African Dance Pioneer Dr. Kariamu Welsh comes to Drexel University


By Roger Lee for The Dance Journal

Drexel University is proud to welcome Dr. Kariamu Welsh to campus on Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 7 pm. The university’s dance and Africana studies programs have joined forces to host this exciting evening of African dance. Dr. Welsh will be discussing and presenting her original African dance technique named Umfundalai.

The Umfundalai technique, which means “essence” or “essential” in Kiswahili, combines African dance elements with rhythms from the African-American tradition. “It is a technique that extends and expands the movement vocabulary of African and the African Diaspora into a vehicle for contemporary expression,” said Alex McKenchie, Drexel University Communications News Officer. “The Umfundalai dance technique has been in existence 42 years and is the 2nd codified technique that deals with an Africanist aesthetic,” said Dr. Welsh. She drew from her experiences living, teaching, and performing in Africa. Welsh felt compelled to create a dance technique that embraced all body types and was community-centered.

Today Umfundalai technique has 12 certified teachers, 3 master teachers, and many students. Many of teachers, dancers, and choreographers of the technique are from the Philadelphia area. This is a testament to Umfundalai’s close connection to the City of Brotherly Love. “The Philadelphia dance community, including Drexel University, has been very supportive of African dance and its many companies and choreographers,” said Dr. Welsh. Philadelphia has had an active African dance community for years. Dr. Welsh credits the work of Arthur Hall, the legendary choreographer, dancer, and founder of the Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance Ensemble. “Hall’s legacy has insured that African dance, both neo-traditional and contemporary is taught, performed and created on a continual basis,” McKenchie. She added that Dr. Welsh’s inspirations as Hall, Katherine Dunham, and Pearl Priimus. Their work paved the way for Dr. Welsh and others to come forth and carry on the rich tradition of African dance in Philadelphia. According to Welsh, the ground-breaking work of Hall, Dunham, and Primus made Umfundalai possible. They also inspired Dr. Welsh on her celebrated dance journey.

Dr. Welsh, creator of the Umfundalai dance technique, is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning African dance scholar and artist. She serves as the Director of the Institute for African Dance Research and Performance and Artistic Director of Kariamu and Company: Traditions. Dr. Welsh was also the Founding Artistic Director of the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe in the early 1980s. 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.

As a celebrated author and historian, Welsh is published in many journals and publications and has authored several books by Africa World Press, Trenton, NJ: Zimbabwe Dance: Rhythmic Forces, Ancestral Voices and An Aesthetic Analysis and Umfundalai: An African Dance Technique. Welsh is also the editor of The African Aesthetic: Keeper of Traditions (Greenwood Press, 1994) and African Dance: An Artistic, Historical and Philosophical Inquiry (Africa World Press, 1996). She co-edited African Culture: Rhythms of Unity (Africa World Press, 1985).

Dr. Welsh’s African dance work has been awarded frequently over the years. ”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,” said McKenchie.

The 42-year-old Umfundalai technique is still going on strong thanks to Welsh, master teachers Glendola Yhema Mills, C. Kemal Nance, and Saleana Pettawa, 12 certified teachers, and dancers. Tonight Drexel University has the pleasure of learning all about Welsh’s African dance technique. She will discuss and present the Umfundalai technique with members of her company Kariamu & Company: Traditions. The event, hosted by Drexel University’s dance program and Africana studies program, is free and open to the public. Please see below for more details.

Dr. Kariamu Welsh Umfundalai Discussion and Demonstration
Hosted by the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s dance program and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Africana studies program
Thursday, October 17, 2013, 7 pm
Drexel University Mandell Theater
Corner of 33rd and Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
FREE and open to the public