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All hail Taiwo Adeleye, Nigeria’s dance export

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Taiwo Adeleye

Dance, the five-letter word, is Daniel Taiwo Adeleye’s second name. Floods of cheerful sunshine always bid him to the dance studio. The dance expert and one of Nigeria’s finest gifts to the performance genre is West Africa’s first certified movement analyst (CMA).

Movement analyst?

“Yes,” he answered.

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A CMA is a skilled movement professional trained and certified by the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS). A CMA has a highly refined understanding of the patterns of movement through the LMA lenses of body, effort, shape and space.

As a movement specialist, a CMA uses his or her comprehensive knowledge to identify movement patterns, convey the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of any human movement, and prepare people in numerous fields for active participation in the world.

“It took me five years to complete a programme that could have taken me one year. In the end, I became West Africa’s 1st Certified Movement Analyst,” Adeleye said, while reflecting on his childhood.

“Looking back at my childhood, many lessons and experiences made me become what I am today and will make me become what I want to be tomorrow,” he grinned, as the voice from the other end of the phone went down gently.

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His breakthrough actually came after many years of dancing in his local church, when he got a scholarship to study dance.

According to him, “I was watching Mr. Dayo Liadi, popularly known as Olo ri oko and his dance was so inspiring that I reached out to an older dance friend, who gave me a contact for the Society for the Performing Arts in Nigeria (SPAN). I auditioned and was given the scholarship to study dance.”

Adeleye was at SPAN between 2008 and 2012, specialising in choreography, dance and disability, African modern dance technique, Laban movement analysis, Bartenieff fundamental, dance production, movement for actors, afrobeat dance, salsa and bachata dance, Latin and ballroom dance and dance event.

The three to four years of study were very challenging, he noted. “I still had it quite tough as I had months of sleeping in the dance studio, days of staying with friends because I lived in Ibadan, which is two hours away from Lagos, days of sleeping on an empty stomach and days of walking from Obalende to Banana Island to attend classes,” he said, “These were moments I could have given up, but I didn’t. You have to keep going when you know you have no other option but to achieve your goal.”

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He moved back to Ibadan to establish his dance company immediately after he completed his training. While in Ibadan, he pioneered numerous dance projects and productions such as DanceAids, a dance production in commemoration of World AIDS Day in 2011 and 2012 and DanceAbled, the first Mixed-Ability Dance initiative in Nigeria, in which he created and presented his work Home, a non-disabled and people living with disabilities dance in 2014; ArtsAbled; an initiative providing arts education for people living with disabilities and its first project, Special Arts Festival, in 2014.

He also established iAffect Network, a community development initiative providing free dance training to children, in his personally funded community centre.

According to him, “my first major performance was in the church in 2007, where I tried to showcase what I could do. The second was in SPAN, in 2009, I joined SPAN in 2008. Then the third was in 2016, at the Kennedy Centre’s Millennium Stage — It was called Rebollar Dance. The performance was on May 17, 2016.”

Erica Rebollar, the dance creator, described it as “a modern dance collaborative, where multi-genre artists can make innovative work.”

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Working with dancers such as Ronya-Lee Anderson, Amanda Blythe, Sam Horning, Katie C. Sopoci Drake, Taiwo had adroit movers and tremendous performers as supporters in the interpretation of this dance script.

Taiwo said his visit to the Guggenheim Museum has had a great deal of influence on his creativity.

“I learned a great deal about human movement and was eager to apply my knowledge as a Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies student. I was looking forward to analysing and describing communications in statues, photography, and other objects,” he said.

He actually sent a link to his piece on the visit to Guggenheim Museum, wherein, he stated:

“We moved from room to room, from level to level, and we encountered works from different times in history and different worlds. However, one picture stopped me in my tracks. It rooted me in the same spot. The picture was in the Black and White section of the museum. In the picture, there were three naked Black men laid on the floor. A White man was kneeling with his hands on two of the Black men’s shoulders while the third Black man looked into his eyes. I looked at the title of the picture: ‘Frederick Ashton with Dancers’. George Platt Lynes took the picture in 1934. This detail about the picture was summed up in four words but did not say enough. Several questions were running through my head.

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“I took it as a challenge to find the answers to these questions in my head. There was only one way to find out, and I made that picture the subject of my research for my coursework. After using LMA to analyse the photograph’s non-verbal communication, I titled my project, Inequality, Supremacy and Racism. My brief was three-fold— First, to understand the intention of the photographer, the canvas and the curator. Second, to compare the content of the photograph in the context of the time the photograph was taken (1934) and the present day (2019). Third, to review the relevance of the picture to both times. My hope was that, through my findings, I would understand why the picture has not only shocked me but kept me rooted to the ground where I stood.

In 2019, the Guggenheim Museum celebrated its 60th anniversary. In the spirit of celebration, the museum invited six artists to carefully examine its collections, hoping that gems could spot a new or even gap that needed to be plugged.

Among the selected artists was Carrie Mae Weems, an African American artist, renowned in her own right. The picture in question was part of her curation named, What Could Have Been?

While speaking on her curation, Weems established the urgency of Guggenheim—and many other museums— to rethink its collection in a more representative way.

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“Using Laban Movement Analysis in everyday language, my research findings show that the positioning of the “master” to the dancers expresses his superiority to them. First, consider how he is positioned—kneeling above the three dancers—as he maintains the high position. Consider also his connection with them. His hands are placed slightly on the necks of the two dancers closest to him, in a way that seems to depict control. Second, consider the dancers’ positions to him: one of the dancers has his back arched, the other has his shoulder moving away. They are positioned as though they are retreating from the master. The master’s gaze is angled down on the dancers, although it does not seem to connect directly with the third man on the floor who is staring back at him. Third, when you consider his dressing, the master is fully clothed in a suit and tie while the dancers are completely naked. There is a sense of discomfort, of being naked in the presence of someone who is clothed, of being exposed and defenseless. Yet, there stood the master towering above them. In short, this image communicates racism, supremacy, and inequality through movement.

“I have thought to remake the 1934 photograph in 2020. This time, a Black man stands clothed, and seated beneath him are three uncomfortable, nude White bodies. Perhaps such a remake could trigger a conscious thought that would encourage the museum—and a world that allows racism to be constantly perpetuated—to take another look at itself in the mirror and make amends. Perhaps it would force us all to answer this question: Are there ways in which we can demand change without also perpetuating that which we seek to correct?”

CURRENTLY, Adeleye offers dance training for all levels and abilities… dances such as salsa, bachata, afro-modern dance, and afro-beat dance.

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During the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, he devised of reaching his audience, which he termed chair dance.

He said, “Due to friend’s inquiries after noticing the return of nagging musculoskeletal aches and pains, including neck, shoulder, low back, hip, or knee pain, to name a few. I decided to take my years of training in dance and my extensive training in Laban/BF to create sequences to help people. This sequence is suitable for all ages.”

Adeleye added, “This sequence is created to keep us moving while sitting or working on the computer. Because of the pandemic, many of us are now working from home. While working remotely helps tamp down transmission of COVID-19, it may also contribute to another health problem — back and neck pain caused by hunching over a laptop while sitting on the couch or at the kitchen table. These aches and pains may even linger once things return to normal.”

He first experimented with this in April-May last year when the world celebrated World Dance Day 2020.

Infusing years of diverse dance knowledge, he also created Akanbi, a dance form, earlier in the year.

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