The University of Iowa

Students celebrate African culture through dance

April 22nd, 2011

By Alison Sullivan, The Daily Iowan


To the vibrant thump of the drums, Habibatu Timbo’s body jerked and swayed, her long tangerine skirt flying about her.

The University of Iowa senior rocked her arms back and forth as if rocking a baby while dancing, Yesa, a type of dance dedicated to the feminine deity Orisha.

Timbo was one of around 15 performers and 15 audience members participating in the African Afro-Cuban Dance Night, dancing to the beats and voices of Africa.

The Thursday evening event was a part of Africa Week, a celebration bringing members of the UI community together to learn about African culture.

One member of the African Student Association said the atmosphere on campus is ripe for people to learn about other cultures.

“I think one of the experiences of the university itself … is for us to be able to provide enlightenment and education to the general community about our background,” said UI graduate student Samuel Annan.

Victoria Olango, one of the dancers said the importance of the event was exposing people to a different style of music and movement.

Olango, who moved from Uganda to the United States when she was 3, said music and dance are a strong part of African culture.

“It’s like a spiritual thing,” she said, her breath slightly heavy from her performance. “People dance in joy, people dance in sorrow, to connect with life itself.”

The association was in charge of the week’s lineup of events, something that Annan said has happened in the past, but this year’s group rejuvenated the program.

Annan said his own experiences last fall moving from Ghana to study at the UI helped him push for a successful event this year.

“For an African coming here, the change can be very big,” he said, such as changes in the extremities in weather or the differences in daily greetings.

And even though he has been in the United States for nearly a year, he is still learning about the contrasts in cultures.

“For me, it’s very real how different the communities are,” Annan said. “It’s not as stressful as it was when I first came.”

Other events throughout the week included a discussion on stereotypes relating to African and African-American culture and Griot Night, wit poetry, and other forms of literature readings.

“This is the vibrancy of the culture being shared with us through the international students, plus the American students who are interested in this kind of dance,” said UI senior Melissa Palma, who came to support a friend performing.

Toward the end, the dancers took the hands of the dozen audience members, guiding them onto the floor and joining hands as they laughed, danced and moved together.

“I definitely think it’s exciting seeing everyone so hungry for information about my culture,” Annan said.