How Marymount Manhattan’s Latest Required Course—Embodied Africanist Aesthetics—Is Swiftly Making an Influence on Its Dance Majors

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When Marymount Manhattan School scholar Elias Colado noticed a five-day-a-week course titled “Embodied Africanist Aesthetics” seem on his freshman spring schedule final 12 months, he was shocked. Although he was unhappy to not proceed with one other class he’d preferred within the fall, he shortly discovered that Embodied Africanist Aesthetics was this system’s latest commencement requirement. “I’d by no means carried out any Africanist dance aesthetics earlier than, so it was actually new to me,” says the sophomore, a BFA dance main with a focus in choreography. “I used to be completely pushed out of my consolation zone, and I liked it. Having that course very first thing each morning was so motivating and useful.” When requested if understanding about this course would have made him much more desperate to attend Marymount, he agreed enthusiastically: “I believe that having an African class as a requirement may be very vital for all dancers.”

Marymount Manhattan Dance Division’s Embodied Africanist Aesthetic course, which launched final 12 months, is co-taught by a gaggle of 5 college members; every part contains a mixture of hip hop, Latin jazz and Afro-Caribbean varieties, and contains stay drummers, giving college students an opportunity to find out about polyrhythms. “We actually felt that as an establishment, we would have liked to replace our curriculum,” says division chair Nancy Lushington. “We had been on the lookout for methods to diversify our coaching, and we felt that the Africanist aesthetic wanted to be as vital as instructing ballet 5 days every week.” In an ever-changing dance world the place artists are requested to be extra versatile than ever, Marymount is among the first dance packages to forge new floor, not solely higher getting ready college students for what’s to come back, however exhibiting them by way of observe that each one dance varieties maintain equal weight.

Sekou McMiller’s Ife Arabinrin (Sisterly Love) at Marymount Manhattan School, fall 2021. Video enhancing by Kay Prescott, class of 2024.

Decolonizing the Division 

College students getting into Marymount’s Dance Division can select between a BFA (with concentrations in ballet, trendy, jazz and choreography) and a BA (with concentrations in physique, science and movement; dance and media; dance research; and instructing dance arts). On the subject of updating this system’s curriculum, Lushington sees the Embodied Africanist Aesthetics course as simply step one. “We’re attempting to decolonize the shape and never place ballet on the high of the ladder,” she says. For instance, as an alternative of merely taking trendy, third-year college students now rotate by way of research in Kathak, Butoh and Flying Low strategies. “With this variety comes a special approach of all of the varieties as equally vital for dancers to know,” provides Lushington. “The age of specialization is gone. In spite of everything, New York Metropolis Ballet is doing Kyle Abraham! Dancers must be way more versatile and way more conscious.” 

A dance student lies on her back with her feet suspended in the air as the instructor directs her and the class looks on.
Butoh class with Ximena Garnica and Asahara Masanori from LEIMAY. Photograph by Kristine Maria Gonzalez, Courtesy Marymount Manhattan.

Method Rooted in Historical past and Tradition 

Every of the professors who educate throughout the Embodied Africanist Aesthetics course strikes a stability between observe and clarification. “In hip hop, Keenan Thomas would break down the historical past of how robotics and animatronics have reworked all through the years,” remembers senior BFA dance main Sydney Worthy, who’s finishing a BFA with a focus in choreography. “He made positive what we had been studying linked to popular culture and issues we knew about.” 

Sekou McMiller, who teaches Afro-Latin jazz, Cuban trendy and Senegalese Acogny method, roots dances of their cultural context by connecting to spirituality. “He talked about orishas (West African deities), which allowed me to harness a special a part of myself as a dancer, feeling linked to a religious entity,” says Worthy. Equally, Ingeborg Kolstad, a junior BA dance main with a focus in instructing dance arts, discovered Angie Pittman’s Umfundalai class to have a therapeutic high quality. “In contrast to a ballet class, the place you allow your issues on the door, she instructed us to course of our feelings by way of the motion and acknowledge our environment and ancestors,” she says of the up to date African dance method. This expertise has inspired Kolstad to look into motion remedy as a doable career. 

Students dancing the West African Sinte
College students be taught the West African Sinte, taught by Andrea Markus, as a part of the Embodied Africanist Aesthetics course. Photograph by Kristine Maria Gonzalez, Courtesy Marymount Manhattan.

A Neighborhood-Centered Method 

For Worthy, taking Embodied Africanist Aesthetics additionally modified her understanding of how group and dance work together. “As an individual of colour, I really feel prefer it allowed me to realize a special perspective on dance,” she says. “These lessons bolstered the thought of group, and the right way to generate areas as a choreographer that maintain respect for all of the dancers inside it.” 

Jazelynn Goudy, Marymount’s latest dance professor, who’s instructing hip hop, imparts the communal factor of the shape to her college students. “They must be taught that this method is extra social-communal–primarily based versus a typical dance studio format,” she says. “They begin my class one another and have particular person handshakes generally known as DAPs, standing for ‘dignity and pleasure.’ ” McMiller expands this worth to all of nature: “What I at all times attempt for is for dancers to see how their our bodies are in live performance and communication with one another and in group and with the planet itself.” 

Parul Shah, in green traditional Indian clothing, leads students in a Kathak class.
Kathak class with Parul Shah. Photograph by Kristine Maria Gonzalez, Courtesy Marymount Manhattan.

Making ready Effectively-Rounded Dancers 

A by way of line that hyperlinks these varieties is groundedness—a high quality McMiller believes not solely helps dancers work together with gravity, softening their landings out of jumps and preserving power in pliés, however enhances the longevity of their careers. The scholars who’ve taken Embodied Africanist Aesthetics have already seen that they’re transferring in a different way of their different dance lessons. “How I exploit my chest and torso is absolutely serving to in trendy,” says Colado. “However what I actually obtained out of the category is confidence.”

McMiller agrees. “I’ve witnessed a way of empowerment within the college students, no matter their ethnic background,” he says. “The scholars stroll taller, and transfer with extra confidence in themselves.” Marymount Manhattan actually hopes this expertise will make their graduates stand out within the job market. However greater than that, that their dancers will merely be extra well-rounded individuals. “My hope is that as we develop and develop this class, the dancers who are available in will perceive that each one dance aesthetics are helpful, not simply these which might be Eurocentric,” says Goudy. “And that experiencing this method is not going to solely improve your capacity to get employment, however open your view of how various this world is and the way various dance is.”

You will discover extra details about Marymount Manhattan School’s dance program right here. Potential college students can click on right here to seek out out extra concerning the admissions and audition processes.

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