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Types of Traditional Dance in Ghana essay example
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Types of Traditional Dance in Ghana

First and foremost, Akin Euba said neo–Traditional dances are termed as dances that are performed outside the context of social ceremonies (Green, 2015). According to Kariamu Welsh and Elisabeth Hanley also said that, neo traditional dances are dances created in the likeness of traditional dances and are not bound to all aesthetic and cultural rules of the society (WELSH – HANLEY 2010:18).

Also ‘neo traditional dances are those dances that are created in the spirit or likeness of traditional dances but do not necessarily come from that particular society and, as a result, are not bound to all the aesthetic and cultural rules of that society; recognition of the dance by the masses; and formal or institutionalized instruction either in the courts, by private instruction, or communal learning through festivals. It is generational and time honored’ (Presto, 2020).

When dances are taken away from their place of origin and people make use of traditional moves but not necessarily in the same social context or ceremony found in the village of creation.

There are four main neo traditional dance performance categories as identified by Eric Awuah in his article, “A study of Amateur Groups” reinterpretation of Traditional dances in Ghana; Role on continuity and safeguarding (2015).

He divided the main practitioners of traditional dance in Ghana into four categories, which are:

  • The traditional category (the creators of the traditional dance form who are located in the traditional settings)
  • The professional category (the Ghana dance ensemble)
  • The Academic category (the school of performing arts)
  • The Amateur category (dance groups who are not affiliated to any institutions like the professionals and the academics).

The traditional category talks about the exact creation of the dance movements from the indigenes of a particular group of people. Traditional dances are transformation of images, ideas, thoughts, feelings, historical stories or incidents into movement sequence that are personally and socially significant.

Traditional dances are those dances that embody the cultural values of a particular society, such dances are acknowledged as being of that society, and those dances adhere to specific customs and ritual. Taking Bawa dance as an example, Bawa dance originates from upper west region of Ghana and in that region, various villages have their versions of the dance with their specific movements. This distinctive feature of the dance makes it classified as a traditional dance.

Talking about the professional category; Ghana Dance Ensemble can be a main name to consider under this category. Government’s Institute of Arts and Culture and The Institute of African Studies of the University of Ghana both came together and created the Ghana Dance Ensemble in 1962. The Ensemble was to be Ghana’s important idea for the professional, world-wide promotion of the music and dance heritage of Ghana well equipped and invested by stable, strong and firm field work and experimental research.

The Ghana Dance Ensemble has a doctrine of noticing young, talented artistes with mastery of particular dance forms from different parts of the country and training them to express a great and bright variety of dances. Many of these dancers have gone on to set up their own companies or worked with companies all over the world.

The directors of Ghana Dance Ensemble have had a call on involving in a competitive situation of transforming dance in the day to day lives of Ghanaians to stage presentations containing them in limited time and space. The wonderful works of Professor Mawere Opoku was described by enough choreography to demonstrate the outstanding movements of heritage dances. Professor Nii Yartey, his successor has inquired into the dance vocabulary to dialogue with dance cultures from other parts of the world to bring the Ensemble into the area of contemporary dance.

The current Ghana Dance Ensemble in the hands of Dr Aristides Narh Hargoe keeps hold onto the discipline of the early classics but continues to expand its repertoire and to explore dance as an expression of contemporary issues.

The Ensemble has served as a model for a variety of amateur groups in Ghana. The ensemble at the Institute of African Studies where thousands of Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian students and lovers of African dance and music have been introduced to the unforgettable dance culture of Ghana. The Ghana Dance Ensemble comes to you as an institution established to conserve the beautiful, rich heritage of Ghana’s dance cultures and to stand for the exciting creativity engendered by the essence of Ghanaian Dance.

Moving onto the academic category where school of performing arts can be classified. The School comprises of three units, namely the Department of Theatre Arts, the Department of Dance Studies and the Department of Music. The School of Performing Arts is greatly involved in the study of culture and the creative arts. These are the pillars of national progress in most societies, as they are the major tools for socio-economic development and social change. They comment on human behavior in polite and indirect manners.

Our teaching, research programs and performances are avenues for the acknowledgement, maintenance, sustenance, documentation and preservation of our cultural heritage and national identity. School of performing arts, continues to motive lecturers and students to enhance their skills, knowledge and research in African creative arts and combine the practical and theoretical aspects of performance. The school of performing arts, attracts more foreign students than any other school in the University of Ghana. We will continue to train students to find enviable and desirable places in the world market and in industries both locally and internationally.

