Respecting the culture is what villanova’s african dance company strives for in their student choreography

When people think about dancing, some people envision a very fun dance scene, late at night with a few drinks. For others, they become so nervous they begin to sweat just thinking about it and claim that they can’t dance. For the members of a African dance company at Villanova, dance is not only their passion and enjoyment, but dance is also about respecting their culture.

In Nigeria, Wazobia is defined as unity. It stems from a call of unity from three Nigerian ethic groups; unity of members, unity of members to its campus and unity of self-expression. At Villanova University, Wazobia not only stands for unity, it is also the name of a student run African dance company.

The Wazobia African Dance Company performs numerous dance routines across a wide variety of different genres such as, hip hop, step, modern and of course, African music. Although, as much as Wazobia is about performing and embracing African culture, it’s even more about being a family.

“Wazobia’s African Dance Company is a family,” said Vice President Opeyemi Famakinwa. “So, we unite for fun, for comfort, for dance and for culture. You don’t have to be African or black to be in the group. You just have to be ready to dance, to have a good time and be open to change.”

“Our group specifically is very lively and very welcoming,” said Wazobia President Nkiambi Sokolo.” We are family oriented and we’re connected to each other. I feel that we are more than just a dance team because we emphasize to all our members to hang out and grab lunch or something. We also plan events outside of us performing so, I would say we’re a big family.”

“We’re all loving,” Sokolo continued. We’re all so energetic. Everyone just has a funny personality. I know often times I can go into practice and if I’m a little down, I know I’ll leave practice in tears laughing,”

The Wazobia African Dance Company was founded in 2012 by a group of sophomores who wanted a dance team that was different than what was already on the campus. Since then, Villanova and Wazobia have been one of the few dance groups in Philadelphia that focuses and embraces African culture at the collegiate level.

Ironically, out of all of the Big Five Philadelphia schools such as, Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, La Salle University and Villanova, the Wildcats have the lowest percentage of black students.

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According to each University’s website, La Salle by far has the highest percentage of black students with 18 percent followed by Temple at nearly 12 percent, however, neither of these schools have an African dance group similar to Villanova.

“I know there is a dance group at Drexel,” said Famakinwa. “There’s an actual African dance group at Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania may have one too, but I don’t know, it’s not very big. They’re the only ones that I know that have one and that we’ve actually done events with.”

Since the creation of the dance company nearly five years ago, Wazobia has grown a substantial amount in both members, campus notoriety and performances.

“The founders of Wazobia wanted a dance team that specialized in African dance,” said Sokolo. “So, they came together, and they started with about five members and pitched the idea to George who is like part of music activities. He’s one of the directors of music activities and since pitching the idea, it has hit the ground running.”

“My freshman year was the second year that it was around,” Sokolo continued. “We performed, but not as much as we do now. We had a show case at the end of that year, but lately I’ve noticed our showcases have been getting more and more livelier and more and more people.”

While Wazobia is about family and having fun, there is a lot of hard work put into each performance in order to make sure that not only the choreography is perfect, but that that each performance respects the culture.

 

“We practice two days a week, but a total of six hours,” said Famakinwa. “That’s without any last-minute emergency practices, but we do put or all in our performance to one, respect the culture. So, all the moves that we’re doing we want to make sure they’re perfect in every set. All of the dances we do are student choreograph so, we create the dances whether its individual or as a group. There’s outside work that goes into it but, its making sure that we get the moves right and that the African dynamic perfectly exemplifies the culture.”

Despite that hard work to perfectly depict African culture, there are no requirements needed to join the Wazobia African Dance Company. Students of all backgrounds are able to join the dance team and need no prior dance history in order to join either.

“For people to join, I would just say come,” said Famakinwa. The more the merrier. We’re a very fun-loving bunch. Every practice is filled with laughs. Be willing to work hard though. Even though our practices are filled with fun, they’re very intense. We want to make sure even though we are student run we want to come off looking a certain way. That we’re displaying the culture and we’re displaying ourselves in a great way to show our talent. Everyone in the group is talented, but you don’t have to know how to dance. You don’t have to be the best dancer. Just putting your heart into it shows more. So, take the chance. You don’t have to be black anyone is welcomed.”

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