based art, and she has been particularly dedicated to working in Harlem.  Working as a public school teacher, she witnessed the erosion of arts education for African-American children, and particularly the absence of programs for the physically disabled.  Influenced by a public television program featuring deaf dancers, she decided to learn sign language, and founded Def Dance Jam Workshop (DDJW) in 1994.  She began DDJW with ten young women, five who could hear and five who could not.  The hearing members learned American Sign Language (ASL) and working with the deaf members, combined it with Hip-Hop, African dance, rap, and poetry to create and perform original works.  The group has now expanded to 30 members, male and female, ranging in age from 8 to 65.  The students spend two to three afternoons a week together, doing homework and tutoring, journal writing, holding "rap sessions" and rehearsing. Aziza is committed to involving the children in DDJW’s decision making as a way to increase self-esteem and prepare them for independent lives.  In 1997, Aziza announced the formation of the DDJW Community Service Fellowship to provide scholarship funds and work experience to a DDJW graduate who is about to enter college.  DDJW has performed at the United Nations, Aaron Davis Hall and Six Flags Great Adventure.