Teaching Creative Dance: An Afrocentric Perspective

By Vandarakis-Fenning, Connie | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, May-June 1994 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Creative Dance: An Afrocentric Perspective

Vandarakis-Fenning, Connie, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance

Schools in the United States are becoming more ethnically diverse. Different approaches to dance are essential for American students to become culturally literate. Teaching creative dance from an Afrocentric perspective can be a valuable tool for providing the public, as well as university teachers, with another perspective through which to explore and create movement. Although relevant to all children, this approach is particularly meaningful to African American children, because it links their historical heritage to creative dance expression.

An Afrocentric Perspective

African American children have little access to curricula which focus on their cultural origins. Although there are Afrocentric schools, they are the exception and not the rule. Traditional schools present black history as isolated, monthly units, separated from the overall scope of American history. Afrocentricity represents a particular world view or perspective and places Africa in the center of historical and philosophical discussion.

Existing approaches to creative dance for children focus on general movement principles based on the work of Rudolph Laban (Joyce, 1993; Stinson, 1988). Children are encouraged to explore and manipulate movement principles based on the body, weight, space, time, and energy. Although an Afrocentric approach to creative dance uses these principles, there is a distinct difference in the way these principles are exhibited in the African aesthetic. This approach does not attempt to replicate specific dances from Africa. Rather, it uses aesthetic principles of African dance as a theoretical framework within which children make creative dance decisions. In this article, I will show how an African aesthetic paradigm can be used in the classroom.

The search for an Afrocentric approach to teaching creative dance led me to the scholarly work of Robert Farris Thompson and Kariamu Welsh-Asante. Their overlapping aesthetic models provided the resource material for a new approach to creative dance education. From the work of Thompson (1974) and Welsh-Asante (1985), I used eight principles which were then developed into lesson plans for creative movement and taught in several Philadelphia elementary schools.

Four were identified by Thompson: "get-down quality," "multiple meter," "correct entrance and exit," and "call and response." From Welsh-Asante's work, I also chose four: "oral tradition," "polyrhythm," "polycentrism," and "repetition." To a lesser degree, Boateng's (1900) model was used, particularly his discussion of oral literature as it is manifested in fables, folk tales, legends, myths, and proverbs.

Teaching Method

In the public school setting I usually worked with various grade levels. Attitudes toward dance were not always positive because of lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown; therefore, a nonthreatening environment was created. In this setting, two teaching methods--large group activity and small group task analysis--seemed to be most effective.

Large group activities, which used a circle, established a small community. This instilled a sense of equality among group members. In traditional African villages, the circle represents a typical performance space. Its design invites audience members to participate by entering or leaving the circle during any part of the performance.

Small group task analysis presented students with specific movement exploration assignments in which goals were cooperatively achieved, coordinated, and organized. In my teaching I found that small group task analysis worked best with third grade and above because they could work more independently than younger children.

Development of the Model

The model for teaching creative dance from an Afrocentric perspective is divided into three units for classroom application. Teachers are encouraged to use this model as a basis from which to develop their own lessons as they relate to creative movement exploration.

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