Simply, I believe that humanity is worth more than money. Relationships are worth more than material. These thoughts pervade everything that I do.

— Mark Lilly aka Ifeoluwa

Mark Lilly began his studies of the Afro-Cuban Arts at Portland State University. At that time the former college athlete was searching for a way to connect with his African ancestry. The study of Orisa dance provided the foundation of spirituality, politics, ideology and aesthetics that he was looking for.

In 1991 Lilly received a scholarship to attend a gathering of Cuba’s finest musicians at Stanford University. At Stanford he began his study of Bata with master drummer Regino Jimenez director of Danza Contemporanea De Cuba. In 1993 Lilly founded the Afro-Cuban Dance Company Bembe Olele. That same year he received his B.Sc. in Psychology, from Portland State University. In 1995 Lilly was awarded an apprenticeship grant to study with dance instructor Roberto Borrell. In 1997 Bembe Olele recorded a CD of Orisa music with a grant from the JackStraw foundation. Most recently, master drummer Alfredo “Coyute” Vega initiated Lilly to Ayan.

Mark differs significantly in his views on religion and spirituality, “I don’t believe in the imposed hierarchy of human worth. Religions, including Orisha, are sometimes times used as political and profiteering institutions hidden behind benevolent/threatening ideologies. Religion is sometimes seen as the door to everything that is. The problem arises when people get stuck worshiping the door”.

Lilly’s teaching style focuses on technique and the development of spiritual energy through dance. He currently lives in Seattle where he performs with Bembe Olele and teaches folkloric song and dance.