African Diaspora Dance Pioneer Kariamu Welsh Dies at 72

In Summary

Kariamu Welsh, an American choreographer of contemporary dance, died on Oct. 12 at the age of 72 due to health complications.

Kariamu Welsh, an early historian of African diaspora dance and artistic director of Kariamu & Company: Traditions, died on Oct. 12 of complications from multiple systems atrophy at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, per The New York Times. She was 72.  

Welsh was reportedly intrigued by the older girls and their double Dutch jump rope techniques while growing up in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in the 1950s. She rapidly excelled when she was old enough to join in, which played a huge role in her decision to pursue dance, along with her mother Ruth Hoover introducing her to art at a young age by taking her to museums and operas in the park, per Dance Teacher

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African diaspora dance traditions, African art imagery and her love for double Dutch inspired a dance style she termed Umfundalai, which means “essential” in Kiswahili, in the 1970s. 

“Mama Kariamu was not only one of the first to create a dialogue around African dance in the United States,” said Thomas F. DeFrantz, a founding director of the Collegium for African Diaspora Dance and professor of dance and African American studies at Duke University, per NY Times, “but she trained legions of Black dance researchers and performers. … Her work as an artist and scholar is deep and broad. She set a path for many of us.” 

Before retiring in 2019, Welsh was a dance professor at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Welsh received multiple fellowships and honors during her career, including a Choreography Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Public Service Award of New York, a 1997 Pew Fellowship, a 1997 Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and three Senior Fulbright Scholar scholarships. 

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She also wrote several publications, including Zimbabwe Dance: Rhythmic Forces, Ancestral Voices, an Aesthetic Analysis and Umfundalai: An African Dance Technique

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