Growing up in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 1950s, Kariamu Welch was fascinated by the older girls and their double Dutch jumping rope. When she was old enough to join her, she quickly excelled working with the best of them.
Years later, in the 1970s, when she became the pioneering choreographer of Afrocentric dance, she incorporated this kinetic sidewalk poetry into her work, noting how the daring improvisations of black girls jumping rope on Brooklyn Street were based on traditions born in Africa.
Dr. Welch, pioneer dancer of the African diaspora, who was professor emeritus of dance at Temple University in Philadelphia and artistic director of her own troupe, Kariamu & Company: Traditions, died on October 12 at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She was 72 years old. The reason is complications in the form of atrophy of multiple systems, said her son M.K. Asante.
In the 1970s, when she was a young dancer and choreographer living in Buffalo, New York and performing with her own troupe, Dr. Welch developed a dance technique she named Umfundalai, a neologism she created that she defined as “ essence “. “It was a vocabulary of movements inspired by the dance traditions of the African diaspora, as well as the iconography of African art – and a bit of double Dutch.
She will continue to teach this technique to her Ph.D. students, undergraduates and adolescents in community centers. At the time, in the wake of the civil rights movement, black study programs were only being strengthened at universities. Dr. Welch was part of a new cohort of artists and scientists who used dance to tell stories of the Blacks’ experiences.
Dr. Welch performed One Dance of Corette Scott King to music by Nina Simone and recordings by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1976, when she performed at the Manhattan Festival, Anna Kisselhoff was from New York. The Times wrote with admiration for Dr. Welch’s “deeply felt work” and her insightful “dramatic structures and models.” (At the same festival, she also admired the work of another young black dancer and choreographer who became even more famous, Bill T. Jones.)
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“Mama Cariamu was not only one of the first to start dialogue about African dance in the United States,” said Thomas F. DeFranz, founding director of the African Diaspora College of Dance and professor of dance and African American studies at Duke University. , using a familiar homage to Dr. Welch, “but she has trained legions of researchers and black dancers. I am currently editing a piece written by one of her students. Her work as an artist and scientist is deep and vast. She showed the way for many of us. “
K. Kemal Nance, assistant professor of dance and African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and associate artistic director of Dr. Welch’s troupe, of which he was once a principal dancer, was an engineering student at Swarthmore College. he went to Umfundalai’s class with Dr. Welch. This forced him to change his specialty to dancing.
“What makes Umfundalai so valuable is how it takes Africa, which I lived in every day as a North American black man, and puts it on the African continuum,” Dr. Nance said over the phone. “Cheerleading in my hometown of Chester, PA, double Dutch jumpers, a training team march and dancing in the living room with my mother to ‘Le Freak,’ the classic 1978 Chic disco are all part of it. … Dr. Welch changed the way we think about African dance by showing that what we do with our bodies deserves research. ”
Carol Ann Welch was born on September 22, 1949 in Thomasville, North Carolina and raised in Brooklyn. Her mother, Ruth Hoover, was a single mother for a time and worked for the telephone company. After Carol received a double Dutch epiphany, she joined a modern dance club at her high school. When she was not chosen to dance in the works of her classmates, she recalled in an essay, her teacher told her, “The only way to make sure you are participating in a dance is to compose it yourself and put yourself in it. “
She attended what is now the University of Buffalo, part of the State University of New York, earning her BA in English in 1972 and then her MA in 1975. In Buffalo, she was the founder and director of the Black Dance Workshop. , later known as Kariamu & Company, and she co-founded an Afrocentric cultural organization in the former post office building. Dubbed the Center for Positive Thought, it had programs such as martial arts and dance, as well as a Museum of African American Art and African Antiquities.
While in Buffalo, she met her husband-to-be, Molephi Kete Asante, who was director of the Center for African American Studies at the University of California Los Angeles, one of the first black study programs in the United States, and was the chairman of the communications department at SUNY Buffalo at the time.
In 1980, the couple moved to newly independent Zimbabwe with a Fulbright scholarship. Dr. Asante was asked to train a group of African journalists, and Dr. Welch was invited to found a national dance troupe. In a telephone interview, Dr. Asante described how Dr. Welch expanded her choreography by traveling the continent.
“She saw a Ghanaian woman squatting and it became a Ghanaian squatting,” he said. “As she watched the Zulu dancers, she saw the Zulu stomp. And she looked at African art and textiles and also drew images from them. She took these ancient symbolic poses and movements from different ethnic communities and put them on the stage. She was one of the most creative choreographers I have ever known. “
In 1984, Dr. Asante became head of the Department of Africanology and African American Studies at Temple, and the following year, Dr. Welch joined the department as a professor. She became a professor of dance in 1999 and was director of the Temple Institute for African Dance Research and Performance until her retirement in 2019. She has authored and edited a number of books on African dance, including African Dance: The Art of the Arts. , Historical and Philosophical Research “(1996).
Dr. Welch received her doctorate. received his education in the field of dance and dance in 1993 at the School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Steinhardt at New York University. She was a Guggenheim Research Fellow in 1997.
Besides her son M.K., she has one more son, Daahud Jackson Asante; sister Sylvia Artis; brother William Hoover; and six grandchildren. Her marriage to Dr. Asante ended in divorce in 2000.
Dr. Welch took the name Kariamu in the early 1970s. “She became more aware of her African origins,” said Dr. Asante, “and wanted to identify with him.”
Like Umfundalai, Kariamu was the word of her own creation, which she defined as “the one who reflects the moon.”