Ojuade: Nigeria is losing huge revenue by not promoting dance

Jeleel Ojuade

PROFESSOR Jeleel Ojuade is not only a researcher and scholar, but an expert dancer with specialisation in Yoruba traditional bata and dundun drumming. A member of different learned professional societies – locally, nationally and internationally, his dancing career spans over 40 years out of which he has, on a number of occasions, represented Nigeria at different events across the globe. He is currently the Director, Advancement Centre, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, and president, Association of Dance Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria (ADSPON). He spoke to OMIKO AWA about his African and Nigerian dances and ADSPON

What is ADSPON all about? What is its role in dance scholarship?
Association of Dance Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria (ADSPON) is the umbrella body that creates the required enabling environment for the body of scholars, researchers, eggheads, dance practitioners and dancers, and, of course, music providers. It is natural to explain that in Africa, music-making and dance arts are intertwined and are, therefore, regarded as twins, especially as they compliment each other.

ADSPON is the regulatory body that coordinates and oversees the modus operandi of dance arts in the country. The coordinating axis is presumed to be more effective, efficient and forthright expectedly towards the growth and development of dance scholarship and practice in Nigeria. Thus, it suffices to say that dance thrives healthily with the cordial working relationships between the Town and Gown in Nigeria.

The linking cords between the practitioners (Town) and the academia (Gown) are the solid foundation laid for adequate research platforms in any environment, whether in remote or sophisticated cities of the world. In African environment (Nigeria), for instance, the festivals that abound in our communities are loaded with dances of varying forms, either traditional, modern or contemporary in nature and eloquently coloured with movements of the human bodies in time and space for the purpose of expressing an idea, with the accompaniment of rhythm. These are the formulae that put the scholars of dance in tune to create hypothetical situations, write librettos, choreograph dance movements and scenarios, engage in breakthrough research feats and so on. The relationship is a symbiotic one!

ADSPON, therefore, aims at creating all-inclusive roles that cut across different strata of human existence, ranging from the educational, entertainment, tourism, technological applications and other relevant areas.

What is the makeup ADSPON membership?
ADSPON is the only association in Nigeria today that has the largest group of people of diverse ethnic configurations (over 500 ethnic groups) coming together under the same acronym and platform. This is achievable due to the fact that dance is a non-verbal communication art. Each of the ethic groups, though with different languages, costumes, musical equipments and other theatrical elements, has specific dances tailored to specific events, which are of significance to their wellbeing. Our coming together, therefore, is not politically motivated, but to further unite people of diverse origins through the practice of their dances and upholding our heritage. If you look at the origin of dance among humans, though with religious/ritual background, it enters the realm of socio-entertainment corridors, where the people’s histories are brought out in dignified manners and supported with other theatrical apparatus. The fact that dance belongs to every living human makes it more complex!

As an earlier stated, ADSPON is made up of the body of scholars and practitioners. Then, who are these scholars and practitioners? Scholars are the core academicians, who are saddled with teaching, research, and community developments. In their efforts, they tend to proffer solutions to problems through their research discoveries. On the other hand, practitioners are regarded as the custodians of our tradition. They are engaged in the practice of our dances through performances they have developed over the years, unique physical styles and languages based on their local environments.

ADSPON discovered with interest that both are operating on different levels, but targeting the same goal of ensuring that their dance culture does not go into extinction. In view of the above, we have agreed to step up our membership drive. There are people of professional qualities operating from different corners and not knowing they belong to a body that will bring out their talents faster than expected. We have equally engaged in discussion with our colleagues in different states within Nigeria to forge a unified force. This is the global best practice where other groups work hand-in-hand with the central coordinating body for positive results. The International Dance Council houses other practitioners locally and, by extension, from other countries. Our target is to bring everybody together as one big family for fruitful discussions and achievements.

What is dance and who can we call a dancer?
The art of dance is said to be ‘as old as man and his desire to express himself, to communicate his joys and sorrows, to celebrate and to mourn with the most immediate instrument: his body.’ Dance is, therefore, regarded as a major art and an essential element in the celebration of events connected with every aspect of human life. These events range from birth of a new baby, the transformation of youths into adulthood and farewell or display of last respects for the dead. It encapsulates the profound truths about the complex human existence and gives meaning to life. Dance, in the application in Nigerian context, is inborn, communal-oriented, natural, participatory by all, popular, widespread, may be practiced by all, regardless of age, sex and social status.

