Dance classes offer culture

by Kate Skillman

Adenike Sharpley has a "hidden agenda" in her classes. The professor-in-residence wants her traditional African dance students to go away with something more than just the knowledge of another style of dance.

Sharpley wants students to look at themselves critically and understand that their ideas about life are formed by their own cultural background. In a sense, she wants students to see how their status in the world affects the way they view and treat other people.

This may seem like a tall order for a dance teacher. However, Sharpley's classes not only require dance. Students have an extensive reading list as well as four major projects throughout the semester, ending with a project of their own choreography using traditional steps that they learned.

The dances Sharpley teaches are West African Diaspora dances, which means they are traditional dances that were brought to America by the transplanted slaves and remained with them or were recreated in the United States. Originally, the dances were ceremonial. She teaches dances that were used for welcome, harvest, war, religious, hunting and greeting purposes.

The class incorporates culture, history and arts, because, as Sharpley states, "You can't separate the dance from the history." In attempting to make the classes as authentic as possible, she does not use taped music. The drumming, the singing and the body make up the orchestra in this type of dance.

Student interest has always been high in her classes. This year, she had a 30-student wait list. Though they are demanding, her classes give students experiences that they might not have had otherwise, and her students go away with a deeper appreciation for African heritage and the contribution that African American culture has given to the larger culture of the nation.

As a part of sharing that heritage, Sharpley wants to bring out the voice of African people in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas. "Dance always tells a story," she says. In order to understand that story, it is important to listen to not only the sorrows, but the joys. In this way she hopes to show her students that "everything is not European."

The Diaspora will be giving a full concert on Nov. 21. There will also be a performance of the students' final projects in December in Finney Chapel.

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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 2, September 12, 1997

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