Guggenheim Award-winning dance scholar and choreographer Dr. Kariamu Welsh, the creator of the African dance technique Umfundalai, will join Drexel University for a discussion and demonstration on Thursday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m.
Welsh will discuss her experiences living, studying, teaching and performing in Africa and how they inspired her to establish a dance style suited for all body types. She will also lead a company of her own dancers in a demonstration of the Umfundalai technique.
The event will take place at Drexel’s Mandell Theater (35th and Market Streets), and is free and open to the public. It is hosted by the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s dance program and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Africana studies program.
Pronounced “um-foon-duh-luh,” Umfundalai has been a fixture in Philadelphia’s African dance community for more than 30 years. It combines traditional African dance elements with African American-derived rhythms. It is a technique that extends and expands the movement vocabulary of African and the African Diaspora into a vehicle for contemporary expression.
“The Philadelphia dance community, including Drexel University, has been very supportive of African dance and its many companies and choreographers,” said Welsh. “The Umfundalai dance technique has been in existence 42 years and is the second codified technique that deals with an Africanist aesthetic. The significance of the technique to the Philadelphia dance community is that its evolution and development has been largely in Philadelphia and that many of the teachers, dancers and choreographers have come from the Philadelphia area.”
African dance has been a mainstay in Philadelphia since the days of the legendary choreographer and dancer Arthur Hall, who founded the Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance Ensemble in the 1970s. Hall’s legacy has insured that African dance, both neo-traditional and contemporary is taught, performed and created on a continual basis. Welsh believes that Umfundalai was made possible by pioneers like Hall, as well as African-American modern dance innovator Katherine Dunham, African dance advocate Pearl Primus. Today, Umfundalai boasts three master teachers, Glendola Yhema Mills, C. Kemal Nance and Saleana Pettaway and 12 certified teachers.
Welsh is the recipient of numerous fellowships, grants and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowship, the Creative Public Service Award of N.Y., a Pew Fellowship, a Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant and three Senior Fulbright Scholar Awards. She is the founding artistic director of the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe. She received her doctorate of arts in dance history from New York University and a master’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Welsh serves as the director of the Institute for African Dance Research and Performance. She is the author of several books including, Zimbabwe Dance: Rhythmic Forces, Ancestral Voices and an Aesthetic Analysis (2000) and Umfundalai: An African Dance Technique (2003).