My journey to New York University (NYU) to pursue graduate training in dance education started when I was still young. My artistic creativity, performance dexterity and exposure to dance artistry were nurtured and molded by the day-to-day, informal community-based dance experiences of my childhood. My mother would always sing me lullabies; my young peers always challenged me to create and share music and dance moves. These experiences came with me as I left my home country, Uganda, to attend NYU as a Fulbright Student.
When I arrived at NYU, I realized how different my new environment felt: accents, social interaction and studying styles, classroom dynamics, grades, pedagogy, music and dance traditions, food, modes of transportation – were all alien to me. I experienced what I would call “welcome to New York City” shock. My challenge was how to build on my cultural history, academic acumen, and ambitions to fit into this new environment. Dance and music helped me to become comfortably oriented in this unfamiliar setting.
With dance, I was able to communicate and connect with my fellow students and professors. Dance helped me to assimilate to Western dance education pedagogy and also allowed me to make contributions to it. Dance gave me an opportunity to learn from my fellow students through group projects and other class activities that require collaboration on choreographic, research, performance and curriculum development. This collaborative, interactive and participatory approach enabled me to share my dance artistry, cultural heritage, and knowledge with fellow students and professors.
For international students, educational exchange finds new meaning when social and cultural interaction extends beyond the confines of a host institution. Being a Fulbright Student means being a cultural ambassador. Because of this, I decided to share my cultural heritage with communities outside of NYU with the aim of bringing East African music and dance closer to American hearts and souls. I have conducted dance and music workshops, and held classes at arts organizations and universities such as Princeton. I have presented at conferences held by organizations such as the National Dance Education Organization, Dance Across the Board, in and outside of New York City.
Dance has been my thread stitching ties between Africa and the United States closer together. And the process has just begun.