Kariamu Welsh in the 1970s, when she became a choreographer of Afrocentric dance. Photo provided by estate for Welsh’s obituary.
African American, Dance, Ethnography
Kariamu Welsh (Asante)
Kariamu Welsh was a contemporary dancer and dance choreographer whose scholarship incorporated African and Diasporic aesthetics, sensibilities, and sensitivities, and was built on the belief that African movement, across the world, has several common aesthetic elements.
Born Carole Ann Welsh in Thomasville, North Carolina in 1949, Welsh primarily grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. She was the oldest of three children born to Ruth Hoover, a telephone company worker. From the age of 8, Welsh worked to support the family, scrubbing toilets for wealthy Long Island families. Despite their lack of wealth, Welsh’s mother exposed her children to art through visits to museums and operas in the park. Building on this foundation, Welsh, in high school, fell in love with dance and choreography.
Welsh earned a full scholarship to the State University of New York at Buffalo, earning a BA in English (1972) and an MA in Humanities (1975). As an undergraduate, she danced, worked, and taught in Buffalo, co-founding The School of Movement and the Black Dance Workshop, later known as Kariamu & Company. She also co-founded the Center for Positive Thought, an Afrocentric cultural organization that programmed martial arts and dance and housed a museum of African American art and African antiquities.
During a Fulbright Fellowship in Zimbabwe in 1980, the Zimbabwe government asked Welsh to develop the Zimbabwe National Dance Company of Zimbabwe and between 1981 and 1983, she served as its founding artistic director. She was also a member of the Dance Trust of Zimbabwe.
In 1985, she was hired as a professor in Temple University’s department of Africology and African American Studies, where she contributed to the creation of Afrocentric theory. She earned her doctorate in Arts in Dance History (1993) from New York University. In 1999, she joined Temple’s Dance Department as full professor, where she remained until her retirement in 2019. There, she founded and directed Temple’s Institute for African Dance Research and Performance, which was organized around the assumption that dancers must know something about Africa to understand its traditions of dance.
When Welsh was a young dancer/choreographer with her own company in Buffalo in the 1970s, she developed her Umfundalai technique. This technique was a codified means to utilize African contemporary dance movement traditions that have existed across the African Diaspora for contemporary expression. Like other aspects of Welsh’s scholarship, this addressed African and Diasporic aesthetics, sensibilities, and sensitivities, and was built on the belief that African movements, across the world share several common aesthetic elements. For example, she noted that ancestral African chants and rhythms could be found in the double dutch jump roping of her Brooklyn youth. These would fundamentally contribute to her choreography throughout her dance career.
Welsh was recipient of numerous awards, including, three Fulbright Scholar awards, a Pew, a Guggenheim, and a National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowship. Among her publications of interest to folklore:
African Dance: An Artistic, Historical and Philosophical Inquiry (1996)
Zimbabwe dance: Rhythmic Forces, Ancestral Voices – an aesthetic analysis (2000)