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Troupe hopes to keep African culture alive through dance

Africa may be thousands of miles away, but a group at the University is dedicated to keeping the culture of the continent closer to Bowling Green specifically through dance.

The Africana Dance Troupe was formed in 1997 by a small group of professors from various departments on campus, said Sheila Brown, one of the founders.

Since then, the group has seen many members come and go throughout the years, but dancing to keep African culture alive is one factor that is kept the same, Brown said.

“I wanted to have something special, and particularly in dance, that could get students together and also involve Africa,” Brown said. “I wanted something spectacular for the Kwanzaa event and figured why not incorporate African dance since part of Kwanzaa is about Africa.”

Brittany Reynolds, president of the Africana Dance Troupe, decided to be a part of the organization because of an interest in African culture and because she likes dancing.

“Dancing is a way of life for me – it’s just a part of me,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds has been dancing since she was 6 years old and hopes to open her own dance studio in the future.

Ashley Watson, treasurer and choreographer of the troupe also dances for similar reasons.

“I just love to dance,” Watson said. “When I was given the opportunity to join the Africana Dance Troupe I joined because I wanted to be involved in an organization that involved dancing of any kind and I knew African was something I wanted to learn more of.”

The group has many objectives aside from dancing. One important aspect is keeping the dance style of African culture genuine.

“When we dance, we make sure that we are keeping everything original,” Watson said. “We never add any modern dance moves to the dance because we don’t want to be labeled as an African hip-hop group because that is not who we are.”

Another way the group keeps the African style of dance authentic is during practice.

“Dancing barefoot is natural and that is how we practice most of the time,” Reynolds said.

Also during some performances, the music dictates what the dancers facial expressions are.

“Certain music and dances doesn’t require smiling,” Reynolds said.

Brown also agreed that keeping the traditions of African dance alive is important.

“It is a necessity that we keep the spirit of Africa as authentic as we can and that is why when we first started we invited a drummer named Habib who is a master African drummer,” Brown said.

In Africa, the drum is a focal point of the culture, and is used not only for entertainment, but for communication, Brown said.

“The drum really is a very important instrument in African culture,” she said.

Aside from the annual Kwanzaa celebration, the African Dance Troupe performs at area churches and events.

“We’ve even performed at a prison in the past where we were very well received,” Brown said.

While the group enjoys performing for various groups, they must be mindful in keeping a dress code that is respectful of others. Most of the dance troupe are women and they normally wear a half shirt, sports bra-type top that shows the stomach and longer skirt since it is representative of what African women dancing would wear.

“Some churches don’t want any skin showing and that’s fine – we always honor their wishes,” Brown said.

Anyone can join the Africana Dance Troupe, Watson said.

“If you can move your feet and have an interest in dance, then we have a spot for you in the Africana Dance Troupe,” Reynolds said. “We’ll teach you everything you need to know.”

Sometimes before a performance, Reynolds said she is nervous, but once on the stage the jitters are gone.

“For me it’s all about having fun, connecting with the audience and getting people interested in African style dancing and hopefully learning to appreciate it more,” she said.

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