My scholarship is driven by a commitment to underscore, document, and thereby preserve under-researched narratives in the history of Africana -- African and African Diaspora -- dance and performance. My research interests include: the history of Mandinka dance systems; the history of Africana dance and performance; screendance; and digital humanities. Through digital humanities platforms, my research also focuses on the historical representations of Africana performative phenomena, particularly the performance of ritual, and other non-theatrical depictions of performance in Africana life.
As such, my research and publications are representative of my commitment to document and thereby preserve the diverse experiences of African and African diaspora peoples as they are depicted through dance and theatrical and non-theatrical performance.
The field of history is founded on the interrogation of written documents from the past. However, culture is the center of life in Africa. As a result, in the past – and to a degree in the present – the process for documenting events in Africa was not written, it was performed. History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandin
The field of history is founded on the interrogation of written documents from the past. However, culture is the center of life in Africa. As a result, in the past – and to a degree in the present – the process for documenting events in Africa was not written, it was performed. History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance argues that a wealth of information is housed within traditional Mandinka dance and, consequently, the dances can be used as an African-derived primary source for writing African history. The book highlights the overall value of studying Mandinka dance history specifically, and African dance history generally, as well as addressing the issue of scarcity with regard to primary sources for writing African history.
The market is saturated with dance history books solely representing European narratives. Those dance history books that do include representations of Black dance-making primarily discuss a few popularly known historic Black dance artists. More alarming, African dance history is often not discussed at all. Historical Perspectives on Dance
The market is saturated with dance history books solely representing European narratives. Those dance history books that do include representations of Black dance-making primarily discuss a few popularly known historic Black dance artists. More alarming, African dance history is often not discussed at all. Historical Perspectives on Dance in Africa, seeks to introduce undergraduate dance history students to the history of locations in North, West, South, and Central Africa, and to the dances that influence and are impacted on by that history.
Historical Perspectives on Dance in Africa proves to be a vital introductory text for undergraduate students with little to no experience or prior knowledge of African dance history.
Currently, Founders Library contains countless Africana theatre and dance historical materials that have not been digitized or cataloged. These items have been stored at Founders Library for decades and are deteriorating. I wrote the $99,948 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to preserve the history ingrained within these a
Currently, Founders Library contains countless Africana theatre and dance historical materials that have not been digitized or cataloged. These items have been stored at Founders Library for decades and are deteriorating. I wrote the $99,948 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to preserve the history ingrained within these archival materials, and to make this countless number of rich primary sources available for Howard University students, faculty, and staff, area colleges and universities, and the community at large. As a result, The Africana Theatre and Dance Collection (ATDC), will become a repository of Africana culture, performance, and experiences, while simultaneously preventing further decay of these resources.
Editor-in-Chief (Executive Editor)
I founded and serve as Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed journal, Evoke: A Historical, Theoretical, and Cultural Analysis of Africana Dance and Theatre, to encourage the documentation of, and rigorous discourse on, Africana dance, theatre, and film. Africana is understood to mean all people of African descent on and outside of the continent of Africa.
AIMS & SCOPE:
Evoke is an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed digital journal, established via Howard University's digital platform, that fosters research, critical analysis, and vigorous discourse, on Africana dance, acting, and filmmaking. Evoke seeks to bring Africana performing arts into scholarly discussions thereby documenting, preserving, and providing exposure to under-researched narratives in Africana vernacular and professional performing arts. By extension, Evoke also provides a forum for scholars of African, African American, and African Diaspora dance, theatre, and film.
Evoke accepts submissions for its issues in diverse formats including but not limited to: print, film/video, podcasts, and other digital humanities formats. Scholars from all disciplines are welcome to submit articles and digital content, providing their submissions uphold the aims and scope of the journal. Reviews of books, dance concerts, plays, and films, that are in accordance with the aims and scope of Evoke are also welcome.
**Click here to read Evoke or click on the picture of Evoke's cover.
Status: Under contract (Monograph)
African diaspora dance has become a global phenomenon among scholars and practitioners. Accordingly, knowledge of the history, experiences, and agency of the people who created these dance styles must be accessible to those who study it to preserve the culture, integrity and aesthetic understanding of the artforms. Fire Under My Feet, presents African diaspora dance history immersed in the experiences and worldview of its progenitors.
Status: Work in progress (Monograph)
Unwitting Witnesses: Unearthing Narratives of African Dance in Pre-Colonial Logs, explores cultural and ideological narratives embedded in African dance and inadvertently documented by travelers to the Senegambia region of West Africa prior to 1880. The book utilizes primary sources including government report logs, diaries, surveyor’s reports, journals, and missionary reports, among others, located in The Gambia and Senegal, to analyze the conveyance of ideological and cultural tenets through African dance during the pre-colonial period. These primary sources are typically not consulted for research on African dance history. Yet, they contain a wealth of unknown and under-researched information.
