The Mawere Opoku Dance Hall.
“You have to check if your body is still yours.” During my orientation, dance lecturer Nii Kwei Sowah offered this advice. He also told us CIEE students and continues to tell all of the students in my dance class to take care of each other. I received the advice and his teachings as rather intimate yet urgent calls to action. I also received them as challenges as I listened to him in the Mawere Opoku Dance Hall.
I received his words in these ways because they revived the experiences and sentiments of my high school years. During those years, dancing with my closest friends awakened a vitality in me as I learned about the combined significance of my racial, ethnic, gendered, and sexual identities. This process aligned with the process of me claiming ownership of my body and the story it holds for the first time. I synthesized my identity in bold, euphoric, and memorable ways as I formed unbreakable relationships with my friends. Dance became self-care and a way for my friends and I to care for one another. The words also reminded me of the hardship marginalized bodies have and continue to endure throughout time and space. My Africana Studies courses at Hamilton all emphasized how, particularly, people of the African diaspora used dance to reclaim their bodies from hostile societies that demanded their physical and emotional labor everyday. So, given the personal and historical importance, taking an African dance class was easily one of the most essential experiences that I looked forward to having when studying abroad in Ghana.
Now, with my midterm assessment just hours away, I can say that I appreciate my African traditional dance class because it engages my mind, body, and spirit. My movement with the rhythms of the drums excite the most real parts of me and my sharing of them with others is also self-defining. Additionally, I feel collected. At any given time during the day, my mind is scattered as I have to stay alert and self-aware while doing anything from crossing the street to walking through crowds of people around campus. Differently, dance enables me to focus on myself, sweating in gratitude of the catharsis jumping and gyrating bring me. I am affirmed.
Additionally, there is a very communal atmosphere around the dance class. Therefore, unifying a body of people becomes an additional synthesis that takes place through dance. As we are doing dances, children and other people from around campus watch through the doors and windows. During one class, one of the instructors brought little children from outside and they danced in the middle of the studio as us students sat around the perimeter. In the shifting moments when we watch demonstrations and try the moves ourselves, our bodies are untouchable in their dancing and singing. Our bodies become simultaneously transcendent and rooted. We often form circles and, with some people in the center of the circle, everyone else energizes them with claps, screams, laughs, and smiles. We celebrate one another’s respective personalities that we all express in freestyles and the progress we make while not only learning, but truly internalizing the music and movements. We learn song lyrics and engage in a call and response. The harmony of our voices paired with the adrenaline peaked by the drums’ beats cause us to not only hear but feel the music. The choreography creates community, and displays how culture is carried carefully by our lecturer, his assisting instructors, and the students. Through this class, I am reminded not of what’s barely possible, but what is prevalent in these spaces: declarative healing and satisfied needs to release the power within us.
About three times a week, for just under two hours, my body is mine. That, as a revolution and a resolution, is not quiet. Nor is it permanent. So, I must continue to dance loudly, aggressively, fearlessly, and unapologetically. I must continue to dance when I feel that all I have in this world is my body and the bodies around me. I must rejoice because that is more than enough for me.
A mural at the School of Performing Arts at the University of Ghana.