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Appreciating African Dance as the Mother of Modern Dance

Troye Fox
Dancers performing Amaniyea Payne's piece, "Evolve As We Enter."

The dance department at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts opens a four-performance run of its Winterdances 2016 series, titled Evolve as We EnterThursday night. The performance showcases work by a number of choreographers, including Deb Loewen, DaniKuepper and Amaniyea Payne.

Payne is artistic director of Chicago's Muntu Dance Theatre, a contemporary and ancient African and African-American dance company. She is also a close friend of Ferne Caulker, UWM professor of dance and director of the African Diaspora Track at UW-Milwaukee.

While she will be retiring later this year from UWM, Caulker's work in dance, including directing the Milwaukee-based Ko-Thi Dance Company, will continue.

Before the opening of Winterdances 2016, Payne and Caulker stopped by Lake Effect to explain what it is about African dance that speaks deeply to so many people.

"African dance and music exist as an entity onto itself, at the same time it has inspired and it has freed up so many other forms that have used its elements." Caulker says.

Both Payne and Caulker acknowledge that the study of African dance is about the preservation and perpetuation of the African aesthetic.

"If you look at the danced arts around the world, African dance really is the source from which hip-hop and everything else is coming from," Caulker says. "The new choreography that's coming out of Africa, its influencing a lot that is going on in the vocabulary of what we call modern dance."

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.