Dancing Through History (Black History Month Edition): Asadata Dafora
Even beyond my studies in high school and college, I enjoy researching some of the great pioneers in dance history in my spare time. I believe that some of the most eye opening experiences come from the things learned beyond the class room. In school, there is always a curriculum that your instructor must focus on, and everything they may want to teach you can't always be covered in that class' time span. This is why I chose to share my research on some pioneers within the dance industry that you may have never heard of. You'll find that these special individuals deserve just as much recognition as those most talked about.
Today I'd like to talk about Asadata Dafora's greatest achievement in introducing the African dance culture and art form to the main stage of theater. Dafora was born in 1909 in Sierra Leone and raised on a westernized British colony. Despite his western and middle class upbringing, Dafora grew very interested in the authentic African lifestyle right on the countryside, and would sometimes sneak away from his family to experience their cultures and traditions. As a young man, he traveled all over West Africa to study a wide variety of ethnic groups, along with their music and dance styles. Later, this became the very foundation and inspiration for his own artwork.
Coming from an artistic background, Asadata first arrived in the United States in 1929 to perform as a concert singer in Harlem. In addition to his mother being a successful musician, he grew up listening to Western style music and studied European Operas for some time. He developed a great respect for the arts, and identified it as a formal means of expression. Soon, Dafora knew that his purpose was to show the world just how worthy West African art and culture was for the American stage. During a time of oppression and discrimination against black people, it became Asadata's mission to present the beauty, intelligence, and dignity that lived within us.
Asadata Dafora founded his own production company named the African Opera and Dramatic Company, along with his dance company, Horton's Dancers. His production titled Kykunkor or Witch Woman, became one of his most famous works. Audiences from all over attended his shows, and he received positive reviews such as "one of the most exciting dance performances of the season".
In his later years, Asadata was invited to perform at the very first Jacob's Pillow festival and performed several pieces a long side Randolph Sawyer. Here, his legacy lives on as the first to introduce this African artform to the festival, and is often recognized by artists such as Charles Moore, who reworked and performed excerpts from Kykunkor.
I'd like to take a moment to thank Mr. Dafora for doing what seems as the impossible; by conserving our roots and creating something so beautiful to represent our homeland. His life's work is responsible for teaching many of our ancestors/elders what may have been forgotten of our heritage without him. Dafora has inspired so many and has introduced diversity into the performance world, and for that the West African culture will never die.
Your Beautiful Black Queen