Ofosuwa Abiola-Tamba and Monica James

West African Dance

Master Artist
Ofosuwa Abiola-Tamba
Apprentice
Monica James
Folkway
West African Dance
Location
Newport News
Monica James and Ofosuwa Abiola-Tamba. Photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program.
Monica James and Ofosuwa Abiola-Tamba. Photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program.

While there is now a greater understanding and appreciation of the African origins of much of Virginia’s expressive culture, these roots were long ignored, misunderstood, or held in diminished regard in comparison to the impact of European folk traditions. Interest in the teaching and learning of West African folk traditions, particularly story telling and dance, emerged as an integral part of the civil rights and black pride movements in urban areas throughout the country, including Virginia. Ofosuwa Abiola-Tamba has studied traditional African dance for forty years, working to articulate aspects of African culture through the story of the dance and music. She has taught thousands of students in a variety of settings, and currently directs the Suwabi African Dance Ballet in Hampton Roads. Ofosuwa has traveled extensively to Africa to develop her craft, and recently visited the Gambia with her apprentice, Monica James, to learn dances from the Jola Culture.

It’s special. Every dance we do, all of the costumes, everything has a meaning and a history. Ofosuwa is a great teacher, and has a great knowledge of the history. I like that we’re not just dancing, we’re doing something ancient that has symbolic value. It makes me feel more connected to my culture.
-Monica James