Dancing into Identity

by CUDJOE EMMANUEL

I grew up asking myself a question that would evolve in different shades throughout my life until now. I asked my mom at the village dance square…what are you doing moving like that? Her response, you will grow up to meet this! Boom! That was my first critical encounter with dance by observing my mother’s body moving to traditional music.

Now the question I asked and the answer that came were not new. On the contrary it has been asked by many curious kids since our first ancestors danced. It is a deep question with an equally deep answer. Unknown to me, I was asking the body I came out from how it came to know itself enough and be confident enough to move like that among a people who did likewise to the same music. I would later come to understand that movement systems, embodied, loved, respected over years of evolution, would be my very IDENTITY!

I analyse my personal dance experience from childhood in such a reflective manner that it helped me conceptualize the transient body in varied social cultural, and political positions among my ethnic group in my beloved home country Ghana. My father was a sub-chief of that rural town and during ascension to his stool/throne, I was required, by virtue of my father’s political and genealogical position what I term as my “transition into a status and validation as a royal, through dance movement”. I recount how the selected dance and its movements transformed and influenced my understanding of the Akan linguistic patterning and its power in affirming individual identity creation. I started receiving my official training as a dancer at the age of 6 and I was taught specific movement patterns which were different in execution from some other movement patterns I had seen outside my father’s palace. In my training process I was instructed to walk as a royal in the dance arena, taught a specific salutation concept and then eventually when to start performing on a specific drum rhythmical cue. Prior to that, my training in other things like sitting, eating, drinking from a cup, posture, gait was similar to my fathers who, from time to time before his enstoolment would join me in dance practice and perform the same movement patterns with me. He would often shout phrases like “a royal does not sweat on the dance floor”, “you are the son of great ancestors”, “wisdom and dancing abilities are in your blood”, “you will dance with me, your father, in glory”, “go on my son, the stool and the music are yours alone to take after I am gone”. These statements in addition to specific hand and feet movement patterns validated my understanding of who I was at the time and it came through dancing.

Reflecting on my childhood learning process and my political affiliation leads me to conclude that I was ‘curated’ and subsequently put on ‘display’ to the outside world through dancing.

Prior to my PhD at Temple dance department, I was exposed to dance studies/scholarship beginning from my undergraduate studies at the school of performing Arts University of Ghana focusing on Dance studies and Theatre arts. As my passion in dance intensified, I proceeded to pursue a masters at the Institute of African studies-University of Ghana with concentration on African dance and music analysis. My thesis was on Dance Aesthetics and Performance Contexts of a royal dance among the Asantes of Ghana known as KETE.

My exposure within African studies re-invigorated my interest to pursue more knowledge in dance scholarship due to the rate at which the proliferation of our dance forms offered research possibilities to ascertain the evolution of dancing as human requirement within contemporary African settings. As such I applied to pursue second masters in Europe which led me to pursuing the Erasmus-Mundus Choreomundus International Masters in Dance Knowledge, practice and heritage degree  from a consortium of four universities namely; University of Roehampton-London, Université Blaise Pascal-France, Norwegian University of Science and Technology- Norway, and the University of Szeged, Hungary. The aim was to learn about emerging concepts in safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. My journey to Temple University began when I first met Dr. Sherril Dodds who was a visiting lecture at University Blaise Pascal in France 2017. She encouraged all of us to pursue high education and offered to help if any of us were interested. I was not initially interested as my immediate goal after my 2nd master was to go back home to my Alma mater to support dance research and scholarship. However, the opportunity to study at the prestigious Temple University was too alluring to ignore. Here I am!

 

……the journey continues…..

Emmanuel Cudjoe, PhD in Dance student

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MFA Thesis Concert I-Victorious

By Princess Tanagna Payne

My piece for my Thesis Concert on September 27th and 28th 2019, was about sexual abuse and the traumas that can occur after an attack. Often times, victims are afraid to speak up not because the abuser may get punished, but because there nothing seems to be in it for them. I wanted to focus on healing and where that could possibly begin for someone, which led me to group therapy, one-on-one therapy with a licensed therapist or simply sharing with a loved one. In the piece, I chose to focus on group therapy and the idea of how abusers can also be victims too. In the beginning of the piece, there is a small visual to give an idea of the aftermath of the rape that leads into the first group therapy section where victims are invited to share their stories, but it can be difficult. Following therapy, the abuser knew that his actions were wrong and was tormenting himself. In the next group section, the victims are working to move from victim to victor where they are learning to build confidence and rely on their group members for support. The duet follows, and this is where the abusers and his victim are communicating about their tragedies, the last scene is where they invite the abuser to come to therapy, although his actions are not excused, they understand that he too needs help.

