Kariamu Welsh, an influential and pioneering scholar of African diaspora dance and Professor Emerita of dance at Temple University, created a dance technique called Umfundalai. The dance movements were inspired by African diasporan dance traditions, African art iconography, and a splash of double dutch
Born in Thomasville, NC, she fell in the love with the jump roping techniques she saw in her neighborhood growing up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in the 1950s. In the 1970s, she became an innovative choreographer of Afrocentric dance and would incorporate the stylings of Black girls jumping double dutch in Brooklyn along with African dance traditions.
Recalling her love of double dutch, in an unpublished essay, Welsh wrote of those early days: “It was summer and it seemed that everyone was outside. The stoops were crowded with mothers, sisters, grannies, and Miss This and Miss That. But the people and the sounds that drew forth dimmed as she heard the magical sound of the girls chanting ‘ten, ten, ten, one ten, one twenty.’”
In 1972, Welsh received a BA in English, her MA 1975; humanities from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and a Doctorate in Arts in Dance History from New York University.
Widely published in both scholarly journals and book-length studies, Welsh was a scholar of cultural studies, performance and culture within Africa and the African diaspora. She served as the Director of the Institute for African Dance Research and Performance and authored many books including Zimbabwe Dance: Rhythmic Forces, Ancestral Voices—An Aesthetic Analysis, and Umfundalai: An African Dance Technique. She was the editor of The African Aesthetic: Keeper of Traditions and African Dance: An Artistic, Historical and Philosophical Inquiry. She co-edited African Culture: Rhythms of Unity.
She was the founding artistic director of the Zimbabwe National Dance Company and was also known for her work with her ex-husband and fellow Temple professor Molefi Kete Asante, a founder of Afrocentricity.
She passed away in October at the age of 72. At the time of her passing, Welsh was the artistic director of her own troupe, Kariamu & Company:
MK Asante remembered that his mother’s life was lived through her love for dance.
“It’s like poetry to a poet — it’s not something you do. Maya Angelou lived her life as a poem. And my mom lived her life as a dance.”
Welsh is survived by her mother, Ruth Hoover, brother, William Hoover, sister, Sylvia Artis, sons, MK and Daahoud Asante, as well as six grandchildren.