Drumming and dancing bring unique form of unity

This semester, Sedinam Worlanyo ’17 and Eileen Hou ’16 worked as interns for Intergenerational Drum and Dance Project, which involves about 28 participants, mostly from the Greater Philadelphia community. Every Saturday morning for  four weeks, the participants attended a class at the Lang Performing Arts Center to learn mainly West African dance and drumming techniques.

Ten years ago, Dance Department Head, Professor Sharon Friedler initiated the program.

Since the project began, community has been its central idea. The ultimate goal of the organizers of the project was to create a community with no barriers of age, race or background through dance and drumming. R. Jeannine Osayande, an associate in performance of African dance, explained, “We have brought together folks on a regular day who might not have that type of interactions in terms of race or age normally. We could have someone in their sixties next to someone five years old, and the five year old could also be teaching the sixty year old.” Such an environment is critical for all the participants, so that they can feel comfortable regardless of their age, race or previous experience.

Osayande said that they wanted to use culture through drumming and dance to foster a dialogue inside the community and get people thinking about the idea of community and related issues. “We just present what would you like to have a discussion on and then from that we incorporate the ideas into just the natural drumming and dancing,” explained Osayande.

Hailing from Ghana, Worlanyo enjoyed dancing in high school and performed cultural dances at her school. In the project at Swarthmore, however, she teaches primarily Azonto, a dance popular among mostly young people in Ghana. The dance involves a lot of energy and she incorporates  various daily actions and expressions in the dance, such as answering phone calls, and even dance expressions that involve picking up an imaginary school bag. “It is very exciting to be able to interact with the various community participants and I really have fun dancing with them” said Worlanyo.

Osayande taught neo-traditional African dance technique that dealt with girls’ rights of passage into adulthood. “We always have a coming of age moment, no matter what phase you are going through, there is something in your life where you are crossing over a threshold, or you are afraid about what you are afraid of, coming to something new. So in that spirit of community, in that collective energy, that we make it happen,” explained Osayande.

The drum part of the project is taught by Ira Bond from Dunya Dance and Drum Company, based in Swarthmore. Each Saturday morning, the drummer would drive almost an hour to the school and teach the participants how to drum.

Both of the students, Sedinam and Eileen, became the interns of the community project as part of their Arts and Social Change course. “With the class, we have the privilege of doing an internship. In my class we read about how people use arts to create social change. Instead of talking about it in class, I can actually see it happening through the intergenerational drum and dance,” said Worlanyo.

For Eileen, this project was a chance for her to apply what she learned in class to reality. “In class, we often discuss about setting up theater workshops in prison to bring a community together with arts. In this case, people from different areas come to Swarthmore to have a shared experience. We use arts as a way to bring people together,” she says. Eileen also expressed her wish that more Swarthmore students could be part of this project in the future.

Near the end of the interview, Osayande told me that this Saturday, Intergenerational Drum and Dance Project is going to participate in Kurema, a collaborative advocacy movement for peace in memory of the victims of the 1994 Tutsi Rwandan Genocide.

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