Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

African Dance as a Liberation Force for African American Women: A Case Study of the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

African Dance as a Liberation Force for African American Women: A Case Study of the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts

Article excerpt

Introduction

In regard to race, gender, cultural medium and social platform, African-dancing Black women are constrained by these four margins of subordination before we even move a limb. With this hegemonic totem in place, the racialized, genderized body becomes a natural site for political resistance; particularly in a country where Black women are most widely represented and understood by pop culture media as destructive and bitter, over-sexual and under-educated, substandard in beauty as well as humanity, and ultimately, visionless and broken. Thus, it has become urgent to highlight narratives which dismantle such falsely projected identities and to emphasize vehicles which in-source qualified measures of community building and joy, pride and dignity, self-love and Black-love. Here, in the use of Black-love, I choose to pronounce ethnicity as a preface to the term "love" in order to confront and dismantle mainstream media's projection - and the subsequent mass perception - of Black women as destructively competitive, envious, deceptive and cruel to one another. This adjective/noun combination is widely used among the African dance and drum community and beyond, and is a celebration of the support, encouragement, applause and assistance that Black women (and men) proudly offer each other.

There are countless Black women who have found great pride and purpose in what they value as the spiritual practice and community-bridge called "African Dance" and I had the pleasure of interviewing a handful from Oakland, California in 2011. These women assert the pivotal impact that the art form has had on their constructs of self-identity and self-concept, including gender, sexuality, body image, spirituality and a sense of belongingness.

Since the mid-1970s, African dance and drum traditions have been a catalyst for community building and pan-African consciousness among Black peoples in Oakland, California. Past and current scholarship however, seems to ignore this trend. Instead, it focuses primarily on the art form's application in historical, traditional and geographic contexts (Tierou 1992; Welsh-Asante 2000; Reed 2003; Tang 2007; et al.), and demonstrates that for many continental Africans, the dance and drum tradition is a viable source of individual and community strength, power, and harmony, throughout the process of human development and the many phases of life. Focusing on the art form only within regions of its origination however, portrays the tradition as fixed in both meaning and significance. Moreover, in a separate body of literature about traditional folk and cultural dances, there is some research on the formation of national and transnational identities among immigrants who participate in traditional dances from their homeland while residing in new countries (Ram 2000; Wilcox 2011). While both bodies of research are important, the sociocultural significance of traditional African dances as practiced in the United States is not yet thoroughly examined, nor is the relationship between African dance and participating African American women.

The purpose of this research then, was to examine the (re)formation of identity within a unique set of "immigrants" who, unlike those found in current research, did not migrate to the United States on their own accord nor with their cultural traditions intact. Instead, they are descendants of those who were violently and forcefully removed from their geographic and cultural contexts and brought to exist in a country which continued to disassociate them from their heritage, including participation in cultural dance and drum traditions. Further these "immigrants" are perpetually force-fed dehumanizing images of themselves, thereby disrupting them from developing positive, culturally-relevant self-identities.

Centuries later, outside of its geographic and social context, African dance and drum traditions have been (re)introduced and (re)integrated into a number of African American communities, and particularly, into the lives of a significant population of African Americans in Oakland, California. …

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