Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Saga of African Dance and Black Studies Departments

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Saga of African Dance and Black Studies Departments

Article excerpt

Introduction

Movement is an integral part of the daily lives of Africans in Africa. In the lives of African descendants in the Diaspora movement, it also plays a substantial role. I refer to this writing as "The Saga of African Dance" so I can include a number of the topics listed in the call for papers as I write this narrative about African dance and Black Studies Department. This will allow me to discuss the history of African Dance in the discipline of Black Studies from the past to the present. Courses on African dance are not listed as a body of knowledge nor are they required courses in a number of Black/African Studies departments throughout the nation. This may seem odd to a number of people, but students, faculty and all those interested in this subject must trace the path of these courses to reveal their inclusion in the curriculum. As a founding member of the African Dance Movement in Brooklyn and other parts of the Tri-state area, permit me to take you, the readers, back to the beginning. African dance is part of an oral tradition that is handed down between generations by a mouth to ear process. Schools and colleges in Africa did not offer dance as a course of study. In fact, Africans learned their dances in the privacy of their villages. African dance entered the United States and other parts of the Diaspora by the infamous "slave route".

Courses on Black and Minority Studies were mandated into the curriculum of schools on a nationwide basis with the passage of the Civil Rights Act that was signed into law by President Johnson in 1964. The codicil "with all deliberate speed" was attached so the educational institutions would not drag their feet or establish another "separate-but-equal" fiasco. Those institutions that failed to comply lost federal funding. I, at the time, was an undergraduate student in Brooklyn College and vividly recall department heads scrambling, and searching for courses they could offer to be in compliance with the mandated decree. As one of only four Black students in the Department of Health, Physical Education, Dance and Recreation; we were summoned to the chairman's office where she picked our brains in search of courses the department could offer. As a student with a dance minor concentration, I suggested they offer courses in African dance. The college was well aware of my involvement in African dance in association with the dance club and other dance activities on the campus. The situation that led up to this was because Black people were protesting the lack of courses relevant to them in the curriculum. There were no courses that addressed the history of Blacks, nor the contribution Blacks made to the development of the United States. African dance had been an integral part of the lives of an enclave of African descendants of New York from the days of Asadata Dafora of Sierra Leone, who was credited with being the first person to bring African dance to the concert stages of New York, namely Carnegie Hall.

The idea of an African dance class was well received, and I was to be groomed to teach the course or courses. This was in 1968, and I was a junior on the campus. For a senior dance project, I choreographed a dance with African motivated movements, taught it to a group of students, and showcased it in the annual dance concert. This routine was applauded and students began to gravitate towards African dance and me. I graduated in 1969 and became the first faculty member to teach African dance on the campus. This is how I was able to bring African dance into the curriculum.

If my memory serves me faithfully, in 1969, there was no Black Studies Department in Brooklyn College or in any other college of the C.U.N.Y. complex. There were only Institutes of Black Studies or African Studies. Institutes could not offer courses of their own, but could ask individual departments to offer courses on Black and Minority Studies on behalf of the Black Studies Institute. …

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