Dance Residency Brings African Traditions to UCDC

For the past five years, movement artist, master teacher and choreographer Jeannine Osayande and the Dunya Performing Arts Company have lent their tremendous talents to the Ursinus dance community.

Osayande came to Ursinus after a series of events that could only be described as “serendipitous.”

Searching for someone local who could teach West African dance, Jeanine McCain, an assistant professor of dance whose own research focuses on interdisciplinary performance, asked around until Nzadi Keita, an associate professor of English and coordinator of African American/Africana studies at Ursinus, pointed her in Osayande’s direction, knowing her from a connection across the country. As chance would have it, Osayande was only a short distance away from Ursinus in Swarthmore, Pa., and a partnership soon developed.

Osayande has an extensive background as a teaching artist, choreographer, and educator of Diasporic West African dance and drum traditions over the past 38 years. Her vision is to radiate joy and seek out collaborative experiences that manifest beauty, while her mission is to add value to her environment and community through arts, culture and social change.

“Originally I came to Ursinus to just to choreograph the African ensemble,” Osayande explained. “After the second year, I began to teach what we call a technique class.”

From there, Osayande began to teach technique in the fall and work with the dance performance in the spring.

“Jeannine’s presence on campus represents an integral part of the academic dance curriculum, a way that the theater and dance department celebrates the rich fabric of global dance forms, particularly anchored in the African dance tradition,” said Karen Clemente, a professor of dance. “The contribution of Jeannine and Dunya Performing Arts Company is transformative for both students and audiences alike.”

“When Dr. Clemente and I arrived on campus in 2012, we both had a passion to diversify the offerings in the department,” McCain added. “I couldn’t be more proud of how the dance program has expanded with Jeannine and Ira’s offerings over the last few years. The African dance and drumming element of our program provides students with historical context, demands discipline and attention to community contribution, and ultimately makes way for a pure expression of joy and healing through the art and tradition of dance.”

Some Ursinus students have grown as dancers alongside the residency, beginning with the program as first-year students and now collaborating with Osayande and the African Dance Residency one final time before 2018 commencement.

“What I love is that it’s given us all a chance to have a relationship,” Osayande said of her connection with the students. “For them to know me, for me to know them, and for them to know my quirks as a choreographer and my craziness. We take all that information and work towards a good piece of art or work or a story.”

The work that Osayande choreographs is known for having deep meaning and themes that run throughout them. In past years of the residency she has worked on pieces with students that tackled the topic of police brutality and loss, focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement and the 1999 shooting of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo. She also organized an event on campus in Cloake Hall based on the rent parties of the 1920s jazz era where food, music, and fun were offered to guests in exchange for money to help pay mortgage or rent costs.

“I don’t do dance just for the sake of dance, which is fine of course, but I feel that at [the students’] age I always want to communicate an idea or a message or an experience so that they can make a connection to a theme.”

This year Osayande is choreographing a piece for the UCDC Spring Concert titled “It’s All About Dat Beat: Dancing Resonance.” The dance explores the links between ancient rhythms, diasporic rhythms, recycled rhythms and embodied rhythms. It features rhythmic chants; lunchtime table cup rhythms; contemporary African dance movements; African American step dance; and Econcon, a Kutiro social harvest dance/rhythm/song of the Jola people of Senegal.

Osayande also collaborates with drummer Ira L. Bond who this year has been working alongside the student performers to help with their drumming and vocalizing.

The UCDC Spring Dance Concert will be held in the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center in the Lenfest Theater Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m., which is a free preview night; Friday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. –By Mary Lobo ’15