DIALOGUES: Towards Decolonizing Music and Dance Studies

Insider Dance Research and Resulting Discourses in Seven African Countries


Ronald Kibirige (Makerere University, Kampala-Uganda)
Eric Baffour Awuah (University of Ghana)


Ronald Kibirige


English and other Indigenous languages


Gwerevende Solomon (Dublin City University)
Heather Elizabeth van Niekerk (University of South Africa)
MacDonald Maluwaya (Malawian Cultural Ministry)
Ronald Kibirige (Makerere University, Kampala-Uganda)
Eric Baffour Awuah (University of Ghana)
Olabanke Oyinkansola Goriola (University of Edinburgh)
Gerald Ssemaganda (Dept of Performing Arts and Film, Kampala)
Kesii Mark Lenini (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Research and discourse on traditional dances from many African nations have been greatly dominated by a number of voices far away from those of the bearers of the researched traditions. In part due to a lack of resources in many African nations, dance research in these areas has mostly been carried out by outside researchers. (For the purpose of this presentation, we have decided to refer to dance researchers born and raised within Africa as “inside researchers” and those not born and raised in Africa as “outside researchers.”) Further, textual/formal documentation and interpretation of dance knowledge has most often been carried out in English or French, languages that are very different from local languages of tradition bearers. This has influenced interpretation: for instance, detailed analysis (bodily/sonic) and ideas regarding intentions of local enactment dance traditions have been shaped by Eurocentric understandings. Given the long history of such dynamics, Eurocentric understandings of African dance are now often seen as “normal,” and they continue to be adopted by teachers because they are published and widely accessible. Many African nations even depend on the scholarly accounts of outside researchers because they are what is most readily accessible. On the one hand, outside researchers have greatly improved the visibility of many African traditions, especially those of minority ethnic groups. On the other hand, the prevalence of outsider perspectives has to some degree relegated the research and voices of insiders to the shadows. This situation activates colonial dynamics; it also presents difficulties for local communities to access, assess, and critique the outsider knowledge in scholarly contexts and discourse. How can we level this imbalance and, in the process, also foster decolonization of our discipline?

This ICTM Dialogues session is intended as a practical decolonization strategy, regarding a very concrete practice (dancing), grounded in localized African communities. Our discussion first showcases scholarly works of inside researchers from within seven African countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa), in the field of dance studies. We describe and engage topics and research orientations integral to several of us working from the inside. Our hypothesis is that inside researchers have different inherent strategies, aims, and methodologies. The transmission of traditional dance knowledge, its safeguarding and dissemination, are hardly touched upon by outside researchers - but this knowledge needs to be amplified for global audiences to better understand its value. Our discussion will also consider colonial dynamics embedded in ontologies and epistemological constructions of discourses on dance traditions from Africa. We summarise scholarly intentions behind particular works, in order to build on these intentions and advocate for a balance of scholarly voices. Our group sees a re-balancing of scholarly voices as a direct mechanism for decolonization in post-colonial countries. This presentation is part and a result of our ongoing interactive discussions and work on a book project bringing together perspectives of scholars from the said seven African countries.


Further References

Mabingo, Alfdaniels, Gerald Ssemaganda, Edward Sembatya, Ronald Kibirige. 2020. “Decolonizing Dance Teacher Education: Reflections of Four Teachers of Indigenous Dances in African Postcolonial Environments,” Journal of Dance Education, Issue on Race in Education, 20 (3): 148-156. Accessed January 2022. https://doi.org/10.1080/15290824.2020.1781866.


The panelists were delighted for the chance to present their work in its early stages. Audience attendance was impressive, and we were thrilled with the many constructive and positive reactions. We all think that the process of decolonizing music and dance studies must begin from each individual’s mind-set, and that it requires an effort by all concerned. The ICTM Dialogues are a necessary step in this direction. As we move this session towards publication, we consider this presentation/discourse as a beginning step in our work. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to be part of an ongoing dialogue, reactions, and interactions, that continue to inform this great cause, our current/ongoing efforts, and future publications on the topic. We thank the organizing team for being patient and understanding, and look forward to participating in the coming sessions.


Questions to Consider

Many African nations literally depend on the scholarly accounts of outside researchers because they are so readily accessible. This situation activates colonial dynamics, and it presents difficulties for local communities to access, assess, and critique this knowledge in scholarly discourses. How can we level this imbalance and in the process provide for decolonization of our discipline?

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