Issue 9.3: June/July 2006

Passion Dancer

story by Liza Simon
photo by Dana Edmunds


Lasensua got her name thirty years ago, riding in a horse-drawn carriage on a moonlit night in Bombay. Asked by a fellow traveler what pleased her, she replied, “Silk, moonlight, flowing music.”

“Oh,” he said, “you are la sensua—a sensual one.” The name stuck.

Lasensua was in Bombay to study and perform dance, just one stop in a life that has been all about the art form. Early on, a photo of a Hindu dancer in a gold headdress convinced her to journey to a remote part of Bali and take lessons. In later days, she studied everything from temple dances in Nepal to undulating ceremonies of vodoun in Brooklyn’s Haitian enclave, racking up some uncommon choreographic credentials along the way.

“Mostly, I realized that any ethnic dance came from a place deep inside the soul of the people,” she says. “By learning it, I also got to learn about the language, music and history of a place.”

Lasensua now lives on Maui, where she teaches salsa classes in the cozy vintage hall of the Makawao Union Church, serves as a dance and drama educator with the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and continues to be a one-woman wellspring of African dance: She helped to found an annual camp for Congolese masters on the island and continues to teach weekly classes in their art.

Given all of this, Lasensua admits that people are often surprised to find out she grew up in Toronto and once entertained thoughts of becoming an attorney. She laughingly credits a bossa nova-loving mom and a mambo-moving uncle for the fact that she now carries a dance bag instead of a briefcase. And there have been many mentors along the way. “It was overwhelming to find that some leading African masters encouraged me to spread their art, even though I am obviously not from the culture,” she says. “Sometimes in those years of travel, I would feel a little self-indulgent … but Africa made me realize
I am supposed to pass on the passion.”