Lastly talking on the Amateur category as identified by Eric Awuah in his article, “A study of Amateur groups” Re-interpretation of Traditional dances in Ghana: Role on continuity and safeguarding (2015). He described the amateur group as a category that has been a ‘vibrant force in the performance of traditional Ghanaian dances for over 20 years.

Fluid in ideologies, they have been able to affect the paradigms of traditional dancing in Ghana so much that their activities cannot be overlooked. Although they are mostly taunted as the ‘destroyers’ of traditional forms by some schools of thought, this category’s input is especially important as they have a direct influence on dance structures in Ghana through their Re-interpretations of traditional dance forms.

Amateur dance groups are mostly situated at slummy areas (noted with clustered houses and work places of certain jobs all located at one place, slummy areas lack social amenities and necessities like running water, schools and many more) found in Accra, capital city of Ghana. The amateur category in Ghana has drawn upon from the experimentations with traditional forms by the Ghana dance ensemble of the university of Ghana.

The ensemble’s research and treatment of traditional dances have opened the way for a generation of practitioners like dance groups from the amateur category to appropriate the ideas of the ensemble. Most dance groups have also gone far to emulate their very physical structures either administrative or dance wise’. Eric Awuah also mentioned that, he has noticed that the ‘uniqueness of each individual amateur group contributes to the exploration and rethinking of concepts of what makes up Ghanaian dance movements, neo traditional dances and contextualization’ (Awuah, 2015, p. 2).

Re-interpretation of traditional dances in Ghana by the amateur groups, as discussed in Eric Awuah’s article (Awuah, 2015) and the role of these re-interpreted dances on continuity and safeguarding, I will outline and discuss the advantages, disadvantages and relevance of Eric Awuah discovery in understanding dance structures and categories in Ghanaian dance scholarship.

Re-interpreted” in the sense that most amateur dance groups alter the already altered dances by the Ghana dance ensemble, hence the use of this term. The amateur group’s reinterpretations of the Ghana Dance Ensemble’s choreographies have continued to alter the paradigms of neo-traditional dance concepts and performances for some time now.

Advantages

A dance scholar Eric Awuah said, ‘there are ideologies that were employed in the appropriation of materials by the professional and academic categories and also there are other similar ideologies dance group in the amateur category follow. Appropriation as a process of ‘editing’ specific dances by these categories have all affected traditional dancing in unique ways. These can be identified by juxtaposition and contrasting, by analysis, the extent to which our traditional dance forms serve our past and current needs’ (Awuah, 2015, p. 2). I deem this very point as an advantage of his discovery because dance in itself is termed as an ‘art’.

Dance is basically a creative art medium that commands aesthetic discrimination by forcing dancers to make decisions when it comes to creation of movements. Neo traditional dance forms have paved way for improvisations and restructuring of dances, just like what professor Mawere Opoku did in re interpreting the bawa dance in a more artistic setting. So, if amateur dancers re- interpret traditional dances to probably suit their make- shift stages (mostly outside the theatre), it is expected from dancers to force their ways through and bring movements into existence, therefore re- interpretations of dance movements are positive in Ghanaian dance scholarships.

Furthermore, most amateur groups recognize and practice traditional dance forms as either for economic survival or for continuity of culture. I identify this point as relevant and an advantage of (Awuah, 2015) discovery in understanding dance structures in Ghanaian dance scholarship. Involving in dancing through amateur dance groups, is a respectable and positive way of earning an income in our society. Amateur dance group existence creates a job and an economic opportunity for most especially the ‘illiterates’ who cannot join the professional or academic categories but yet want to become dancers.

Some find themselves in dancing itself, others carve drums and sell them and many more in order to earn a living and sustain their various families. Also, as individuals involve in amateur groups, it keeps them busy and active (they need to report for rehearsals, go for shows and many more) and this prevents them in involving in social vices like drugs, robbery, prostitution and many more because they earn money through gigs they perform at.

Also talking on continuity of culture in terms of re- interpretation of traditional dances by amateur groups, (Awuah, 2015, pp. 3,4) before ‘one is recognized as a dance group in Ghana or Accra to be precise, one must at least have a good repertoire of traditional dances to attain a level of respect, acceptance and assistance (like borrowing of drums and getting help from other dance groups for performances in case of short staffing)’.