There were many changes to my piece last minute due to cast members leaving and the challenge was to present the same idea with a new framework. The challenge was a scary one, having to alter things four weeks before the show, but it was something that brought the cast members together and it made our relationship stronger. We trusted that each person would commit to their role and come in each day ready to work. We kept an open line of communication and shared things that worked and did not work. No one took anything personal and there was always positivity in the room.

For anyone presenting work soon, I say to stay committed to your idea and use your advisor to the best of your ability. Trust that your dancers will bring your vision to life and allow them to feel like they are also a part of the creative process. There will be things that you love one day, that you may not like the following week and that is okay. Scrap it and move on. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable with your cast members, it will only make the process easier. They can offer insight that you may not have thought about. Remember to take a break every now and then, sometimes your mind just needs a moment to shut down for a few hours. Do not be afraid to go for what you want, the only way you will know if it is achievable, is if you try.

Princess Tanagna Payne MFA in Dance

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Ziying Cui’s Ballet Journey

By Ziying Cui

When I was a child, I remember I begged my mother to take me to every Swan Lake performance in my hometown. I was fascinated by the dancers’ virtuosity, the orderliness of the corps de ballet, the romantic love story, and the gorgeous costumes and stage settings. My early experience of watching ballet motivated me to study this Western dance genre. Within more than twenty years’ ballet training in China and the US, my curiosity of ballet expanded beyond idealizing my body alignment and mastering dance movements. I was intrigued by the rapid development of Chinese ballet and how this Western art found avid audiences and practitioners in China.

Ziying Cui

 

In 2016, I began to study a PhD in dance at Temple University. This allowed me to shift my position from a dance practitioner to a dance researcher. The first two-year’s course works not only broadened my view of the English dance scholarship, but also provided me a large amount of theoretical and methodological knowledge of conducting doctoral research in dance. I have had the honor to learn with some of the most celebrated scholars around the world, and observed diverse research projects. Beyond the coursework, my endeavors out of class in the past three years, including exams preparation, attending dance colloquiums, and dance conference presentations, helped to prepare my own research in Chinese ballet. In addition, adequate ballet classes and teachers at Temple allow me to keep practicing ballet while doing research.

As a non-native English speaker, I had to work harder in and out of class to catch up the academic works. While the first year was the most challenging, my professors and colleagues helped me through the difficult time. At Temple, faculty members are always there to help students, but most importantly we have to work hard to make progress through our own efforts.

Ziying Cui, PhD in Dance Student

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Reflection Response: kNots & Nests

Photo by Matthew Altea

 

By Mijkalena Smith

My time performing and creating in the Reflection:Response Commission, kNots & Nests, by Marion Ramirez was undoubtedly one of the most meaningful experiences I have ever had. kNots & Nests is a multi-disciplinary creative project celebrating the duet as the smallest unit of community (https://www.knots-nests.org/gallery). This project’s artistic collaborations include Marion Ramirez (project’s director/ dance department, Boyer) Adam Vidiskis (music department, Boyer School of Music and Dance), Kris Rumman (visual art, Tyler School of Art and Architecture), and Jungwoong Kim (dance, Boyer School of Music and Dance). Student Participants included artists from Temple dance, music, journalism, film, and visual art departments.  Never before have I been surrounded by such a diverse, creative, and genuine group of people.

I think sometimes at Temple we become stuck inside our own departments, constantly working and improvising with the same people day after day. Having the opportunity to work with artists from different Music department and Tyler school of Art brought a fresh, new atmosphere of creativity that allowed for the success of this project across various art mediums. Apprehensive about working with improvisation for the first time, Marion Ramirez facilitated a connection among us artists that helped me learn that this work was more about our relationship to each other and the concepts surrounding the piece, rather than exact movements or choreography.