Status: Work in progress (Monograph)
The topic of dance is glaringly omitted from the historical narrative. Yet, understanding the place of dance in African societies facilitates a wholistic appreciation of the African experience in particular, and the African diaspora narrative in general. For Every Thought There's A Dance, engages both sides of the political and social arena in Africa through the lens of dance. The book accentuates the utility of dance as a neutral device often used for activism, political propaganda, identity, religion, and a host of other phenomena not commonly considered within the realm of dance.
Status: Published. Africalogical Perspectives: Historical and Contemporary Analysis of Race and Africana Studies, Spring Issue, 2014, pp. 77-92.
Identity is often used as a tool -- on and off stage -- to combat oppression, expose injustice, and to affirm the humanity and value of a people and their culture. Off stage, or in extra theatrical spaces, it is presented and rehearsed, and thus, performed in those spaces as well. "It Fits Like a Glove: Women and Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1901-1989," accentuates the performance of identity, and the history of African women's agency in South Africa, during the inception, the height of, and beyond the period of, the Black Conscious Movement.
Founder & Artistic Director: 1st Nankama African Dance Conference launched at Howard University, February 9-10, 2019.
The Nankama African Dance Conference (NADC) was a two-day engagement in African scholarship and praxis. February 9th was a research symposium, and February 10th was a day of cultural immersion. *View the conference video below.
Identity has historically been an elusive phenomenon to define. It is both static and dynamic, and is constructed, deconstructed, preserved and appropriated, by individuals, groups, and nations. Elusiveness notwithstanding, African dance displays and defines identity in ways that words cannot. The conference theme, “Dancing Identity” seeks to foster critical analysis and rigorous discourse regarding identity and the performance of dance in Africa and the African Diaspora thereby enriching and improving teaching, student learning, curriculum development, and professional development.
The Nankama African Dance Conference (NADC) was a two-day immersion in Africana performance scholarship and African and African diaspora dance and drum workshops. On the first day of the NADC, scholars from diverse regions of the country including California, Florida, New York, Chicago, Connecticut, Ohio, and locally in Washington, DC and Maryland, gathered to share their research on Africana Dance. There were 10 papers, two demonstrations, and a Screendance viewing followed by a talkback.
On February 10th, NADC's second day, participants connected with the prior day of research through firsthand experience. The second day of the NADC was filled with African and African Diaspora dance and drum workshops. Baba Melvin Deal, the first to introduce the Washington, DC metropolitan area to African dance and culture five decades ago opened the conference with libation and call and response songs. The Guest artist was the world-renowned Guinean national, Moustapha Bangoura with over 30 years of performance and teaching experience, and a former principal dancer of the illustrious Les Ballets Africains. Moustapha Bangoura taught two master workshops featuring dances that hailed from the Mandinka/Susu ethnic groups. Howard University’s own, Assane Konte, a Senegalese national, master teacher, and co-founder of the celebrated Kankouran West African Dance Company in Washington, DC, taught two Sabar workshops of the Wolof ethnic group. The widely celebrated Cuban national, Alberto Limonta Perez taught two Afro-Cuban dance workshops and an Afro-Cuban drum workshop. Three additional West African drum workshops were taught by Farafina Kan’s Mahiri Keita. In all, there were 6 African and African diaspora dance workshops and 4 African and African diaspora drum workshops.
The goal of the NADC is expose scholars and students to the rich narratives housed within African dance systems and to encourage scholars to consider African dance systems as a primary source for research. By extension, the conference will also enrich and improve teaching, student learning, curriculum development, and professional development.
Conference participants included Howard University students, faculty, and staff, professors and students from diverse areas of the country, and instructors and students from African and the African Diaspora. The community surrounding Howard University also attended and participated. The study of African dance systems through practice and research at the NADC increased cultural understanding and facilitated a more immersive experience for students, faculty, staff and the community.
As a result of the Nankama African Dance Conference a new course, African Dance IV, will be established. Currently, the courses African Dance I, II, and III, are offered by Howard's dance program, however those courses focus on dance technique. African Dance IV will emphasize the culture and history the dances emerged from in addition to the techniques. Thus, the course will include a lecture portion and lab.
Another result of the NADC is the revision of the Dance History II course. Material on Africa has been increased in the course, and a summer Study Abroad component in Africa will be added in 2020.
(Click each picture above for the picture's description.)
Grave Revelations: Cultural and Historical Narratives from the Colored Union Benevolent Association Burial Ground exposes viewers to the myriad instances of Africanisms in the performance of funerary rituals. It highlights the practices of African Americans in the 19th century at an African American burial ground discovered in Washington, DC.
© 2020, Ofosuwa Abiola - All Rights Reserved