July 17, 2018
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MANHATTAN -- An addition to the Kansas State University dance program will bring dance and music from a West African country to the university and surrounding communities.

K-State is adding an African Dance and Music Ensemble that primarily will feature the social music and dance of Ghana, a West African country, and possibly explore other world dance and music forms.

K-State's Neil Dunn, percussionist and instructor of dance, will direct the ensemble. Dunn worked to start the ensemble in collaboration with Julie L. Pentz, assistant professor and director of the dance program at K-State.

"The African Dance and Music Ensemble will provide not only cultural diversity, but the opportunity for students to learn and perform African dancing and drumming -- an opportunity that may not have been available to K-State students otherwise," Dunn said.

Dunn said the ensemble has 15 members and includes dancers and musicians. It is open to K-State students who would like to learn and perform the pieces and will be limited to 30 members. There will not be auditions, but members will make a commitment to attend rehearsals and performances.

The ensemble will perform on campus and in surrounding communities. Dunn also plans to offer interactive workshops in African music and dance. He said the ensemble is an opportunity to bring diversity from other world cultures to the community.

Dunn said the dances will be educational for the performers, and the performances will be entertaining for the audiences. Performers will learn traditional social dances from Ghana, which will include a little history.

"These dances are definitely celebratory, especially Kpanlogo, pronounced pahn-logo, which was created in the 1950s to 1960s by the youth as a celebration of Ghana's independence from Britain," Dunn said. "Other dances, such as Gota, have a much older history but are still common today."

Dunn, Pentz and Autumn Scoggan, a K-State senior in theater from Beloit, studied in Ghana in July 2008 at the Dagara Music Center in Medie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana's capital city.

They studied the country's music and dancing for several social dances and studied other cultural activities, including attending wedding ceremonies and weaving a type of fabric called kente.

Dunn had met the director of the music center, Bernard Woma, in 2004 when the two studied and performed at the School of Music at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Woma also is the artistic director of the Saakuma Dance Company, a master of the African xylophone and lead drummer for the National Dance Company of Ghana.

Woma was a guest artist at K-State in February with Evelyn Yaa Bekyore, a dancer in the Saakuma Dance Company. K-State students learned about several social dances from West Africa and had the opportunity to perform the dances on campus and in the community.

"I have been acquainted with Mr. Woma for several years," Dunn said. "Since we have this connection with him and the Dagara Music Center, we will continue to travel to Ghana to study the dances of the culture, of which there are many that come from many different countries and traditions. Ultimately, we also would like to travel to different countries in Africa and other continents to study dance and music."

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