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Ofosuwa Abiola, Ph.D. (She/Her/Hers)

Associate Dean of Research and Creative Endeavors

  • Dean's Office
  • College of Fine Arts
  • Associate Professor of Africana Dance and Performance History
    Theatre Arts

Biography

Bio: 

Academia

Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola, Associate Professor of Africana dance history and performance, is the inaugural Associate Dean of Research and Creative Endeavors in the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University. Abiola's research interests include the study of Africana (African & African Diaspora) dance history, its ability to immerse the individual in the collective memory of peoples of African descent globally, and its capacity to enable one to approach and understand current cultural developments from the perspective of experience. Abiola's research seeks to address deficiencies in knowledge of Africana culture and to bring into the conversation elements of human experience that are frequently not discussed in academia. Her research seeks to highlight the significance of these elements for the understanding of world culture and history, and the interdisciplinary application of that understanding to diverse fields. Through digital humanities platforms, Abiola's research also focuses on the historical representations of Africana performative phenomena, particularly the performance of ritual, and other non-theatrical depictions of performance in Africana life.

​Abiola's latest publication is titled, Fire Under My Feet: History, Race & Agency in African Diaspora Dance (Routledge, 2021). She has also written the book, History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance (Routledge, 2018), and published a short-form documentary as a visual companion to it titled, History Dances: African Dance Systems as Methodologies. In addition to her monographs, Abiola has also written an introductory textbook for undergraduate students in her Dance History courses, Historical Perspectives on Dance in Africa (Intelligentsia Press, 2019). Her current book project, Unwitting Witnesses: Unearthing Narratives of African Dance in Pre-Colonial Logs, is a work in progress. Abiola presented her research in and directed other short-form documentaries as well including the short-form documentary, Grave Revelations, which exposes viewers to the myriad instances of Africanisms in the performance of 19th century African American funerary rituals in a recently discovered burial ground in Washington, DC. Abiola founded the peer-reviewed digital journal, Evoke: A Historical, Theoretical, and Cultural Analysis of Africana Dance and Theatre, to provide a venue for scholarship on African, and African Diaspora dance, theatre, and film. Evoke has a global readership and attracted nearly one thousand readers within the first year of publication. 

Abiola received numerous grants, awards and fellowships from national and international institutions including: the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), Department of Education, US Department of State, The Mary Ellen Multi-Country Research Award,  Howard University’s Deans Cabinet Award, the Outstanding Student Advisement Award, Howard University Research Grants, the Outstanding Assistant Professor Award (Howard University), and the George H. Bennett Fellowship, among others. Grants from NEH included a $99,948 grant to establish an Africana Theatre and Dance Collection in Howard University's historic Founder's Library (For more information click the "NEH" tab in the top banner of this page). Abiola's artistic awards include: Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) Master Folk Artist Award, SeVAA Excellence in the Arts Award, VMEA Outstanding Contribution to Music Award, among others. During her summer tenure as Archivist for the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Abiola established their first archival system.

Ambassador Rama Yade invited Abiola to speak as a panelist at the Africa Center's High-Level International Summit on the African Creative and Cultural Industries.​ Other speakers on the panel included Cyril Ramaphosa (President of South Africa), Nana Addo-Akufo (President of Ghana), Felix Tshisekedi (President of Democratic Republic of the Congo), and other high-level officials. Abiola spoke about the benefit of investing in dance in the African Diaspora.

Abiola was invited to Recife, Brazil, by the U.S. State Department to mount her African dance ballet, RITES, and to be a speaker in the International Cultural Summit in Brazil, hosted by a joint venture of the U.S. Consulate in Brazil and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, to facilitate the launch of the Smithsonian's first International Engagement Program. 

She was featured on ABC's Good Morning Washington, in the Afro-American Newspaper, and on the American Historical Association's (AHA) Perspectives on History as a Spotlight Scholar (AHA is the oldest and most prestigious academic historical association). 

Dr. Abiola founded and served as Director of the international conference, The Nankama African Dance Conference, where participants and presenters from Africa, the African Diaspora, the US, and representatives from the US State Department attended. 

**The video link below is a book synopsis presented in audio/visual form. It serves as a summary and synopsis for my book History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional African Dance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3SEpY-Jm3c

 

Before Academia

Prior to her academic career, Abiola garnered three decades of performance and choreography experience. When Abiola founded the traditional African dance company, Suwabi African Ballet, in Newport News, VA, she specialized in African dance ballets. She served as Artistic Director for 15 years until she relocated to Washington, DC to peruse her Ph.D. at Howard University. During her tenure as Artistic Director, in addition to hundreds of performances, Abiola researched, wrote, directed, choreographed, and produced historical African dance ballets. 

