Dancers bring Ghana back to Elon at Black History Month performance
Drums echo through Whitley Auditorium as women in yellow and green dresses and men in leopard print loincloths stomp, shout, sing and dance across the stage. Just weeks ago, these same performers were dancing across an entirely different stage - a country: Ghana.
Fifteen Elon students, who spent winter term traveling across Ghana performing traditional African dance, shared their talents with the Elon community at the Embracing History to Spring Forward, this year’s Black History Month performance on Friday, Feb 7.
Jason Aryeh, assistant professor of performing arts and coordinator of the winter term study abroad program in Ghana, has been coordinating the Black History Month performance for three years, but this was Aryeh’s first year bringing students to Ghana to experience the culture of the land where he was born and raised.
“It was something that I know was priceless to get, so for them to actually indulge themselves into it, for me, it’s just amazing,” Aryeh said.
The performance highlighted the art of African dance, something that originally took some getting-used-to for most of the winter term students, including junior Justin Pierce.
“The only type of dancing I’ve done before this started my freshman year of college, and that was ballroom dancing,” Pierce said. “So coming to Ghana and learning how to dance in a West African style was completely different so I had to just learn that on day one.”
Despite the challenges of learning to dance in a new way, Pierce said he and the other students who went abroad enjoyed sharing in the culture of Ghana through dance.
The evening also featured performances from senior Patrick Clanton singing “Let Them Hear You” from Ragtime and junior Yasmine Arrington delivering a heartfelt spoken word poem on being a black woman. Arrington, who also went on the Ghana study abroad journey, said she felt the performances of the evening really conveyed their abroad experience in Ghana.
“I think [people] were pretty amazed at the energy that we had,” Arrington said. “Our peers realize that we aren’t the same as what we were now that we’ve come back. It was great.”
Aryeh said that the evening’s performances meant sharing “culture, spirit and soul” with the audience, whom he could tell connected with the dances, songs and poetry shared throughout.
“I could look at every student, every faculty, every staff, every parent sitting in a chair, and there were smiles,” Aryeh said. “So there’s a lot that was being shared by the students to them, and that is actually my goal is for them to come back and share whatever they’ve gotten to learn on stage to Elon students and whoever comes in to watch.”
Aryeh plans to lead another winter term study abroad trip to Ghana next spring.