Professor Emerita Nontsizi Cayou, a pioneer in teaching Afro-Haitian and jazz dance, died October 3. She was 82. Cayou was a catalyst in helping to establish the Dance program at SF State and the African American Art and Culture Complex in San Francisco’s Fillmore District.
Born as Dolores Kirton in New Orleans, she was the class president at Alameda High School before earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SF State. Her book “Modern Jazz Dance” was published by Mayfield in 1971. She also was a Fulbright scholar who studied in Nigeria and a member of the Bay Area Kwanzaa Committee, which was founded in 1977.
Cayou taught at SF State from 1966 to 2001. She initially taught in the Black Studies and Physical Education departments, until the Dance Department was created in 1986.
“The word that comes immediately to me is fierce,” Dance Professor Emerita Albirda Rose said. “She was the motivation and force behind the Department of Dance during my tenure there. The department was the only one of its kind in the world with a major and three tracks: performance choreography, ethnology and education. She fought for master instructors in ethnology.”
A frequent performer and choreographer nationwide, Cayou founded the Wajumbe Cultural Institution, a company of dancers, poets and musicians, in 1969 in San Francisco. Based at the African American Art and Culture Complex, the institution expanded in 1993 to provide all-day summer care and after-school programs for low-income and foster children. Cayou also played a significant role in establishing the complex. Founded in 1989, the 32,000-square-foot facility is the only city-owned arts and cultural center in San Francisco dedicated to Afrocentric culture, traditions and values.
She was inducted into the University’s Alumni Hall of Fame in 1999. Other honors include a 1999 KQED “local hero” award for Black History Month and a 2001 Isadora Duncan Award for Sustained Achievement.
Design Professor Ricardo Gomes described Cayou as a beloved faculty colleague. She “was the quintessential ambassador of global artistic pedagogy for African culture, dance, creative expression and community outreach,” he said. “Nontsizi opened up her home, heart and soul to the arts, culture and people of the African diaspora, that was framed by her majestic and radiant smile!”
Read more about Professor Cayou in an obituary in the Oakland Post on October 17.
— Matt Itelson