Considering these, dance performance may be regarded as an artistic expression predicated on movement; it has also been described as a dramatic phenomenon induced by a psychological state.

Who then can we call a dancer? A dancer is a person that interprets the language of the drum, using his or her body. Such a person must possess some distinctive features to qualify him or her as a good dancer. Of course, the person must have good knowledge of the drums; good ear to decode what the drums or drummers are saying; must have nimble and flexible body. It suffices to say then that the nature of dance in Nigeria, considering ethnic configuration, belongs largely to the people in their local communities. Thus, we have danced for different guilds and events.

How true is it to say that Nigerian dances have canons, with the variety of traditional dances and some artists coming up with their own ‘modern’ dance steps? Could these new dance steps too be called Nigerian or African dance?
Dance in performance generally possesses the tendency to be phrasal and repetitive in nature for emphasis. However, dance in Nigeria cannot be said to have canons! When we talk of traditional dance in Nigeria, the dancer is reacting to instruments at the same time. Here, we have the combination of membranophone, idiophone and others, communicating and giving instructions to the dancer for adequate interpretation using his or her body.

For instance, an expert bata drummer instructing a dancer to use a particular part of his or her body to respond to his calling; such cannot be called canons. Such is multi-metric nature of our music and response of the dancers. At the same time, canon can occur in Nigerian contemporary dance idiom as experienced in performance by our youths.

Historically, dance in Africa and Nigeria is believed to have originated from two human activities, namely the religious/ritual worship and recreational/social activities. Based on this background, dance has grown from the earlier traditional forms, as practised among our ethnic groups to evolve other forms like the modern and contemporary dance forms. Choreographers and dancers often create, using either or a combination of forms in order to express their feelings. Despite their creativity and expertise, it is still difficult to evolve what we can refer to as African or Nigerian dance ‘canon.’ Rather, we have individual styles and forms being created.

What is the difference between contemporary dance and traditional dance? Is there anything like the Nigerian dance?
The difference is very clear! What people call contemporary African/Nigerian dance is an amalgam of ethnic dances of the past with a flavour or mixture of our modern day life experience in dance. In performance, such form shows the coming together of different parts. For instance, Yoruba bata dance performance with the ensemble in unison with trumpet or piano, while the dancer appears in jeans and t-shirt. On the other hand, traditional dance is the dance form of a particular group of people with the specific aim of teaching moral values, social etiquette and to uphold the dance traditions of that community, while celebrating festivals and other occasions. Rather than Nigerian dance, we have ethnic dances of our people.

Five years since the establishment of ADSPON, what has been its impact? Has there been any reform in dance practice in the country as a result of its programmes?
In terms of teaching, research and logistics, ADSPON has performed very well. The immediate past executive, led by Professor Chris Ugolo (University of Benin, Benin City), laid a solid foundation and followed the required ethics in ensuring the registration of ADSPON with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). He ensured that the first five years recorded successful hosting of conferences, where academic papers were presented and we had performances inclusive.

The first conference was held at Federal University, Oye Ekiti in 2013, where Professor Bakare Ojo Rasaki played host. The keynote address was delivered by Professor Gbemisola Remi Adeoti (Dean, Faculty of Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife). The second conference was at the University of Benin in 2014, where Professor Dele Layiwola (former Director, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan) was the keynote speaker and the lead paper was delivered by Dr. Kene Igweonu. The third conference was held at the University of Ilorin in 2015 and the keynote address was delivered by Professor Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka (of Kansas University, Kansas, U.S.) and the lead paper was presented by Sir Peter Adegboyega Badejo. The fourth conference was at Kwara State University, Malete, Ilorin, where the Vice Chancellor, Professor AbdulRasheed Na’Allah hosted us and Professor Olu Obafemigave the keynote, with the lead paper by Dr. Leah Dominic. The fifth conference in October was held at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, with a keynote by Professor Bakare Ojo Rasaki and the lead paper by Professor Tor Iirapuu.

Yes, we are a part of the society and the society is a part of us. The activities of ADSPON in the last five years has brought about a lot of changes. This is due to the fact that the gathering involves ‘teachers,’ students, practitioners, as well as the general public. There have been lots of innovative ideas such as ‘roundtable’ discussions with the pioneers of dance practice in Nigeria. Also, there were instances where we had practical demonstrations, lectures, training, workshops and others involving town and gown.