 

Photo by Matthew Altea

 

An emotionally raw and vulnerable experience; I learned that pushing past one’s comfort zone with other artists creates the purest art. I learned how to reach out and express myself to people in a way I never would have imagined. It was a rich experience I am eternally grateful for and will certainly never forget.

 

Mijka Smith BFA Dance Student

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Tapping into Confidence

Photo by Brian Mengini.

By Kaitlyn Miller

Dance has always been a passion, from the stage to the classroom to my home, it always generates so many emotions for me. I have participated in many styles including ballet, jazz, modern, tap, ballroom dance, but there was something about tap that draws me closer. At a very young age, I knew tap would take me somewhere, if I continued to work hard at it.

Tap is the style of dance to which I feel the strongest connection too and I was able to continue that connection during my time at Temple with a Studio Research piece in the Spring semester of 2019. I decided to create a piece, set for two dancers using portable wooden floors. I created the piece to embody a machine, with the natural wooden floors, rusty orange lights, and simple costumes- jeans and a black t-shirt. The style of tap I was working with concentrated on the intricate, rhythmic patterns and phrasing of the footwork. This is an unfamiliar form to me, but my time in the studio and creating this piece allowed me to become more accustomed with it.

With my confidence boosted, I decided to audition for the Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, a Philadelphia-based, all-women ensemble which “produces original works of choreography while preserving the tradition of improvisation in American rhythm tap” (http://www.ladyhoofers.org/). After the audition process, I was pleased to learn I was an apprentice company member for the 2019-2020 season. We are currently working on pieces for our Tapcracker performance in December, and I am learning more and more about the percussive side of tap. Even after tapping for twenty years, I am learning so much each rehearsal, because I come from a musical theatre/broadway style tap background.

I am looking forward to my time with the company as we continue to learn choreography, improvisational skills and take class. Within my future Studio Research choreography at Temple and in my Thesis, I plan to apply these newfound skills.

 

Kaitlyn Miller MFA Student

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Carpentry and Dance Collide

Dr. Onye Ozuzu, Dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Florida.

By Muriel Peterson, MFA Student

Dr. Onye Ozuzu; is the Dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Florida; in Gainesville, Florida. She came to Temple University for the “Dance Studies Colloquium” lecture on September 10th and is known as a performing artist, choreographer, administrator, educator, and researcher. Her most recent work, “Project Tool,” unites the world of construction with the world of dance. The result, several hexagon shaped floors that can be easily transported and performed on, as well as an examination of “the inter-relationships between body, task, and tool” (http:// ozuzudances.com/).

Project Tool image courtesy of http:// ozuzudances.com.

Ozuzu explained the process of building the floors and choreographing based on that experience. She describes it as arduous, meticulous work, yet satisfying and humbling. However, the most interesting aspect of this project, in my opinion, is the appreciation it elicits from the performers/builders for the floor itself. Dividing each rehearsal between construction and choreography, Ozuzu and her dancers are able to develop a relationship with each floor they build. Although at times the performers do not enjoy the tediousness of the building, a sense of gratitude and protectiveness emerges for the floors regardless.

As a practitioner of both break dancing and tap, I find it surprising that it took the actual construction of the floors to elicit appreciation for them. More often than not, dancers like myself have to fight for the floors of our choice and in many cases settle for less. With tap, I remember my teacher explaining the importance of the floor and how it connects to the music we make as we dance; in order to hear it at its best, it must be played on a wood surface because it generates a high quality sound and it is not too harsh on the dancer’s body. Similarly, break dancers appreciate its smooth surface and gentleness on the body as well.

All-in-all, “Project Tool,” is an intriguing piece of art. It combines real life carpentry with the art of dance. In addition, it challenges both the audience and the dancers to recognize the value in ordinary things; in this case the value lies in the floors themselves.

