Knox Students Live Rhythm of Life in Ghana

Intensive immersion course covers drumming, dance, handicrafts

January 14, 2014

Knox students in Ghana

Before traveling to Ghana with a group of Knox College students, faculty, and alumni, Knox sophomore Maxine Quinney never had ventured out of the Midwest or flown on a plane. That all changed through her participation in Drumming and Dance in Ghana, a two-week intensive cultural immersion course during the College's December break.

The centerpiece of the trip was a five-day stay at the Dagbe Cultural Institute & Arts Centre (photo below right) in the village of Kopeyia, where local artists gave lessons in drumming, dancing, singing, basket-weaving, and other handicrafts. The Knox group also visited the Ghanaian capital of Accra, Kakum National Park (photo on right at bottom of page), and Cape Coast Castle, which once was a slave fort. (Photo at top of page: Knox student Juan Irizarry works on carvings at David Amoo's drum workshop in Accra.)

biology major with a minor in dance, Quinney had expected the experience to be a life-changing one -- and it was.

"I always dreamed of working in Africa, but because I had never left the Midwest, I wasn't totally sure if I would be able to do it," said Quinney, who is from Crystal Lake, Illinois. "Now, I am even more set on working in Africa for a large portion of my life."

She and most others on the trip already were familiar with African culture through their Knox studies, especially Cultural Perspectives in Dance and Music in the African Diaspora.Knox students in Ghana

"The thing that I think is so valuable about the (Drumming and Dance in Ghana) program is that while it feeds off the music and dance courses, it really is an interdisciplinary off-campus program," said Knox faculty member Jennifer Smith, associate professor and chair of dance. She served as academic leader of the trip.

"When we're studying dance and music, we're really studying the Ghanaian culture in the fact that dance and music are so much a part of their social identity, religious identity, everything," she explained.

Jmaw Moses, a Knox senior who is majoring in theatre and minoring in dance, said he participated in the trip to gain new perspectives. Western choreographers often create dances that lack musical accompaniment, he said, but in Ghana, "dance is hand-in-hand with music."

"Movement is brought on by the rhythms and melody of the song. They were created together, and one cannot exist without the other," said Moses, who is from Clinton, Maryland. "The coolest part of the trip was meeting the people and experiencing a brand-new culture and way of viewing the world."Knox students in Ghana

Knox junior Martina Pezzino, who is double-majoring in music and educational studies, said the trip helped her "gain an understanding of West African music that I could someday use in my own music classroom."

"Getting the opportunity to learn music directly from the source made it a more meaningful experience than it could have been if I had learned it secondhand," said Pezzino, a native of Topeka, Kansas, who described the trip in her blog, Dancing & Drumming in Ghana.

"I'm so glad I was at Knox before I went to Ghana because I was able to connect with multiple students at Knox who are from Ghana and gave me some great insight into what to expect," she said. "The diversity of Knox was definitely an asset in preparing me for a vastly different culture."