Dance department master class series returns with Dunham Technique

The dance department hosted a zoom class with Kehinde Ishangi.

Students conduct warm-up stretches in Dunham master class. Photo courtesy of Professor Jenefer Davies.

Students conduct warm-up stretches in Dunham master class. Photo courtesy of Professor Jenefer Davies.

Liv Ullmann

The Dance Department revisited the good old days of Zoom with a virtual master class visit from Kehinde Ishangi, a dancer, choreographer and movement coach based in New Orleans.

On Nov. 30, around 50students from Intro to Modern and the Repertory Dance Company gathered in the Dance Studio to meet Ishangi on the “big screen” projected up against the wall. After overcoming a few technology hurdles, Ishangi introduced Dunham Dance Technique, a fusion style of dance that contains elements of ballet with Afro-Caribbean and Indgineous African influences.

This style of technique was originally coined by Katharine Dunham, an African-American anthropologist and dancer who studied at the University of Chicago. 

“The Dunham Technique began as an exploration of how western trained dancers could relate to, participate in, and articulate the authenticity of another’s culture by developing control, strength and self-awareness,” said Ishangi. 

Ishangi began the class by having students gain awareness of their various muscles. 

“If you don’t have a good understanding of how your body moves, how can you be expected to properly dance in it?” she said. 

Afterward, participants engaged in a series of warm-up techniques before moving into across the floor movements, where students grouped in four practiced dancing together in time with a community. An African drumbeat accompanied the dance to keep the rhythm.

Emily Matthews, ’25, a member of the dance company, said that she loved attending the workshop after conducting an independent study on Katherine Dunham last year. 

“It was really fun to take what I learned about her in my own time and see it in a more professional class setting,” Matthews said. 

Jenefer Davies, the head of the university’s department of theater, dance and film studies, invited Ishngi to conduct the master class. The two met in a Facebook group for dancers and choreographers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’d previously taught the history of Dunham in a class before,” Davies said. “But I’d never invited a guest artist to teach students. Having the Facebook group was a great resource for studios dealing with the pandemic and a wonderful opportunity for networking.”

Davies said she hopes to introduce more master classes next semester and is aiming to invite guest professors to teach in both tap and ballet styles.