Nance brings umfundalai to ULM


Ethan Dennis, [email protected]

Swarthmore College’s undergraduate program has a gym requirement as part of its curriculum.

For Dr. Kemal Nance, this requirement involved a contemporary African dance technique known as umfundalai, which means “essential” in Kiswahili. After falling in love with it, Nance has not only been studying the style for 30 years, but is considered one of few master teachers of        the style.

Nance became a master teacher in the style in 2002. Back then, Dr. Kariamu Welsh, the progenitor of umfundalai, decided when someone had performed and taught enough that they would be called a master teacher.

ULM students, Grambling State students, Monroe community members and young dancers from Dazzle Dance, a local dance studio, recently had the chance to learn                     from Nance.

ULM’s dance department hosted a Umfundalai Master Class on Thursday in Brown Annex.

Live drumming music was provided by senior music performance major Noah White and other ULM percussionists. Although he didn’t dance, White enjoyed participating in the class.

“I thought the class was a very fun experience for everyone in the room, no matter what they were doing. The atmosphere of the class was not that of judgement or timidness. Every individual was accepted as a member of one large unit, and everyone worked together to demonstrate a sort of ‘visual example’ of unity,” White said.

The talk about Nance teaching the class began in May 2018 between Nance and associate professor Tina Mullone. The dance department submitted a proposal to the Student Activity Enhance Fee committee, and Dr. Derle Long, the School of Visual and Performing Arts director, provided additional funding. Nance was selected for several reasons, according to Mullone.

“He is an accomplished dancer, choreographer, educator and scholar. He has taught, set work and performed all over the world. He brings this worldview approach to teaching and choreographing. He has researched both African and African diaspora dances extensively and continues to do so,” Mullone said.

Nance said it means everything to be able to teach and share the umfundalai technique with others.

“While umfundalai comes out of African dance, in many ways, it’s uniquely African-American. When I share umfundalai, I’m really sharing a piece of my own legacy. It helps me make sense of the world,” Nance said.

Throughout the class, Nance encouraged everyone to “make music” with their bodies and breathe by saying, “Without breath…there’s death.”

Essence Parker, a member of the Grambling Orchesis Dance Company, enjoyed the class very much, especially the instructor whose “personality brought comfort to anyone feeling shy or lacking confidence.”

“I learned to never apologize for my existence and to stop biting my lip. I’m a victim of being shy, so I stand in the back for class, and when I’m very focused, I bite my lip with my head held down,” Parker said.

Close to the end of the class, Nance mentioned Baba Chuck Davis, an American dancer and choreographer whose work focused on traditional African dance.

Nance told the class to help one another, especially the younger participants, by quoting Davis saying, “The only time I look down on somebody is when I am helping      them up.”

To sum up her experience in the class, Mullone said, “He is great to have as a teacher and mentor. I am quite honored he was able to come.”

Upcoming events for the dance department include a Heart Health Zumbathon hosted by the Lambda Chapter of Chi Tau Epsilon Dance Honor Society from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26 in Brown Gym and a Date Night in March. Participants at the Zumbathon are asked to wear red and bring a $3 minimum donation. The dance department is also preparing for the South Regional Conference of the American College Dance Association which is hosted by the University of Mississippi in March.

“Dancers will participate in the adjudicated and informal concerts, present a dance film and attend classes, workshops as well as panels of their choice,” Mullone said.

Also, the ULM Dance Rep Ensemble will have auditions for fall participation at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 6, in Brown Annex. Finally, the dancers are also preparing for the Spring Fusion Dance Concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 3, in Brown Theatre.