Photograph by MK Asante
Durham, NC, April 20, 2022— The American Dance Festival (ADF) will posthumously award the 2022 Balasaraswati/Joy Anne Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching to Dr. Kariamu Welsh. A ceremony honoring her and her contributions to the dance field will take place on Sunday, June 19, 2022, at 3:00 pm in Duke University’s Page Auditorium.
“Honoring Dr. Kariamu Welsh this year is bittersweet. We began planning for a summer 2020 celebration of her in the fall of 2019. When the pandemic shut everything down, she and I decided to wait until ADF could be in-person again, as the essence of her work is rooted in community, in dancing together. Her passing in fall 2021 has left us without her presence, but the ceremony will reflect her wishes, and it will reveal the beautiful legacy that survives her,” said ADF School Dean, Leah Cox.
Dr. C. Kemal Nance will accept the award on Dr. Welsh’s behalf. He met Welsh as a student at Swarthmore College and continued to work with her as a principal dancer in her professional company, as her Assistant Artistic Director, and as her “dance son.” He reflected on her vast contributions, “Dr. Welsh created a theoretical scaffolding that empowered American Black artists to articulate our movement traditions on our terms. Both her artistic and academic scholarship centralized aesthetic values that have emerged from the African aesthetic. She helped dismantle the notion that any single movement system, regardless of its cultural origin, is foundational. With reliance on ‘essence,’ Dr. Welsh made her students feel ‘seen’ and valued in her movement practice.”
Kariamu Welsh was born in Thomasville, North Carolina, and moved to Brooklyn, New York, when she was young. As a child, she played Double Dutch jump rope and later connected it to her studies of African dance and traditional African culture. She created the Umfundalai dance technique, based on African artistic practices and African diasporic dance vocabulary. Dr. Welsh trained others in the technique, which was utilized by her company, Kariamu & Company: Traditions.
Her teaching touched many dance students at both community centers and at universities. She was a professor of dance at Temple University for 30 years before retiring in 2019. Many of her students continued on to pursue their own dance careers. Welsh was also the author and editor of numerous books, including Zimbabwe Dance: Rhythmic Forces, Ancestral Voices—An Aesthetic Analysis, and Umfundalai: An African Dance Technique.
Dr. Nance continued on Dr. Welsh’s legacy and technique, “Dr. Welsh’s legacy is most evident in the growing number of professional artists who are learning to share Umfundalai with recreational and professional dance communities across the country and abroad. Her legacy is most vivid in the choreographies that feature vocabularies and motifs she inspired by current Umfundalai artists. The National Association of American African Dance Teachers (NAAADT) serves as a warehouse for resources and training opportunities that Dr. Welsh inspired with Umfundalai.”
Dr. Welsh has also been honored with numerous awards, fellowships, and grants including the National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowship, the Creative Public Service Award of NY, a 1997 Pew Fellowship, a 1997 Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a 1998 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant, and three Senior Fulbright Scholar Awards.
Past recipients of the Balasaraswati/Joy Anne Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching include Pearl Primus, Daniel Nagrin, Betty Jones, Bella Lewitzky, Ethel Butler, Anna Halprin, Donald McKayle, Bessie Schönberg, Matt Mattox, Pauline Koner, Viola Farber, Mary Anthony, Walter Nicks, Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow, Pearl Lang, Martha Myers, Carmen De Lavallade, Gus Solomons jr, Gerri Houlihan, Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis, Linda Tarnay, Douglas Nielsen, Dianne McIntyre, Carolyn Adams, Sharon Kinney, Ruth Andrien, Yang Meiqi, Donna Faye Burchfield, Ana Marie Forsythe, Phyllis Lamhut, Irene Dowd, Zvi Gotheiner, James Sutton, Jaclynn Villamil, Anne Green Gilbert, Liz Lerman, Gabriel “Kwikstep” Dionisio, Ana “Rokafella” Garcia, and Bettie de Jong.
Indoor and outdoor performances during ADF’s 89th season will be presented June, July, and September in venues in and around the Raleigh-Durham area. Tickets will be on sale starting April 26th at americandancefestival.org.
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The best companies in the world premiere work as part of the festival held each year in Durham, North Carolina. The festival has commissioned 453 works and premiered over 700 pieces including dances by Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Paul Taylor.
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