African-Centered Dance: An Intervention Tool in HIV/AIDS Prevention

By Ward, Sheila A. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 2008 | Go to article overview

African-Centered Dance: An Intervention Tool in HIV/AIDS Prevention


Ward, Sheila A., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Nationally, over one million people are living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, and approximately one-fourth of them do not know they are HIV-infected. In 2006, 80 percent of newly infected women contracted the virus from high-risk heterosexual contact (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2008c). More HIV infections occurred among young people between the ages of 13 and 29 years old than any other age group (CDC, 2008a). Although African Americans make up 13 percent of the United States population, they accounted for 45 percent of the estimated 56,300 new HIV infections in 2006 (Hall et al., 2008). African American females have an HIV diagnosis rate more than 19 times larger than the rate for white females (CDC, 2008c). Furthermore, AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women ages 25 to 34 years old (CDC, 2008b). The mission of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health (OWH) is to promote the health of women and girls through gender-specific approaches. Therefore, OWH has allocated funding to promote cultural-and gender-specific HIV/AIDS prevention education to young women attending minority institutions.

One of OWH's initiatives uses African-centered dance as an intervention tool in an HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention program to promote healthy behaviors among females attending a historically black college and university. This model was highlighted at a national women's health summit (Ward, 2007). The underlying theoretical framework is the Theory of Freeing (Freire, 1973), which aims at empowerment education underscored by the interaction of culture. The intervention's intention is to empower young women to make good health-related decisions that do not adversely affect them or others by gaining knowledge and engaging in dialogue about HIV/AIDS and the African American culture. African-centered dance is offered in this context as a healthy activity that may be used to reduce risky sexual behavior and to provide a culturally based kinesthetic experience that can connect young women to their body and its beauty, and to their African heritage. By participating in African-centered dance, young African American females enjoy a culturally significant physical activity in which the body is used in a safe and health-promoting manner; an artistic activity that promotes creativity, innovation, and divergent thinking; an aesthetic activity that challenges the traditional standards of beauty and body image; and a social activity that includes the function of movement.

African dance has been described as flexible and dynamic (Welsh, 2004), and these factors enable its seamless incorporation into HIV/AIDS prevention education programs. African dance expresses moral values through movement and can provide insight into gender roles and relationships, age-group relationships, and expectations (Welsh). Many dances are gender specific, and women use them to convey desirable traits such as modesty, grace, and demureness. Social dances may emphasize courtship, flirtation, and socialization; rites of passage or initiation dances prepare young girls for woman-hood; and healing dances are performed to cleanse an individual or a community (Welsh). A few or all of these aspects of African dance may be incorporated in an HIV/AIDS prevention program.

African dance in the context of HIV/AIDS prevention is a testament to women's choices and behaviors, because dancing is an expression of respect for oneself, one's family, and one's community. African dance not only provides the steps for many popular social dances, but it also expands their function, intent, and purpose (Dunham, 1983). …

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