Also, most amateur groups are compelled to propagate the traditional dance forms from the countless of cultures in Ghana for all future generations of people through constant performances An individual must not just know the dance, he or she must know how to play the drums, sing accompanied songs or recitations, be familiar with costumes, ornaments and props to use for every dance performance, individuals must know historical background stories of every dance and may more. I see this act as a form of helping one to gain mastery, appreciate and be good at all the traditional dances and it related historical context, such is a way of continuity of the traditional dances.

Disadvantages

On the other hand, if the re- interpretation of the dance form by the amateur groups are severe that the exact traditional context, meanings and values are missing out in the new constructed dance (like what happened with the Bawa dance (a harvest dance originated from the Dagombas in upper west region of Ghana) the amateurs re- altered from the altered Bawa dance from Ghana dance ensemble, where the last 9th stanza, the amateur group substituted a different traditional dance (woungo dance from the upper east region of Ghana) movement sequence in there), then such incident is disadvantageous and irrelevant in understanding dance structures and categories in Ghanaian dance scholarships. It must be understood that any movement in any traditional dance in Ghana, even if it is not self-explanatory on it own, forms part of complex gestural patterns that communicate a message(s).

Therefore, if any transposition of movements to another traditional dance form is done, one must consider the implications of such an action on the outlook of the dance in the light of continuity and safeguarding of such dance future. If such incidents are not checked and addressed well, most traditional dance forms will lose their originality and continuity as newer generations misses what the exact dance movement sequences were, what the exact historical context behind the dance were and many more. Our rich culture in a way fades out from our communities with a lot of re-interpreted dances from amateur groups.

Furthermore, re-interpretation of traditional dance forms by the amateur groups especially, creates some kind of contradictions in the dance. Therefore, this sometimes sparks anger and misunderstanding among the native people who owns the traditional dances and the amateur dance groups and such situations are disadvantageous in understanding dance structures in Ghanaian dance scholarship. It is important for this misunderstanding to be clarified (by cautioning the amateur dance groups to be careful when adding and subtracting dance moves, in a sense of not destroying originality, content and context of the traditional dance.) if not can lead to real conflicts between owners of the dance and amateur dance groups. Misunderstandings and conflicts will create enmity among individuals and do not foster in nation building and oneness as well.

Lastly, a study of Ghanaian scholar (Kuwor, 2017, p. 16) he admitted that, if traditional dance is to be continued, preserved, safeguarded and used to develop the continent, oral tradition should be ceased or limited since traditional dance contains cultural values and virtues of Ghanaians. Lack of proper written documentation and notation of our traditional dances has led to the amateur groups re-interpreting already interpreted dances by the Ghana dance ensemble and this is a disadvantage in understanding dance structures in Ghanaian dance scholarship. Greenotation developed by Doris Green, an African American music and dance practitioner and scholar seems to be the only tool with the ability of safeguarding our traditional dance forms before our rich values embodied in our dances diminishes and looses it continuity. Its very appalling to note that the computers and documents that contain the greenotation and it working tools are no where to be found in the university of Ghana even in this 21st century of technological development world. Our Africanist leaders are therefore urged to help bring Greenotation in Ghana.

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Conclusion

(Sheets-Johnstone)Without creation, without performance, without insightful criticism, there is no context within which a developing awareness of self may occur and consequently, no way of evaluating individual growth.

I agree that the article written by Eric Awuah (Awuah, 2015) does not exaggerate and discourage the works of Amateur dance groups in Ghana, identifying the relevance, advantages and disadvantages of his discovery did not come with but it is an obligation we all as researchers must agree to do to help ensure continuity and safeguarding of our valued traditional dance forms in Ghana.

References

  1. Akas, N. (2013). Indigenous dance as a medium for participartory leaning: a study of “a dance into manhood” as a paradigm. Mgbakoigba: journal of african studies .
  2. Awuah, E. B. (2015). A study of Amateur Groups’ Re-interpretation of Traditional Dances In Ghana: Role on continuity and safeguarding. 8.
  3. Green, D. (2015). The ultimate demise of traditional african dance. feature journal.
  4. Kuwor, S. K. (2017). Understanding African Dance in Context: perspectives from Ghana. The journal of Pan African Studies , 64.
  5. Presto, T. T. (2020). Tabanka African and Caribbean peoples Dance Ensemble.
  6. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (n.d.). Educational implecations:Dance as art. In M. Sheets-Johnstone, The phenomenology of dance book. Temple university press.

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