Winter Term study abroad course brings Ghanaian dance to Elon

Assistant Professor of Performing Arts Keshia Wall choreographed the Black History Month Dance Concert, which was the result of a transformative Winter Term experience in Ghana.

The sounds and movements of Ghanaian culture filled McCrary Theatre during a special performance that celebrated Black History Month and an unforgettable experience in the West African nation.

The Black History Month Dance Concert in the Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Feb. 25, featured spoken word performances and traditional African dances from Ghana and Guinea. Elon students were the stars of the show, which served as the culmination of three weeks of training with professional dancers from the Ghana Dance Ensemble at the University of Ghana, Legon.

“I really liked learning it in the culture because when you learn something outside of the culture, you’re focused on trying to be perfect and trying to get it right,” said dance major Cassidy Perry ’21. “But in Ghana, it’s all about the community and less about the dance itself, and that’s what made it so fun.”

Perry was one of 30 students to travel to Ghana as a part of Assistant Professor of Performing Arts Keshia Wall’s Winter Term 2020 course, Ghana: Performing Arts in a Cultural Context. It focused on Ghanaian dance and culture and included lessons in drumming, rhythm, choreography and song. Each day over the three-week period, students participated in two, two-hour training sessions at the university in preparation for performances in Ghana and back on campus at Elon.

“It was really difficult to retain all of that movement, this brand new thing that you’re putting your body through,” said Wall, who choreographed the Black History Month performance.

Dance, however, was only part of the Winter Term experience. The class took weekend excursions to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region, as well as other cultural landmarks in Ghana. The group also taught lessons in math and other subjects to students at a Ghanaian elementary school. But some of the trip’s most meaningful moments came as students toured the Cape Coast Slave Castle and the Assin Manso Slave River, where Africans spent their final days before being sold into slavery.

“It was really moving seeing the history that so many people lived,” said theater design and technology major Grace Granger ’22. “It all just took me aback and made me realize how grateful I am to be living the life that I have and all of the suffering people have gone through to pave this amazing road for my generation.”

Courses like this are why Wall thinks all students should take the opportunity to study abroad when possible. In fact, she plans to take another group of students to Ghana during the 2021 Winter Term.

“The students were able to recognize their privilege in ways that they never thought they would have,” said Wall. “We had some real, emotional moments together, and it brought us closer. We became a family while we were there.”

Director of Alumni Engagement Deidra Smith also attended the Winter Term trip and agrees with Wall, saying the experience was life-changing.

“I came away witnessing with my own eyes the impact that global education and international studies can have on students,” Smith said. “It is truly transformative. It was just such an immersive experience – I really can’t explain it, but it really does transform a person’s mind, body and spirit.”

Those experiences became the foundation for the class’ Black History Month performance at McCrary Theatre. The concert gave students the opportunity to tell the powerful story of their journey through dance.

“It means a lot to be on the stage with the people I spent three weeks with in Ghana because we all understand it, and it just creates that community that we experienced on stage,” Perry said. “And that’s just really fun to share with people.”