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IRIE! dance theatre as a symbol of culture and heritage

Cultural heritage is not just a concrete virtue of our past, portrayed as objects, but an abstract sensation of diverse symbolic meanings, embodiment and manifestations.

Nii Kwartey Owoo – African Dance Lecturer

I first came to the UK in 2013 to teach at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), hoping to create a dialogue and exchange with people from all walks of life and to share my culture and heritage, to not only be viewed as something from the diaspora or farfetched, but to find the connecting links into various cultures. I hoped to share the understanding that culture is a way of life for my people and my ancestors and how cultural heritage ties us together with our differences even more than we think we know. My time in SOAS brought me to the realisation that to make the right impact requires not just the will power but that I must also connect with organisations who recognise my aims as an objective and with those who share the willingness to collaborate in order to build on successes working with communities in my field as an African artist in a new environment.

As my people say “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I grew up in Ghana and at the age of 9 I was given the title of custodian of culture by my royal family in Accra and at the age of 12 I was understudying my elders in the royal palace learning about my culture and my heritage in the forms of music, dance, art, history and traditions. Meeting people come in from far and wide to research and learn about my culture and my ancestral past was a fascination to me and it enabled students to have a window into my way of life and not view it as primitive but with an understanding of culture and its fluidity by knowing its truth and rationales.

"When the rhythm changes so must the dance". Ga Proverb

I have worked with different unique companies, groups, individuals and organisations in the UK and IRIE! sets itself as a symbol of culture and heritage, not only to the people of African and Caribbean descent, but also to the diverse changes in UK’s culture; heightening the profile of Black dance in Britain and creating a repertory of works reflective of the African Caribbean influence on the Black British cultural experience.

The mission to deliver and sustain a range of creative, educational and artistic activity based on stimuli derived from Africa and the Caribbean is evident in all aspects of delivery, be it in person, remotely or in residence, making IRIE! the go to place for dance and music of the African diaspora.

By walking the talk of IRIE!’s vision of creating an environment where Dance of the African Diaspora (DAD) is fully integrated into the teaching and practice of the wider dance agenda, making the form important to individuals, communities and society, we now have a BA (HONS) in Diverse Dance Style in the UK and the first in Europe. This flagship course is the first ever BA course in the UK that places equal emphasis on African, Caribbean, Contemporary and Urban dance techniques.

In promoting diversity through dance and creating global dancers, I have seen how my African and Caribbean module is not just giving a window into African and Caribbean culture but also a reflective tool for students to explore their own cultural heritage, connecting with cultural similarities and breaking stereotype on the form and its cultural traditions associated to it.

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