So far, the activities of ADSPON have opened up new ways of teaching and learning dance art at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in our universities. It has also closed the ranks between dance scholars and practitioners to a large extent. We are hoping to improve upon the established relationships through identified programmes in the studies and practice of dance art in Nigeria.

Are Nigerian dances exportable? How far have you explored this area in developing a curriculum to teach dance, as the Chinese are doing in our universities and institutes?
Prior to the formation of ADSPON, dance practices from different ethnic groupings in Nigeria have been well managed locally, nationally and occasionally performed internationally. Notable choreographers, dancers of repute and practitioners often perform our dances at different parts of the globe, which speaks volume of its reception by the international audience.

However, it is part of ADSPON’s strategies to re-package our dances for export. We have resolved that dance curriculums at different strata of education need to be reviewed and new methods of teaching, which is in conformity with the globally accepted norms, would be introduced into our schools.

As a matter of fact, each time we teach our traditional dance forms or in an organised workshop/performances abroad, the foreign audience shows a lot of interest and accord respects to our heritage. Hence, ADSPON, at the last conference at Ile-Ife, during a courtesy call on His Imperial Majesty, Kabiyesi, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Babatunde Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, Ooni of Ife, expressed interest to partner with him and the Federal Government of Nigeria in some areas. The ancient city of Ile-Ife has played historical roles in the development and growth of dance in the past with activities at the then Ori Olokun playhouse.

What are the specific benefits of dance? Some say dance is therapuetic aside entertaining guests at events. To what extent has ADSPON made government realise that dance could be used to solve problems?
Honestly, dance culture in Nigeria is far beyond entertainment of local and foreign guests at events only. It has been a formidable tool where messages are passed across to the general public with the aim of correcting or teaching morals. Equally, dance has functionally been used to tell stories and or as custodian of historical events in the past.

ADSPON has demonstrated the problem-solving traits of dance through its handlers, who are members of the association, on different assignments given to them, using the dance platform in performances. Quite a number of problems mitigating our existence in Nigeria have been scripted into dance librettos and performed in our universities, thereby finding solutions to these problems.

Some Nigerians prefer foreign dances to Nigerian traditional dances, saying Nigerian dances have cultic elements and dwell on fetishism. To what extent can one separate fetishism from Nigerian and African dances?
As observed earlier that in Africa and, indeed, Nigeria, ‘specific dances are tailored to specific events.’ It depends on the individual perception of a particular dance for him or her to pass a judgment on a dance as observed. The dances in Nigeria are predicated on religious/ritual and socio-entertainment activities. Therefore, the social-cultural occasions at which these dances, particularly the traditional dances, are performed have to do with individual or group celebrations. However, those individuals that have little historical knowledge of the dances will definitely accept foreign dances in place of the Nigerian traditional ones. There is the need for us to value our culture, appreciate what we have and try not to be sentimental in our judgments. Spiritualism or cultism has nothing to do with our dances. Rather, our dances bring out the joy of celebrations.

To what extent is ADSPON closing the gap between town and gown in terms of dance practice?
ADSPON has provided a platform that makes the ‘town’ and ‘gown’ operate symbiotically. With reference to teaching, research and community development, both the academia and the town will have to come together to achieve positive results towards the development and growth of dance practice in Nigeria. There have been collaborative research efforts on where reliance is so much on the filed work as garnered by researchers from the town, who are the practitioners and rightful owners of the dance culture. We have opened windows of opportunities in our teaching methods where we bring to our campuses the practitioners to take part in workshops, symposium and performances. Such efforts close the ranks and give the students the privilege of seeing live what they often read in the books and at times take part in the performances.

When are you likely to hold a dance festival or influence government to do this? How much do you think Nigeria is losing yearly by not promoting dance or would gain if dance is promoted?
As a matter of fact, ADSPON has a lot of activities lined up for execution, which cut across the length and breadth of Nigeria. We have been able to structure these activities into long term and short term goals to make them achievable. One of such is the planned World Dance Festival, which is expected to be in dual forms – academic and performance in nature.

Curriculum development and documentation of the ethnic dances in Nigeria is where we will be needing the support of the Federal Government. Our scholars and researchers have been faced with problems of documentation or unavailability of archival dance materials. These are the areas that can fetch government a lot of fortunes and ADSPON is set to work with the relevant bodies in achieving these set goals.

It is unfortunate that dance practice is not accorded the required support in Nigeria unlike other countries of the world. It is estimated that the country is loosing heavily in terms of millions of naira by not promoting dance and, of course, it will gain a lot if dance is given the required support.

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