Obituary: Sidiki Sylla, 1962-2023 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Sidiki Sylla, 1962-2023 

Dancer, choreographer and teacher from Guinea, West Africa, had an inspiring and long-standing impact on the lives of families, children and artists throughout Vermont

Published February 9, 2024 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated February 9, 2024 at 11:45 a.m.

click to enlarge Sidiki Sylla - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Sidiki Sylla

Sidiki “Boze” Sylla, age 61, passed away on December 26, 2023, after a yearlong battle with cancer. After hospice care in fall 2023, he returned home to Guinea to see his 93-year-old mother one last time. Surrounded by loved ones and the warmth of the rising sun, he peacefully passed away in Maferenya, Guinea.

Sidiki is survived by his mother; his wife, Armadinha Sylla; and his many children. He is most notably survived by his ex-partner, Victoria Holbrooke, and their children, Sidiki Jr., daughter Nadia and son Ismael, as well as many siblings and extended family members in Guinea.

Sidiki was born in Guinea and was surrounded by music from a very young age. Sidiki danced in many ballet companies, including Coleah Site, Ballet Coleah Centre, Ballet Commune Matam, Ballet National Djoliba and Les Ballet Africains. In the mid-'90s, Jeh Kulu Dance and Drum Theater — a nonprofit centered on celebrating West African dance, drum, and culture — sponsored a group of Vermonters to travel to Guinea to study under Sidiki’s tutorship. In 1997 Sidiki moved to Vermont to become Jeh Kulu’s artistic director and principal choreographer. The impact he made on the dance scene in Vermont was truly enormous, and his contributions to the overall community cannot be quantified.

He arrived in a cold and snowy Vermont and never left and made it his home, while teaching multiple classes a week and introducing many people to the rich cultural heritage. He drilled the steps and rhythms into his students through weekly rehearsals, classes and school residencies — always reminding them to smile. From the echoes of the doundoun drum emanating from the top floor of Memorial Auditorium to the sights of Jeh Kulu popping up at farmers markets and artist festivals, Sidiki left a memorable impression on all who witnessed his masterful acting and dance performances. Most recently, in September 2023, Sidiki was awarded the well-deserved Governor’s Award for Excellence in Arts Education.

Sidiki’s artistry will continue to influence and reverberate in the bodies, hearts, souls and lives of his community. Students of Sidiki’s recall his unwavering support, exceptional teaching skills, encyclopedic dance vocabulary, encouraging yells, sparkling big eyes and giant smile.

Traditional services were held in Guinea on December 28, and the Associations for Africans Living in Vermont hosted a gathering on December 30. The community can look forward to a public celebration of Sidiki’s life in the spring. Condolences and memories can be shared on the Jeh Kulu Facebook page, or by attending any of the ongoing West African Dance and Drum classes and events — we continue to dance in his honor! In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Jeh Kulu.

Inuwali, Sidiki, for your joy and genius, now and forever.

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