Muriel Peterson

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Reflection Response: Awilda Sterling Duprey

In August and September, I had the pleasure of working with Awilda Sterling Duprey. She was Temple University’s featured artist for the annual Reflection and Response Commission. The Afro-Latina artist heralded as “a national gem to the people of Puerto Rico”. Her piece began a conversation exploring how Hurricane Maria devastated her homeland of Puerto Rico. As an improviser, she challenged us to re-create this feeling of hysteria. She asked: how do you honor the story of those lives affected by this natural disaster?
We entered the process by studying the traditional dances of Oya, an warrior deity whom is often represented through hurricanes. We also engaged in improvisational exercises to strengthen our awareness within the work and held critical discussions about these issues. Sterling Duprey recognized dancers as  active participants in the creative process. This is an idea that I will ultimately take into my into future endeavors. Often times, choreographers ask dancers to perform movement without giving any context. Awilda’s process creates intentionality and dynamic performance quality for those involved.
This kind of teaching method fostered cognitive development as the dancers were also creators. This democratic approach was student centered and did not aim to make only Awilda’s voice present the work. However, this was overwhelming at times!  There was not a clear structure until the weekend before the show. As a choreographer, I learned to incorporate a healthy balance of decision making and play. Not only in choreography and improvisation but also the creative process.
I also was able to witness Awilda transform Conwell Dance Theater to an imaginative space, catapulting you to Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria. She worked with a variety of disciplines such as photography, video, sound distortion, and props. This multimedia artist cultivated a nostalgic atmosphere. This presentation of the work was well received by the audience. She approached “space” beyond the standard of Laban’s Effort Actions often used to create textured qualities movement. Awilda abstracted physically space in order to reimagine the theatre past the normal visuals.  She urged us not limit Conwell’s physically possibilities. This taught me how creating a space for the audience, is just as crucial as, how a dancer navigates space with their body.
Awilda is in her seventies, yet always has the most energy in the room. I believe her age gave her grace, style, beauty and wisdom in her movement. Rehearsals were filled with laughs and giggles. She greeted you with a warm hug at the beginning of every rehearsal and made sure each dancer was heavily involved in the process.  This sensitivity encouraged me to work harder because I realized she cared about our general well-being. I believe Awilda’s expectation of creativity and freedom caters to a more seasoned artist. Over all, I am honored to have known and danced with this formidable women.
— Enya-Kalia Jordan, First Year MFA
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On A Summer Of NOT Dancing

 

When school is over and there are no more required weekly classes to attend, most dancers begin thinking about how they are going to keep their body in shape for the next school year. However, this summer I realized that maybe dancing wasn’t on the top my list of summer priorities. I decided not to dance as much as I would during the school year but I still wanted to stay in shape.

This was the first summer that I didn’t look for a place to dance or travel home to my home studio to take classes . I decided I was going to get a job and  save as much money as I could for the following school year. I ended up getting a job at a daycare in the Fairmount area, working five days a week. My days were usually filled with work, a stop at the gym, and maintaining my social life. Still, I had that itch that all dancers get. My body needed to move and the gym just wasn’t enough.

Week after week I was checking Instagram and Facebook to see if any of my friends were teaching classes in the area or nearby so that I could at least dance a little. Unfortunately, anytime a friend of mine was having a class I was either too exhausted from work or had no way of getting there. After a while I recognized that it didn’t seem realistic for me to try and juggle all the things I was and add dance on top of that.. So, I started exploring other options around the city. I went on mini adventures with  friends throughout Philly, took day trips to the beach and went on a vacation that definitely did not go as planned.

Even though I wasn’t dancing, I was still happy and taking advantage of any free time I had and doing other things I loved. I think as dancers we’re constantly worried about being in shape and being able to dance to our fullest potential, but sometimes taking a break from all of that is necessary. It’s ok to maybe focus on your job outside of dance more or go on some adventures with friends and eat some not-so healthy food. As I grow up and get more into this “adulting” thing, I’m realizing it’s harder to do the things you want compared to doing the things you have to do, like work. I was lucky enough to find a job that I enjoyed and would help me in the future with my career. When we’re in college, we tend to struggle with making as money as much as we spend. And as we all know, dance classes and intensives are not cheap.

So maybe taking a summer, like I did, to get a job and make some decent money is ok as a dancer. Though I love to dance, I’ve found that being realistic about my financial situations is beneficial in the long run. I’m glad that I was able to take a step back from dancing and get a hold on my outside life. Now that I’m back to dancing, I feel a lot more confident in my future and opportunities to explore it.