Abiola performed nationally and internationally. She received numerous grants and awards, and was consistently featured on radio and TV broadcast stations including PBS, NBC, CBS, and WHRO. 

Education & Expertise

Education

History (region: Africa; concentration: dance & performance history)

Ph.D.
Howard University
2016

Major: Cultural Studies, Minors: Dance, History

B.I.S. (Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies)
Virginia State University
2010

Expertise

Research on Africana Dance & Performance

My expertise and research interests include the study of Africana (African & African Diaspora) dance history, its ability to immerse the individual in the collective memory of peoples of African descent globally, and its capacity to enable one to approach and understand current cultural developments from the perspective of experience. My research seeks to address deficiencies in knowledge of Africana culture and to bring into the conversation elements of human experience that are frequently not discussed in academia. My research seeks to highlight the significance of these elements for the understanding of world culture and history, and the interdisciplinary application of that understanding to diverse fields. Through digital humanities platforms, my research also focuses on the historical representations of Africana performative phenomena, particularly the performance of ritual, and other non-theatrical depictions of performance in Africana life.

Academics

Academics

Dance History I (WAC): Africa, Antiquity to the 20th Century

WAC - Writing Across the Curriculum course.

Dance History I (WAC): World Dance

WAC - Writing Across the Curriculum course.

Dance History II: (WRTG) Engaging the African Diaspora, 1600 to Present

WRTG - Writing Intensive course.

Theatre History I (WAC): World Theatre to the 18th Century

Performance and Identity

I created this course to enhance students' analytical skills and to provide a deeper engagement with the infinite ways in which the arts impact society.

Honors Thesis I

Honors Thesis II

Honors Directed Research I

Honors Directed Research II

Arts, Libraries, and Archives

I created this course to provide performance students with archival skills and methodologies for the arts fields.

Research Methods in Dance, Theatre, and Performance

I created this course to further enhance performance students' skills in research methods.

African History I

Introduction to Theatre

African Dance I

African Dance II

African Dance III

African Dance Performance Workshop

Research

Research

Specialty

African and African Diaspora (Africana) dance and performance history; digital humanities; non-theatrical and ritualistic performance history

Funding

My research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); the U.S. State Department; the Department of Education; the National Park Service (NPS); the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH); The Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), Howard University's Office of Research Development; The Center for African Studies; and diverse cultural and humanities academic and non-academic institutes and agencies.

Accomplishments

Accomplishments

Associate Dean of Research and Creative Endeavors

Appointed the inaugural Associate Dean of Research and Creative Endeavors for the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts. Howard University is the first HBCU to contain this position.

Invited Panelist, Atlantic Council High-Level International Summit

Invited to be a panelist in The Atlantic Council, Africa Center, High-Level International Summit on the African Creative and Cultural Industries. The summit was hosted by Ambassador Rama Yade. Panel speakers included Nana Addo-Akufo (President of Ghana), Cyril Ramaphosa (President of South Africa), Felix Tshisekedi (President of Democratic Republic of the Congo), and other high-level American and international officials. I spoke about the benefit of investing in dance in the African Diaspora.

Deans Cabinet Award

Awarded the Deans Cabinet Award, 2022. 

Interim Chairperson, Department of Theatre Arts

Appointed interim chair for the Department of Theatre Arts, 2020-2022.

Awarded a $15,000.00 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Awarded this NEH fellowship to continue research on my next book.

$11,000.00 Council of American Overseas Research Centers Fellowship (CAORC)

Awarded the Council of American Overseas Research Centers Fellowship to conduct research in Senegal and The Gambia, West Africa, for my monograph, Unwitting Witnesses: Unearthing Narratives of African Dance in Pre-Colonial Logs.

$1,000.00 Mary Ellen Lane Multi-Country Travel Grant

Awarded the Mary Ellen Lane Multi-Country Travel Grant for writing the top research proposal.

Smithsonian's First International Engagement Program

Invited to be a speaker in the International Cultural Summit in Brazil, hosted by a joint venture of the U.S. Consulate in Brazil and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, to facilitate the launch of the Smithsonian's first International Engagement Program. 

