• Brothers of the 'Bah Yah!': The Pursuit of Maleness in the Umfundalai Tradition of African Dance

      Bond, Karen E.; Welsh-Asante, Kariamu; Ericksen, Julia A., 1941-; Davis, James Earl, 1960- (Temple University. Libraries, 2014)
      Inaugurated by Kariamu Welsh in 1970, Umfundalai is an evolving contemporary African dance technique that draws movements from African and Diasporan dances. As one of the first of thirteen men to study and perform the technique, Umfundalai reified a North American African male identity, empowering me to navigate American and African American social scripts that posit dancing as a non-masculine activity. This study employs an autoethnographic lens to illuminate men's constructions of gender in Umfundalai. Specifically, the research explores maleness, an experienced gendered agency, among eight male practitioners, including the researcher. Brothers of the Bah Yáh is framed as a multi-layered inquiry that applies phenomenological values and procedures to forward an auto-ethnographic intention. The study's qualitative methodology draws on Max van Manen's hermeneutic phenomenology and Anselm Strauss's applied grounded theory, as well as historical description and dance analysis. Sources of data include interviews with seven Umfundalai men, Umfundalai's progenitor and first dance master; an in-depth research journal recording my own lived experience descriptions and memories of dancing Umfundalai; and videos of selected Umfundalai repertory. The study is informed by the literature of masculine studies, highlighting the social function of masculinities as scripted and learned ideals. There is a dearth of resources theorizing the African American presence in African dance on the American concert stage. Drawing on primary sources, the empirical findings of the study are framed in a historical analysis of the emergence of a male presence in Umfundalai since 1993, including male-inspired developments in the technique. Analysis of in-depth interviews reveal that performing Umfundalai choreography affords men an opportunity to dance a self-determined construction of gender performance and that Umfundalai studio practice can be a site for men's affirmation of their `dancer' identities as well as friction with gender performance. Further, while Kariamu Welsh's approach to developing Umfundalai's movement system may be described as gender-neutral, the continuance of Umfundalai by its dance masters substantiated a gendered Umfundalai in which movement and performance were aligned with scripted conventional masculine tropes. The Brothers of the Bah Yáh: The Pursuit of Maleness in the Umfundalai Tradition of African Dance reveals that `the pursuit of maleness' was a unique construction experienced only by the researcher. Contradicting my initial presumption, the other men in this study found their gendered agency outside of Umfundalai. Moreover, a large majority of men in this study draw significantly on conventional masculinities, namely strength and power, to feel their maleness. Further, a spirituality of solidarity was uncovered - an embodied masculinity that can arise while dancing Umfundalai choreography and observing other men dancing at the same time. The dissertation concludes that expressions of maleness as described by Umfundalai's dancing men have currency in sports and in the larger American and African American communities out of which Umfundalai's dance culture emerges. Strength, power, and spiritual transformation situated in similitude represent commonalities of male experiences. At the same time, Umfundalai choreography can house multiple masculinities. Dances like Kariamu Welsh's Raaahmonaaah! (1989) and my Genesis: The Royal Dance of Kings (1996) serve as portals for masculinities that dismantle the hegemony that erodes the community in which it exists. Further research is needed to understand how dancing men can be a force that dismantles racism, sexism, and homophobia.