When the Past Dances into the Future: An Interview with African-Centered Dance Scholar, Dr. Kariamu Welsh

Article excerpt

I was first introduced to Dr. Kariamu Welsh when I was a doctoral student in African American Studies at Temple University in the fall of 2004. As a formally trained dancer, it was a natural fit for me to enroll in an African Dance class as part of my doctoral degree program. The most interesting detail about the first time I met Dr. Kariamu was that it was not supposed to happen. In fact, another instructor was originally assigned to teach the section of African Dance I was enrolled in. Only later did I learn that Dr. Kariamu agreed to teach this class just a few days before our first class meeting. I truly believe this was divine order by God and the ancestors to not only ensure that our paths crossed, but to set the stage for our interaction to continue years later.

Dr. Kariamu's class was one of the best moments in my life and is something that continues to have a profound effect on me today. In addition to having the opportunity to just be in Dr. Kariamu's presence and to learn the Umfundalai dance technique; this is where Katherine Dunham metaphorically found me. Although she was still alive at this time and did not make her transition until two years later; Dunham's spirit and the spirit of many other African/Black dancers were always present in our class when we danced. It was the presence of Dunham's spirit that motivated me to learn more about her life and to begin to uncover her many contributions to Black Studies. However, it was Dr. Kariamu who motivated me to bring dance back into my life after taking a few years off, and is one of the many reasons I continue to dance today. I am just one of the many individuals and communities who have been profoundly influenced and affected by this phenomenal, African-centered woman.

Dr. Kariamu Welsh (kariamu@temple.edu) is a world renowned dancer, choreographer, company director, scholar, writer, activist, and Professor. Having earned her M.A. in Humanities and Choreography from the State University of New York at Buffalo and her Doctorate of Arts in Dance History from New York University; she is currently a Professor and former Chair of the Department of Dance in the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. As a Professor, she has taught countless courses in both Dance and Black Studies, and has supervised Dissertations, Master's of Fine Arts Thesis Concerts, Education Master's Thesis, and served on Dissertation committees not only in the U.S., but also in Jamaica.

As a scholar, she has published numerous articles in journals on Dance and Black Studies including The Griot; The Zora Neale Hurston Journal; Talking Drum: The Black Dance Journal; Sage: The Scholarly Journal on Black Women; International Journal of African Dance; Journal of Physical Education Health, Recreation, and Dance; Dance Research Journal; and Journal of Black Studies. She has also written poetry, essays, and short stories that have been published in Black World; Buffalo After Dark Magazine; Essence Magazine; Obsidian Literary Magazine; and Journal of Black Studies. Dr. Kariamu has co-authored two books entitled African Culture: The Rhythms of Unity (Greenwood Press, 1985) and The African Aesthetic: Keeper of the Traditions (Greenwood Press, 1993), and has written several other books such as Textured Women, Cowrie Shells and Beetle Sticks (Amulefi Publishing, 1979); Guide to African and African American Art: Manual on African Art (Museum of African and African-American Art and Antiquities, 1980); African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry (Africa World Press, 1996); Zimbabwe Dance: Ancestral Voices, Rhythmic Forces, An Aesthetic Analysis (Africa World Press, 2000); The Umfundalai Dance Technique: The Shape of Rhythm (Africa World Press, 2003); and African Dance: An Introduction (Chelsea House Publishers, 2004).

Dr. Kariamu has held several esteemed positions such as Fulbright Specialist; Guggenheim Fellow; Pew Fellow in the Arts; Director and Choreographer of the Kariamu and Company; Founder and Artistic Director of the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe; Co-Director of the Center for Positive Thought; and Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer for the Center for Positive Thought. …