She Created A Pioneering Technique And Built An International Following

black women in a line dancing
Via Flickr
L. Graciella Maiolatesi
December 22, 2021

Growing up in the 1950s, Kariamu Welsh learned to “catch the beat” jumping double dutch with friends. As an adult, she was inspired by the Black Arts movement of the 1960s, but was also aware of racism within the arts: she herself had been called “animalistic” by a dance teacher!

But Welsh still yearned to root herself in movement – and wouldn’t let white opinions keep her down.

Studying African diasporic dance in New York, Jamaica, and throughout Africa, Welsh found that these dances, though very different, still seemed related to one another. 

Our ancestors had survived generations of enslavement and colonization, all the while preserving and passing down the essence of each dance, with movements and rhythms naturally evolving over time.

Using knowledge gained from her studies, in 1970 Welsh established a dance technique called “Umfundalai,” Kiswahili for “essence.” Over time, Umfundalai grew an international following, with Welsh becoming a cherished teacher and scholar.

Welsh passed away in October 2021, but her legacy lives on through the National Association of American African Dance Teachers, which will continue teaching Umfundalai.

Today, Black creative genius continues to be denied, whitewashed, appropriated, and erased. Welsh knew this all too well. “Daring to be,” she said, “is a position that one has to take throughout life.”

Like Welsh, we must determine our own worth, listen to our own calling, and dare to be!

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