IUP-Punxsy marks Black History Month with dance exhibit

PUNXSUTAWNEY — In commemoration of February as Black History Month, the Punxsutawney Community Center joined with IUP-Punxsutawney campus to host a presentation by Angela Watson.

Through the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC), Michelle Covert and Theo Turner, both IUP-Punxsutawney administrators, were able to partner with Watson, who was accompanied by dancers and musicians.
Watson, a choreographer, storyteller and former Fulbright Scholar, taught the audience about African-American history through lecture, video and demonstration.

She holds a master’s degree in dance therapy from MCP Hahnemann University and has performed all over the country. She is the primary dancer and choreographer for KuluMele African American Dance Ensemble.
Discussing the involvement of African dances, which come from the heart as well as through the music, she said, “To understand rhythm and internal rhythm, it must come from the rhythm in one’s heart.”

The presentation was based around the African Healing Dance, which is believed to always have spirits in company. The healing dance is not about individuals, but about bringing everyone together in the community and using it to release negative spirits among the group.

As Watson said, it is rare to see a woman playing the drums, although in African-American culture, it is known that women preside over the healing society, along with the sacred ceremonies.

While the individuals played the drums, Watson encouraged the audience to listen to the beat of the music, as the musicians must watch the dancer in order to lock in with their rhythm, playing faster to encourage the dancer to push himself or herself faster and harder, so as not to hold anything back.

The instruments used during the presentation were shakeable gourds, bells and drums. Watson said in African culture, musicians are able to turn anything into an instrument. Drums can be made out of pipes, iron, tin cans or even oil cans.

Watson said African music should not to be polyrhythmic — or having multiple simultaneous rhythms — but should always allow the ability to hear multiple rhythms throughout. However, during the program, the ladies introduced two very common rhythms: 6/8 and 4/4, which are popular dance rhythms.