Dance Diaspora’s mission is to maintain traditional West African Dance forms and other African Diasporic forms by acknowledging the spirituality, philosophy, and diversity of African Culture and its global presence. Dance Diaspora functions at the level of a semi-professional group that serves two main communities. It provides students with the opportunity to perform on-campus and it also serves the greater African and African American community through off-campus performance venues. Dance Diaspora was formed to provide the Africana student community with the opportunity to develop their art and cultural performance skills using an interdisciplinary model from the pedagogy of where it was housed, the African American Studies Department, Oberlin College. It evolved from the Essence class to the Essence Ensemble, all which gave way to the formation of Dance Diaspora in 1992. It was later cross-listed and became a part of the Theater and Dance Department as well. Dance Diaspora in many ways became a vehicle to gain access to organized premier dance venues on Oberlin’s campus, such as Main Space and occasionally Hall Auditorium.
Dance Diaspora’s Goals
- Performance Integrity: Diaspora is an instruction in dance, performance, aesthetics, and tools for becoming a self-actualized and responsible human being. We teach how to perform, how to teach, how to tour and travel and how to vocalize the black experience. It is fundamental to Dance Diaspora’s mission that everything is intentional, with an emphasis on building community through the traditional African and African American arts paradigm. As performers we are conscious of everything that we are doing in the performance arena. Through research, travel and practice, we link each performance entity to the specific historic reference, when we can. In knowing the historical references in a performance, one is more likely to keep standards high as we are representing our community at large. It is imperative that one acknowledge where he or she came from in order to be successful, and as performers we represent those who came before us, our families, the communities we come from, Dance Diaspora, and Oberlin College before we think of ourselves. Dance Diaspora’s integrity is exhibited through four main personal goals: responsibility, work ethic, trust and respect of elders and ourselves.
- Community Service & Outreach:
- Prison performances: Dance Diaspora participates in outreach in prison performances such as Black History Month and Kwanzaa.
- Urban Farm: Dance Diaspora is also embarking on new projects supporting urban farms in Oberlin this summer in 2009 as well as the Black Farm initiative in Cleveland. Through participation in weeding, planting, and irrigation members of Diaspora will help make local foods affordable for underprivileged members of the community. It will also help promote healthy eating in poor communities.
- Educational Component: Every semester Dance Diaspora participates in weeklong residencies within different public school districts throughout Kentucky. The troupe presents workshops in African dance and music to children in grades K-12, college campuses, and camps through throughout the academic year and summer.
- Community Building: Dance Diaspora has done reenactments of the March to Wellington- the anniversary of the rescue of John Price, has been supportive of the Underground Railroad- participating in community board groups and participating grassroots community organizing to promote community solidarity.
- Travel: Diaspora began international travel in 1992. The initial international trips were funded through the prestigious Minneapolis Fund. Travel to countries such as Nigeria, The Gambia, West Africa, Cuba, and Brazil has helped Diaspora establish its program in these countries for students to return with a better knowledge of the culture and performance traditions that we sometimes see in the US in a bare bones form. However, upon return to the traditional setting, we are able to see it in its purest forms. The relationship built between teachers and students in all four countries still persist today. Our travel trips work from the fundamental traditional paradigm, that includes the principles discussed above. In our travels; both in the United States- North to South, and International, throughout the African Diaspora- rural traditional villages to modern cities, students have a basic code of behavior that has served us well. Students learn to sing, dance and perform in at least four-six different languages and cultures, some within the New World- English, Portuguese and French, and the Old World- Yoruba, Nigeria (with New World descendants found in Brazil, Cuba); KiKongo; Angola (with New World descendants found in Brazil); Sous Sous, Guinea; Mandinka; Wolof, Senegal; The Gambia and Fula.
- Alumni Network: We have an extensively alumni network that often provides mentoring, internships, residential support, references, workshops, etc. Most of our recent alumni, especially from 1999-on, have been very receptive to coming back to campus to mentor and perform with current Oberlin college students and moreover help them prepare for life after Oberlin.
Dance Diaspora Yearly Performance Schedule:
AAST/DANC 391-Dance Diaspora performs in November, which is either a theme show, choreographed by Adenike Sharpley or a senior show performed by a senior member of Dance Diaspora, who has usually completed the Dance Diaspora program (3-4 years of performance work with Dance Diaspora). Senior members of Dance Diaspora must submit an extensive proposal, which includes: a story outline, budget, cast list, props list and technical necessities. These senior shows are under the direction of advisor, Adenike Sharpley, and students must work closely with advisor. It is an extremely intensive work process. The student is required to demonstrate a growth, progression of one’s life, story, or philosophy through this senior show. A Dance Diaspora concert may present many diverse themes such as: African-American vernacular, African-Caribbean, African-Brazilian and traditional African dance as it moves throughout the African Diaspora.
AAST/DANC 390-Essence is either a Dance Diaspora senior show or a Dance Diaspora student choreographer. Any member from the general Oberlin community can enroll in this course, regardless of performance level. Essence may be used as a venue for works in progress that are progressing towards a senior show, especially those with complex themes.
Courses that relate to the Dance Diaspora program taught by Adenike Sharpley:
West African Dance Forms I- survey course
West African Dance Forms II- Cuba & Yoruba
West African Dance Forms III- Haiti
The culture, history, philosophy, repertoire and form are learned, through the pedagogy within the research books, documents, film, and paradigm.
Ritual and Performance I- Survey course, intro course for first year students
Ritual and Performance II- (Intermediate Course) More in depth, working through and progressing towards more complex themes. Building a portfolio, which displays their installation work and are prepared to apply and enter Studio Art courses.
Ritual and Performance III- (Advanced Course) Extensive portfolio and have been used as feeders for Senior Studio.
Constructs and deconstructs popular art through ritual African traditions of the Yoruba, KiKongo, and their descendants in the New World. This course gives students an extensive bibliography on ritual and performance art and helps them to move through a traditional West African paradigm to bridge the artistic performance models and venues.
To get direct access to Adenike Sharpley as a mentor, students must enroll in courses. If they would like to dance with Dance Diaspora, students must audition the first Saturday in May. Students audition before director, Adenike Sharpley, and the members of Dance Diaspora. Once student joins the company, Adenike Sharpley becomes one of their advisors. Our students go on to graduate studies including programs and degrees in the following areas: MA & PhD in Performance Studies; PhD in American Studies; Art Education; Education; Arts Management or a MFA in Performance.