Student Groups / Student Life

African dance instructor teaches students to dance with culture

Wayne State University Dance Instructor Karen Prall teaches CMU students traditional African dance moves during an African Dance Workshop Sunday afternoon in Rose Arena. (Taylor Ballek/Staff Photographer)

Performer, educator and choreographer Karen Prall has moved her body to the beat of the drum for 30 years.

As a bossy little girl, she said she would take her friends in the yard and make them dance how she wanted. She then stumbled into African-style dancing in high school and has shared her passion with dancers ever since.

Artistic Director of University Theater Heather Trommer-Beardslee took a class at the American College Dance Festival with Prall in March 2012 and was captivated by her teachings.

“As we were going across the floor and she was talking and teaching, I knew we had to get her to CMU,” she said.

Trommer-Beardslee’s dream became a reality when more than 40 students participated in multiple workshops Friday through Sunday, learning dance from Congo-Brazzaville in Central Africa. With three drummers, students moved with the rhythm.

“This type of dance is low to the ground, the knees bent,” Prall said. “It’s different because they are used to legs straight or up, lifting the body. Now I’m telling them to get down.”

Standing in parallel position is not easy for dancers, she said. The dance incorporates different pelvic movements, circling the hips and working the head.

Muskegon sophomore Misti Conley said she felt the intensity taking her first African-style dance class.

“It’s very similar to hip-hop, which I’m more accustomed with,” she said.

Conley said in order to submerge into the dance, the culture must be understood.

Prall said she felt love from the students and their willingness to learn a different style of dance. Even if students didn’t catch on right away, they “worked it” until they had it down.

Trommer-Beardslee said each day, students were less afraid to make mistakes and were more engrossed with the movement, culture and history.

Fraser senior Eric Miller said he found his body could move in different ways than before. He said he was impressed with Prall and her passion for each student to learn. She would take extra time to pull students to the side and slow things up, he said.

“It was completely new and nothing was holding me back,” he said.

Prall founded the Art of Motion Dance Theatre in 1986 and has performed in venues in the state.

She has been an instructor of the dance department at Wayne State University since 2000. She is also director of the first African dance company at Wayne State, “To Sangana.”

At the end of the last session Sunday in Rose 127, students gathered in a circle and would come to the middle joining different dance moves into one.

“It’s the drumming that makes you want to move,” Prall said. “It’s all about the rhythm.”

She told students to use what they have learned and make it their own.

“My heart is dance,” she said. “I will dance until the day I die.”

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