 

-Maria Smith, BFA Junior

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My Experience Studying Abroad In Rome

    

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Italy with the dance department at Temple University Rome. I packed up and traveled over 5,000 miles to the ancient city of Rome. I was anxious about the new language and culture I was about to encounter, but excited to submerge myself into something new. Leaving home is never easy, but knowing all of the benefits I would receive in the end, kept me motivated.

I enrolled in Modern Dance Technique IIIB, Creative Process in Dance, and Independent Study in Dance with Professor  Jillian Harris. Classes were twice a week, therefore, I had plenty of time to explore Rome, take day trips to other cities in Italy, and travel to other countries every weekend. Modern Dance Technique IIIB was a 2-hour movement generated class. We began each class with a 30-minute yoga-based warm-up, then went on into full-body movement exercises, phrases, and finished with across-the-floors, or a variation of the three. Throughout the 6-week semester, the dance material that we received got more more challenging as time went on. This class helped my body continue with the practice of Modern and helped me to gradually advance towards specific dance-related goals.

    The next class, Creative Process in Dance, was a choreography-based class that dealt with each student’s own process while creating a short dance piece/study. The short study was influenced by a piece of art at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, a museum of modern and contemporary art that our class visited. We each picked one piece of artwork that stood out to us. That served as the basis of our creative choreography. We had frequent showings where we would show the class our piece and receive feedback from each person, which helped to aid and guide us into the right direction. Throughout the semester, we kept a journal of pictures, sketches, and words throughout our process that would help us to keep a tab of everything that is influencing us, feedback, visuals, and other necessary notes regarding the choreography or piece. To close out, we had a final showing, where each of us performed our dance piece to an audience at Temple University Rome.

The last class I took, Independent Study in Dance, was a class where we got experience in dance writing. We went to see two professional performances and documented them through writing. I had the chance to see ballet Manon at the Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma and The Leonardo da Vinci Experience musical and artistic visual performance in Via della Conciliazione di Roma. Experiencing music and dance performances in another country was an unforgettable experience, and it made me want to write my papers about them even more.

    With all the time I had, I was able to explore many hotspots and ancient buildings in Rome. Within just 6 weeks, I was able to visit the Italian cities of Pisa, Todi, Titignano, Florence, and Pompeii. As well as the cities of Croatia, Austria, Greece, and Spain. As you can see, I had plenty of time to take my classes and complete the work while having the ability to travel to many destinations throughout Europe.

    Overall, studying abroad taught me a lot. It gave me the opportunity to see the world while learning many new languages and cultures. I got to experience life as a dancer and student in a new place, which was incredibly enlightening. I met people from different countries which ended up strengthening my social network. I also gained a deeper sense of independence. Not only have I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about the cities, countries, cultures, and languages, but also on the many landmarks, museums, and historical buildings. One of the most eye-opening parts of this experience was being able to view my home country from the lens of a different culture. I was shown that not all classrooms have four walls. Studying abroad was truly life-changing. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so don’t wait for the right opportunity to do something that you really want to do. Take the first step and create it yourself if you have to. Your future depends on it. After all, you only get to live once.

 

– Keri Lushefski, BFA Junior

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Last Spotted In London

Temple dance professor, Dr. Sherril Dodds, went to London to give a performative lecture on break dancing. The lecture was entitled “Drilling, Grit and Flava: Epistemologies of Breaking” at a symposium on ‘Hip Hop Pedagogies’ at the University of East London’s Centre for Performing Arts and Development and the Dance.

The lecture reflected upon Dodds’ experience as a 50-year old novice b-girl.  She reflected on how breaking has prompted ontological and epistemological ruptures that move her literally and metaphorically.  In conversation with a practice-led methodology, she placed ‘doing’ at the centre of knowledge production.  From this she came to understand concepts of drilling, grit, and flava, and she engaged in alternative models of learning, collective pedagogy, and community belonging.  Through the performative lecture, she examined how sessions and cyphers enable her to encounter the aesthetic and history of the b-girl body, confront her present identity position, and begin to re-imagine the social and physical expectations of her body.

-Alissa Elegant, MFA Student

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