UNO Offers Dance, Drumming Classes in African Tradition
When this story fell into my little lap, I was pumped. I have wanted to try African dance for over a year! This better be worthwhile, I thought.
And it was.
For only $5, I got a great workout, had incredible amounts of fun, and met a few new faces — definitely what I call a bargain.
When I entered the Dance Lab at about 5:50 p.m., I was the only person in the room.
Oh well, I’m early.
At 6:05 p.m., dancers and community members began to arrive gradually. Though the class is advertised to begin at 6 p.m., it is also meant to teach people about African culture, where many people place emphasis on leisure and relaxation over a strictly scheduled lifestyle. So, the class began pleasantly at about 6:10 p.m., and no one was harmed in the process.
We started with a brief warm-up, including loosely choreographed arm movements, stretches and balance work.
Finally, all those yoga classes I’ve taken are coming in handy!
Next, the instructor reviewed a series of three or four separate dance combinations from the previous class. Most of the dancers learned the movements right away. Those who did not, were afforded personal attention, if they wanted it (once during a water break I asked the instructor to clarify a combination that I could not seem to wrap my brain around. Within a few minutes, I performed the steps perfectly).
After learning the dance moves separately, we combined the steps into a short dance routine with the instructor encouraging everyone to “just feel the beat and move your body.” Yet, he made certain that every student understood the formal technique behind the moves.
The class also included an improvisational component where the instructor asked each participant to create one or two dance moves, using them to improvise a short routine.
This is not one of my strong points.
I found myself loosing focus as I wobbled around the dance floor, discreetly trying to imitate the more experienced dancers in an attempt to not look like I learned African dance less than 40 minutes prior.
And just when I felt near wobbled out, the class ended with a short cool-down.
Charles Ahovissi, a professional dancer, choreographer, and drummer from Benin, Africa teaches the class. The classes are presented by the African Culture Connection, an Omaha-based non-profit organization, founded by Ahovissi, seeking to preserve traditional African culture by bringing it to the public eye.
Ahovissi began his career as a professional dancer in 1984 as a member of the National Ballet of Benin, Africa. During the following years, he traveled across Europe performing in a variety of festivals and teaching dance.
His travels — reaching as far as China — brought him to a peculiar destination: Omaha, Nebraska. It was the first stop on the second of two United States tours. Ahovissi was charmed by the quaint, yet cultured, town. He soon made Omaha his permanent residence.
Shortly after, he was introduced to University of Nebraska-Omaha professor and dance director Josie Metal-Corbin. She asked Ahovissi to teach African dance and drumming classes at UNO as a part of The Moving Company’s “Dance of the People” series.
What Other Omahans Are Saying
The class sizes range from about five to 15 people, depending on the week. The participants are diverse, including males and females, from a variety of backgrounds and of ages ranging from about 18 to 65.
First-time attendee, Michelle McClinton, of Omaha, was impressed by Ahovissi’s teaching style.
She said: “I thought [Charles] did a good job of breaking the movements down. He was able to translate that movement from his body to yours, and before you knew it, you were doing it. This was my fist class and I’m impressed enough to come back.”
African Culture Connection member Megan Minturn, of Omaha, is a regular dance class participant.
She said: “I think everyone should try West African dance because it’s a really upbeat, energetic type of dance. It can be really addictive. You get a crazy good workout–better than in an aerobics class!”
(Ms. Minturn is right. By the end of the class, I had little beads of sweat forming!)
I participated in the beginning African dance class, held every Friday, at approx. 6-7 p.m. The advanced class, who often learn choreography for special performances during the year, is held at approx. 7-8 p.m.
The African drumming class is offered on Saturdays, at approx. 9 a.m.
All classes are located in UNO’s School of HPER Dance Lab, room 231, and are open to the public. The cost is $5 per person per session.