When asked about her experience in African dance this semester, senior theater major Colleen Perry said, “it’s not like other dance classes I’ve taken at Stephens where the main focus is technique. This is about giving yourself over completely to the music and allowing yourself to become free in it.”
This semester, Wanjiru Kamuyu, a native of Kenya and worldwide professional dancer, landed at Stephens to teach a special course in African dance.
The course is available to both dance and non-dance majors, and is based in several variations of African movement.
“At first I didn’t know how I would feel about it, but after I experienced it I knew it would be a really special learning experience. It has been hugely beneficial to me as a performer in making me more versatile,” Eddie Andrews, theatre conservatory student said.
As explained during an African dance demonstration, Kamuyu created the course using styles from different African nations in hopes that the students would get an in-depth understanding of African movement.
“It’s been really great learning this style because it’s the basis of so many other forms of dance,”Andrews said.
During her demonstration, Kamuyu admitted to having trouble when she first began studying African dance. Classically trained in ballet, her sisters would make fun of her for looking like a ballerina trying to do African. Embarrassed, Kamuyu shied away from African movement until much later in her career.
Kamuyu moved to Paris with her husband and has been working with dance and theater companies regularly since then. She served as assistant choreographer and swing in the popular musical Fela, which is based heavily in African movement.
Taking a break from her busy work life, Kamuyu partnered with the college to teach this course.
“I am indescribably happy that I stumbled my way into African dance,” Perry said. “It has improved my stamina, self-confidence, sense of rhythm and creativity.”
In the non-dance major course, Kamuyu gave the students a set of different movements and then charged them with finishing the choreography in small groups. Results varied, but the students had a blast creating something of their own.
According to Perry, “Wanjiru, frankly, is awesome. She has helped me see myself in a completely different way, and take physical risks that I didn’t even know I could take. She doesn’t let me feel foolish for shakin’ it like there’s no tomorrow.”