Published: July 2, 2021 By

Nii Armah Sowah dreaded teaching CU’s “African Dance — Ghanaian” during the pandemic.

“The whole course is based on expression and connection,” said Sowah, who’s instructed African dance classes at CU for more than 20 years.

To cut aerosol transmissions, Sowah decreased the chanting that accompanies dances, restructured classes and cut the typically required extracurricular bonding.

But the losses in no way caused a loss of heart.

“COVID deprived so many students of human contact. When we started dancing, there was this sense of strong desire to connect... this longing has helped us build a good community in the classes,” Sowah said. 

When Sowah moved to the U.S. from Ghana in 1994, he soon realized that Americans identified him as “African” rather than Ghanaian. He recalls being thrust into a position of cultural ambassador for the entire continent — a role he does not take lightly. As a result, his course doesn’t just cover the moves. It also explores the tenets of African cultures, creating global citizens by expanding students’ cultural competencies.

“Africa has a lot of values, ideals and philosophies that are powerful and very meaningful in terms of supporting healthy life,” said Sowah. He hopes to foster appreciation and respect for African cultures by highlighting these values. 

And, according to students, the course offers even more. Constance Harris (MDance’21) shared, “Embedded in the steps that we dance and the songs that we sing are life lessons that are grounded in personal accountability, community building, selflessness, confidence building, decolonization and joy.” 

Rather than dwelling on class changes due to COVID — like the modified final celebration — Sowah views these sacrifices as another way to demonstrate the African spirit of resilience. 

Growingup in Ghana, I experienced periods of famine and drought. We learned to manage and made do under the circumstances,” Sowah said. “We didn’t insist on living our life as if the world was not happening. We adjust as needed.”


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Photo by Matt Tyrie