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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was lucky enough to spend the past two weeks at Blaise-Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, France. I was invited to teach on the Choreomundus MA Program in Dance Knowledge, Practice and Heritage. This distinctive program is delivered across four European universities and attracts a diverse array of international students. I had the pleasure of meeting a cohort from Italy, Columbia, South Africa, Uzbekistan, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, China, Finland and the US. The international breadth made for lively discussion and I enjoyed working with them specifically in the areas of popular dance, screen dance, and dance ethnography. In addition to my teaching, I had the opportunity to work on some of my own research, and this included participating in a wonderful breaking class led by Dimitri Manebard. Although I worked hard during the day, I could not resist sampling some of the wonderful French food, and have eaten enough croissants, bread and cheese to see me through until the new year. Clermont-Ferrand is one of the oldest cities in France and I loved wandering through its intricate network of narrow streets sparkling with Christmas lights and the dramatic sight of its gothic cathedral. I feel incredibly fortunate that dance has been a passport both for international travel and for meeting students from across the world who share this mutual passion.
The Temple University Dance Department is pleased to announce that our fifth choreographic commission under our Reflection:Response speaker and performance series has been awarded to:
Westwater will create a new work, titled Anywhere, which will premiere on Sept 16 &17, 2016 in Conwell Theater at Temple University. The commission includes a cash award of $5,000 and access to rehearsal space at Temple University throughout summer 2016. Past commission recipients include Laura Peterson, Charles O. Anderson, Tatyana Tennenbaum, and Jennifer Weber.
In Anywhere, Westwater asks how a dance might engage with, and itself be, a monument. Central concerns are permanent and impermanent cultural manifestations that register and record the impact upon us of time, war, and climate—economic and environmental—and how these manifestations are rendered and experienced in public and private space. Westwater seeks to choreographically manifest a contemporary heroism found in the everyday—anywhere. Without being about a specific historical time or event, there will be a remembering of something that was lost and something that wasn’t.
Anywhere will be performed by five dancers to Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony No. 3.” It will feature a unique relationship between movement and sound through a sound integration design by Architect Seung-Jae Lee.
Kathy Westwater has choreographically pursued experimental dance forms since 1996. Described by Dance Magazine as “bloodless and fascinating” and The Brooklyn Rail as “at the limits of the human,” her work responds to the societal landscape in which it manifests by reimagining the body’s movement potential. Her work has been presented extensively in NYC in spaces such as New York Live Arts, Danspace Project, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Performance Space 122, Dixon Place, and more. Westwater has received awards from Puffin Foundation, Franklin Furnace Fund, Meet the Composer, and New York Foundation for the Arts, and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Djerassi, Movement Research, and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. She has taught at Sarah Lawrence College since 2001.
This summer, Dr. Mark Franko received the Laura Carnell Professor of Dance. Laura Carnell professorships recognize faculty who devote their lives to teaching, research, scholarship and creative arts. This award honors Temple University’s first dean, Laura H. Carnell, who was known for her energy, passion and dedication as a leader and was an inspiration to thousands of students.
In other news, the revised edition of Dr. Franko’s book, Dance as Text, recently came out with Oxford University Press. Dance as Text examines French court ballet from the late Renaissance to the Baroque time periods. The text includes cultural and political analysis of choreography, performance, and dance literature during this period.
Dr. Franko feels that these accomplishments have established confidence in his research. We are grateful to have such a distinguished and passionate faculty member in our program. Congratulations Dr. Franko!
On April 14, 2015 Julie Malnig presented Rock, Rebellion, and Race: Televised Teen Dance of the 1950s and Early 1960s at the final Dance Studies Colloquium of the 2014-2015 academic year.
Malnig’s talk ended the series on a high note, introducing Temple dance faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students to her forthcoming work on the emergence of televised dance programs in the 1950s. She demonstrated how these shows not only presented, but created the American teenager as an identity and a highly coveted demographic for television advertisers.
Though the nationally aired American Bandstand was the most popular, Malnig shed light on the locally aired programs, such as Baltimore’s Buddy Deane Show. It was on these shows where the intersections between racial discrimination and the development of an American youth culture were most prevalent. Though most televised performances were segregated, many of the dances were actually crafted by African American teens permitted to dance prior to filming or beyond the reach of the camera’s lens. Like the critiques of American rock and roll, televised dance was also a practice of undocumented borrowing from African American culture. Thus, the emergence of the All-American teen is further evidence of, as Brenda Dixon-Gottschild would argue, the Africanist presence embodied in U.S. social, cultural, and historical life.