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Dancer, Educator, Visionary

Marianne Harkless Diabate, of Milton, Massachusetts, passed away suddenly in Boston on May 12, due to complications from treatment for lymphoma – a shocking and heartbreaking confirmation to her many loved ones that there was, in fact, a limit to what her boundless optimism could manifest.

Marianne was an educator, a visionary, and a dancer. She was the most can-do person you ever met, and it was her belief that anyone can, and everyone should dance! Marianne made a difference in the world not only by inspiring others with her ideas, but maybe even more with her willingness to do the work – the nitty-gritty daily work – to make those ideas real. 

She leaves numerous friends, colleagues, and students - and a huge hole in our hearts. She loved to throw parties, she was a fighter, she respected the truth, had deep integrity, and advocated tirelessly for dance. She believed “that moving to rhythm integrates mind, body, and spirit and keeps us centered. Every culture has rhythm and dance. It is an essential part of human existence.”

Marianne and her husband, Sory Diabate, codirected Benkadi Drum & Dance, an African dance company founded in 2008. Benkadi means “coming together sweetly” in Sory’s first language, Bambara. Bendaki has brought dance, drumming, song, and storytelling to audiences of all ages, including as a regular guest artist at the JFK Library on MLK Day. In 2016, with Baindu Conté-Harvey and McKersin Previlus, Marianne founded the Racines Black Dance Festival.

Marianne trained primarily in Boston at the Boston Ballet, José Mateo Ballet Theatre, and the Institute for Contemporary Dance, and in New York at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center and the International Afrikan American Ballet. Her primary African dance teachers were De Ama Battle, Nitanju Bolade, Fatou-Carol and Raymond Sylla, Sadio Rosche, and Joh Camara.  

She performed and taught dance for more than 35 years. She danced with the Art of Black Dance & Music, Ballet Theatre of Boston (José Mateo Ballet Theatre), Danny Sloan Dance Company, Boston Dance Collective, Brasileiro, Inc., Grupo Bandança Afro-Brazilian Dancers & Drummers, Under the Sun Dance & Drum, Beat Tree, the Spirit of Africa, and Impulse Dance Company.  During this time, Marianne toured the United States, France, Switzerland, and Jamaica, performing and guest teaching at schools, theaters, and festivals. At the time of her death, she was an assistant professor of dance at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and dance instructor at Wellesley College.

Marianne also taught dance at Radcliffe College, Boston University, Dean College School of Dance, Commonwealth School, the Cambridge School of Weston, Ballet Arts Centre of Winchester, Boston Arts Academy and other Boston Public Schools, the International Academy of Ethnic Dance, José Mateo Ballet Theatre, the Institute for Contemporary Dance, public and private schools in Cambridge, and dance studios in Greater Boston. She served on the board of trustees for the Boston Dance Alliance. She received the Dance Belt Award (city of Cambridge, 1996) and an award from the Art of Black Dance and Music (2013).

In addition to her loving husband Sory Diabate, Marianne is survived by her father, James Harkless, sisters Suzanne Harkless and Claire Thomas, brothers Charles and Guy Harkless, daughter Ghana Milton, Alan and Mary Lou Cary, cousins, nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her mother Anne Cary Harkless and stepmother Kay Springwater.

Her death creates a gap a mile wide in the Boston and national Black Dance communities that will long be sorely felt. Marianne Harkless Diabate, you were a passionate warrior for so long. It’s time to rest.

A graveside service for family was held at The Gardens Cemetery in West Roxbury. Donations towards a Celebration of Life – to take place later in summer 2021 in the Boston area – can be made at https://gofund.me/05e174ae

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