Grave Revelations: Cultural and Historical Narratives from the Colored Union Benevolent Association Burial Ground
Ofosuwa M. Abiola, Ph.D.
History Dances: African Dance Systems as Methodologies
Prior to her academic career, Dr. Abiola founded the traditional African dance company, Suwabi African Ballet, in Newport News, VA. She served as Artistic Director for 15 years until she relocated to Washington, DC to peruse her Ph.D. in History from Howard University. During her tenure as Artistic Director, in addition to hundreds of performances, Dr. Abiola researched, wrote, directed, choreographed, and produced historical African dance ballets including: The Dismal Swamp; Wasalunke and the Three Virtues; The Voices of Shu; Waters of Despair, Waters ofHope; Africa: A Song of Me; and Imhotep. She also set the choreography for numerous musicals including: Once on this Island; The Outliers; Rainbow Park; The Outliers II and The Wiz. In addition, Dr. Abiola has produced, choreographed, and directed, countless African dance Kwanzaa concerts.
As a solo artist, Dr. Abiola has performed nationally and internationally. Although she was also trained in classical ballet, modern, jazz, and tap dance styles, she specialized in traditional African dance. Professor Abiola's performance venues include, the S.S. Rotterdam Cruise Ship, where she toured and performed in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and Bermuda. She toured and performed with the Gambian dance troupe, Corichow Dance Company, at countless venues in Kololi, Serrekunda, and Banjul, in the Gambia, West Africa. In the United States, her performance and presentation venues include, the National Folk Arts Festival, Arena Stage, America's 400th Anniversary (Jamestown, VA), the Spirit of Norfolk Cruise Ship, the Hampton Coliseum, on and off Broadway venues, and numerous other national and local venues.
Dr. Abiola served as Artist-in-Residence at the historic Attucks Theatre, and at the Governor’s School for the Arts. She has worked as Director at an abundance of dance and theater companies including the Attucks Theatre’s CampRize!, Stage Norfolk, and the Theatre of African Cultural Arts (NY). Dr. Abiola has been commissioned to set African dance ballets for the historic Chrysler Museum, the Mariner’s Museum, The Peninsula Fine Arts Museum, and on innumerable dance and theater companies, schools and universities throughout the U.S. and in Africa. Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola has been bestowed the title of “Master Folk Artist” by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. She also received an award for “Artistic Excellence” from the Southeastern Virginia Arts Association (SeVAA), and various grants from the Hampton Arts Council, the Newport News Arts Council, The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, The Peninsula Fine Arts Center, The Links, and Friends of the Arts, Inc. Dr. Abiola was featured as a Master Teacher in the book, In Good Keeping: Virginia’s Folklife Apprenticeships, and she was consistently featured on radio and TV broadcast stations including PBS, NBC, CBS, and WHRO.
Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola is currently Assistant Professor of History, Coordinator of the Dance Program, and Coordinator of the Honors Program in the Department of Theatre Arts at Howard University. Her research interests include the history of Mandinka dance systems; dance and performance history in Southern Africa; the history of African Diaspora dance; screendance; and digital humanities.
Professor Abiola's scholarship is driven by a commitment to underscore, document, and thereby preserve under-researched narratives in the history of Africana (African and African diaspora) dance and performance. Through digital humanities platforms, Dr. 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.
Dr. Abiola has published the book, History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance (Routledge, 2019), and a textbook for undergraduate students with little to no knowledge of African history or the dances that emerged from it, Historical Perspectives on Dance in Africa (Intelligentsia Press, 2019). Dr. Abiola's forthcoming projects include the books, Fire Under My Feet: History, Culture & Identity in African Diaspora Dance, and For Every Thought There’s A Dance: Historical Musings on Dance, Hegemony, and Resistance in Africa; and the documentary, Les Ballets Africains and the Restoration of Black Identity in Africa and the Diaspora.
Professor Abiola has also directed short form documentaries including: History Dances (the companion for the above book); and Grave Revelations. During her summer tenure as Archivist for the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, she established their first archival system. Dr. Abiola is a Fulbright awardee, A Frederick Douglass Doctoral Fellow, A Department of State Critical Language awardee, a George H. Benet Fellow, and a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) Master Folk Artist.
At present, Professor Abiola has 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. For more information click: Evoke
Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola has received numerous grant awards, including a $99,948.00 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to establish an Africana Theatre and Dance Collection in Howard University's historic Founder's Library.