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Creator displays eclectic dance form

By Rebecca Missel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 22, 2000
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The creator of Pan-African dance will give a lecture and performance on his art on Wednesday in the Education building.

Eno Washington, who created the discipline 30 years ago, will make his first visit to the University of Arizona campus with a talk on "Pan-African Dance in the 21st Century" in the Kiva Auditorium at 4 p.m.

"Pan-African dance is a concept that I came up with in the mid-70s," Washington said. "By 1977 it was used as a curriculum at the University of Massachusetts."

Unlike other dance forms with well-defined roots such as ballet, Pan-African dance draws on many diverse influences.

"It's a combination of dance forms in Continental Africa and the African Diaspora, including Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil and the United States," Washington said. "Dance and music came together in the United States - blues, jazz, funk, fusion and mambo."

Washington said that psychological components have also been incorporated into the work.

"The movement was stimulated by Carl Jung's collective unconscious, the memories we share," he said.

Washington's performance will include dances in the style of James Brown's soul music, work songs and spirituals and traditional West African dances, including the Mandinka and Bambara.

The UA Africana Studies Department is one of the major sponsors of tomorrow's show and Julian Kunnie, department head, noted the importance of dance in African culture.

"Dance signifies the rhythm and tempo of the Spirit of the Creator of the Universe, and in the context of Africans and other indigenous peoples, is sacred," Kunnie said. "It is a form of celebrating the gift of life from the Creator."

In addition, the UA School of Dance is sponsoring the show. Jory Hancock, head of the dance department, commented on the evolution of Pan-African dance.

"Pan-African dance is popular because it is a form of folk dance driven by a culture," said Hancock. "It is private to the people, but very accessible to the audience too."

Hancock detailed the difference between this dance form, and other cultures' styles.

"A lot of folk dances are more like line dancing, but Pan-African dance is athletic enough for proscenium, or presentation work," he said.

For some African-American students, Pan-African dance has provided a means of reclaiming their roots.

"As an African American, it (dancing) connected me to my heritage," said Ojeya Cruz-Banks, a graduate student in the College of Education.

"My prior education in public schools did not encourage me to explore my history," she said. "Now I can share the knowledge Africa has to offer - community and self-expression."

Since Washington created Pan-African dance, the movement has grown in popularity and in diversity of adherents.

"There has been a surge of interest among European Americans in Pan-African dance," he said. "A lot of white people are doing black dance and doing it very well."

However, other participants worry that by becoming mainstream, the dance will lose its impact.

"I do not want to see African dance become entertainment," said Banks. "It should be seen as education and a healing activity, a chance for people to reinvent their identities.

"Anyone who has seen Pan-African dance in its purest sense can feel a powerful vibration," she said.

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