West African Dance

The 2023 Dance and the Humanities series kicked off last weekend with two events focused on the art and culture of West African Drumming and Dance. Friday night the international artists of Africa Nashville joined Huntsville’s own Dance Theatre of Huntsville for a panel discussion and dialogue. Saturday morning there was a community Masterclass.

About 125 people were in attendance Friday and the event was interactive from the start. Agathe Moubembé, Sory Diabeté, Mohamed “Dho” Cisse, and Ibrahima Dioubate, the four members of Africa Nashville, began with a drumming and dance demonstration during which they invited children in the audience to come forward to try some of the dance moves. The bilingual (English & French) panel dialogue that followed included the artists plus Windship Boyd, who is an artist, choreographer, and instructor of dance at Middle Tennessee State University. Among the topics discussed was the mutually constitutive and synergistic relationship between drummers and dancers in West African traditions. The panelists also talked about the important place of dance and drumming in their respective cultures and explained how these art forms are passed down as a tradition from parent to child.

Dance Theatre of Huntsville’s Performing Company demonstrated how this tradition continues to be a part of the culture of members of the African diaspora. The youth dancers showcased two dances, one that was more traditional and a second that blended elements of West African dance with US contemporary dance. During the dialogue, Monique Ryan, the founder and artistic director of Dance All Productions and Dance Theatre of Huntsville, explained the importance of passing on these traditions to African American youth in Huntsville.

During the Q&A, audience members asked questions that spanned the topics of dance, music, history, and sociology. One audience member said they “enjoyed the cultural discussion behind the dancing.” A reception followed, and children and grandparents alike took the opportunity to try drumming and dancing or to simply chat with the artists.

On Saturday morning, the CTC Exhibition Hall was filled with sounds of drumming and clapping as Africa Nashville led an instructional masterclass. While the others drummed, Dho Cisse demonstrated a number of choreographed steps which the attendees learned and practiced. One attendee said that, “It's so neat how even though there was a language barrier, dance was the only language we needed.”

About 40 people attended the Masterclass, including several members of the Alima Dance Company, the premier dance company at Alabama A&M University. They said they came to the Dance and the Humanities event because “We pride ourselves in being a diverse dance group. Ballet, African, tap, jazz. So any opportunity that is available we take it.”

Dance and the Humanities is sponsored by the UAH Humanities Center. The goal of the series is to bring together global and local artists to explore the intersection of dance and the human condition with a particular focus on underrepresented dance forms and artists. The next opportunity to learn about the history, culture, and practice of a genre of dance will be March 3 - 4 when UAH hosts a dialogue and masterclass on Musical Theatre dance. The final event in the series will spotlight Ballet and will be on April 13.

For more information, please contact the co-organizers Dr. Dylan Baun (dylan.baun@uah.edu) and Dr. Jennifer Sims (jennifer.sims@uah.edu), or go to uah.edu/ahs/events