Scripps College will host the African Soul International Dance Conference this Saturday, Nov. 3. Four African Soul dancers will teach dance classes in the Pendleton Studio at Pomona College and perform at Scripps’ Garrison Theater.
There will be a blend of reverent, ceremonial dances originally used to welcome royalty and the King’s entourage, as well as fast and athletic performances.
According to the Artistic Director of African Soul International, Adama Jewel Jackson, “there is no universal African language, attitude, or reality.” African dances are expressions of the social and cultural traditions of more than 2,500 ethnic groups, and each group has its own distinct styles of celebrations.
“When you see Africa, you see a myriad of cultures, each separate and distinct,” Jackson said. “The common thread is that there are dances of celebration of birth, rites of passage, weddings, harvest and other significant community events.”
Each ethnic dance has special accompanying rhythms, songs and traditions.
“When a baby is born in a Serere home, the song, the dance, the community celebration for that baby is distinctly different from what happens when a Mandinka child is born,” Jackson said.
The four artists were chosen by the African Soul International committee to teach at the conference specifically because of the diverse styles they represent and, in turn, the audiences that would participate.
“We wanted to offer workshops with artists who would draw in dancers from throughout the U.S. while also offering classes with people who had a significant local following in Los Angeles,” Jackson said.
Dancers Marame Faye and Babacar N’diaye are both from Senegal but will be teaching different dances that require various ranges of skills.
“Mareme’s class will be something that beginners can enjoy, and her years of experience in Los Angeles have given her a unique style,” Jackson said. “Babacar will be teaching the complicated dances of the Sabar drum family. These dances demonstrate amazing athleticism, intricate poly-rhythms, and dynamic movements.”
Additionally, Nzingha Camara and Marietou Camara will be teaching traditional dances from Guinea.
“Marietou is known nationally as a fire-filled, dynamic and spirited dancer,” Jackson said.
Nzingha Camara has been teaching in Southern California for over 30 years; her work within the community and at UCLA has made her an icon in the dance world. She has been featured in several dance magazines and teaches at Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy in Los Angeles.
“The emphasis of the Conference is the celebration of the legacy of the dance styles that have heavily influenced the communities in LA,” said Kim Gadlin, Acting Assistant Dean of the Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA) of the Claremont Colleges. Gadlin, Dean of OBSA Anya Booker and two Scripps dance professors, Phylise Smith and Ronalee Brosterman, have been planning the conference since April.
“The Master Artists are respected people from the LA area and have all been teaching for more than twenty years,” Gadlin said. “African dances were not only for entertainment back in the days of slavery. You have ring shouts where people showed their love for God and prayed for freedom. These sacred dances belonged to the people.”
African dances have influenced Western dances in many ways. Both the Charleston and Black Bottom were heavily based on African dances.
“There are different ways of seeing dancing,” Gadlin said. “All aspects of the African diaspora are included—in some ways or another—in the dances. The ethnic groups are not monolithic. Although many ethnic groups have dance rituals for the rite of passage, weddings and funerals, they are not the same. The moves, the clothing, the messages and the emotions are not the same.”
“What the audience should take away from this conference is that Africa is a mosaic of cultures,” Gadlin added.
The four artists will be sharing the dances with rhythms that they have preserved in their hearts as they voyage around the world.
“[These are] the dances that they grew up watching their grandmothers and grandfathers dancing, the songs that they learned as children,” Jackson said. “They are giving who they are.”
Master classes start at 10 a.m. and end at 4:15 p.m. Professor Smith will give a speech on “The Influence of W. African Dance on Contemporary Dances,” and the conference will conclude with the performance “SANKOFA” at 8 p.m.