GV welcomes new professor into West African dance course

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Hailey Hentz, Staff Writer

The Grand Valley State University Music, Theatre and Dance program is gaining the expertise of Professor Rebecca Mubiayi as she adapts to her new teaching position in the dance department. Mukiyayi is teaching a Special Topics in Dance course with a curriculum dedicated to West African dance. 

For many, the course is a first glimpse into experiencing the dance style and its extensive heritage. Mubiayi’s class is special because students are able to learn technique through unique lessons on movement and rhythm. 

According to Grand Valley Magazine, Mubiayi came to Grand Rapids in 2003 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

“She’s bringing movement from a different area than we have previously explored,” said Edgar Page, a professor also devoted to teaching African dance traditions. “What she’s centering brings in new ideas about rhythm, as well as songs and dances. Every teacher who is teaching in the African aesthetic has been really incredible and they all bring something so different.”

African dance encompasses the wide range of styles from different cultures in African societies. Dances, as well as accompanying music, are closely intertwined to regions and their cultural traditions. 

The performing art form utilizes the body and vibrations from drums, along with vocal performance to convey stories and history. The multifaceted format of African dance has been used for celebrations, in religious contexts, as a healing therapy and to reflect complex social relationships.

“What you’re learning is how to use the earth to influence how you move through space,” Page said.

He said it’s important within the class of using the body to learn narratives.

“It’s exciting to see this ancient multimedia being brought into the forefront to continue to tell stories about who people are and were in different parts of the world, but also how they have their traditions,” Page said.

Special Topics in Dance is currently the sole class at GVSU specializing in African dance. However, students interested in pursuing it further can participate in recreational community programs. 

Page said while there are drum circles and other dance courses within the Grand Rapids area, the university is focused on supporting Lakers through the specialized class with Mubiayi.

The department and its students are eager to learn more about dance and culture through Mubiayi’s teaching. The class, DAN 380, provides a special opportunity with a distinctive approach to educating.

“It’s exciting to start 2023 with this new approach to the African class that is challenging our students to really understand their body in a different way and how to use music and the relation of music to movement in a very real and embodied way,” Page said.