Marianne Harkless Diabate of Milton, Mass., passed away suddenly in Boston on May 12 at the age of 63, due to complications from treatment for lymphoma. Marianne was a dedicated educator, a visionary, and a passionate dancer. She started dancing at age 6 and performed and taught dance throughout her lifetime, training with the Boston Ballet, the Institute for Contemporary Dance, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, and the International Afrikan American Ballet, among others.
Marianne was best known for her ability to create something new from a multitude of dance disciplines that illuminate the importance of Black dance, resulting in the co-founding of the Benkadi Drum and Dance Company with her husband, Sory Diabate. She was an assistant professor of dance at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and an admired and dedicated African, Brazilian, and Caribbean dance instructor at Wellesley College for 10 years, from 2011–2021.
From my office in the Keohane Sports Center, I could hear the beating of the drums and would quietly move to the hallway to watch Marianne’s students perform their African dances. Following the class, I could overhear the students excitedly talking about their appreciation for this unique cultural opportunity, as well as how good they felt from their rigorous participation and dancing. Suffice it to say, the students left Marianne’s class feeling invigorated, appreciative, and lighter in spirit.
With boundless energy, passion, and optimism, Marianne advocated tirelessly for dance, believing that “moving to rhythm integrates mind, body, and spirit and keeps us centered … and is an essential part of human existence.” The Physical Education, Recreation, and Athletics Department and the students who were graced with her class presence will miss Marianne’s impassioned, fervent love of dance and the upbeat drum sounds emanating from the dance studio.
By Connie Lynn Bauman, physical education, recreation, and athletics professor emerita of the practice