West African Dance Residency

By Ariana Anderson

Rehearsals are currently underway for the dance that artist-in-resident Andrea Markus has choreographed for Beloit students to perform in Chelonia 2012.  The piece is based on a Guinean initiation rhythm called Sinte, and features five women and two men. Following two weeks of intensive rehearsals, students will rehearse on their own until the February performances, for which Markus is hoping to return to see.

In addition to leading these rehearsals, she is also guest teaching several dance classes at the college, and leading dance workshops with Upward Bound, Help Yourself and area schools. Community-based work is integral to what she does as a K-12 teacher for the outreach program of Magbana Drum & Dance NYC. In her teaching she combines West African history, tradition and cultural appreciation with the movement instruction. Through her work, she seeks to teach kids self-love and respect for African culture.

After taking Afro-Caribbean dance as a child in Jamaica, her mother relocated the family to New York in search of more career opportunities for her children. Markus first learned  jazz dance in a ninth grade club, and, in high school, she took modern dance as her gym class. It wasn’t until she was 20 that she first took ballet, but she quickly became obsessed, and within a year she was on pointe.

Markus graduated Ithaca College with a degree in biology, but while her mother was telling everyone that she was looking at medical schools, she was actually putting all of her time and energy into dance auditions. After obtaining a master’s degree in dance and dance education from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, she became interested in African dance when her then-boyfriend (now husband) invited her to come to a West African dance class in which he was a djembe drummer.  She fell in love with it.

Since then she has gone to Guinea twice to study with the masters of the national Guinean dance companies Les Ballets Africains and Ballet Djoliba. Markus is currently a teacher of African-based modern dance in the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at NYU Steinhardt and on faculty at Marymount Manhattan College. She draws on ballet and modern dance in her teaching African classes, though she emphasizes the importance of using sensitivity in mixing European and African terminology and theory. There is tension within the field between maintaining the ‘purity’ of traditional African dance, but Markus argues that African dance is constantly evolving and using terminology and theories from other cultures can help expand people’s understanding and appreciation of West African dance.

During her Advising Practicum presentation on jobs in the arts, Markus explained that she wishes someone would have told her that she would feel lost when she first got out of college—and that that is okay.

“Be in the moment, and explore everything you can. Your plans may change and that’s a good thing, and though it can be hard you just have to trust that everything will work out,” Markus said.  “It is possible to make money doing what you like to do.”

Join Markus next Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium, where she will also be giving a talk about how the Marixist-Leninist approach to the art of Guinea’s first ruler, Ahmed Sékou Touré, has influenced her work.



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