U.S. Department of State Arts Envoy Program, Recife, Brazil

Invited to Recife, Brazil, by the U.S. State Department to mount my African dance ballet, RITES, performed by 5 dance artists in the Dance program at Howard, and teach African dance workshops while there.

$99, 948.00 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Grant.

Was awarded an NEH grant to establish an Africana Theatre and Dance Collection in Founders Library.

2018 Outstanding Assistant Professor

This award acknowledges the accomplishments of Assistant Professors in the College of Arts and Sciences in the areas of teaching, research, and service.

2018 Faculty Advisor of Most Outstanding Presentation

This award acknowledges the professor's advising and guidance of students who won the Most Outstanding Presentation in Howard University's Research Week. 

$10,000.00 Research Grant

Awarded this grant to travel to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York to conduct research to complete my book, For Every Thought There's A Dance: The History of African American Dance.  

$3,000.00 Grant

Awarded a $3,000.00 grant from the Department of Education through the Center for African Studies to supprt the Nankama African Dance Conference. I proposed the conference to the Theatre Arts Department and serve as director.

Master Folk Artist

Was bestowed the title "Master Folk Artist" by the Virginina Foundation for the Humanities.

J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship

Fulbright award to study Gnawa dance and music in Morocco, North Africa.

Frederick Douglass Doctoral Fellowship

I was awarded this five-year fellowship to pursue my Ph.D. in History at Howard University.

Related Articles

Fire Under My Feet: History, Race & Agency in African Diaspora Dance (Monograph)

Fire Under My Feet: History, Race & Agency in African Diaspora Dance, seeks to expose the diverse, significant, and often under-researched historical and developmental phenomena revealed by studies in the dance systems of the African Diaspora. This work showcases a blend of scholars, dance practitioners, and interdisciplinarity, and engages the relationship between African diaspora dance and the fields of history, performance studies, religion, identity and Black agency. In Fire Under My Feet, written documentation and diverse methodologies are buttressed by the experiences of those whose lives are built around the practice of African diaspora dance. Replete with original perspectives, this book makes a significant contribution to dance and African diaspora scholarship simultaneously. Most important, it highlights the work of researchers from Ecuador, India, Puerto Rico, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and it exposes under-researched and omitted voices of the African diaspora dance world of the aforesaid locations and Puerto Rico, Columbia, and Trinidad as well.For more information: https://www.routledge.com/Fire-Under-My-Feet-History-Race-and-Agency-in…

Historical Perspectives on Dance in Africa (Textbook)

Embedded within the dances of Africa are repositories of historical narratives, invaluable insights on the mindset of ancient and contemporary peoples, and revelations and budding hints of developing cultural phenomena. Historical Perspectives on Dance in Africa introduces students, scholars, and the general public to previously under-researched African dances and their meanings, and the cultural history that gave birth to them.For more information: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1733357106?pf_rd_r=B88JHXX1MG8DC75Z2M… 

History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance (Monograph)

The field of history is founded on the interrogation of written documents from the past. However, culture is the centre of life in Africa. As a result, in the past – and to a degree in the present – the process for documenting events in Africa was not written, it was performed. History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance, argues that a wealth of information is housed within traditional Mandinka dance, and consequently, the dances can be used as an African derived primary source for writing African history. History Dances highlights the overall value of studying Mandinka dance history specifically, and African dance history generally, and it addresses the issue of scarcity with regard to primary sources for writing African history.For more information: https://www.routledge.com/History-Dances-Chronicling-the-History-of-Tra…

Editor-in-Chief: Evoke: A Historical, Theoretical, and Cultural Analysis of Africana Dance and Theatre (Journal)

Evoke: A Historical, Theoretical, and Cultural Analysis of Africana Dance and Theatre is an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed digital journal that fosters research, critical analysis, and vigorous discourse, on Africana dance, acting, and filmmaking. Evoke seeks to bring Africana performing arts into scholarly discussions thereby documenting, preserving, and providing exposure to under-researched narratives in Africana vernacular and professional performing arts. Accordingly, Evoke also provides a venue for scholars of African, African American, and African Diaspora dance, theatre, and film.For more information: http://dh.howard.edu/evoke/

Howard Fine Arts Professor Shows How African Dance Chronicled History | Afro American Newspaper

https://www.afro.com/howard-fine-arts-professor-shows-how-african-dance… Afro American Newspaper, sometimes referred to as simply, The Afro, was founded in 1892 and is part of a small group of long established  African American newspapers in the United States. The Afro ran an article on the publication of Dr. Abiola's book, History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance.